Thursday, September 2, 2010

where were we?

That's vacation...South Dakota. It's all coming back to me. I'll distill an entire week to the highlights, with travel tips for those of you planning a similar trip some day.

The Road Trip portion of our journey went fantastically well. I packed a cooler of healthy snacks and the boys spent a lot of time drawing and reading and playing auto bingo before settling into a DVD. I cannot recommend the 3:00 p.m. departure time enough. We stopped at a truck stop for dinner around 6:30 which gave us enough of a break to continue on until 9:00 when we checked into our first hotel and where I took Team Testosterone to the pool to burn off their pent-up energy while Mr. D took to the bed and TV set in our room. (Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you should disrupt your regular schedule too much.)

We were startled to find ourselves in South Dakota earlier than expected. Naturally we took time to admire the Corn Palace.

Our hotel in Rapid City boasted the state's largest water park. Rather a waste on us, and frankly I was annoyed to have to pay extra to use it each day. In retrospect, a hotel with a decent pool would have sufficed. The water park was more of a distraction than a perk at first, although we were glad to escape from the beastly August heat wave blanketing the state.

Mount Rushmore was FABULOUS. We ate at the cafeteria--excellent food--and did a little hiking. They've done much to add to the entire experience since my last trip, the story of Mount Rushmore is well explained. Crazy Horse was kind of odd. If you go, definitely stick around for the video presentation--very informative.

Bear Country USA is worth it if only to watch the bears at dinner time:

It's the only place we lost track of a child.

We found Mr. G enchanted by the bear cubs.

Reptile World was awesome. We saw snakes and gators and crocodiles and spent an entire morning partaking of all they had to offer--including watching the Alligator Wrestling, which you can only see on Fridays and Saturdays. This was a highlight of our trip.

No kidding--I have a picture of me riding that tortoise as a little girl. Same one.

Mr. G gets up close and personal with a baby gator.

We dropped by the Holy Smoke Stables for a little trail ride. I'll warn you now, these cowboys are straight off the Texas ranch. I assumed that they skipped any explanation of How to Ride a Horse because we'd just follow in a single file line along the trail. That lesson might have proved useful since Mr. G's horse reared back and raced off course to scrape Mr. G off into a tree. Naturally, my baby was screaming and terrified while his horse went out of control. Cowboy Ron kept yelling at him to "Grab the reins and PULL!" But when you don't know what reins even are, those are pretty useless instructions. Cowboy Ron jumped off his horse and pulled Mr. G's out of the tree. Mr. G was covered in scrapes and scratches and crying. But cowboys expect a man to "Nut up or shut up" so with Mr. G's horse tied to Cowboy Ron's, we continued on our way. The path through the Black Hills was gorgeous.

Mr. T is a natural horseman.

Afterwards Mr. B begged us for a cowboy hat. And of course we needed ice cream. We stopped in Keystone after driving through Custer and finding out that Custer was nothing but a big overrated disappointment. And the Jewel Caves? Another bust. By reservation only--I was surprised that a National Park required those and that the guidebook didn't mention it. Keystone did NOT disappoint.

The Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns were fascinating. Even more fascinating than the caves and their history, however, was John, our twee little fifteen-year-old guide. For someone so young, he did an excellent job telling us all about the cave and guiding our group through the tour.
John, our amazing tour guide.

Interesting side note: The entire South Dakota Tourism Industry seems to run on the shoulders of teenagers. Everywhere we went, teenagers took care of us. They served us meals, they sold us tickets, they explained attractions, they led tours. And it was quite remarkable how these kids were without exception cheerful, helpful, hard working and well-spoken. At the end of summer, I expected to run into people burnt out from working with tourists, but I never saw anyone who looked tired or ornery. I'm telling you, reader, I fully expect the youth of South Dakota to take over the world someday. They're that capable.

Caves were the only chilly spot in the Black Hills.

Our guidebook took us 40 miles in the wrong direction for our chuckwagon dinner. A bummer, but we ended up at the Gas Light Saloon in Rockerville--a genuine ghost town. If you go to South Dakota, you have to stop there. The food was fantastic (homemade pepperoni pizza rolls!) and the ambiance all you'd expect from a cowboy saloon (live music--playing hits by Johnny Cash!). We explored the ghost town in the fading light before turning in for the night.

