South Dakota: More than Just Four Pretty Faces
By Jennifer Jordan
Those who think of South Dakota may think of one of two things. First, they may think of Mount Rushmore, the attraction that has literally given this state a face. Home to the heads of four famous presidents, Mount Rushmore is forever cemented in South Dakota lore. Second, people may think of Wall Drug, an old time store located in the town of Wall. With roots that began in the Great Depression, when it offered free ice water to customers, Wall Drug is filled with relics, food, and history of the region. Billboards advertising this store can be seen from as far away as Wyoming; it may only be a matter of time before these signs are even seen from outer space.
While Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug are important entities to South Dakota, they are by far not the only things that define the state. From the Badlands to Indian Reservations, South Dakota is one state filled with endless experiences. The following is a list of places that might not be very well known, but they are certainly well loved.
Bear Country, USA – For people who like animals – who really like animals and don’t just like them with a side of mashed potatoes – Bear Country is a place that is begging to be seen. Filled with black bears, elk, reindeer, cougars, bobcats, deer, bighorn sheep, buffalo and many more, this attraction allows tourists to take a three mile drive through a variety of enclosures. During the drive, several animals will approach, sniffing a bumper, pawing a side mirror, putting a nose up to a windshield. Those touring Bear Country find safety in their vehicles; it’s probably best not to tour this area in a convertible. Tourists are also discouraged from picking up hitchhiking mammals…no matter how cute they look or how much gas money they offer.
1880 Train – All aboard for a feel like no other. The 1880 train, located near Mount Rushmore, enthralls tourists with the epitome of a western experience. Not only are people allowed to get a sense of an old time locomotive – as the engine roars, the whistle blows, and the train chugs across the tracks – but the scenery appears to have been painted by God, or at least Bob Ross. The train ride, winding through the rocky landscape of the Black Hills, takes roughly two hours round trip.
Devil’s Gulch – Nothing says Old West quite like Jesse James, or rather nothing saws Old West quite like Jesse James evading the law. The geological wonder of Devil’s Gulch gives tourists a chance to see one of Jesse’s greatest escapes. As legend states, Devil’s Gulch is the place where, in 1876, he jumped his horse across a fifteen foot gap as The Law was in hot pursuit. Hours earlier, Jesse and his posse had robbed a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, splitting up as lawmen approached. Jesse survived the jump across the gulch and went on to meet up with his brother in Palisades State Park.
Chapel in the Hills – The Chapel in the Hills, though an Evangelical Lutheran Church, is open to all visitors of any faith. Tucked in at the bottom of the Black Hills, it serves as a calm retreat for those hoping to experience religion, nature, or just a little peace and quiet. The chapel is an exact recreation of the Borgund stavkyrkje in Laerdal, Norway, a church likely built near the 12th century that has not undergone any drastic changes. The Chapel in the Hills, built in 1969, may have come quite a bit after the 1100’s, but the recreation gives people a sense of Nordic culture, and religious preservation.
The Crazy Horse Memorial – Few states speak to the Native American culture quite like South Dakota. A region that is filled with the history and teachings of indigenous people, it is only fitting that South Dakota has a monument dedicated to one of the greatest Native American warriors in history. The Crazy Horse Memorial, though not complete, is still very much worth seeing. Being built in the Black Hills, upon completion this monument will have the honor of being the largest sculpture in the world. Dedicated to Crazy Horse, a Lakota Indian renown for his courage and tenacity, this monument epitomizes the desires of preserving traditions, values, and justice.
South Dakota, for those seeking a unique vacation, offers tourists a variety of things to see and do. Arguably the greatest state to visit for those who would like to learn about Native American history and the culture of the Old West, South Dakota gives people a true sense of heritage, a sense of wonder, and a firm grip on the roots of the United States.