What a jam packed two weeks! The Black Hills of South Dakota gave us plenty of adventure, new experiences, and unexpected beauty. I had always thought of South Dakota as a touristy, dusty sort of place and I was happily surprised to be proven wrong. While it has gimmicky tourist traps like Wall Drug, the state is also home to amazing tourist traps, like Mount Rushmore, and incredible, off-the-beaten-path escapades.
Happy to be in South Dakota (and drinking wine)!
South Dakota is home to two National Parks, the first of which we visited was Wind Cave. Zach wanted to do a Wild Cave tour – a four-hour expedition into the cave involving crawling, squeezing, and climbing. I reluctantly agreed. I’m very happy I did. I was picturing many more tight spaces, and while there were a few times I had to maneuver through a small opening, I never felt trapped. It was so much fun that maybe, if software development doesn’t work out for me, I’ll become a cave surveyor. I would highly recommend doing a wild cave tour if you ever have the opportunity. Phone’s weren’t allowed but here’s a picture I found online of the amazing boxwork formation found throughout the cave.
Wind Cave has the most boxwork in the world!
The other National Park, the Badlands, was a bit of a letdown. The best views of the park were top notch but it lacked depth and diversity. As Zach put it, the park could be summed up in one view. It’s an amazing view but once you see it, there’s not much else. There’s no great hikes or other activities, nothing that can’t be done from the car.
Not too shabby of a view
The National Park Service also owns Mount Rushmore. I, as a president enthusiast, loved it. My expectations had been set low by the multiple people who had told me the heads were smaller than they appeared in pictures. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by the size and quality of George, Tom, Teddy and Abe. We arrived at dusk, with enough daylight remaining to walk the short trail and stuck around for the illumination ceremony.
Reppin’ the NPS
While not visiting National Parks, we spent a lot of time in Custer State Park. Over the course of our three trips to the park, I came to truly appreciate South Dakota’s beauty. Out of all the great things we did in the state, this is the one I would most recommend. The winding roads, the abundance of wildlife, and the awe-inspiring views are not to be missed.
One day after work, we headed to Custer to combine three trails to make one epic hike. We started at Cathedral Spires, big spiky rocks that attract rock climbers from all over the country. Then we hit up Little Devils’ Tower, which had spectacular 360 degree views. Finally, we cut across to Black Elk Peak – the highest point in South Dakota. Here we had more fabulous views, supposedly of five states.
Little Devils Tower
Black Elk Peak
Within the first minute of our trip back down, I fell hard and sprained my ankle. It started swelling instantly but I got up, wiped away my tears and had Zach fetch me a walking stick. We were three miles from the car and the only way of getting there was on my own two feet (Zach offered to carry me but, no offense to him, I didn’t think he could make it all the way). The way down was rocky, steep and a struggle but we made it back just before dark. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done but when there’s only one way out, you do what it takes. It’s still a bit swollen and sore but it will hopefully be back in shape in time for Glacier.
Still enjoyed the views on the rough trip down
While not exploring the great parks of South Dakota, we took some time to experience the culture of the state. We attended a rodeo in the nearby town of Deadwood. In Zach’s words, we had a boot-scootin’ good time. The Sturgis motorcycle rally, one of the largest in the world with more than 700,000 attendees, started our last weekend in town. Zach wanted to rent a moped to drive around the rally but luckily, he couldn’t find one. I felt enough out of place as it was.
Zach got some great pictures (considering we were in the top row)
South Dakota was full of exciting wildlife! Buffalo (safely from our car this time), prairie dogs, so many deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, a grey fox, and mountain goats! It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say there was more wildlife in South Dakota than all the previous states combined!
I feel like I’ve been ending most of my blog posts with ‘you need to visit this place!’ and I’ll do it again this time. South Dakota is a great state with much to do and see! Definitely worth spending some time in!