Last month I made many hilarious jokes about how Jaime was going to South Africa and I was going to South… Dakota. Seriously though, I was excited to spend some alone time with Clare and was looking forward to visiting a few natural and man-made masterpieces like Badlands and Mount Rushmore, but I didn’t realize just how much there was to do and how beautiful it would be. We had three wonderful days in South Dakota but I left feeling like we easily could have spent a week (or even two) to see it all. We will be back South Dakota!
Here is what we did over three days in Rapid City and the Black Hills of South Dakota as the guests of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. If you are planning a trip to these parts, you can’t go wrong with this itinerary crafted by the experts….
We flew directly from Dallas to Rapid City and were on our way to Badlands National Park. Clare enjoyed making her mother screech by balancing on the edges of cliffs and giving sullen glances better than any 13 year old.
We stopped at the visitor’s center where we learned about the wonderful programs they have available for Summer, checked out the new Cedar Pass Lodge cabins inside the park which are available to rent and ate a delicious meal including bison burgers and locally made ice cream. This is also where we began our three day long shopping spree as the gift-shop was filled with authentic Native American crafts and other beautiful things we couldn’t resist.
From there we headed to the Frontier Cabins Motel where Clare fell in love will staying in our own cozy and perfectly modernized log cabin. We watched the sun set, played on their awesome playground and explored the teepees. We also hit the gift shop, naturally.
After a deep sleep complete with the rare opportunity to co-sleep/snuggle, we scurried over to Wall Drug to sample their famous donuts and coffee, their equally delicious but less famous head-sized cinnamon buns, and to ride a giant Jack-a-lope.
We also shopped. Here is Clare picking out a beautiful gem necklace
She picked one out for me too, sweet girl!
About that time we got a call on my cell from a local number. It was the motel telling us we had left our iPad in the room. Don’t see that every day.
From there it was off to some fishing at the Outdoor Campus West, which is in Rapid City but felt like the wilderness. You will notice there is a lot of wide open space in South Dakota. Clare had been begging to go fishing so we were both absolutely thrilled to hear that we would be getting lessons. The Campus has a gorgeous facility with tons of activities and events to book throughout the Summer. They also have beautifully created displays of taxidermy which the kids were totally petting and loving on which was slightly creepy and funny.
From there we set out to see some real live animals on a Jeep Safari in Custer State Park.
Bison are an everyday sighting here in Texas but seeing the little wobbly burnt-orange high-top-fade babies was a thrill that made us all squeal over “the cute.”
Our guide shared the fascinating history of Custer State Park and it’s bison. I think it was my favorite part of the entire trip. I literally saw the deer and the antelope play. Not together, but still. Don’t even get me started on the adorableness of seeing 100 Prairie Dogs popping in and out of holes.
After this full day we were ready to sit down for a hearty meal of amazing ribs and the fixins’. The Holy Smoke Resort (just outside of Keystone) opened it’s restaurant a day early for the season just for us but they were on their game preparing this deliciously satisfying dinner. After dinner the kids went outside and discovered this fascinating artifact. So many questions.
Then we headed up to our own 2-bedroom log cabin in the hills. I found myself suddenly awake in the middle of the night and had to peek outside to see the stars. Remember the stars? I haven’t seem them like that in a long time. Had I not been afraid of critters, I would have gone for a stroll. It was one of those moments you want to lock in your brain forever. Sleeping baby girl after an adventurous day, night under the stars. This is what life is all about.
And life should also be about leftover Wall Drug donuts which, thanks to a thick slathering of Maple icing were just as good 1-day-old. We needed our nourishment because we were about hit the mines.
The Big Thunder Gold Mine gave a wonderful, fact-filled and humorous tour of a real gold mine from the 1890’s. Gold Mining was a hard life and not so far off from the drama depicted by Hollywood. I have to admit I’ve given Deadwood another chance since returning from my South Dakota adventure with renewed interest and some historical perspective. Our guide Matt gave us an excellent lesson in panning for gold but Clare and I were not naturals. In the end we decided Fool’s Gold was just as pretty, pocketed a few pieces and hit the gift shop, of course.
On to the 1880 train out of Hill City (a quaint Western town) and through the Black Hills. It was a nice to catch some more history and even a little shut-eye. I was secretly hoping there would be a surprise train robber reenactment but we made it out with our wallets. My imagination gets ahead of me sometimes.
And now what you’ve all been waiting for! Mount Rushmore! It was as impressive as you can imagine. The fact that men carved this in the side of a mountain based on drawings and models is just mind-blowing to me. It’s a masterpiece of art, engineering, geology, craftsmanship and determination. It’s also a great lesson… Something can still be spectacular even if it doesn’t turn out exactly as planned.
Although Mount Rushmore is a tough act to follow, Reptile Gardens (the largest reptile zoo in the world) successfully thrilled us all with snakes, frogs, crocs, birds and an up-close meet-n-greet with a giant tortoise.
Clare thrilled us with her eerily accurate grebe impression. After stocking up on all things reptile to bring home for Gordon, we headed for a night of lux accommodations at Rapid City’s Cambria Suites. No log cabin, but they made Clare feel like a VIP with a goodie bag of activities and snacks. Lucky girl.
If we had one more day we would have strolled around Rapid City catching some unique shopping, the City of Presidents, The Journey Museum and Dinosaur Park. As it was, we saw one president (do you know who?), Art Alley, had a wonderful dinner at Firehouse Brewery, and finished off the night with a stroll to a chocolate shop for treats.
If you haven’t made plans for your Summer vacation, let me say that South Dakota will blow you away whether you have 2 days or 2 weeks. It will be a family experience you will not forget. I would head back today if given the chance, well except that I’m in Seattle, alone with my husband, for the first time in a year, so maybe not precisely today, but soon.