This week, Jonathan and I had a little time to take a road trip through the Dakotas. Our daughter, Christina, is working at the Black Hills Playhouse again this summer, which is the main reason we took our mini vacation out that way.
Jonathan attended his uncle’s retirement farm auction on Tuesday morning while I finished washing clothes and packing. We left that evening, making a stop in Sioux Falls to see our daughter, Laura, and her boyfriend, Blake. Our goal was Wall, South Dakota, and we arrived there just before the office closed at 11 pm. Safe to say, we were the last ones to check in that night.
Custer State Park
Wednesday, we left early enough to make it to Custer, South Dakota before noon. Jonathan was selling some farm equipment on an online auction site, and he was fielding calls about the items throughout the morning, so he we elected to skip the Badlands Loop this time. We have been on the Loop two other times, and highly recommend it. By the time we arrived in Custer, all of his items had sold, so we stopped for lunch at Pizza Works (excellent pizza crust!), then went on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We saw a small herd of bison in the distance, as well as a few Pronghorns here and there.
That evening, we were able to take Christina out for supper before we took in the musical “Pageant” at the Black Hills Playhouse. It was an awesome production! I laughed so hard that it hurt. If you are looking for something fun to do in the Black Hills, I highly recommend checking out the schedule of the Black Hills Playhouse.
Thursday morning I had a video conference call (loved that the Holiday Inn Express in Custer had awesome wifi), so we didn’t get going on sight seeing until almost noon. Since this was our third Black Hills mini vacation, we wanted to do something different. We took a day road trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, which is an easy drive from Custer. Neither Jonathan nor I had been there before, and we were both amazed at the beauty of a huge rock…which is really something coming from farmers who pick rocks every year.
Jonathan and I walked the 1.3 mile paved trail that takes you all the way around the tower. We spotted some mountain climbers who were working their way to the top. They looked like tiny specks on the side of the tower. Jonathan was inspired to try a little climbing as well…
…but decided this was high enough. Ha!
The day was perfect for a walk, and the trail was fairly easy, with just a few climbs that made us breath harder (remember, we are flatlanders from the prairies of Minnesota…what we think of as steep parts of the trail would be nothing to those who live in other parts of the US). Every angle of Devil’s Tower is a little different, making the hike around the whole thing totally worth it.
We made it back to Rapid City in time to grab a bite to eat for supper, then we went to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. Both Jonathan and I highly recommend it. Your parking pass is good until the end of the year, so you can visit the monument more than once on your trip. We have visited during the day the last two times we were out there, so this year, we only went for the evening.
We arrived a little over an hour before the ceremony began since the seats have been known to fill up. As we waited, I took a few photos of the faces as the sun was setting. It always amazes me how you see different details on the faces at different times of the day. I’m not sure if Gutzon Borglum was brilliant, or lucky on that part.
As the ceremony begins, a Park Ranger comes on stage and tells the story of how they became passionate about the National Parks. They usually give a little background of the monument before starting a film that talks about the carving of the faces, and what each President represents. They do a decent job of talking about the hard issues of how Native Americans have been treated, and how Thomas Jefferson’s dream was that one day every person in America would be equal. It was a fitting message for today as well.
At the closing of the film, America the Beautiful is sung, and the monument is lit. It is very moving. Then, the audience is asked to stand, and we all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Once again, I had troubles with that part, due to the emotions and tears that usually come listening to the crowd singing and reciting the Pledge as one. Following the Pledge, all active and retired service men and women are invited on stage for the Flag Ceremony. This year, there were around 70 individuals who went forward, including two elementary aged kids whose father is currently in Afghanistan. The crowd gave those kids a standing ovation. More tears. It is pretty cool how they give everyone the time to introduce themselves by name, rank, and branch of service.
As soon as the ceremony was finished, we went back to Custer and spent a few hours hanging out with Christina and her friend. It was a long day, but a great day!
Friday morning we left Custer, and headed north. I was a bit surprised by how much the landscape changed from the moment we left the Black Hills National Forest, and again once we left Belle Fourche.
Theodore Roosevelt State Park
Thanks to some long road construction delays, it took a little longer to get to Medora, North Dakota than we anticipated, so we didn’t get to see any of the museums that had been recommended by friends. We stopped at the Painted Canyon overlook and rest stop to take some photos, which was the first taste of the Badlands of North Dakota.
We were excited to see how the Badlands of North Dakota compared to the Badlands of South Dakota. There are some similarities, yet they are very different.
The Badlands of South Dakota feels a little more rugged, and lives up the the lore of outlaws hiding in the craggy rock. The Badlands of North Dakota has a more gentle feel while still being impressive. I can totally see why Teddy Roosevelt settled in this area for awhile!
We were a little disappointed that we really didn’t see many bison in Custer State Park, so we were pretty excited when we rounded a corner and there was a nice sized herd of bison grazing in the sage on the side of the road. We looked at that herd for awhile, and took a few photos from the safety of the Durango, then wound our way through the animals to continue on our way. We rounded a corner, and there was another herd grazing along the road. We gently lowered our windows, took a few photos while breathing in the scent of sage, then worked our way back out of the park.
We stayed in Bismarck, North Dakota that night, and on Saturday, we were back in the farming frame of mind. We ended up stopping at three different John Deere dealerships looking at different tractors. We are pushing our current planting tractor to the max of its hydraulic pump with all of the Precision Plant equipment, so we are just looking at options, and hoping for the right tractor at the right time for the right price. Both Jonathan and I enjoy discussing agriculture topics when we travel, from equipment, to crops seen, to plans for the future. A road trip through the Dakotas and into Wyoming gave us a lot to talk about!
After traveling 1777 miles in just over 4 days, we are happy to be home! It was a pretty intense road trip, and we are thankful for good weather, friendly people, and safety on the road.
If you would like to check out other highlights from our trip, head on over to the Carolyn Cares Blog Facebook page where you can see some of the Instagram photos we shared.