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Day 8 of 11: A tour of southern South Dakota

Posted by joeabbott on July 6, 2014

While the past few days had been draining, we were now on our way back to Seattle. To be sure, the drain was purely from being on someone else’s schedule and being “on” … the sort of pressure you feel when you’re back home and want your family members to think good things about you. We very much enjoyed both being up early with family and then staying up late with them; and it’s hard to beat a wedding for an enjoyable time socializing! And yet, time to get back to the rhythms of our chosen lives.


We were now on our time and it was just the two of us … here’s what we did with that time.

The Plan

My brother Jay heard we were staying in Sioux Falls and said something like, “if you have time, there’s this great place called something like Sky Falls with this beautiful river … you gotta see it. It’s a wonder that more people don’t flock to it!” Well, he tried searching for Sky Falls and came up empty before suggesting it was Falls Park but was no less ebullient about the destination regardless the name. While both Suzy and I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the Badlands and at Mt. Rushmore, we saw Falls Park was close to the hotel so we added it to our itinerary.

Beyond that, we both heard of the otherworldly landscape of the Badlands and wanted to see that. And, while we’d both been to Mt. Rushmore previously (in our youths), a return trip would be welcome.

So our day was set!

P1060497Falls Park

Like my brother, I don’t understand why this destination isn’t better known or more visited. No, there isn’t a strange otherworldly landscape and there aren’t massive heads carved into a mountainside, but it’s just a phenomenal park!

Lots of trees, rolling hills, tons of exposed ruby rock, an observation tower and that river! Deep and swift-moving enough to throw up a good spray, it’s got character in its multiple falls and the early settler efforts to utilize the river in both a hydro plant and mill are documented in plaques around the park.

Stop talking … roll the pictures!


P1060703 Stitch

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Park statues are my friend

I’m not exceptionally photogenic, but put me in a place with statuary or something to pose with, and I go a bit nuts. While I’ll stand in front of anything, I typically like interacting with it. Meaning standing on, behind, or on top of it. I won’t deface public property or damage art, but build something out of bronze, steel, or concrete, and I’ll hop on it every time.


Badlands National Park

I could drone on in superlatives over the amazing Badlands but I’d fail to convey just how special a place this is. As above, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

P1060744 Stitch

P1060779P1060756 StitchP1060762



I will note that, in service to getting a neat picture and hopefully finding a fossil or two (I didn’t), I hiked down a short gully. To my detriment, the grasses must have been loaded with pollen as I ended up with a runny nose and spent the next day and a half sneezing away! The things I’ll do for a good picture!

Mt. Rushmore National Monument

My impression of Mt. Rushmore from the last time I was here, is that it was a small viewing area with a few telescopes to see a distant mountain with the four presidents’ heads cut into it. I was staggered to see either how it’s changed or how wrong I was!

Suzy and I parked about 20 yards from a promenade taking us down the marble State Flag courtyard. On the far side of the courtyard you stand practically beneath the mountain and look out over a vast amphitheater. The ever-present binocular\telescopes are plentiful and for those who don’t feel they’re close enough (like Suzy and me), you can walk an easy path to locations directly under the faces! We have pictures looking directly up Jefferson’s nose!



When we first pulled in I was a bit indignant that they didn’t recognize our Annual National Park pass and charged us $11 to park; after we’d toured the site, I would have happily paid double that. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend here.

Prairie Dogs, Missiles, and more Dickey’s

P1060505P1060739As I look at the pictures we took, I see that I missed calling out our time on the Prairie Dog Ranch as a destination; while it wasn’t high on my list, Suzy insisted we stop. And I’m glad she did. Those little doggies are darned cute!

Another stop we made was a small official-looking trailer that turned out to house information about the missile defense system that at one time dotted South Dakota. Now defunct and for the most part filled in, this trailer housed historical information about the program and what it was like to man these facilities. While there was a tour available, it was full by the time we got to the trailer. It looked very interesting and up my alley!

P1060517At the end of the long day we ran into Keystone, the tourist trap town at the base of Mt. Rushmore, and grabbed some dinner. About the only place still open was Dickey’s, a BBQ joint I’ve written about before. We engaged with the guy running the place and he admitted to only being open because he’d hurt his leg and was moving slowly … but he’d serve us. We enjoyed a little chat and thanked him … I mentioned I could go for a little dessert if they had ice cream but he didn’t. Not that I needed more treats (or calories!) but a soft-serve cone was part of the Dickey’s meal we got in Montana. He must have liked us, though, as after we had finished eating our dinner he brought us a couple packages of Grandma’s cookies from his private stash! Now that’s full service!

In my words

I wrote the below after a couple paragraphs on Falls Park, Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore … after looking over what I’d written, I felt like I was just rushing through keeping a journal. Truth be told, waiting to summarize the day at the end (when so much was happening) really felt like a disservice to capturing the fun of this trip.

I’m omitting so much color from the trip: the nap I took in the Badlands; the gully I down-climbed and the exploration; the goats we saw there. I completely missed the prairie dog ranch we stopped at for a leisurely walk – and the clerk I chatted it up with while waiting for Suzy to shop. We saw cars from nearly every state at the Rushmore Monument, as well as spotting a yellow belly marmot foraging about the pine forest floor. At Rushmore we took peoples’ pictures and they took ours.

The day was full of color and people and us. We got through lots of the book on CD we brought, we snacked often, and we both growled at how cluttered and messy the car is getting.

At Spearfish we looked in to how far off our planned trail the Devil’s Monument was: 27 miles, round trip. We added it to tomorrow’s itinerary.

While we look forward to more new sights, we’re also looking forward to it being another day closer to being home. Just a few more days. Yay! : -)


One Response to “Day 8 of 11: A tour of southern South Dakota”

  1. Jay said

    Wow. You’ve got a wonderful journal to remember your trek with. Sorry I got the name of Falls Park wrong, but glad you found it! 🙂

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