August 30, 2016 - Photos are at the end of the post.
Guess who went to South Dakota this weekend?
I know, you're probably thinking... why?? Well, let me tell you something: South Dakota is WAY cooler than you might think! And no, Mount Rushmore is not the only thing to see. Actually, I almost missed out on seeing it entirely!
About six weeks ago, someone mentioned that Mount Rushmore is only six hours from Denver. Since one of my goals in life is to visit all 50 states, I thought - WHOA! I should take a road trip to Mount Rushmore! I mentioned this to Maddie and somehow within one hour this idea had turned into a plan, a weekend date selected, and two nights in a tee pee booked! Yep, a tee pee.
We merged my desire to travel to South Dakota with Maddie's desire to camp at a KOA Kampground (yes, that's how they spell it) and ended up with this pretty awesome trip. Friday morning I headed up north to Denver to pick Maddie up after her half-day at work and with a car full of blankets, chairs, and plenty of snacks, we were off!
I can't say it was the most thrilling drive through Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, but we did stop at some place called Runza so Maddie could get a sandwich, AND we were on the OREGON TRAIL! Luckily, no one died from dysentery.
The last bit of our trip took us through an Indian reservation on the NE/SD border, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. I realized that myself, and most Americans, just kind of forget that the American Indians are still here, still trying to preserve their culture and survive despite being a part of a difficult system. Once we made it through the reservation, we arrived at the KOA and our tee pee!
How cool is that? It had two metal futons inside, so we set up our beds, made a campfire and hung out for the little bit of the evening we had left. It actually rained ALL night and we stayed pretty dry! I was impressed!
On Saturday, we drove through the Badlands National Park, which was a winding road through a part of the country that I didn't even realize existed. I thought about what it must have been like to come across this for the first time in a wagon - would have have been FREAKED OUT. I felt like I was on Mars!
We also got to get up close and personal with a herd of Antelope! They were super cute, just hopping around on the terrain or chilling out at the cliff's edge. Pretty nice life!
Once we left the park, we headed to what Maddie delicately called a tourist trap: Wall Drug Store. This was DEFINITELY a tourist trap, but entertaining nonetheless. There were rooms and rooms of little stores with all sorts of souvenirs, camping gear, and cowboy-style clothing you could buy, plus homemade donuts and 5 cent coffee! Obviously, we got some coffee and I had a bit of Maddie's donut (delicious).
We had a late lunch at an adorable restaurant/bar in called the Wagon Wheel. There was one woman working there all afternoon, so she was the janitor, bartender, chef, etc. She was a blast and we loved hanging out with her since we were the only customers. For the afternoon and evening, we headed back to our camp to relax, build a fire, have some cocktails and eat plenty of s'mores. We also went over to where the KOA served food and had Indian tacos! NOT gluten-free (or "healthy..."), but 100% worth trying (FYI I am gluten intolerant - meaning I'm not allergic and can have gluten on occasion, but knowing it could make me feel bad).
The next morning, we packed up our camping gear and headed out. We took a different way back to Denver so we could pass through the Black Hills and see Mount Rushmore. Our plan was to take a road called Needles Highway where you can see Mount Rushmore from the road. It turned out it was right next to a big state park called Custer, which boasted quite a bit of wildlife. Since I hadn't seen any buffalo yet and I really wanted to, we opted to take a little detour through the park!
We saw a few buffalo, some donkeys, and a lot of prairie dogs. The donkeys were ADORABLE and let us pet them! (Maddie is a donkey professional - do not try this at home...).
Then, right as we were leaving the park, we came across a HUGE herd of buffalo that had completely taken over the road. They just did not care one bit that there were cars trying to inch forward.
They got quite up close and personal and some of the bulls were MASSIVE and a little scary. Not gonna lie, I got a little nervous they would hit my car! Luckily, after a while, we made it out with some great pics and videos.
Finally, we made our way across Needles Highway, which was a gorgeous winding road through the Black Hills. Unfortunately, we totally missed Mount Rushmore! I could NOT come all this way and not see it (despite Maddie saying it was underwhelming), so we did a quick detour and realized that I could see it from the road without paying to go in! Yes, I'm cheap. And yes, it was underwhelming! Haha. It was MUCH smaller than I imagined! Still, I was glad that I got to see it!
After that, a looooong and boring ride home, mostly through Wyoming. There you have it - my weekend adventure in South Dakota! I do have to say, the black hills area was GORGEOUS and I definitely recommend visiting! I'd love to go back and stay in one of the many campgrounds/lodges that are located in the state park!
Plus, I've officially visited 33 states!!