Posts Tagged ‘Custer State Park’

      My in-laws lived in Wyoming and we spent the first twenty years of our married life traveling every summer from Northern Illinois to Wyoming. We were very fortunate because all it cost us was our gas, out and back, and a hotel, going and coming.  Often my father-in-law would give us some gas money for our trip, so it was almost like a free vacation.  We would never have been able to enjoy such a vacation without having a place to stay that was “free.”  But my in-laws loved it because it gave them a chance to have their grandchildren around and our sons experienced and learned about the West in a way most kids don’t get a chance to.
     We travelled I-90 the whole way and when we first started traveling west, there were sections that were not yet interstate.  We traveled through southern Minnesota and into South Dakota.  There are 412 miles in South Dakota along that interstate and I used to know every exit of importance along the way (there aren’t that many!)
Thirteen miles in was Sioux Falls, the biggest city in the state. Another hour and you would get to Mitchell.  This is the home to the Corn Palace and definitely worth a stop.  Every year a new scene unfolds around the building done in multi colored corn, since the birds eat the previous year’s scene.
     Roughly another hour down the road is Chamberlain.  This town’s claim to fame is that this is where you cross the Missouri River, which Lewis and Clark traveled on.  You can also stop at Al’s Oasis, a fun western store and restaurant where coffee is still a nickel a cup.  After Chamberlain the towns are few and far in between but Murdo has an Antique Car Museum worth a visit.
     Finally, you come to The Badlands and you know you are closer to your destination.  Wall Drug (110 miles from the border, but only 50 miles to Rapid City) is your first stop (if you are driving by car).  We used to stop here coming and going because our boys loved it so much. You can get to Wall either on the interstate or by traveling through Badlands National Park.
     Wall Drug Store started in the 1930’s offering free ice water to tourists who were traveling in the summer in the 90 or 100+ temperatures in cars that didn’t have AC.  You can get buffalo burgers and cinnamon rolls, and my one son always had to have the blueberry pie.  This place is unbelievable and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.  There is the famed T-Rex that scares kids about every 15 minutes and all kinds of Western memorabilia—too many things to mention.
     When you leave Wall, it is just a 50 mile drive to Rapid City, the jumping off point to the Black Hills.  The Hills, as they are known, was sacred land to the Sioux.  The government even signed a treaty with the Sioux that said the land would belong to them “as long as grass grew.”  However, gold was discovered and that was the end of “grass growing” and the Native Americans owning the land there.  Custer’s Last Stand and Wounded Knee destroyed this once great nation.
     The reason they are called The Black Hills are they are filled with ponderosa pine trees that make the hills look black from a distance.  But the closer you get to an area, you realize the trees are really green.
            There are so many sites in the Hills you would be hard pressed to take them in on one visit; although many families come in campers and spend quite a few days in the area.  Obviously, Mount Rushmore is one of the more famous stops.  It is an awesome site to behold, although a few years ago the federal government renovated the area.  Now instead of the beautiful native limestone buildings, they have turned the site into a Washington monument with marble.  If you never saw it in the old days, take a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to see the way the buildings used to look.  They even added a multi story parking lot!  Mount Rushmore is still free but parking is not!
            Some of the other highlights in the area is Custer State Park where you can ride a jeep to look for buffalo and other wildlife, visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, another sculpture being carved into a mountain-side, ride on the 1880’s Train of the Black Hills that used to serve the area mines, and last, but not least a stop at Deadwood. Deadwood has a lot of western history.  It was home to Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok (he got shot there holding the “dead man’s hand” of aces and eights) and they are now both buried at “Boot Hill.”  You can ride a narrated tram through the city so as not to miss any of the local history.
            One thing you will miss is the wooden sidewalks.  A few years ago, Deadwood was dying so they brought casino gambling in. Out went the wooden sidewalks, no longer considered safe.  And, within three years more than half of the locals had to move from their hometown because they were so addicted to gambling.
            Finally, be sure and take in a chuckwagon supper and cowboy musical show, if you get a chance.  One of my favorites is the Flying T Ranch.  I have been to quite a few of these shows throughout the West, and while this one is smaller, they have good food and all the old favorite songs we grew up with.
            If you have never been to this part of the country, be sure and put it on your list.  You can get there by car or take an escorted bus tour.  Many travelers on bus tours combine this trip with Yellowstone.
It is the Journey…not the destination!

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