South Dakota is a surprisingly fun state with lots of interesting- and free- attractions. First up on our list was the Corn Palace in Mitchell- this civic auditorium creates huge murals made of corn products each year (this year’s theme is weather). They also serve some delicious popcorn s’mores balls, which I highly recommend.
Next on our list was the Akta Lakota Museum– a free (donations welcome) museum that tells the story of the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee, as well as general information about the Sioux (the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota tribes) way of life. The museum has some beautiful art work as well some props from the Dances With Wolves movie. At the same exit, but across the highway, a 50 foot tall statue entitled “Dignity of Earth and Sky” has been installed as of 2016, and is really beautiful. She’s visible from the highway but I’d definitely recommend stopping for a look.
The following day, we started off with a tour of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It is crazy and scary to think of how close we came to nuclear war- not once but on several occasions.
We picked up our National Parks Access Pass ($80, good for one year) at the entrance to Badlands National Park, and spent a few hours driving through there. We got lucky at one of our first pull-offs and encountered a bighorn sheep crossing the road right in front of us. I always thought the Badlands would be fairly monochrome but in fact they were colorful and variable in really lovely ways.
We took the off-highway road through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on our way down to Mt Rushmore. We were worried at first because it began to rain, a lot, and the temperatures dropped and it was pretty miserable. But the weather app promised it would clear up, so we parked at Mt Rushmore, dodged the rain, and went and toured the museum and watched the video, and when we came out, the rain had stopped and the fog lifted and we got a nice view of the mountain with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved on it.
The next morning, we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial– my parents had gifted us with a special tour to the top of the arm, where you can really see the work being done on this colossal carving project- the largest in the world, in fact (the four profiles in Mt Rushmore easily fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s head, and when finished, it will be taller than the Washington Monument). Learning about the history of both Crazy Horse and the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, was really awe-inspiring. Imagine being so committed to a project that you knew would be finished in your lifetime!
From there, we drove through the Black Hills and did a quick drive by of both Deadwood and Sturgis. Even a month before the Sturgis motorcycle rally, there were plenty of bikers all over the Black Hills roads. It’s a fun drive. We also stopped in at Belle Fourche, which claims to be the geographic center of the United States.
We made it to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, in the afternoon, and went for a walk around the monolithic magma butte- what a cool landform. So unique. We also got to sit for a while and laugh at the prairie dogs, which are really hilarious to watch.
That night we camped in the Bighorn National Forest- we drove in to the park, turned on one of the side roads, and wound up following the road until we were 7800 feet above sea level and we had arrived at a horseman’s camp. But they had empty spots so we pitched our tent there and enjoyed the lovely, if chilly views. The national forest campgrounds provide a picnic table, fire ring, toilets, and water, and are a bargain at only $10.
With that, we left Wyoming and headed north to Montana. We stopped and spent half a day at the Bighorn National Battlefield Monument, a monument to all the men who died there. The battle is often called “Custer’s Last Stand”, but really, it was the last stand of the Indians who surely knew it was their last chance to avoid being contained on a reservation. The ranger giving the talk was so knowledgeable and obviously really enjoyed his work- this was his 30th summer at that national park.
“Warriors, we have everything to fight for and if we are defeated we shall have nothing left to live for; therefore, let us fight like brave men”. — Sitting Bull
That night we drove into the Lewis and Clark National Forest and camped- we weren’t so high up this time but it was still cold- down in the 40’s- and it rained a bit that night. But our tent stayed dry and we were able to catch the most amazing sunset (still light out at almost ten pm).
We decided, with this being Fourth of July week, that we will wait to see Yellowstone National Park on our way back after Burning Man in September. Anxious to get on up to Alaska, we passed through the border at Sweet Grass Montana and into Canada this afternoon. Stay tuned for the next blog post in a week or so, which will be about Alberta and Yukon Territory. Got suggestions for these Canadian territories? Let me know.