South Dakota Bound

As we left the Chicago metropolitan area, we quickly discovered the impact that all the spring rains had on the farmers. Miles and miles of fields unplanted because of all the flooding.  Just after Memorial Day, less than 30% of the corn crop was planted in western Illinois and the eastern parts of Iowa at the time we went drove through there. Lots of fields had standing water, many country roads and even parts of the Interstate were closed because of the damage caused by the excessive rains.

We began our summer long journey westward with two stops in Iowa. One in Iowa City to meet up with an Instagram film friend of Debbie’s and to see some family in the Des Moines area. We found an awesome ACOE (Army Corp of Engineer) campground to stay at, on Coralville Reservoir/Dam. The Iowa River feeds this lake and has a control discharge at the dam that was releasing water at the rate of 10,000 cubic feet per second. Quite a sight to see that much water volume up close.

Des Moines is the Iowa state capital, so we visited the downtown area and got to see the Capital Building. Also checked out another dam at Saylorville Lake to see if the water flow was as impressive as the one, we saw near Iowa City. It too, was discharging way above the norm to keep up with the heavy rains in the area.

As we neared Council Bluffs, we continued to see flooded fields and even a closed Interstate highway. Thankfully it was not the direction we were heading. An overnight rest at Cabela’s in Mitchell, South Dakota brought us a pleasant discovery in the morning, a DIY RV wash right across the street. We got the Black Pearl cleaned up for our next destination, Rapid City, South Dakota.

There are three distinctive roadside attractions on the way across the vast prairie of South Dakota; the Dignity Statue at the rest stop in Chamberlain, this stainless steel, 50-foot-tall statue was specifically designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people.

South Dakota’s Original 1880 TOWN, near Midland, has more than 30 buildings from the 1880 to 1920 era, authentically furnished with thousands of relics, historical accounts and photographs.

Wall Drug Store, one of America’s favorite roadside attractions! Since 1931, Wall Drug has evolved into a 76,000-square-foot wonderland of free  attractions, including the Western Art Gallery Restaurant. I thought it had a Disney attraction feel to it…

The Rapid City area is in the heart of the Black Hills, with one of the largest collections of national parks, monuments and caves in the Midwest, Deb and I quickly realized there would be plenty to do and see in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. It exceeded our expectations and then some. There are so many road trips to take in this area

Custer State Park has the famous Needles Highway

and Iron Mountain Road

there is also Sylvan Lake

and the wildlife loop which IMHO make it worthy of National Park status.

The scenic drives were spectacular, tunnels, switchbacks, overlooks and wildlife around nearly every corner.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic road was picturesque, Canyon walls, waterfalls and followed the Spearfish Creek all the way to town!

We took a day to explore Badlands National Park. On our way we stopped at Wall Drugstore to get a coffee and breakfast pastry and headed out to the nearby Badlands. After driving through prairie lands for miles and miles this eerie place kind of rises out of nowhere.  This striking South Dakota landscape boasts a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires. We saw buffalo and bighorn sheep in the park’s 244,000 acres, while we traveled the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway.

Mount Rushmore is breathtaking, nicknamed America’s Shrine of Democracy, Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the 60-foot faces of four great American presidents who represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. Deb and I were in awe at its immense size as we followed along the Presidential Trail to capture the splendor and majesty of each sculpted face.

We also visited the Crazy Horse Memorial. The visionary Korczak Ziolkowski began work on Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948. Once complete, this tribute to the Lakota leader will be the largest mountain carving in South Dakota, and the world. Unfortunately, we were underwhelmed and quite surprised to see the level of progress made in 71 years. Maybe someday, but surely not in our lifetime.

The towns of Custer, Spearfish, Deadwood, Hill City and Keystone each had its own unique charm. The train museum in Hill City had a spectacular display of railroad memorabilia and a steam locomotive that traveled to Keystone. Deadwood once had historic west legends Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock. This 1870s gold rush town became a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

There were a few places to go and things we didn’t do but we both agreed that this is an area we could easily come back to. The Devils Tower National Park is roughly a hundred miles or so west of Rapid City, so we decided to pits top there on our adventure through Wyoming.

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