South Dakota is great! I am sure my favorite places will continue to shift as we continue on our trip, but here there are so many things to see in this state and it is my favorite so far. Some of the places we went are: The Badlands, Sturgis, Deadwood City, Mt Rushmore, Crazy horse and Custer State park. Kat and I will follow up with Jewel and Wind Caves later this week when she gets home from her work trip. I will do more exploring of Deadwood and Custer in the next few days. And I am scheduled to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and help with another house building.
Sunday- Tracy, Kat and I drove from Bismarck, ND to Pierre, SD. As soon as we left the campground we were at a roadblock by the military warning us of the protest about the pipeline going through reservation lands. We proceeded on and saw the protest site, but it was a peaceful protest. We continued on and eventually drove through Badlands then into our campsite in It was a long drive, but we saw lots of sunflowers, cows and of course corn, there was no traffic, the roads were “humpy” makes truck and camper go up and down. That always scares me because I think they will come unhooked, but according to our friend Breck it takes a lot of force to detach the two. As long as we always close the ball and camper hookup we should be ok. The Lake Oahe, downstream campsite was awesome with big trees and the reservoir from the dam right at the back of the camper. It was pretty empty too. We had some firewood that we were allowed to burn and it was a good night for that. A huge flock of little black birds kept us amused until it got dark. Really, I have never seen or heard so many birds. Maybe they were having an end of summer party or a get together before migrating? We had burgers for the second night in a row- they were so good the first night and we had extras so it was a no-brainer to repeat it.
A side note on sunflowers- South Dakota is the number one producer of oil and non-oil sunflowers. The fields are beautiful and amazing to see as you drive along. The heads of the sunflowers are huge! We saw them in varying stages of growth, some smaller with scrawny looking plants and others still vibrant. Loved them all!
Monday- Drove from Pierre to Rapid City, SD. The drive was shorter than Sunday and the Badlands were awesome. Amazing views and to think about the past geographical status of it being full of water and being the home of mammoths, turtles and other animal life was just incredible. When we arrived we found the campsite is not like the great State parks we have been to the sites are super close together and no space to have a fire. I knew that from reviews online, but booked it anyway. It was rather quiet and just ok, Tracy was like “what? After the last couple of nights stays what is this?” That is real life of a camper traveler- in reality it can’t be all great beautiful campgrounds, but it is what is close by that is important. There were full hookups, so that is good since there were now three of us showering and doing our “business”. The weather was windy during the day while we drove and in the Badlands. I wouldn’t want to stand on a cliff because it may just blow you over. When we arrived the weather got a little worse and we just got set up before it started sprinkling. We decided it was time for checking out happy hour in downtown Rapid City and had a great dinner too. We went to a place called KOL and had mussels and artichokes with bacon for an appetizer, then we followed with a Figgy, Piggy, Parm pie. The toppings were a fig glaze type sauce, prosciutto, sliced pears and parmesan cheese. After the high from the badlands and the great dinner we all went to bed with happy thoughts.
Tuesday- We slept through a light rain almost all night and then it was still going in the morning, so we were lazy and just relaxed a bit. The time changes kept us guessing since we kept crossing between Central and Mountain time. We had a nice warm breakfast of green chili egg burritos and bacon before we headed out to Sturgis and onto Deadwood City. Sturgis was even more deserted than expected. I know the big time to visit and what makes it famous is the motorcycle rally, but I guess the weather also dampened things. We wouldn’t really want to be there during the rally anyway since we didn’t come roaring in on awesome motorcycles and leather gear. There were a lot of stores getting rid of the rally t-shirt and stuff so we did a little shopping before we moved on to Deadwood city. Deadwood turned out to be way more touristy and had a LOT more people milling about. We had considered going to Devil’s tower or into Custer State park, but we spent more time in Deadwood than we expected. There will be more on that in another post since I plan on returning on my own later next week. There was a lot of touristy stuff since it was the place where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and a ton of cowboy things. After lunch (a buffalo burger- of course) we also had to go gambling since it was everywhere. None of us won, but it was fun. A scenic drive home through the black hills National Forest where we did NOT see any bighorn sheep like the signs kept warning us about. Why don’t they warn drivers about wild turkeys of which we saw quite a few? It never did clear up or warm up, so later we just hung out and played games. We stopped at Sylvan lake and did a little hike which was another beautiful place.
Wednesday was great weather and we had planned to go to MT Rushmore, Crazy horse and Custer. I finally made it to Mt Rushmore! I have wanted to go there ever since I can remember and Tracy had that on her bucket list too, so it was great to share that experience. I know other people wanted to meet us there, but life and work gets in the way and they couldn’t make it. As with some big plans and huge expectations we found we were not disappointed at all. The weather for the previous two days were either really windy or cloudy, misty and chilly, but the sun came out for us and the wind died down. We were only about 45 minutes away and we got an early start because we were excited. The line to get in wasn’t too bad. Funny thing-it’s free to see, except for parking. Of course there is nowhere to park at all except that lot which costs 11 dollars. It would be a long walk up hill with no sidewalk or path or a very leg intensive bike ride to get there. It didn’t seem very crowded, but I can imagine in the summer it is packed. The views were great and we took the little walk down to see more views. Even though it was listed as over 400 steps it was pretty easy. The views were awesome and it was just incredible to see how big it really is and that man created this.
After that we stopped for a picnic on the way to Crazy Horse. The entrance to Crazy horse costs a lot more money to get into the grounds than it did to get to see Mt Rushmore. It was 11$ per person or a max of 28$ on a vehicle. You don’t even really get to get close to the structure. We heard you could take a bus for 4 dollars, but never saw any signs for that and we didn’t ask. There is a museum with lots of information on Indian culture and a good movie that explains the motivation behind the creation. It is a tribute to the Indian culture and when finished it will be the largest man made sculpture in the worlds largest sculpture. It is also going to be larger than the 4 heads at Mt Rushmore. It makes you wonder why it costs so much and it is explained in the movie that their family goal has always been to create a whole Indian culture center complete with a University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indian and the Indian Museum of North America. It is a privately owned and financed project. That makes you feel better about the cost to enter the park. I doubt I will see the finished product in my lifetime, but if you have kids, they might?
We ended the day with a drive through Custer State park where you can get a feel for the black hills and the massive rock formations. It was a great drive with tons of incredible views. Since it was late in the day we had good light and were able to see some cool wildlife including turkeys, buffalo and wild donkeys. The donkeys weren’t too wild since some of them were hanging around the parking lot waiting for food and letting people pet them. More incredible scenery that can’t really be captured by photos, so it is really best experienced by being there, but we took lots of pictures anyway.
All the beautiful things we have been seeing lately have been created over long periods of time, whether man made or by natural changes in the environment over a period of 35 million years. The beauty is inspiring and makes me appreciate how changes can be so intense and powerful. And beautiful things can become even more beautiful over time and with climate changes.
Thank you to people like Theodore Roosevelt who really saw the beauty and fought to protect it by helping create National parks. We wouldn’t have the great roads to drive on and view the spectacular sites and they may have been destroyed otherwise by industry or recreation minded people who didn’t realize the damage they do. The State parks like Custer State park that we have been too are also worthy of a mention.
Thursday was a down day after taking Tracy to the airport in the morning. It was time to do laundry, give Fat Henry (The truck) a bath and get some computer things done, also some work for Kat to do.
More details on Deadwood and surrounding areas later.