For those of you who aren’t in the geographical target market for the South Dakota tourism campaigns, the way they attract non-Dakotans is with a catchy tune that ends…“Great Places…Great Faces: South Dakota.” It seems a little ridiculous, but as I was reminded at the beginning of my road trip, the places and faces are certainly great. Mount Rushmore is a bizarre way to honor four of our presidents, but it is a site that attracts over three million people a year, which is quite a feat. It’s also surrounded by incredible sites on all sides. Wall Drug not withstanding, southwestern South Dakota is chock-full of national and state parks, historic sites, wonderful vistas, and lots and lots of buffalo.
I started my trip (after seven long and very straight hours and TWO severe weather delays!!) at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Phillip, SD. Because of cuts to the National Park System (don’t get me started…), they only offer tours a few days a week in the summer, so I had to be on the road bright and early! My interest in this particular site stems from an incredible weekend I had in Green Valley, Arizona, learning about the Cold War, but also visiting the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona. If you’re ever in southern Arizona, MAKE A STOP!
The Minuteman Missile Silo, Launch Command Center, and Visitors’ Center are all definitely worth seeing–they are tangible, scary remnants of the Cold War that seems so far removed from our lives today, but are less than a generation removed in our collective memory. What a world we lived in less than 30 years ago.
Second stop: Badlands National Park. The turnoff to enter the park is right off I-90, and until you’re in the midst of these incredible landscapes, you see almost nothing at all, making the incredible beauty of the park all the more wonderful and surprising. Exploring the Badlands could take two or three hours, or a full day, depending on what you decide to do. I hiked a little bit, visited the Visitors’ Center, and stopped at 8-10 different vistas to take photos, and it took me about three hours. The park also has a star-gazing program at night that I didn’t stay for, but looked incredible.
The second day, I made a few more stops in southeastern South Dakota. Early morning at Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Jewel Cave National Monument. All incredibly lovely, all full of families doing the same thing I was–it’s so easy and convenient to do in a few days with squirrelly kids, you’d think Mother Nature planned it JUST for road trips! Mount Rushmore is worth a stop for everyone driving through South Dakota, and if you get there early enough in the morning, you don’t have to contend with crowds or people staring at smart phones.
I took very few photos at and in Jewel Cave, as I was on the lantern tour, and we had to behave as though we were transported back to the 1940s, technology and all. BUT, before we got into the cave, we took a tour of the caretaker’s cabin, built by the WPA in the 1930s. The rangers also dressed in 1940s NPS gear, which was a fun touch.
As I was driving to my hotel that night in Wyoming, I thought a lot how much beauty and history exists in the world that I have yet to see. Turns out a solo road trip provides many opportunities for introspection. Excited to keep on traveling!