Commanders in Chief, South Dakota


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North America » United States » South Dakota » Rapid City
October 16th 2015
Published: October 16th 2015
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This was a day I had been looking forward to on this trip since the start. And it did not disappoint. I guess I was anticipating it so much, I woke up around 5:30 and couldn't get back to sleep!

Deadwood is very quiet in the morning. Some might call it "dead," but I'm above puns. It was also exceptionally chilly - about 28 F. But the morning drive to the Crazy Horse Memorial while the sun was coming up over the Black Hills was unbeatable. I took a few pictures while I was driving, always at places where it would be safe - and there was zero traffic on the road at 7 AM. It took an hour to get to the memorial from Deadwood, but once there, it was a breeze to get around. And it was windy, and I was wearing shorts. I totally enjoyed that place nevertheless. The admission is $11, parking is free, and so is everything else in there (except food and souvenirs). They don't receive government funding, so anything you buy helps fund the project. It's been going on since the late 40s, and mainly has been the work of one family, though their patriarch was approached by the Lakota tribe to construct the sculpture. One of the first things I recommend doing is watching the 15-minute film on the history of the project when you get there, since this monument receives such little press compared to Rushmore. After that, they have a museum with tons of artifacts, a working post office, a cafe and snack shop, the obligatory gift shop, an observation platform, and even a sculptor's studio. There's no shortage of stuff to do around there. I only had an hour, and it was still pretty early, so not many tourists were there. You can also pick up bits of the granite that they've exploded off the side of the mountain. It's next to the post office, and you can give a donation into the box for whatever you think the rock souvenir is worth to you.

My next stop was Mount Rushmore, which was about 30 minutes away. More winding roads and gorgeous views. Entry to Mount Rushmore is free, which is a steal! Parking at Mount Rushmore is $11, which is stealing! So, it'll cost you the same as the Crazy Horse Memorial. Here, they have a museum, a gift shop (with kitsch for everyone and for every collector's obsession), a massive cafeteria, an amphitheater, restrooms, and an information center. To get to the best views of the sculptures, you have to walk through the avenue of flags, which makes for some good framed shots of the monument. There's a trail you can take around the base of the mount, but it doesn't really get you to any better view of the heads - in fact, it probably gets you some weird angles of them, if you're into that. In the cafeteria, they sell Thomas Jefferson's original recipe vanilla ice cream, and as a big fan of TJ, I had to have some. Let's just say the guy knew what he was doing. I stuck around for about an hour, which is really about as much time as you need, unless you want to do the trail and the museum. I discovered upon leaving that my parking pass is an annual pass, but it's tied to my car, sort of. If you have a red, 2-door car with a GA license plate, you can use my Mount Rushmore parking pass for the rest of 2015 and not have to pay again. Let me know!

Continuing in the presidential vein, my next stop was Rapid City. What? You may be asking. Yes, they have statues of every president of the USA on almost every street corner in their downtown area. So it was like a scavenger hunt - I found out, after I was about 90% done with it, that there's actually an office downtown that's dedicated to the statues, and they have maps, etc. This information would've been helpful, but it turns out they were closed while I was there, anyway. No matter. As an amateur presidential buff, I really only wanted to find certain ones. And not to toot my own horn, but from a block away, I knew who each one was. They're life size, I think - I mean, they're smaller than typical statues of presidents, but I think most of these guys were average height for their time (unless noted, like Madison), which was significantly shorter than average height for men today. That took me about 45 minutes, and I've added some of my favorite sculptures and presidents to the photos on this page.

Next up were the Badlands. Holy crap, that was amazing. Everything up until now had been the works of human beings, sometimes using nature as a canvas, sometimes not. The Badlands are just raw nature. The beauty, the savagery, all into one place. I can see why pioneers and natives would call this area The Badlands - it would be very difficult to sustain life out here, and just crossing the area would be treacherous. There's a highway that diverts from I-90 called SD-240, and it takes you right back to the interstate via the Badlands National Park. Entry is $15 to the park, and at this point, I finally broke down and bought an annual National Monument pass for $80 - but I got to apply the Badlands and Devil's Tower entry fees to the cost, so it was only $55 after that. I may recoup that money on this trip alone. In the park, they have several "viewpoints" that offer parking and usually ledges/observation decks you can walk out to, for better views of the landscape. And that's really what you want to do. Each one has a different story, since the canvas is always different. Sometimes, it's prairie and grassland; other times, you get knobby hills of various colors; and sometimes you even see wildlife. I caught a glimpse of a buffalo, and there was even a prairie dog "village" about halfway through. They had some road work going on before the entry to the park, which held us up about 5 minutes; but leaving the park, while still in it, they were repainting the lines, and we must've been stopped 15 minutes for that. It kinda killed the experience at those moments, but it was still totally worth the admission.

