South Dakota stole my heart

 

Location: Montana
Listening to: Birds chirping
Time: 10:55 am

Alright, everyone needs to go to South Dakota at least once in their life. Rapid City itself is a little run down, but the surrounding area is so stunning, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, July 17th, we got a late start to our day as we both had some work to do in the morning. After shutting our laptops, we readied for a visit to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and a hike through Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

I was curious about Mt. Rushmore being, as they say, a tourist trap. Arriving a little after noon, we joined our fellow tourists to gaze upon the legendary mountain. Crowded, but not overrun the memorial is located high up in the mountains. Upon arrival you are met with a flag lined promenade with inscriptions on each pillar detailed with every state and the year they entered the Union. Past that, the promenade opens up into a vista where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln greet you with stoic faces. The mountain is quite incredible. Started in 1927, it is a masterpiece of steadfast dedication, immense talent and grandeur. The blue skies created the perfect backdrop to the stone sculptures. After a quick visit to the gift shop (Obviously I needed a Christmas Ornament) we got back into the car and headed South.

Next on our list, Crazy Horse. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Crazy Horse is incomplete. Currently, just a head is sculpted into a large red rock, facing out, staring into the Black Hills. Started in 1948, this sculpture is far from completion. Privately funded, this memorial will probably take many more years to complete. The memorial will depict an Oglala Lakota warrior heading into battle on his horse. A member of the Great Sioux Nation and a native to the lands of South Dakota it is a shame that this memorial is so cumbersome. As an ode to the truly native people of this state, it seems to me that Crazy Horse Memorial should be a proud symbol of South Dakota heritage, not a stagnant worksite. I hope I am still around when this memorial completes. I would love to return to see this majestic warrior riding into the Black Hills.

After Crazy Horse, we continued onto Custer State Park. Custer State Park is located just 20 minutes south of Rapid City and holds incredible landscapes with green rolling hills and high peaked mountains. After our history lessons in the early afternoon we were anxious to get outdoors and hike! We planned to head to Cathedral Spires, a trail located near Sylvan Lake in CSP. With Lennon in tow, we followed the twist and turns of the road up the mountain heading to our trail. As we gained more altitude, dark ominous clouds appeared overhead. As we continued to climb, the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the winds began to bang against our car. We approached a vista point in the park and decided to pull over and get out to soak in the scenery and assess the dark clouds surrounding us. We were nearly blown down by the heavy wind gusts and light misty rain began to kiss our cheeks. It was time to start our descent, a hike was not going to happen today. As we headed back towards where we came, we were met with a hail storm that stands to be the craziest storm I have ever witnessed. Quarter sized hail beat against our windshield creating such a loud noise that I had to cover up my ears to drown out the striking thumps of ice. Within minutes the roads were covered with hail. Cars began driving with hazards and some were forced to pull off the road to wait out the storm. Our main goal, head south and out of the mountains to escape the cannonade of hail. Twenty minutes later we were met with crystal clear blue skies, sunshine and bright green hills.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

The pavement steaming up in the aftermath of the storm, we entered into the Wildlife Loop located in the Southern section of CSP. We were on the hunt to see some Bison. As we drove along the loop we couldn’t help but gawk at the tremendous beauty of the rolling hills. Rounding a corner, Jess and I both burst out laughing as the landscape was just too much to take in, how could something so beautiful exist? How were we so lucky to be existing in the same space as this landscape? Overjoyed with nature, we pulled over, hopped out of the car and took in our surroundings. Pictures do not do it justice. Even now, thinking back on it, I am smiling. Nature is truly one of the most majestic things we can encounter. If we choose, we can surround ourselves in natural landscapes and put down our phones, take a deep breath, and thank the Earth for such a precious gift. As the sun began to set into the West, we headed back home in preparation for the following days activities: The Badlands.

Badlands National Park is located about 1-1/2 hours East of Rapid City, SD. We began our trip East around 10 am, arriving in this desert landscape a little before noon. Layers of colored earth peak up out of the desert plains. Unearthly, the Badlands are definitely a unique landscape that must not be missed. As Jess and I found parking, we readied ourselves for the Castle Trail.

Castle Trail, Badlands National Park

This 10 mile loop trail is mainly flat, but has little (no) shade. We started our trek at the hottest part of the day, poor planning on our part. Even though the sun was hot, we were stunned by the landscape, pointing to different rock formations and keeping our eyes peeled for bighorn sheep. About 3 miles in we were sweaty and guzzling water, this being my first hike ever, I was following Jess as she led the way. We decided to venture onto an adjoining trail, the Medicine Root Trail, which took us through grasslands. A large sign, “beware of rattlesnakes” sent us on our way along this new trail. Quite the juxtaposition of the rocky, cracked earth we were just crossing this trail was filled with flowers, tall grasses, small toads, and sunshine (still no shade). We continued on the Medicine Root Trail, avoiding run-ins with rattle snakes, and eventually met back up with the Castle Trail. Feeling a bit faint and rouged (my face was the color of a tomato) we decided to head back and started to trudge along the Castle Trail, retracing our steps, excited to get into the shade of our car. Do you ever notice that a return back home seems shorter than the journey there? This was not one of those times. Struggling with the heat, I was thankful for my light button down I brought to cover my shoulders, my (not so fashionable) wide brim fishing hat, and the insulated water bottle I stored in my pack for the return back. As we hit our final mile, the clouds rolled in. I was thankful for the shade and wished for some light rain to cool us off. Rain did not come, but what did come? Bighorn sheep. Walking along, rejoicing the shade and discussing how thankful I am for AC, we turned a corner and stopped dead in our tracks. Three large fellas perched on a mountainside about 100 meters off from our next trail marker. The sheep (these things were huge!) stood, staring, heads up and hooves raised, assessing us. We, after all, were on their turf. The trail marker would lead us only closer to them so we opted to walk in the other direction to find passage. We sat down on our butts, and slid down a small mountainside. The dust rising as we slid, our yoga pants covered in soot. Standing a safe distance from our new friends, we said our goodbyes and finished out our 6.8 mile hike just before the rain started to sprinkle on the Badlands.

South Dakota truly stole my heart. The landscape is one to be witnessed in person. The air is fresh, the weather is unpredictable and the area is rustic, quiet, and beautiful. I hold my memories of this place in writing and photos, but also in my heart. I am excited to return to the Black Hills one day and see what other adventures await me.
Next stop: Bozeman, Montana.