South Dakota Rocks
Many of us, from middle school kids to senior citizens, have felt a reawakening about our country - and not via the perfunctory flag waving and barbecue on the Fourth of July - but deeper feelings about what it means to be an American.
Perhaps this is the year to forgo manufactured fun at theme parks, Hollywood tours or the Jersey shore and instead fill our hearts as well as out eyes with the salt of the earth. The splendor of the Black Hills that blister from the surrounding plains; canyons, ravines and the other-worldly nature of the Badlands; miles without strip malls or billboards but bison and meadows; and the incredible visual testaments of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the All-American vacation in the middle of the country in South Dakota that’s brimming with history, wild geography, Native American culture, iconic monuments and beautiful American nvistas all short drives from one another.
Hill City (www.hillcitysd.com), in the heart of the Black Hills, has a dual history of miners who came to prospect for gold and later the small mountain town became a paleontological and geological center for exploration and discovery. It’s definitely worth visiting for the excellent Museum at the Black Hills Institute ofGeological Research (www.everythingprehistoric.com)
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial
Nearly three million people from across the planet make the trip to see the 60-ft.- high granite faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone (about 24 miles from Rapid City). Celebrating it’s 76th birthday in 2017, the monument is mesmerizing in its grandeur but kids will definitely need a little more than staring at it from afar. Walk the Presidential Trail, an easy half-mile in length to get a tad closer to the sculpture. Breakfast or lunch at the on-site Carver’s Cafe, the only three-star Certified Green Restaurant in South Dakota! A 25-minute drive deposits you at the stunning Crazy Horse Memorial that sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began in 1948 after Lakota Chief Standing Bear.
Custer State Park
The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is also home to one of the world's largest bison herds and if you can wait until late summer to take your bucket list trip to South Dakota, you’re in for the visual treat of a lifetime when the 52nd Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival takes place. Cowboys, cowgirls and crews star in the saddle to move the 1,300 herd. The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is free and open to the public and it roars in on Sept. 29, 2017. Following the roundup, there’s a weekend full of fun via an arts festival and dutch oven cook off.
Badlands National Park
It’s hard to choose between sunset and sunrise at Badlands National Park because each offer different visuals that are equally disarming. One is a lavender and peach settling of the day among the buttes and canyons; the other a glorious awakening to mesas, spires and gullies afire with red volcanic rock. Either way or both, your camera will be clicking to capture the changing colors over the mystic wonderland carved by wind and water over countless years. You’re bound to spy bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and other wildlife.