I recently had the honor of being a guest of Governor Daugaard to the South Dakota 50th Anniversary Buffalo Round Up. And what an adventure it was! I spent a week in the company of other journalists seeing the best of what South Dakota has to offer for tourists and adventurers. I was enchanted.Photos: Laura Grier
Come along with me for a few highlights and surprises…
We started our adventure in Historic Deadwood, yes that Deadwood made famous on HBO. The old-west themed town has more than just gambling (which was fun, too). After a lovely dinner at Cadillac Jack’s and a good night’s rest at the First Gold Hotel, we gathered for breakfast at The Lodge at Deadwood before heading up to Mount Moriah Cemetery overlooking Deadwood Gulch. Photo: Laura Grier
We enjoyed the view and were so excited to check out the final resting places of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, who are buried together for eternity but were not together in real life. Make sure to grab a guide from the information stand for some fun reads about Calamity Jane.
Next we toured the Historic Adams House, which is a fully restored Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion. Take a guided tour to really understand how the home reflects Deadwood’s transition from a rough and tumble mining town to the stable center of industry and commerce that it is today. Photos: Laura Grier
A super fun and surprising stop on our trip was a visit to Deadwood Guns, which is (surprisingly, to a Californian like me, at least) a bar/shooting range. This seemed a bit odd to me, just the combination of beer and bullets, but it was early and no one was drinking so we proceeded without trepidation. Instead, we learned Fast Draw, which is a style of shooting where you need to draw and shoot very quickly from the hip (picture two old west outlaws on a dusty street walking five paces before turning and shooting at each other). I wasn’t too bad at it, and neither were our friends from Norway and England! Photo: Laura Grier
Our adventurous first morning continued with a tour of Broken Boot Gold Mine which was rich in history of the gold rush and technical details about how gold mining was accomplished. It was fascinating and very cool, literally, in the mine.Photo: Laura Grier
Next we headed up to Tatanka, Story of the Bison to learn the pivotal role Bison played in the lives of the Lakota people. I was thrilled to finally see the bronze sculpture in person, and it was even more impressive than I had imagined it would be.Photos: Laura Grier
After lunch we were ready for a hike in Spearfish Canyon State & National Forest Byway. We walked the easy trail through scenic Black Hills spruce trees to the top of a waterfall, here is my new friend Rob leading the way. It was invigorating and lovely, especially as the trees were turning for fall.Photos: Laura Grier
After a little rest, we all gathered for some local brews at Crow Peak Brewery. South Dakota is experiencing a beer renaissance – the beers were satisfying after a busy day and could compete with any world class brews.
After a night at the comfortable Holiday Inn Spearfish it was time for a more unique hike, off the beaten path, to Community Caves. This hike was hosted by our local South Dakota team, so it was a more unusual destination – you will have to ask a local to find the trailhead. We hiked vertically up a creekbed…to the top of the falls which pour over a natural cave. It was invigorating and inspiring!Photos: Laura Grier
From here we headed to Sturgis, famous for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally. It’s hard to believe how many people can fit into this small town for the yearly ride through Needles highway and party after!Photo: Laura Grier Our BBQ lunch at Knuckle Brewing Company did not disappoint, and of course I snuck in a little antique shopping with my new friend Laura from Beautiful Day Photography (I’ve featured many of her photos here because they are amazing and WAY better than mine!). Still kind of sad we didn’t buy the vintage mink stoles we found for $40 each.
We stopped for a few glasses of the only sparkling wine made in South Dakota at Belle Joli’ Winery on their delightful patio overlooking the vineyard before departing to check into our adorable Frontier Cabins in Wall, South Dakota.Photo: Laura Grier
Wall drug was made famous by offering free ice water to thirty travelers during the dust bowl days of the 1930’s. Now it is a giant drug store/theme park! Take your picture on the giant jackalope and stay for a meal. Say, a buffalo burger. Wall Drug is home to the largest privately owned collection of western art in the United States. Enjoy it as you browse and eat.
