This is a continuation of our family trek from Fort Mill, South Carolina to Fairbanks, Alaska. For other parts in the series, click on the links below:
Day Three – SOUTH DAKOTA
South Dakota was an amazing state considering its lack of mountains and water views. To put it in another way, South Dakota takes what God gave it and makes the most of it. Growing up in Ohio, South Dakota was synonymous with Mount Rushmore and nothing else. By our primitive understanding, that state was a barren dirt field, minus the glamour. Why would anybody ever want to see South Dakota?
How wrong I was. How wrong we are. South Dakota is littered with rolling hills unlike those that I have seen anywhere else. The colors of the landscape against the sky are so vibrant you’d think you’re in a painting. To put that in terms that younger people will understand: it was like there was an AMD GPU with 8.2 GB of DDR3 Memory before my very eyes.
I don’t know what it was about South Dakota but it was simply the most beautiful state I’ve had the pleasure of seeing so far (and I’ve seen 16 of them so, I’m somewhat of a fake expert.)
As we barreled down the highway towards the four presidents carved into a mountain, we were distracted by literally a hundred billboards for a place called “Wall Drug.” Turns out, this drug store in a town called Wall started selling water to travelers right after Mount Rushmore opened and soon after expanded until it finally included everything from donuts to Cowboy art. To advertise their 5-cent coffee, free bumper stickers, and everything else, they’ve littered I-90 with billboards galore and thus Wall Drug has become a tourist destination simply because it is a tourist destination. It is the ultimate catch-22 conundrum of some parallel universe marketing. Toss in string theory, too. Wall Drug exists only to exist and I am still confused as to why I, and every other person on the highway, decided to stop. But they did have a mechanical T-Rex and one of those fortune tellers like in “Big” so … it all worked out.
We also swung by a little establishment along the way called “1880 Town”. It is as the name implies. Several buildings and train carts from the late 1800s have been hauled into one spot to recreate a town in the 1880s. They, like Wall Drug, also had a variety of things to amuse and amaze, from a camel randomly tucked in with horses to a dog treadmill to an entire exhibit of items from “Dances with Wolves”. Apparently, the movie was filmed nearby … or maybe they’re just huge Kevin Costner fans … or Graham Green fans. Check out the slow-loading slideshow below:
Once finished with these two fine establishments, we were able to drive forth to Rapid City – the home of Mount … wait, not quite. We turned left and had to drive, like, another twenty minutes …
We had planned on staying at a KOA camp for the night and then going to see Mount Rushmore the following day – perhaps the main tourist highlight of our trek. But as the landscape changed and we entered the Black Hills, an ominous feeling took over. The signs for Mount Rushmore grew closer and closer yet we were not at our campsite. With every curve, we cut around another rock formation or drove along another cliff. Hopefully the mountain was tucked away as to not spoil the surprise. Hopefully.
And then it happened. I followed another curve around the mountainside and there it was in all of its splendor, easily seen in full view from the road: Mount Rushmore. My wife and I screamed at the kids to avert their eyes as to not spoil the surprise. I stared at only the pavement directly in front of me. Why on Earth would you put the Mount Rushmore KOA campgrounds AFTER the mountain? But its kind of hard to not notice a massive formation of heads carved into a rock that towers above everything else in the sky. We all saw it. But then we also saw a mountain goat and kind of forgot the entire spoiler.
Setting up camp was great fun – the boys had never camped before so it was a new experience for them. We sent up our new tent (a spacious living quarter boasting enough room for both a queen AND a full size bed) and got a fire going. All-in-all it was a pleasant and relaxing evening, albeit a little cold. There was no fear of bears at this camp – according to the young girl at the KOA registration counter, the bears stayed in Wyoming … good thing they adhere to interstate residency laws!
Day Four – MOUNT RUSHMORE
The next day, we made our way to Mount Rushmore to visit proper. A quick note to future tourists – parking at this monument is not free so you can either cough up some cash or find a fence to hop. The pictures below will describe the scene enough for us. Let’s just say, the craftsmanship that went into carving those faces is utterly astounding, especially considering dynamite was their primary tool. It is a sight that is definitely worth checking out.
After that, we visited the National Presidential Wax Museum where the kiddos got a visual history of America’s political shenanigans. I would like to again draw your attention to a series of pictures that are far better than anything I can write. Not included is an image of a Mitt Romney bobble-head figure – why anybody outside of 2002 Winter Olympics collectible enthusiasts would want that, I do not know (yes, that was convoluted on purpose):
These two adventures, as mild as they may seem, ended up devouring the majority of our day. The Bellamy clan was tired and so we headed back to camp for one more evening in the shadows of the Black Hills. We drank milk shakes, roasted hot dogs, and passed out on our slowly-deflating air mattresses.
Up next, Montana welcomes us with sweltering heat and we visit world-famous Bozeman.