Get ready for Part VIII of our cross country road trip recap: South Dakota!
To recap, we drove 3,815 miles through 12 states, coast to coast. Our route took us through New York, Ontario in Canada, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. Check out the route:
After a 4 hour drive from Minnesota, we crossed over into Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We headed to Falls Parkto stretch our legs and enjoy the view.
Based on some Falls Park phone checking and tweeting, we realized our friends Bob & Jason would be crossing the country at exactly the same location in South Dakota we were. They were on a trip from California to Minneapolis, us onward to Portland and we were each, at that moment, 1 hour away from the Corn Palace in South Dakota on our respective routes. Small world! So an hour later we met up with them there.
The Corn Palace, as it turned out, was pretty underwhelming despite all the creative corn artwork.
After saying goodbye to our pals and parting ways at the Corn Palace, it was still pretty early. We had some dinner in Mitchell, South Dakota and ended up going to a laundromat right next door to the Corn Palace to do a few loads of laundry. Afterward we drove an hour to Chamberlain, South Dakota to our hoteland crashed.
The next morning we were up early to drive 2 hours to Wall, South Dakota to go to Wall Drug.
The marketing and signage for Wall Drug starts hundreds of miles away – it’s all over the world too actually and Wall Drug spends about $400K annually on marketing – but it got really good about 200 miles out. Here is a small fractionof the collection of signage we saw for Wall Drug in South Dakota:
Finally, we arrived!
Wall Drug is exactly what you would expect – touristy, hokey, and full of overpriced junk.
But their signature free water is still available and they have some mighty fine donuts.
After leaving Wall Drug we continued on through the Badlands. It was a gorgeous part of the country we had never seen before.
Next up on our journey was a trip to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site was established in 1999 to remember the history of the Cold War, the arms race, and intercontinental ballistic missile development. This National Historic Site preserves the last remaining Minuteman II Missile system in the United States.
The site is a little creepy because it’s in the middle of the Badlands and there is nothing around it. A single road suddenly pops up in the middle of nowhere and leads to the gate above. We weren’t even sure if we were allowed to go through the gate (you are) because there is almost no signage.
The missile silo (D-09) was constructed in 1963. It consists of an underground launch tube 12 feet wide and 80 feet deep. The missile on display is unarmed however it was designed to carry a 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead, and could reach Russia in less than an hour at 15,000mph. Needless to say, peering straight down at the missile sent shivers up and down my whole body. A picture really does not capture how serious and solemn this place is.
After all that morning activity we were starting to get hungry for lunch. We drove an hour due west to Rapid City, South Dakota.
While in Rapid City we stumbled across the Dinosaur Park, which sits up on a huge hill and overlooks the whole city. Pretty cool.
The views from the top were pretty great despite the clouds.
From Rapid City it was about a 30 minute drive to Keystone, South Dakota where Mount Rushmore is located. We made a quick stop beforehand for some taffy that was highly recommended to us by a local.
Finally, after driving South Dakota end to end, we arrived at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
I had no idea that I would react to Mount Rushmore the way that I did. It was one of those things I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing with my own eyes. Its presence really effected me. There was something so serene, austere, and ceremonial about the whole memorial. The stone entrance way adorned with the nation’s state flags sets the perfect stage for the monument. It blew me away.
Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum who was not only an innovative sculptor, he also has the best name I’ve ever heard.
Construction on Mount Rushmore began in 1927 with the the presidents’ faces completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.
The gallery inside with the history of the monument coupled with the sculptor’s studio was extremely informative. The displays, models, and pictures really help tell the full story of Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore was hands down my favorite part of our cross country road trip.
Literally right down the road from Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills was the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion. If completed, it will become the world’s largest sculpture and mountain carving. The sculptor behind the memorial, Korczak Ziolkowski, spent his life working on this project. I just assumed this was another government funded park but it’s not, the Ziolkowski family have rejected government funding twice in order to preserve the integrity of the monument. Pretty amazing though I doubt it will be finished in my lifetime.
And finally our very long but funfilled trek through South Dakota ended with a rainbow.
Stay tuned for Part IX – Wyoming!