We finished this day off in the most magical way, watching the sun set over Badlands National Park.Photo: Laura Grier
The badlands are a geological wonder featuring a maze of buttes, canyons, and gullies formed by millions of years of erosion. The Lakota named the area “Badlands” because it is uninhabitable, you will find their beauty haunting and mysterious.Photo: Laura Grier
When you visit South Dakota, make sure to see the Badlands at sunset and sunrise to really watch the colors change minute by minute. It was stunning.
The following morning we woke early to watch the sun rise over another area of the badlands. We arrived just in time to hear the coyotes howl as the darkness gave way to bright oranges, yellows, purples, and pinks, before blending into the bright white of full daylight. Truly a mystical experience. Thank you endlessly to Laura Grier for capturing our magical morning in these photos. Photos: Laura Grier
From here we drove through glorious views on our way to Custer State Park. Photos: Laura Grier
If you are in great shape, you should plan to climb to the summit of Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. Laura did, and this is what she saw. Here is Rob enjoying a break from Brooklyn in the South Dakota wilderness and what they saw from the top… Photos: Laura Grier
If you have a bum hip that is sore from your Community Caves hike like myself, then head to Keystone to check out the cute shops before hopping on the vintage steam train at the 1880 Train Depot. Learn a little local history and all about the engineering marvel that is the steam train as you enjoy the views on the way to Hill City.
After a delicious lunch at Prairie Berry Winery (famous for its Red Ass Rhubarb wine), we packed up and took a scenic drive through Needles Highway in Custer State Park. This is not to be missed, you will understand why bikers gather for this drive once a year. Truly stunning to navigate the needle-like granite formations surrounded by birch and aspen.Photo: Laura Grier
We checked into our rooms at the Custer State Game Lodge, then headed out for dinner at Lintz Brothers Pizza. OH. EM. GEE. This was seriously the weirdest and yet most delicious pizza ever. Our favorite was most definitely Pie Mac. Which is basically pizza with two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions, no bun. Sounds weird, TASTES AMAZING. The frito pie pizza and taco pizza were not bad either.Photo: Danica Lo
After a good night’s rest it was off to watch the sun rise over South Dakota’s most famous memorial of all, Mount Rushmore. My new friend Rob described it best when he said “It’s impossible that this exists.” It is an awe inspiring thing to see, even more than you would ever think it could be. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has been there. My advice would be to get there early and watch the colors change as the sun rises. It is truly worth the early wake up time! As the sun started peeking over the horizon… …within an hour:Photo: Laura Grier
Be sure to do the walk around the base to see it from all angles.
Next we headed to Crazy Horse Memorial which is even more awe inspring, just in its sheer size! The entire Mount Rushmore monument can fit inside the head of Crazy Horse. At the Crazy Horse memorial, it is imperative that you watch the 20 minute movie offered in the lobby. The movie is fascinating and really explains why this monument is taking so long to complete and what it is meant to represent to all Native peoples. If you have the resources, it is worth booking a private drive to stand up on the arm of the memorial and have this view of the face and the valley below.
After a lovely dinner meeting some of the government and business people that invest in South Dakota, it was time for an early rest before the big Buffalo Round Up! This was most definitely the highlight of my visit, as I got to ride standing in the back of a pickup amongst the cowboys and cowgirls as we herded the buffalo into their corrals. The buffalo were squirelly this year, so it took a couple tries to get them to cooperate. It was amazing to be amongst these magnificent wild animals and the people who look after them.
For our final day in South Dakota, we headed to Rapid City to enjoy its presidential statues and turn of the century buildings, like the Alex Johnson Hotel (the most haunted hotel in America according to some). The highlight of Rapid City was definitely a visit to The Journey Museum to experience the interactive displays describing the geology of the area along with the history of American pioneers and their effect on the Native American culture of the Lakota Sioux.
South Dakota surprised me with its rich landscape and history, I can’t wait to return with my family and delve even deeper. I hope you consider visiting South Dakota soon!