South Dakota is home to a number of attractions, including national parks, mid-western-themed towns, and scenic drives, and we visited as many as possible in a short amount of time. The next time we make it to South Dakota, we'll stay longer, spending more time in the places we skimmed through, and exploring the ones we missed.
The Scenic Drives
Located within the Black Hills National Forest, a stretch of Highway 87 is nicknamed Needles Highway, and it is a gorgeous drive!
We accidentally drove the Needles Highway, pulling Gypsy along with us. At this tunnel, we were not 100% certain she was going to fit through without scraping the sides or skimming something off the top. Good thing she's a petite little gal! She slid through with inches to spare.
The views along Needles Highway are amazing! I highly recommend this drive, though NOT while pulling a trailer and NOT in a large motorhome.
This drive was recommended by a fellow member of a Facebook group I love, and we were so thankful he mentioned it, as it was a perfectly beautiful drive.
Along the way, we startled some deer who were grazing along the side of the road. You can see them in our YouTube video.
Bear Country USA
Though it's much more than a scenic drive, I'm including Bear Country USA here because of the nature of this attraction.
The rules: drive through at your own pace and stay in your car with the windows rolled up.
So many fun animals to see, so little time.
This furry guy lumbered along beside us for a bit, before crossing the road in front of us.
I could have reached out the window and petted her, but I refrained, as I am quite fond of my appendages.
They also have an area set up as a miniature zoo, featuring the smaller animals and the baby bear cubs.
The Monuments and Memorials
When we decided to make the Crazy Horse Monument our first major stop in South Dakota, we weren't sure what to expect. But this incredible work of art completely blew our minds! Though not yet complete, the sheer mass of the sculpture when it is finished is mind-boggling. All four heads of Mount Rushmore will fit in Crazy Horse's hair!
We loved many things about the Crazy Horse Memorial.
1. It's a family affair. Korczak Ziolkowski started this immense project with his wife, Ruth. Several of their sons worked on the mountain with their dad. Several of their daughters work on the funding, museum, and visitor's center. Some of their grandsons are continuing the work on the mountain.
2. From the museum and cultural center to the overlooks and orientation video, everything is nicely put-together. Some displays feature Korczak's other works. Many displays feature Native American art and artifacts.
3. The whole concept is a wonderful tribute to Native Americans, their beliefs, and their trials.
We will return to Crazy Horse every chance we get, and watch the progress. It won't be completed in our lifetime, but it will be worth it to watch the transformation as they work toward their finished product.
They are currently working on Crazy Horse's arm, particularly his outstretched finger.
"My lands are where my dead lie buried."
- Crazy Horse
Contrary to Crazy Horse, we had a very good idea of what to expect at Mount Rushmore, and we were not disappointed.
Though a section of the Presidential Trail was closed, we did walk down to the base of the mountain to look up at (or up the noses of!) our great presidents.
The incredible details carved into the side of the mountain will never cease to amaze us. From Roosevelt's spectacles to Washington's eyes, and from Lincoln's beard to Jefferson's lips, the endless talent of the sculptors bursts through.
The Western-Themed Towns
Wall, SD, made it on the map because of Wall Drug Store. For us, the history of this one-of-a-kind drug store is more interesting than the place itself. 1000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die gives a brief history of Wall Drug, which was really the only reason we decided to make the drive there: "Like the Kardashians, Wall Drug is famous for being famous. It all started back in 1931, when Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought a small drugstore in a small town on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands... Fast-forward four years, to the middle of the Great Depression. In the middle of nowhere, with business flat and no prospects in sight, Dorothy... experienced her eureka moment: If you promise free ice water, the people will come." And people did come. The drugstore went on to become world famous, with signs in Europe and even India showing the distance to Wall Drug.
Though the casinos seem to be the main attraction in this cowboy town, our favorite stop was at Mount Moriah Cemetery. I know, I know. A cemetery? Far from macabre, this particular cemetery is where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are laid to rest next to one another, along with other notable figures from the Wild West.
Established in 1878, the cemetery sits at the top of Mount Moriah and offers beautiful views of the town of Deadwood below. Closed to further burials in 1949, the cemetery holds the remains of some 3,600 people.
Tip: Take cash. $2 per person gets you in, but they are not set up to take cards.
Badlands National Park
This was by far one of my favorite places, one I would return to in a heartbeat, though Marvin could have done without the bone-jostlingly bumpy "roads."
The Badlands are eerily other-worldly. Standing at the brinks of the enormous caverns, examining the pale, layered colors, it was easy to envision myself on, say, Mars. Does anyone know if any of the Lost in Space episodes were filmed here? If not, they should have been!
In addition to the land itself, the Badlands are also fascinating because they are home to various wildlife, some of which we had never seen before.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of prairie dogs live in one area creatively dubbed "Prairie Dog Town."
Talk about "cuteness overload," amiright?
We also saw several Bighorn Sheep, a coyote, and a number of bison (in the distance).
Fort Welikit Family Campground
While staying at Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer, we were visited by a couple horses looking for a handout, and startled several deer hanging around the playground, enjoying a nice dinner of plush green grass.
Should you choose to make Western South Dakota the site of your next vacation, we would suggest spending one day in the Deadwood / Sturgis area, making sure you drive Spearfish Canyon and visit Mount Moriah Cemetery; one day in the Wall / Badlands area, having breakfast at the Wall Drug Store Cafe (don't forget your $.05 cup of coffee!) and spending the rest of the day exploring the Badlands; and two to three days in the Custer area, visiting Crazy Horse, Custer National Park (which we'll see the next time we go), Mount Rushmore, and Bear Country USA. And if you enjoy a good winery, don't miss Prairie Berry Winery just outside Hill City.
What do you think? Have you been to South Dakota? What did we miss? Which were your favorites?
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