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June 4, 2016

Vacation Destination for 2016 - South Dakota?

I've never really thought about South Dakota before.  What springs to mind is 'vast amounts of nothing', 'snow', and probably 'Indians.'  'Laura Ingalls' probably should have come up, too, but I don't know that I ever paid much attention to where she actually was in her stories until recently.

After having been there, what comes to mind is 'vast amounts of nothing,'  'constant wind', 'awkward violent history', and 'Presidents.'  Yep.  There's a weird presidential obsession, and I say that coming from the DC area, where people proudly mark out the places where George Washington ate and slept.

We were planning to visit a variety of places, so we chose Rapid City as our base.  (LOVE the airport, by the way. So compact and easy to navigate!)  This was my first indication of the presidential love, as there's a bronze statue of a president on every corner downtown.

Calvin Coolidge, wondering who
 took his horse.
Thomas Jefferson, being supervised
by my father-in-law.

Next to our hotel was a miniature golf course, with an equally unexpected Pirate theme so far inland.  It wasn't open when we got there, so we were prepared to just walk by and ogle the awesome decorations, but they opened that weekend and we got to play!


Our first destination was Deadwood, an old west gold rush town.  The town has been turned into a giant tourist attraction, but we were there right before official opening season.  Fortunately they had a few goings on going on.  

We first went up the mountain to Mount Moriah Cemetery.

It's pretty big, and has lots of trees, which I was kind of missing.  We naturally paid a visit to Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane.

And admired the view from it.

Then we headed back down to visit the Adams Museum, which has been around so long they had exhibits on their early exhibits.  After that, we ambled downtown to shop and hopefully run into some excitement.

Wait, didn't we just see their graves?

Let's follow them into the bar!

They gave a great presentation inside the pizza place/bar, giving a brief history of themselves as from their persona's point of view.  Lots of fun!  We also took a walking history tour of Main Street.

Floods kept washing sediment through the town,
forcing residents to eventually wall up basement
windows a they were unusable!

I wish the tour had been longer, or at least less windy!  The guide recommended a book written by the judge's daughter, Old Deadwood Days by Estelline Bennett. I got a copy and it was a great read.

The following day we headed south to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where we saw some amazing artwork at the Red Cloud Heritage Center.  Their museum included a number of quilts, nearly all of which featured a white background and primary colored blocks forming the design.  You can see some photos here.

The museum is located on the grounds of a catholic church and school, and we discovered that Chief Red Cloud was buried up on the hill.

We headed from there to the Wounded Knee Memorial, where a mass grave and a lonely view is all that remains to remind us of the bloody massacre that occurred there.

I didn't understand what I was seeing at the time, so I unfortunately only got a shot of the marker.  (I always feel awkward taking pictures of other people's graves!)  There was a large, long fence around this marker, and then the spot was used as a cemetery for some time - possibly still so?  The fence outlines the mass grave of all the Lakota killed in the 1890 attack.  

Having had enough of cemeteries and feeling rather guilty about Western history, we decided to head to the Badlands, because thing are always more uplifting when it's Man attempting to conquer Nature, or at least prevent nature from conquering us.  

Again, I didn't really have any idea of what to expect.  I'm just going to show some photos so you can gape in awe like I did.  

OK, The Badlands must be mountains/rocks, like Arches.

Don't go in the grass.


Ooooh, now the Badlands are canyons!

Click to make it larger!  (I remembered the panorama feature n my phone.)

And the miles of rolling prairie just roll right up to them and then drop abruptly.

Yay Bison!  It's springtime, and they're shedding their winter coats.
and did you see the prairie dogs?

They make noises exactly like the squeakers in dog toys.

Look at the colorful striations!

We headed back to Rapid City in awe.

The next day we took a train ride from Hill City to Keystone.  There weren't a lot of photos because the train car was very cramped!  We also went to a Wax Museum in Keystone that featured U.S. Presidents.  Surprise!  Keystone is the nearest town to Mount Rushmore, so it made sense.

We also stopped at the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, which is 'in progress.'  

The museum seemed to be more about the building of the monument rather than about Crazy Horse, so I was a little disappointed. 

Since we hadn't seen very many bison, our next adventure was to Custer State Park.  It was a rainy cold day, and we nearly didn't go because we'd be riding around in an open jeep! Fortunately it had a roof and a lot of blankets. The cold was worth it!  

I'd normally say I'd never been that close to a herd of bison, but that's not actually true when I think about it.  We had an unexpectedly close encounter a few years ago at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal a few years ago.  We thought we'd parked a safe distance, but silly us for thinking they would cross the road and go directly through a gate!  They opted to meander around and hang around against the fence . . . right where we were waiting.

Uhhh, hi there.  (This was 2013, right before the flood incident.)

So we got lucky twice as our tour guide drove us straight into a herd!

There were so many!

And babies!

She's ok, just shedding her winter coat.

This particular herd was crossed with cattle, which makes them a little smaller in size, and sometimes gives them twisted horns.   We had been promising to show my mother-in-law bison for years, and we finally made good on it!  I snapped pictures the entire time to take advantage of the opportunity.  They're all right here.

Oh yes, there were other animals in the park, too.

Begging Burros.  They're rather smart!


a bluebird.


And, of course, prairie dogs.

Naturally our trip had to take us to Mount Rushmore, which we accomplished our last day, after the rain stopped.  The wind was still cold, though!

Rubble with drill marks in it!

I think this is the first non-costume photo taken of me in
months.  I was unprepared for the cold!

It's impossible to get a bad picture of these, so I started
concentrating on how much I could zoom in.  Look at the
eye illusion!

The museum had several alternative design ideas.  I kind
of prefer this one!

The surrounding countryside was amazing!

The museum had a display about the fault/crack through Jefferson's face,
they had to re-angle is face to work around it - it's up against his nose.

By this point, we were exhausted, and it was time to go home.  I can say with confidence South Dakota is full of history, cemeteries, bison, Presidential memorabilia, and lots and lots of empty space.