The Black Hills was a frequent haunt of my childhood vacations, but Jim had never been there. A few years ago on our road-trip around the United States, we made time to explore this fascinating area of the country.
Known for it’s outdoor activities; camping, boating, and fishing, intermingle with enough history to keep everyone interested. Mt. Rushmore, the most iconic image of the region, is located a short distance from Rapid City. Completed in 1941, it really is a magnificent monument. The four presidential carvings are massive, standing 5500 feet above sea level, with each head standing six stories tall. My favorite way to see the site is to first visit during the day to explore the monument and visitors center, before returning at night for the sound and light show when the setting seems particularly impressive.
For my money, the Crazy Horse Memorial, a short distance away, is more interesting. I love the inspirational story of one man with a sledge hammer having the audacity and drive to plan a 563 X 641 foot sculpture into a granite hillside. The work became his life and he spent the next 36 years doggedly working away on the, as of yet, unfinished sculpture. Now, 60 years later, work continues and someday I hope to make another visit to see the completed work. Be sure to take in the visitors center, which features a wonderful display of photos of the project as it progressed.
Badlands National Park is fascinating in it’s remoteness. 244,000 acres of vast grassy plains and steep canyons of amazing colored rock formations, the Badlands is one of my favorite National Parks. The park includes some of the world’s greatest fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals, including such favorites as the sabre toothed cats.
Custer State Park and Deadwood round out the area attractions. Custer features rolling hills with massive herbs of bison and antelope along with the famous prairie dogs.
Deadwood, sadly, has changed much from the town I remember of my youth. I have such vivid memories of the “saloon” feel, with authentic looking storefronts and daily shoot outs in the street. The shoot outs continue, but the storefronts now all are a front for cheesy tourist souvenir shops and casinos. Was it always this fake and I only remember it otherwise because of my age at the time? Hard to say, but it’s a certainty that if you want to experience a more authentic old west town, head to Cody, Wyoming.
No trip to the Black Hills would be complete without visiting two unique spots. One being the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Originally conceived in 1892, the “One and Only Corn Palace” has yearly murals done in 13 different colors of corn. Re-done annually, the scenes depict life on the plains.
The final stop on the circuit needs to be Wall Drug. Started in 1931 in the town of Wall, South Dakota by Ted and Dorothy. The depression and drought had wiped out most farmers in the area and the couple offered up ice cold water and a small pharmacy. The store developed a following and became a regular stopping off point for travelers heading through the desolate plains and evolved into the chaotic craziness it is today. They still offer ice cold water, but it’s now become part pharmacy, part silly souvenir shop, part restaurant and part must see stop on the road West.
The Black Hills and Badlands are a part of our American history. Filled with the romance of the wild west combined with some great scenery and some, literally, big sites, the Black Hills are absolutely worth a stop.