Shocking to note how expensive land and property goes for out there. Little prefab ranch style houses on 5 acres go for $200,000! Just crazy.

Wall Drug--it's as obnoxious as I remembered it. And totally worth dropping by.

Some new features include a water-play area--Team Testosterone LOVED it.

Wall Drug: Photo Ops Galore

The Badlands were hot and windy and eerily gorgeous.

Making it difficult to take a good picture.

And then we kept driving. And driving and driving. It was a good family vacation.

My only suggestion to South Dakota: Lay off the Sturgis/motorcycle promotions. It would have been nice to find a t-shirt or postcard or coffee mug without a biker logo. But if you're not in the mood to make money off your other tourists, you're doing a fine job!


  1. With the exception of the horse incident, it all sounds like so much fun. I really want to go, but not in August. Too hot. :-)

    LOVE the cowboy hats!

  2. Thanks for the great "report" of your family trip. Sounds like fun for the boys..and Mom and Dad.

  3. August is when it really starts to warm up in that June and July, you're likely to still be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. South Dakotans are truly the salt of the earth--many, many college friends from there since Nebraska is the closest big university experience. Everyone I knew was smart and hardworking.

    RE the house prices--Nebraska's cost of living is more than here in Atlanta, too, mainly because the tax burden is divided between so few people. And SD has even fewer people than Nebraska, which I have a hard time even imagining after living here for so long.

    What do you think...Huskers first Big 10 game is at Camp Randall. Go Big Reds. And Iowa for the other bookend.

  4. Sounds like a fun trip. I'll have to go with my family someday.

  5. One year we accidentally drove through during Sturgis---nuts doesn't even begin to describe it ;)

    Glad that your guys had such a good time!!! (Well, except for the crazy horse..get it..Crazy Horse?!?..hehehe...sorry, lack of sleep makes me a little punchy)

  6. But five ACRES? What's 2K with that view?

  7. Nice corn! "Nutt up or shut up" might just become my second most loved quote next to "Put your big girl panties on."

  8. It sounds like a fab trip--though I think that I would have insisted on visiting De Smet South Dakota, to check out where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. But I imagine that might have been a hard sell to Team Testosterone...

  9. That's it. I want to pack up the family and head to South Dakota on vacation. For that matter, there are almost no jobs available for teens around here, so the Boy will no doubt be ready to run away to S. Dakota in hopes of joining the tourism industry if he gets wind of this post.

  10. I absolutely loved this play by play.

    What a cool vacation. I never even though of South Dakota as a destination...but now I'm going to totally copy you and retrace all your steps.

    So fun. Also, I've always wanted to see the Badlands.

  11. I want to go WITH YOU next time! Except for the horse part. And the alligator part. Everything but those two parts.

    Also? Cowboy Ron? Was he like Captain Ron? (Remember that movie? Do you? Do you?)

  12. What a GREAT vacation! And thanks for posting all the pics. I love them. My favorite is the family photo with the happy corn cob. Awesome.
    And you have a pic of you riding the very same tortoise? Seriously????? That. Is. Awesome.

  13. Sounds like a fabulous family trip (expect for the misbehaving horse). Love the tortoise!

  14. I love the gator photo--that face!

    I have a similar horse story and my theory is that horse people have so much disdain for non-horse people that they are secretly delighted when the horses try to kill us.

  15. The Corn Palace!! The Corn Palace!!!

    Your post made me nostalgic for the Dakotas.....

  16. We took nearly this same trip last year and I loved Custer SP and thought bear country was a really bad and expensive zoo. I guess we should have made it for the feeding. The children of course loved bear country.

  17. Fantastic pictures!! !! I felt like I was riding right along with y'all..! The longevity of a tortoise is so mysterious, isn't it....out of all the creatures on I wonder what they think of.

  18. Bet great memories still linger of this family trip. What a huge tortoise - ready to be petted too!

  19. Who knew South Dakota was so fabulous?


Spill it, reader.