Two years ago this week, my family and I ventured on a ten-day road trip from North Carolina throughout South Dakota and then back home.
The first two days of our adventure found us driving twenty-one hours which included checking out the St. Louis Arch and traversing the back-back roads of Missouri. (An accident had turned the interstate into a parking lot, and we opted to exit the highway instead of sitting on it. Once our minivan exited the interstate, we ended up on roads which were not in our atlas, however. Thankfully, a kind couple led us through a small town or two, across some farming country, and onto the highway we needed to eventually reach our destination.)
Our first stop in Sioux Falls consisted mainly of visiting my husband's grandmother who met her great-grandchildren, Curly Girl and Car Guy, for the first time. We also checked out the Sioux River before heading toward the northeastern corner of the state.
To prepare for our trip, my children and I read all of the Little House of the Prairie books. Since the Ingalls' family finally settled in DeSmet, South Dakota, we spent an afternoon visiting the school Laura attended and the house her Pa built in town. http://www.desmetsd.com/
While in South Dakota, my husband was anxious to show off the places he frequented as a child. He could hardly wait to see his aunt and uncle's 1000+ acre farm, and my kids enjoyed checking out the large hay bales and meeting their South Dakota cousins.
As we traversed across the state, I was taken with the prairie's openness and beauty. The area in the middle of the state which transitioned from prairie to mountains kept reminding me of Dances with Wolves which was filmed in the region. As we drove through the rolling hills surrounding Pierre, I could just imagine how the area appeared before it was developed.
While checking out the western part of the state, we maintained a home base in Rapid City. Of course, we visited Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, and Mammoth Site (http://www.mammothsite.com/).
My favorite sites, though, encompassed the natural aspects of the region. Custer State Park with its free-roaming buffalo and mountain goats was truly amazing (http://www.sdgfp.info/Parks/Regions/Custer/custersp.htm). I absolutely loved the breathtakingly beautiful, twisting turns and spires of the fourteen-mile-long Needles Highway (http://www.pbase.com/harpeggio/needles_highway) which ventures by Sylvan Lake and ends in Custer State Park.
I also loved, loved, loved venturing into Jewel Cave, the world's second longest cave (http://www.nps.gov/jeca), even though Car Guy had to cross his legs for the second half of our cave tour since there are no restroom facilities deep in the earth.
To conclude our western swing through South Dakota, we took in the creepily barren Badlands (http://www.nps.gov/badl) and checked out Wall Drug (http://www.walldrug.com), similar to a western South of the Border, for some levity. We later found out that my husband's aunt and uncle met at Wall Drug when she worked there long ago.
Our family truly enjoyed our road trip to South Dakota and developed a new respect for the Native Americans and pioneers who thrived in its demanding landscape. We also definitely learned what the prairie looks like. Yes, the prairie is beautiful, but if I never drive through Iowa with its endless flat lands, corn, and silos again it would be fine with me.
I would love to travel to Yellowstone or to the New Mexico/ Grand Canyon region next year, but one thing is for sure. The next time our family ventures west of the Mississippi, we will fly.
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