June 1, 2023

South Dakota

The drive to South Dakota was easy. Our route did not include the highway, just two-lane country roads. We traveled over many rolling hills, through what I can only describe as some of the prettiest grasslands and farms so far on our journey. For a good portion of our trek, the roads were lined with small sunflowers. I am convinced that hay rolls may be the state animal of the Dakota territories, just miles, and miles of grazing hay rolls. 

Somewhere in BFE, I missed our turn while looking at an IGA store that was also a gas station. Such a strange sight. Because of the missed turn, we saw two things that I can only describe as things you can only see in the northern farm country. While turning a block to get back to the main road I spotted a lawn tractor. This was no ordinary lawn tractor. It was missing its cutting deck but had the addition of a plow and snow chains. This old craftsman mower, which looked much like the one my father used to have, was sitting in a driveway as if the owner was afraid to take off the plow and chairs in fear of an impending snowstorm. This reminded me of my brother-in-law, who is fearful that if he takes off the plow at work off the mower too soon it will surely snow directly afterward. Of course, we then got stuck behind two of the largest combines I’ve ever seen up close. The combines were 2 ½ lanes wide and luckily we did not have to follow it for too long. Maybe he missed the same turn that I did. One will never know, we made our turn this time and continued down the road.

The last stretch of our path took us through the Grand River National Grasslands.  Nothing but grass as far as the eye can see, in all directions. Lumbering cows were spotted throughout the hills and valleys. We made it to our campground in Belvidere successfully and got set up for the night. 

Monday we headed to Mount Rushmore (137 miles). Once again, grass for as the eye could see…up until the start of Badlands National Park.  This was the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.  We stopped in Rapid City (111 miles) because it was the closest Walmart and Petco to our campsite. We replenished our dwindling supplies and got pet food for the kids and then we continued onto Mount Rushmore (26 miles).

Mount Rushmore seems much bigger on TV and the Big Screen. It’s very impressive but looks smaller than you might expect. A lady in the Mount St Helens KOA told us that it’s a “drive to, see and leave”, she was right. There isn’t much to do here so it was a very quick excursion. We did get a sticker for the refrigerator and a cancellation stamp in Kori’s book before leaving.

Around the corner (18 miles) from Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial…let’s just say they have a lot still to do. There were multiple museums, a shop, a restaurant, and a lot of art from the original artist Korczak Ziolkowski, but they seem to want to put the screws to you. It was $15 each to get in the door, and then more if you wanted to go up to the memorial. This thing will be massive in approximately 100 years when it is complete. They have been working on it for over 70 years and they have moved a lot of rock but there is tons of work to do, literally. They are funded by visitors to the site so it makes sense why it costs so much to get in the door, and how slow the work is going. 

Tuesday Kori was busy with work meetings so we stayed in camp for the day.

Wednesday, after Kori completed admission interviews for Troy, we ventured over to Badlands National Park (BNP), this was much quicker to get to than Rushmore as it is only about 40 miles from camp. We arrived too late for the visitor center but the road was open. The rock structures were very similar to those we saw in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) but they were bigger but with less color. Giant tan ant hills are what they looked like to me. The drive was beautiful and there was much to see. If ever you find yourself in this part of the world and you have a desire to see Badlands, go to TRNP. The colors of rock, as well as an abundance of wildlife, make TRNP the better park to visit for this type of terrain, in my opinion. Either when you arrive at or leave BNP you will drive through the city of Wall. Wall’s claim to fame is Wall Drug which is a glorified convenience store that has grown out of control with all manner of tourist trappy types of items. Wall drug’s fame is derived from offering weary travelers free ice water, which in my opinion was not worth the stop. They also have $.05 coffee still available. We were able to get a couple of stickers and peruse the shops. We made our way back to the car after about 45 mins and set our sights back to camp.

Thursday we headed back to the Badlands so that we could get a cancelation in our state park passport. Kori was able to secure the stamp and we toured the gift shop. We saw nothing of interest so we headed back out toward the highway. Across the highway from Badlands is Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. This was one I wanted to see! The visitor center was chock full of facts and stories about the cold war, and nuclear munitions. Kori and I took our time and absorbed as much as we could. We stopped by the visitor center and got some stickers, most of which ended up on the lid of my laptop. The tours for the command center, Delta 01, were booked until the middle of September but the Delta 09 Minuteman II launch site was open to the public and just a couple of exits down the highway. We were getting hungry from our excursions so we headed to Wall 20 miles down the highway so we could get lunch and Kori could get a cancelation for the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Both acquired we headed back the way we came on the highway to Delta 09 Launch site. Once in the parking lot, there were more history boards in a pavilion. After a short walk, we were standing above the tube where the Minuteman Missile once slumbered. Covered by a thick concrete and steel retractable roof on one side and a glass skylight on the other, just below the surface of the earth, was a Minuteman II Missile. Once upon a time, this hole in the ground contained a 1.2 Megaton nuclear device. For many years, at any given moment, the plateau could have been deafened with the sound of impending doom. The launch of a Minuteman spelled the end for somewhere around the world in 30 minutes or less. But this, without a shadow of a doubt, meant you on the plateau also had 30 minutes or less to live. Aren’t we M.A.D.?

Today, Friday, Kori had play therapy training all day and I had chores and laundry to take care of including writing this blog of course. Tomorrow we head to Doniphan, Nebraska (334 miles) for a night.

Trip Recap Thus Far:

Days on the road: 48

States: 16

National Parks: 12

Other National Sites: 3

Miles: 5400

Campgrounds: 16 + Dyne’s

Fridge Stickers added: 27

Days till home: 11

States Left to go: 8

Campground left to go: 5

Miles left to go: 1750

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