Custer State Park


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Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park, named for Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, of the infamous ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ in the American Indian War. The park protects 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. The Black Hills name is translated from the Lakota Pahá Sápa, who called them that because the dense pine tree forests  make them appear dark when seen from a distance.


We were staying at Custer’s Chief Motel (a clean, no-frills family run motel with the advantage of family suites with separate bedrooms and a big indoor pool for the kids) and they offered us a free pass to visit Custer State Park. It had been on our itinerary anyway, but we appreciated the perk.


We entered the park from highway 16 and pulled over in a few places to walk around and admire the views of the Black Hills.


Next we headed to the State Game Lodge for a snack and the gift shop. This was Calvin Coolidge’s Summer White House in 1927. President Eisenhower also spent some time here in 1953.


Then we drove the park’s Wildlife Loop. The park is home to a large herd of bison, pronghorn, deer, elk and most thrilling for the kids: the Begging Burros.


Please note, we did NOT feed the burros, though it obvious these feral donkeys are comfortable around cars and humans and used to being fed by them. Once these fellas realized we had no food, they moved on to the next group.


The wildlife loop is 18 miles long and took us almost two hours to drive because of the frequent stops and wildlife crossings, but we enjoyed every minute of it, keeping our eyes peeled for bison (who hid from us until the very end of the loop.)


Location: 13329 US Hwy 16A, Custer, SD 57730

Designation: State Park

Date designated or established: 1912

Date of my visit: 7/31/2009


Badlands National Park


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In 2009, we drove across South Dakota to the Badlands. Badlands National Park is known for its eroded rock formations and protects the largest remaining grassland prairies in the United States.


Native Americans used the Badlands as their hunting grounds. The Lakota, because of the extreme temperatures and rough terrain, called it ‘makho sica’ which translates the ‘land bad.’


We rolled into the area at night and stayed at the Circle View Guest Ranch. Circle View is a B&B on the top of a butte. It is 6 miles outside the National Park.


In the morning, the kids helped the owners collect the fresh eggs outside. After a hearty breakfast, we were on our way to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  There we listened to a ranger’s fossil talk and picked up our junior ranger booklets.


From the visitor center, we headed to the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. This is a half-mile loop following boardwalks and stairs through a juniper forest atop the Badlands Wall.


Then we drove the park road, stopping at various trail-heads. There are a few short walks from the road to points of interest, such as the Door and Window trails with views into the canyon.


Location: 25216 SD-240, Interior, SD 57750

Designation: National Reserve, State Park, NRHP

Date designated or established: 1/29/1939

Date of my visit: 1/31/2016




Mount Rushmore National Memorial

presday1Location: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751

Designation: National Memorial

Date NPS designation declared: 3/03/1925

Date of my visit: 7/28/2009

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Happy President’s Day! In honor of the holiday, I thought I’d drag this oldie-but-goodie out of my archives. Mount Rushmore is a 60 foot sculpture of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. The site was established in 1925 but construction was not completed until 1941. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum designed and oversaw the construction of the memorial. His son Lincoln took over for him in the final year of the project, after the elder Borglum died.

presday3This is one of those parks that you need to get to as soon as they open, especially if you visit in the busy summer months. It’s very crowded. I was traveling with extended family through South Dakota and our kids were  little at the time, more interested in climbing rocks than learning about this giant outdoor sculpture. We walked the presidential trail, which is less than a mile, but with many steps to get a closer look at the sculpture. We visited the sculptor’s studio and may have watched the film in the visitor’s center…I really can’t remember. We attended a talk with a ranger who was also a Lakota Sioux and offered the Native American perspective on the history of the area. But the kids were getting antsy at this point, so we moved on to the next stop of the day’s itinerary.presday4

We later visited the Crazy Horse Memorial, not far from Mount Rushmore, where we actually gained a better understanding of what it took to create Mount Rushmore back in the days of dynamite and hand chisels. Construction on this monument to the Sioux Chief began in 1948 and has been conducted by multiple generations of the same family. Being privately funded, the work is slow, the project is the largest mountain sculpture in the world and will probably not be finished in my lifetime. The tour and the visitor’s center are well done and a must see if you’ve come all the way to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore.

A model in the Crazy Horse Memorial visitor’s center shows what the mountain will look like when completed, with a view of the actual sculpture in progress through the window behind it.