South Dakota   

In June 2010 I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota for a short week. It was more like an extended weekend. I didnít think I would find a good fare to Europe in the spring, so I went ahead and planned this trip. Then, needless to say, shortly after this booking I got a cheap flight to France (see 'France 2010').

I had seen a brochure about a Berlin Wall Memorial exhibit in Rapid City. That seemed pretty neat considering I had seen the real thing in Berlin. They had quite a lot of information there about the Berlin Wall. They actually have 2 large sections of wall, each of them 4 feet wide, 13.5 feet tall and 6 inches thick. They weigh in at 4 tons each. Potsdam, Germany is Rapid Cityís Sister City (and for you non-European travelers, Potsdam is just outside Berlin).

It had been a long time since I had seen Mount Rushmore (1993). I really didnít remember much from the last time I was there and am not really sure what had changed. The faces looked familiar, that was about it. They had a really great video on the making of Mount Rushmore, the Sculptorís Studio, the Avenue of Flags, and a nice walk (The Presidential Trail) that went to the base of the mountain. I was a bit disappointed in the lighting ceremony. It started with a Park Ranger talking, then a film about America, and finally a flag ceremony honoring military personnel. The actual lighting of Mount Rushmore was not very dramatic, sort of like someone turned on a flashlight but forgot to recharge the batteries.

When I arrived at the hotel in Custer, I saw a poster about the Volksmarch (Peoplesí March) at the Crazy Horse Memorial the weekend I was there. I didnít exactly know what this was, but found out these events are held around the world, are 10K in length (6.2 miles), and generally are held to promote some awareness of a cause. More importantly to me, this was the only 2 days of the year they allowed people to walk to the top of the mountain. They were running a canned food drive during this Volksmarch and with 3 cans of food you could get in for free. Sign me up! I did the walk and made it to the face of Crazy Horse. While there was a crowd, this was still something special to do. Since this was the 25th anniversary of the Crazy Horse Volksmarch, I received a special medal (well, OK, I bought it, but it was still special). The Memorial has been in the making since 1948. The good news, they plan on completing it on a Tuesday.

There are a couple major caves in the area that have some interest. To take one of their tours you either have to like caves, just need something to do, or like to stare at rocks. Wind Cave National Park (right now) is listed as the 4th longest cave in the world. I say right now, since these cave dwellers seem to argue a lot about who has the longest, or biggest, or rockiest and so it is open to some interpretation. Jewel Cave National Monument is staking claim of the 2nd longest cave in the world. The Park Rangers even say there is some speculation the 2 caves are actually connected which could mean 1 cave and not 2. I took tours of both caves (or was it 1 cave?) and made the determination they are both caves. Looking at my pictures I took, you canít tell one from another or for that matter up from down. Just take the tours and enjoy when they inevitably turn off the lights for complete darkness.

Custer State Park has a lot of buffalo, some really nice scenery, and great scenic drives. The rock formations (above ground and not to be confused with cave rock formations) are granite and parts of the park have weird looking formations referred to as needles because of the spire like shapes. The drive also goes through a number of tunnels and very narrow passages, with the narrowest being 8.4 feet wide and 12 feet high. There are plenty of buffalo to see along the way and photograph. The strangest thing, they seem to be in groups mostly. I think they are trying to protect themselves from the dreaded buffalo burger hunters.

Eventually, when you are in this area, you have to go to Wall, South Dakota. There are literally hundreds of billboards as you are driving that draw you in (BTW these billboards are all over the world, see ĎBelgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Luxemburg 2003í for one that is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands). The town of Wall is relatively small with the main attraction being Wall Drug. If youíve been there you understand what I am about to say, if you havenít been there then youíve never been anywhere. Wall Drug contains just about everything you need and may not need in 76,000 square feet of space. It is made of dozens of shops with everything. There are books, art, t-shirts, candy, and a wide array of attractions such as a roaring T-Rex and a bucking bronco. Yes, there is a drug store but that is only a small piece. Well, I could go on but it would probably be quicker for you to go there yourself and see it.

In a secret location, somewhere between Wall and The Badlands National Park, is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. This now de-activated missile site could, at one time, fire a missile that could reach Russia (6,300 miles away) in 30 minutes. Leaving here and driving toward The Badlands, it is mostly prairie with no indication of what is to come. You begin seeing what you came for, shortly after passing the entrance gate. Having formed from an ancient sea, The Badlands have really amazing natural beauty because of the way the layers of various colored sediment form the peaks and valleys. It really is a departure from the grassy plains that surround it. Speaking of departure, itís time to head back to Rapid City to catch my flight.




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Rapid City, South Dakota - The Berlin Wall Memorial in Memorial Park.

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Keystone, South Dakota - Gateway to Mount Rushmore.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota - Curly, Larry... No. John, Paul... No. Well, you figure it out.

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Custer, South Dakota - A convenient and nice town to stay in to see everything.

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Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota - My photo from 1972. No wait, it was taken in 2010.

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Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota - The one day I was there, they allowed you to walk to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial.

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Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota - Sites to see below ground.

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Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota - More sites below ground.

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Custer State Park, South Dakota - At 71,000 acres this is the second largest state park in the country (Adirondack Park is #1).

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Custer State Park, South Dakota - Buffalo are big...

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Custer State Park, South Dakota - Buffalo are dangerous...

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Custer State Park, South Dakota - Buffalo are delicious...

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Wall, South Dakota - The ever popular and mysterious Wall Drug.

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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota - A different type of 'site' below ground.

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Badlands National Park, South Dakota - I found 'The Good' and 'The Ugly', but not 'The Bad'.

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