Turns out, South Dakota is pretty wonderful.
Our first evening was in Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota. Initially, we had planned on using it as a place to stay the night at. But a friend told us to makes sure we took the time to see the Falls.
We are glad we did. The park around the falls was lovely, the falls were beautiful, and the old mill structure was interesting. We spent a lovely evening walking along the river and waterfalls, an evening that would have otherwise been spent being lazy in a hotel room.
The next day, we continued our drive west across the state.
We made a quick stop at The Corn Palace, a basketball arena/souvenir shop decorated in, yep, corn!
After that stop, we debated about making the slight northward jaunt to see the state capitol, Pierre. On our last summer road trip, we made an effort to see the state capitol of each state we drove through. Once we saw that we would also drive through the Pierre Grasslands, we decided the extra mileage was worth it.
Driving through the grasslands, there is nothing but gently rolling hills. At one time, I would have found this type of landscape boring and monotonous, but now, I find it soothing and quieting.
I'm glad my children have the opportunity to stand in places without buildings, without crowds, and just feel wide open empty spaces with nothing but sky and grass and themselves.
Pierre itself wasn't much, as with a population of less than 14,000, it is the second smallest state capitol. We got there during capitol building hours, and I couldn't help but want to peak inside. The inside was bright and beautiful and well worth the extra little drive.
That evening, we arrived in Wall, famous for the much advertised Wall Drug (as we drove past hundreds of billboards for the place). I'm completely not above a good, kitschy tourist trap! Wall Drug is strange and eclectic and honestly a little fun. The kids sat on a jackalope, we drank the free (and not so good) water, we ate donuts and got our free bumper sticker.
One of our goals on this road trip was to see as many national parks/sites as possible. The first one on our list was Badlands. We had heard so many amazing things about this place and the boys were excited to do some hiking. When we woke up to pouring rain, the disappointment was palpable. We decided we would still drive through the park, but that hiking was out of the questions.
Even in the rain, Badlands was impressive. The colors may not have been as vivid as if it had been sunny, but the scenic outlooks were just as stunning. There is no other place like it, with its striped, jagged ridges and winding crevices. We even braved the wind and rain to run out to the end of some lookouts for better views. Bug and Monkey were so entranced by the terrain, they still begged for hiking even with the cold soggy weather (of course, we had to say no, since we were barely equipped for leisurely day hiking, let alone serious muddy trekking.)
After driving from one end of the park to the other in the rain and making our way back to our little cabin rental to warm up and dry off and eat, the rain let up in the evening. So, we hopped into the van for a sunset pajama tour of the park. It was well worth it, as we saw huge families of prairie dogs, herds of big horn sheep, vultures, and some of the stunning colors we were hoping for.
The next stop was maybe the most iconic of all South Dakota sites: Mount Rushmore. Hubster and the boys had actually stopped here a couple of years ago when they had gone to visit Hubster's family in Montana, but it was my first time and I was pretty exciting. It seems that some faces carved in rock might be dull, but there is something so majestic about the monument and the feat of engineering and artistry, that I couldn't help but feel a little more patriotic and in love with this country of ours.
After the morning spent at Mount Rushmore, we continued further into the Black Hills and stopped by Crazy Horse Monument. This work in progress was well worth the time. Almost as a reply to the Mount Rushmore that the Native Americans have their heroes as well, this stop allowed us to marvel again at incredibly engineering and talk to our boys about some of the more difficult aspects of our country's history.
I don't think that this monument will be finished during my life time, as they are working solely on donations and visitor fees to construct the memorial that will be much larger than Mount Rushmore. However, the vision and effort are valiant and made for a very memorable stop.
We spent the remainder of the day exploring the Black Hills by going to Custer State Park. Here, we maneuvered narrow roads and narrower tunnels along the Needles Highway (at one point, Hubster got out of the car to make sure the van was indeed going to fit through one of the tunnels.)
Because we didn't get to do any hiking at Badlands, we took advantage of sunny weather and intriguing rock formations and did a lovely small hike to Cathedral Spire.
After that adventure, we continued to drive through the park, taking in the thick forests and grasslands. I almost convinced Hubster to stop so we could feed the wild burros, but no such luck!
After three lovely days of South Dakota, it was time to continue our journey. But I must say, South Dakota knows how to impress!