Tag Archives: South Dakota

GAR: Day Nineteen – Rapid City SD to Council Bluffs IA (530mi)

Once again, thunderstorms struck overnight. Nothing as big as the storms in Gillette, but still enough to wake me up.

Today was a driving day, along with two stops planned. Our first was Wall Drug in Wall SD. I lived in Nebraska for over seven years, and after seeing the many signs for Wall Drug, I never made it up there. I intended to change that on this trip.

How do you describe Wall Drug? Well, it’s the size of a full city block in a town with a population of just under 1000, and houses just about anything the weary traveler could possibly want. You can get film, coffee mugs, postcards, jewelry, free ice water, coffee for a nickel…. well, you get the idea. This place is a smörgÃ¥sbord of kitschy stuff, and well worth the stop. We spent almost two hours between breakfast, browsing and panning for gems. Yep, you can do just about anything at Wall Drug.

Pointing the Jeep eastward, we headed to our next corny destination — the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD. Another place I’d heard about when I lived in the upper midwest, it was another classic destination I’d never visited. Basically, the exterior of this concert hall/basketball stadium is reworked every year using thousands of bushels of corn and grains. Impressive work! Inside was a cornucopia of Corn Palace related items for sale on the basketball floor. After picking up a few souvenirs and taking some photos, we got the Jeep pointed toward Sioux Falls SD.

We’d planned to only go as far as Sioux Falls, but I still had some steam in the engine, so we pushed on to Sioux City IA. And once we got there, I figured out that we could make an easier push to St. Louis tomorrow if we pushed on to Council Bluffs IA or Omaha NE. What we forgot about was that the College World Series was just wrapping up tonight, and that there were Olympic trials in Omaha. The nearest hotel we could find easily was well over 25 miles west of downtown Omaha, which wasn’t what we wanted to find! Somehow, Becky found a place in Council Bluffs, and was the only room they had — that seems to be a theme with us! We pulled in, checked in, and slept a sound sleep.

GAR: Day Eighteen – Gillette WY to Rapid City SD (256mi)

Last night’s rains broke, and revealed a wonderful blue sky this morning. That was good news, as we had three stops on the docket for today.

This morning, we left Gillette, heading for Devils Tower National Monument. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to see this monument… and way before Close Encounters of the Third Kind featured it as a landing strip! I can remember seeing a US stamp from the 1930’s with the Tower on it, and I was smitten.

We drove off the interstate, headed toward the Tower, topped a hill, and there it was! Out of this rolling farmland was this towering form, reaching skyward. It was a really cool moment for me. We drove on to the monument grounds, flashed our park pass, and headed to the welcome center.

As we learned, there are many Native American legends about the Tower, and the mythology associated with it. I also learned that this is a very sacred place to the tribes in the area, who see this as a holy site. I have a lot of respect for that. In fact, when we drove around to the other side of the Tower to get a better view, there was a sign warning us not to disturb prayer bundles left by the local tribes. Very cool, and very serene.

We also tried to fly a kite while we were on the backside of the monument — wide open spaces and some wind — but there just wasn’t enough wind to keep the big kite aloft. Sio had a tiny little fairy kite, and it flew like crazy. Go figure. 🙂

We left Devils Tower, and eventually crossed into South Dakota, heading toward our second stop of the day, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. I don’t think I’ve been to a national park or monument that was so built up. I guess I figured it was like many others — you just drive up, take a walk, see the monument, and then leave. Not here. Rushmore has a vendor-run parking complex, an enormous front arch, and a sidewalk shaded with flags from the 50 states plus US possessions. Once you pass all that, there are several rows of bench seating for pondering the monument… and an entire open-air auditorium below for watching the nightly lighting ceremony. It looks like hundreds of folks could experience that from the valley floor. Unfortunately, our schedule wouldn’t accommodate hanging around for the lighting very well. Maybe next time.

The thing that struck me most was the size of the monument. It’s big, but I really expected it to be bigger. Don’t get me wrong — the heads are massive in size — but I was expecting heads on a gargantuan scale. Not a disappointment, but like most of the rest of Mt. Rushmore, it was part of learning about what must certainly be one of the most visited national monuments.

A short distance away from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Aside from being a cool work-in-progress, it’s a great example of one man’s dream being borne out, one chip or blast at a time. I wasn’t aware of the scale and scope of this monument. This thing will be huge when it’s finished, somewhere near six times the size of Mt. Rushmore. That’s amazing. What’s more amazing is that this family operation has been carrying on for over fifty years. Just about ten years ago, the head of Crazy Horse was finished and unveiled, and it is amazing to see it across a huge valley and realize the enormity the sculpture will have.

The plans for this site don’t end with the monument either. There are big plans for a Native American university with a huge campus full of buildings. This is one impressive dream. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it completed, but it will be a very cool site/facility when they’re done.