DH and I took advantage of a free weekend to do something we’ve been meaning to do for a while–take a trip up to the Black Hills area of South Dakota. This isn’t one of our 101-in-1001 travel items, but it should have been (we might have to substitute it for another one, though). Since I haven’t been anywhere since Christmas (and then we just went home to visit) and it might be a little while yet till our proper celebratory vacation, it was much needed and surprisingly effective, even if it was just a two day trip.

The trip to the scenic location unfortunately required a six hour drive across the absolute bleakness of eastern Wyoming. However, DH and I kept ourselves entertained by listening to the Grand Ole Opry live and some old Hank Williams, Sr. recordings–huzzah for satellite radio. Finally we made it to our hotel and began exploring the area the next morning.

The Black Hills region, located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, is characterized by dramatic granite hills and spires, rugged and inhospitable buttes, and rolling plains.

These granite hills are home to one of the most iconic monuments in America, Mount Rushmore.

DH and I visited Mt. Rushmore in the evening. We were tired and hungry after a long day and really debated whether to stay for the nightly lighting ceremony. While standing right there, we decided to look up and watch a video of the lighting ceremony on YouTube. So we got to see it while not actually having to stay to see the real thing.

Okay, okay. I’m kidding. Well, about the leaving part that is; I’m quite serious about watching the video. 😉 We poked around the gift shop long until it time for the show, so we stayed. It was quite patriotic and dramatic, and while it was late when it ended, we were glad we stayed. And at the end of the ceremony all the veterans were invited to the front to state their name and service, and a few helped take down the flag for the evening. It was quite a meaningful experience.

Earlier that day, we did some scenic driving in the hills. We walked through historic Deadwood, the iconic wild west town, and drove through Sturgis, motorcycle mecca. I personally didn’t find it very exciting, but that’s just me. We also drove east towards the Badlands, first stopping at Wall Drug in the city of Wall. This is quite possibly the most awesome tourist trap ever. Featuring five cent cups of coffee, free ice water, a tyrannosaurus rex, and home-made donuts, it’s just about as close to Disneyland as you can come in the middle of nowhere. And of course, any day you get to sit on a large jackelope is a good day.

Moving on from the drug store took us to the Badlands themselves. This is an interesting geologic feature, a cross between the Grand Canyon and desert buttes. It really is quite desolate.

The next morning we spent driving around Custer State Park, which features both the granite hills and the rolling plains. The plains are home to lots of interesting animals like deer and pronghorns. We even saw a turkey and a roadrunner while there, two birds you don’t just come across every day. However, there are two more notable creatures in the park. First is a very large herd of bison, which we were excited to see during our drive.

The other interesting herd is a pack of burros, the descents of a herd used by pioneers. Evidently, they are also called the “begging burros,” for very obvious reasons. Say cheese, guys.

Our last stop on our way out of town was Wind Cave, a national park just south of Custer State Park. This is one of the longest caves in the world, with 138 miles currently explored but over 2,000 miles suspected to be lurking under just a few square miles above. DH and I took a cave tour (a mere two miles) before heading back home.

All in all, it was a great trip, short but full of interesting sights. We might have enjoyed another day to spread out our excursions, but we did everything we wanted to do and didn’t feel horribly pressed for time. We also picked a great weekend to go; it had been very hot, but it was cloudy and cool all weekend. I think it rained at home the entire time we were gone, too, so I’m glad we got rain but didn’t have to wade out in in.

It might be a little out of the way, but if you’re ever in the area or can make the trip, I highly recommend it!

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