After the Badlands, it was smooth sailing until I got to Mitchell, SD, where I'm staying for the evening. My first duty was not to go to my hotel, but to check out the Corn Palace. There's only one, so if you've heard of it, that's where I am. It was already closed for the day, but if I'm here when it opens in the morning, I may swing by. It's free, but I don't have any idea what's inside that would make me want to check it out. I stopped by a place called Taco John's for food on the way to the hotel. I'd been seeing this chain for days, but I never had the occasion to stop in. I don't know if there'll be any more where I'm headed, so I bit the bullet. It's Tex-Mex, and I got a chicken burrito meal - it came with tater tots, and I do love me some tater tots. The food was good, so I'd recommend a stop there if you ever find them.

My hotel is the Mitchell Inn and Suites, and while most everything feels fine - the beds, the a/c, the noise all are very good - the water pressure leaves a great deal to be desired. I probably won't be taking a shower tonight, just because I don't know if there'll be enough water. I'll check again in the morning, but at this point, I'm glad I brought dry shampoo with me on this trip.

Tomorrow, I still have no idea where I'm heading. I'm going to check that out when I finish this thing. Definitely towards Minnesota, since I'm meeting someone on Saturday morning in very northern Iowa. But other than that, tomorrow is wide open. Who knows???

Observations:

I've now put 2400 miles on my car for this trip. I'm very glad I got that oil change and the new tires.

My car is going to need a good washing when I get back - the insect carcasses mounting on the front alone are enough to make me want to do it tomorrow.

When I took a picture of the buffalo for a family from Minnesota (they couldn't tell if it was a buffalo, but they asked me since I had the massive zoom lens), they asked me where I was from. I said Georgia, and their 7-year-old girl said that from my appearance, she thought I was either from Georgia or L.A. Umm, okay.

I'm about done with all the road work I've had to deal with - but I guess that's what happens when you travel such distances.


Additional photos below
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16th October 2015
I don't particularly care to see this setup on a gas pump

1. Holy guacamole, Batman, I need to go to some of these places again as a grown up, and others for the very first time! What an amazing road trip you're on! 2. Rapid City is partnered with Apolda, which is like 15 minutes from here. The Apoldaer call it "Rabbit Zitty." 3. I'm not sure where you're headed in northern Iowa, but the Vesterheim (http://vesterheim.org) is really impressive for what it is. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Burr Oak (http://www.lauraingallswilder.us) as well. It wasn't included in the Little House series, though. Otherwise, Mason City is famous for stuff from the Music Man and has some Frank Lloyd Wright homes, too. Except for Rochester, southern Minnesota is a whole lot of nothing. Actually, most of Minnesota is a whole lot of nothing. It's gorgeous, though. Reminds me a lot of Finland. 4. How many photos have you taken of the Kum & Go?
16th October 2015
I don't particularly care to see this setup on a gas pump

1. Holy guacamole, Batman, I need to go to some of these places again as a grown up, and others for the very first time! What an amazing road trip you're on! 2. Rapid City is partnered with Apolda, which is like 15 minutes from here. The Apoldaer call it "Rabbit Zitty." 3. I'm not sure where you're headed in northern Iowa, but the Vesterheim (http://vesterheim.org) is really impressive for what it is. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Burr Oak (http://www.lauraingallswilder.us) as well. It wasn't included in the Little House series, though. Otherwise, Mason City is famous for stuff from the Music Man and has some Frank Lloyd Wright homes, too. Except for Rochester, southern Minnesota is a whole lot of nothing. Actually, most of Minnesota is a whole lot of nothing. It's gorgeous, though. Reminds me a lot of Finland. 4. How many photos have you taken of the Kum & Go?
16th October 2015
I don't particularly care to see this setup on a gas pump

Waiting on the Kum
I haven't seen any of those! I'll keep an eye out for sure, now that I know. And I'll definitely check out the Wright homes, since I think I'll have time for that, but I think the Vesterheim might be too far afield
19th October 2015

South Dakota
I love driving through this part of the country. Nice blog.

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