Mount Rushmore State. The Sunshine State. Home of the Badlands. The Blizzard State.
I’ve lived most of my life in southeastern Minnesota, which means South Dakota has been right in my backyard; yet I had never been to the state until spring of 2012. My first impression of the state was… flat. Very flat. Flatter than North Dakota. My Dad had once described Alaska as “miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles;” I now had an inkling of what he meant, although Dad had more been referring to how sparsely populated Alaska was in the 1950s. I could also understand, as night fell and we continued driving west to the Badlands, how easy it would be to develop white-line fever. Once it was dark, it was dark. Towns were so few and far between all I could see were the headlights on the road, and the occasional yard light of a farmstead. When we did pass those small towns, I could darned near count every house and business in town by the lights; they were barely enough to cause a glow in the night sky. I thought, “What a fantastic place for stargazing!”
The second thing I noticed was the wind. At a rest stop just inside the border, the flags were flying straight out with scarcely a ripple, and Jerry was only able to drive about three hours before turning the wheel over to me. There isn’t much to block the wind out there; the only real contour to the land that I saw on the trip before reaching the Black Hills was the Missouri River valley near Chamberlain.
Then I took note of the funny train-track type arms on entrance ramps to Interstate 90; I wondered aloud what they could possibly be for, and Jerry gave me a look that said he was wondering about my sanity. He answered, “To keep people from getting onto the highway.” I said, “Why would they want to do that?”
(Yes, okay, fine! I didn’t put the snow together with the wind and the open nature of the land. Those roads can get dangerous in the winter, and under blizzard conditions it’s sometimes necessary to close the Interstate.)
So what else is there in South Dakota other than Mount Rushmore? There’s history. The Badlands National Park sports 35 million years of it, with fossilized remains of a dog-sized camel, a three-toed horse and a saber-toothed tiger, plus the rock formations with their bright bands of color. The whole of Deadwood is on the National Register for historic landmarks, and great care has been taken to accurately restore the city; names that tug at our sense of adventure – Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy, General Custer – are all associated with this town and this state. The Crazy Horse Memorial, Bear Butte, the Wounded Knee battlefield, the Minuteman Missile site – all part of our heritage, here in the Midwest.
There are some modern-day famous people from South Dakota, too. Actress Cheryl Ladd was born in Huron; actor Moses Brings Plenty, born on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Writer Rose Wilder Lane – yes, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder – was born in De Smet. Hubert Humphrey, Senator and the 38th Vice President of the U.S. was born in Wallace. Football player Dallas Clark was born in Sioux Falls. And though she was born in Ohio, Catherine Bach of Daisy Duke fame grew up on a ranch in South Dakota and so is claimed as one of their own.
Places to go
Mount Rushmore – Keystone
**Pioneer Auto Show – Murdo
**Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – Rapid City
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Stuff to see
**Petrified Wood Park – Lemmon
Wall Drug – Wall
The Corn Palace – Mitchell
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Things to do
**Buffalo Roundup – Custer State Park
**Flintstones Bedrock City – Custer
The Highway 240 Loop through the Badlands – Badlands National Park
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** denotes places and events I have no personal experience with – YET!