I drove through the Black Hills of South Dakota ready to soak up a beautiful day in this new to me part of the country. One day didn’t seem like nearly enough time, but one day is all I had and I was determined to make the most of it. Even though it was mid May, you would never know because of the snow that had come the night before. But still the snow against the black rocks made for a wonderful visual contrast.
I planned to spend the day visiting Mount Rushmore National Monument. I walked down the flag lined path where each pillar was dedicated to a state and is covered in information about that state. I paused here and there to read on some of the states, but what I really came to see was above me. I gazed up at the faces of some of the most influential men in our history that had been carved into the rock. Mount Rushmore was completed in 1941 under the direction of Gutzon Borglum. It depicts four of the nations presidents- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. I wandered through the visitor center reading more about the monument and the men whose faces adorn it. But then I found I had done everything there was to do here. As incredible as the monument is to see, it is not really worthy of an entire day visit. So with some help from some maps in the visitor center I found some other possibilities for the rest of the day.
A little ways further down the road from Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument. This still under construction monument is being carved to depict the Oglala Lakota warrior named Crazy Horse upon his steed and pointing towards his tribal land. The construction of the monument began in 1948 and as of yet there is not end date in sight. When it is completed this monument will be the second tallest statue after the Statue of Unity in India. Crazy Horse is honored in his taking up arms against the US Federal government as they encroached their way onto the territories that belonged to the Oglala Lakota people. He is considered one of the most notable and iconic Native Americans in history.
At the visitor center there are renderings of what the statue will look like when it is completed. It is also where they have established The Indian Museum of North America. This museum showcases a large collection of art and artifacts of over 300 different Native Nations. The museum began with a single exhibit donated in 1965 by a member of the Sioux Tribe. Today this museum rivals the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It was a fascinating look at the history and culture of the different tribes
After seeing the monuments I decided to head south so I could visit Badlands National Park. There is a long stretch of highway in between the monuments and the national park and as I drove I started noticing signs posted every so often about Wall Drug. Hundreds of these signs, each one different from the last, followed this highway. I had no idea what Wall Drug was but after so many signs I was determined to stop there and see what all the signs were about. Wall Drug is a massive building with a restaurant, number of shops, food stands, a chapel, and numerous photo spots all housed in one place. This place is so big that they give you a map so you can find your way around. A little kitschy to be sure, but also an absolute delightful place to wander through and see what you find. Nothing like some clever advertising to lead you to a fun roadside attraction!
After exploring Wall Drug, I then continued down to Badlands National Park. Badlands is such an interesting park with its rugged terrain of layered rock formations and towering spires. While this is a national park, the South Unit of the park is co-managed between the national park service and the Oglala Lakota tribe. This land has been back and forth between the tribes who feel it is sacred ground and the government who wanted to preserve it as a national park. While that debate has not always been amiable, it seems that they have now worked it out to serve in both capacities. The term ‘Badlands’ was first used by the Lakota people and then later on fur trappers from Canada echoed the term because the land was bad to travel through. But being hard to travel through made these lands a perfect hideout for outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I drove back up the long highway with a wave to Wall Drug. With only a little bit of the day left to enjoy, I headed to another iconic spot in the area – Sturgis. For any motorcycle enthusiast Sturgis is a name that brings joy and anticipation as every year motorcyclists come from around the country for a epic ride through the Black Hills. The town is full of bars, restaurants, and hotels that are only open for this event but that event pays enough to be closed the rest of the year. I was too early for Sturgis the event, but I still got to experience the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. This museum is a presentation of motorcycles and how they have made their mark on the country. From humble beginnings to the motorcycle rallies, this museum shows it all with a loving pride.
My day in the Black Hills certainly ended up far more full than I had anticipated and my goodness but I was glad for it. In one day I managed to see so many places that are so important to this area. I had to laugh at myself thinking that I would spend the entire day visiting Mount Rushmore when the Black Hills had so much more in store for me.