My heart is happy. After 2 months of (mostly) being home, mom and I took off towards the West. South Dakota is like Utah; When you tell people they should visit there, they scrunch up their nose because of their misconception of the state. South Dakota is awesome! The drive across I-90 isn’t the most exciting, but it beats out Iowa and Nebraska for sure. The highlights of South Dakota are mostly located just off the freeway: Falls Park in Sioux Falls, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, Chamberlain, the Badlands, Wall Drug, Rapids City, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse. There are a few more awesome things to see in South Dakota, but those are all the ones mom and I packed into our 3.5 day weekend.
Before I tell you about all our fun adventures, you must know one thing: my mom is a wonderful travel partner. I love flying solo on my trips, but this was one that was definitely more enjoyable with her by my side. We shared so many laughs and swapped stories, plus talked about our lives and current events. She kept a good pace while hiking, and we were fearless together when exploring. After how awesome this trip was, I’m sure we will be road tripping together annually.
Our fun began Thursday when we drove to Mitchell, SD. The next morning we drove to the Corn Palace just to check out the outside and take a picture with the corn husk. We did the tour of it on a family trip in 2010, and although it’s fun, seeing it once is probably enough. We stopped in Mitchell on the trip home to grab an almond latte from the Cornerstone Coffee House-Deli (which was the BEST almond latte ever) because of a suggestion by my BFF. Once we hit the road Friday morning, we stopped after a short time of driving to check out the Chamberlain rest stop that now has a beautiful statue of Sacajawea. It has a nice visitor center and informative displays, and some nice walking trails for those who need to stretch their legs.
A few hours later we reached the Badlands exit, stopping at the Prairie Dog Village to feed peanuts to the adorable little prairie dogs that live there (probably because they get fed peanuts all the time) and are studied by a wildlife group. When we reached the first lookout point in Badlands National Park, we stopped for pictures and I ventured off trail to see how far out I could walk onto the rocks. It had obviously been raining and we learned pretty quickly these are not rocks – they are clay. A few inches of clay coated the bottoms of our shoes, and the “rocks” were too slippery to safely walk out on. Onward we went, to explore the cracks and crevices of the Badlands.
The rest of our day consisted of a handful of hikes, the most notable being the Notch Trail. This was the one hike we for sure planned on doing, as it has a ladder you have to hike/climb up to get to the top of the “canyon.” We hiked the trail and reached it fairly quickly, as the entire hike is 1.5 miles round trip. When we got there, my mom and I looked at the ladder, looked at each other, and said, “This is it?” The ladder wasn’t very tall or difficult at all, but it did make for some fun pictures. We took turns going up and down it to snap a few photos, and then continued our hike at the top. The trail was pretty cool, winding along the ledge of the canyon (with non-terrifying drop-offs of probably 30ish feet), and eventually bringing us to the edge of one part of the Badlands, where there was an impressive view and breathtaking drop-offs. We explored the ledges a bit before doubling back to the ladder. By then it was raining, and a chilly 45-50 degrees – a good time to be warming up in the car.
As we rounded a bend in the scenic road through the park, we saw a few vehicles stopped and a photographer on the road with the camera. I was driving my mom’s new vehicle at this time, and slowed down to see what they were all looking at. As I slowed down, a bighorn sheep came out of the ditch right in front of the bumper! “OH (insert 4 letter word that starts with an S here)!” I said, slamming on the brakes. The sheep took his time meandering in front of the vehicle, as mom and I laughed and took videos and pictures. We got out of the vehicle to check out the rest of the herd, and continued on our way after. We went on a few more walks/hikes through the Badlands, amazed at the vibrant colors and contrasts in some areas. We were not expecting to find trees and grass mixed in with the rocks. Perks of visiting in the spring, I’m sure!
On our way out of the park, we encountered a herd of badlands sheep, which look like less furry mountain goats. One of those decided to walk in front of the vehicle too, but I was ready this time. We ended our day in Wall Drug, the best tourist town in America, eating a bison burger and shopping. My family has a contagious love of Wall, SD, because of the old west feel/displays, roaring dinosaur, delicious fudge, and jackalope (the real SD state animal – look it up). We originally planned on exploring the Badlands for two days, but it’s not a very large park and only needs one day to check out. We did stop there again on our way out of town Sunday to see what it looked like in the sun though. With our extra day, we decided to head to the best state park ever….Custer!
Custer State Park is vast, gorgeous, and full of wildlife. The highlight of our trip were the wild burros who stuck their heads in the vehicle to eat the apples we had with us, and lick the side of the auto as we drove by. Back in the 50s the park had mule rides, and when they stopped the program they released the mules into the park – resulting in the friendly herd of wild burros you find there today. We also stalked (from a safe distance) a bachelor herd of bison just a short hike away from the road, and encountered a few other herds/single bison through the park.
Another wildlife highlight was during a hike through the prairie my mom and I went on. We stopped for lunch and as we were eating, a herd of pronghorn antelope came over a hill and started walking towards us. Most of the herd passed us about 60 feet away, but two very curious ones came about 25 feet away and stared at us staring at them. It was a very cool experience and reminder of the peace that can exist between animal and person. After doing the wildlife loop, mom and I continued on Needles Highway, a famous white-knuckle scenic drive. We took in the scenery, views, and avoided collisions with drivers who take the teeny turns too wide. Oh the fun! Our favorite hike on Needles was Sylvan Lake, which apparently is a big deal in the movie National Treasure 2. We liked it because of the awesome rock formations surrounding the lake. A must-see place for any traveler!
After Custer, we went to Crazy Horse Memorial, where we learned about the history and meaning of the memorial and the surrounding facilities. Crazy Horse will be the largest sculpture in the world (even larger than the pyramids) and is currently being carved into a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The nearby neighbor of Crazy Horse is Mount Rushmore, so we stopped over there too. We’ve been to both of them already on past trips across the country with the family, but it was fun visiting them again, especially to see the progress of Crazy Horse.
We packed a ton into our few days in South Dakota, and we took our time getting back home. Our final South Dakota stop was at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, and we walked the trails around the beautiful set of falls the area is famous for. Our mother-daughter road trip was a huge success, and mom and I both felt very peaceful and centered after spending so much time in nature. Now my mom says the same things I say about needing to hike the parks instead of just viewing them roadside. Seriously you guys, take a hike, you won’t regret it….unless you get too close to a buffalo and get ran over. Keep your distance.
I’m not sure what my next adventure will be, but I’ll probably be on another one in a few weeks. Work starts soon and there won’t be much time for anything else for a while, so I need to travel while I can. Thanks for reading, and go enjoy the world, maybe even South Dakota!