I’ve had a request for the itinerary of our South Dakota trip, so here we go…
Day 1: Driving
We drove just under 500 miles on Interstates 70 and 29 to a KOA in Onawa, Iowa. The drive was tremendously dull, but not as bad as Kansas.
Day 2: More driving, and Free Ice Water
We got back on I-29 and made it to Wall Drug just before dinner time. Basically, you have to stop at Wall Drug (you do not, however, have to stop at the Corn Palace).
We spent an hour or so browsing this overblown gift shop and the surrounding shops in all their cheesy glory. Then we had dinner and headed to our campsite in Hill City.
Day 3: Giant sculptures
Our campsite lay smack in the middle of a 109-mile-long rails-to-trails project called the Mickleson Trail. It’s much like the Katy trail: wide and level with packed gravel surface. And SO beautiful. I got my morning exercise by riding several miles on my folding bike and then we headed to Mt. Rushmore.
My family visited Mr. Rushmore and the Black Hills three times when I was a kid and so I was excited to show everything to Nathan and our kids. The main difference at Mt. Rushmore in the years since I’d visited was a trail that gets you much closer to the sculpture. Now you get to walk right up to the edge of that talus pile below the heads. The boys seemed pretty impressed.
Next we visited Crazy Horse, which has been a work in progress since the 50s. From a distance, little has changed since I was there as a kid. Apparently they finished the face, but it’s hard to tell since the visitor’s center is a mile away.
We watched a movie about the guy who started the project, and the several of his 10 kids who are trying to finish it solely with private donations. It’s a fairly interesting story: Gutzon Borglum, the guy who did Mt. Rushmore, supposedly wanted to put an Indian Chief or two on Mt. Rushmore, since it’s on their sacred land and all. Congress was paying for the Rushmore project and wouldn’t go for it. Korczak Ziolkowski was working for Borglum on Mt. Rushmore and met a tribal leader and decided to start another giant sculpture a few miles away. It’s ambitious, to say the least. The whole thing will be pretty impressive if they ever finish.
Day 4: Deadwood
Nathan was eager to visit the town of Deadwood since he loved the HBO show. I hadn’t been there in my youth, probably because my mom thought it was unsavory or something, even though we were there after they kicked out all the brothels and before they started putting in casinos. Anyway, we took a bus tour and learned all kinds of cool stuff about Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, et al.
I had not known that Al Swearengen was a real person! (I didn’t see the show when it was on, but I watched the first couple episodes in advance of this trip.) Once you’ve taken the tour (which includes a trip up the hill to the cemetery where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried, offering a great view of the town), the only other activities are shopping and gambling (they legalized gambling in 1989, when a drop in the price of gold made the local mines much less profitable). So there isn’t much for kids. But we all enjoyed the tour and some souvenir shopping.
After Deadwood we went to Bear Country USA, a tourist trap if there ever was one. There are billboards all over the place for it, and you can see baby bears frolicking in their enclosure as you drive by on the highway! It’s a drive-through wildlife park. We had some mixed feelings about it, since there were so many bears (at least 50) in a small area. You drive through and see elk, bison, mountain goats, a white wolf, and then lots and lots of black bears. Which was great, but it was 95 degrees and we wondered how good this environment was for them.
After you drive through, you see a grizzly and then some black bear cubs (and some other baby animals, but who cares, there are bear cubs, people) frolicking nonstop. It seems all they do all day is play fight. It is insanely adorable.
|Insanely adorable child and grizzly.|
Day 5: Custer State Park
Just about everyone thought this was their favorite day. We started with a hike on the Sunday Gulch Trail. As we paid our entrance fee, the ranger told us his was a hard hike and to bring lots of water. I nodded and smiled and thought “it’s less than three miles, and I’m a professional hiker!” It turns out this was the hardest and most beautiful sub-five-mile hike I’ve ever done. You start going down into this ravine scrambling over boulders. They’ve installed hand rails, because otherwise this would be impossible.
You descend between needles, formations the park is famous for. Down, down down. And down some more. It really was the most beautiful setting. Very Sierra-like, but with these crazy rock formations. It was breathtaking. That was the first mile or so. There’s a gorgeous forest and more views of needles. Just stunning every step. Then you start a more gradual but still strenuous ascent. Right around then we ran out of water. Oops! 24oz per person was not enough. But the boys kept a good attitude, mostly because I told them they could have all the pop they wanted at both lunch and dinner if they didn’t complain. Helen walked most of the way, only being carried over the sketchy parts by my incredibly strong husband. By the time we got back to the car, I couldn’t decide if I was more excited to get my sore feet out of my boots or finally have some water.
Next we got lunch (buffalo stew: YUM), headed to the visitor center (some cool exhibits and good info from the rangers) and then started our drive on the Wildlife Loop. We saw a ridiculous number of buffalo. Those videos you’ve seen of buffalo coming up to people’s cars? Yeah, that’s where this happens.
It was incredible. Gorgeous landscapes and all these wildlife sightings. This has to be one of the top five or ten state parks in the country.
Day 6: Badlands
We hitched up the trailer and headed a hundred miles east to Badlands National Park. Our 9-year-old now has a new favorite national park. The place is unique because you are allowed to go off trail all you want and scramble over and around crazy rock formations. The pictures really don’t do it justice. We also did the scenic drive and then headed back to Wall for dinner.
Day 7: More Badlands and more driving
Noah was desperate to do more scrambling, so after we cleared out of the Badlands KOA, we drove to a trailhead and scrambled away. After about 15 minutes the insane wind was getting to me so I headed back to the car, but he took the whole 30 minutes we gave him. We drove off, still enjoying the views as we headed south.
Just the night before, we decided to take a different route back to Iowa. Instead of staying on I-90, we took two-lane highways through South Dakota and Nebraska. This was because we couldn’t go over 60 mph with the trailer anyway, and whenever a semi blows past us at 75 the trailer whips all over the place. No fun. It was about 30 miles shorter and we think it took about the same amount of time because of the speed limits. And it was a much more scenic drive. The only downside was a dearth of bathrooms.
We stayed at the same KOA on our last night as we did on our first night—even getting the same site.
Day 8: So. Much. Driving.
Again with I-29 and I-70.
We had zero mechanicals, probably because the rig is less than a year old. So, quite a bit different than the exciting trip we had several years ago in The Beast. We have two local (less than three hours) trips planned for this fall. Who knows where we'll take the Canyonero and Campy McTrailface after that?