South Dakota or Bust

June 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Jill and Doug have decided to give Rapid City the boot. The job, the locale, and other disappointing factors led to the decision, but the upshot is, their last day in the great white north is July 1. I decided I wanted to take this fleeting opportunity to visit her and see all the sights up in South Dakota. So I drove up to Kansas City, picked up Dad, and we were on our way. (Mom had to stay back and take care of Grandpa Marvin, or she would have been along for the ride, too. Maybe for the best…it was a long ass drive)

IMG_1978Dad and I took turns driving the 11+ hours through Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota, all the while seeing mysterious road signs proclaiming, “Wall Drug! Come take a looksee!” They seemed to offer everything…food, booze, gifts, activities for the kids, free water. Yes, they even boasted free water. Dad and I were intrigued, so we had to stop there for dinner. And my, oh my, what a gem! Wall Drug has an amusing history, which indeed began with free ice water. But these days it’s a sprawling complex of clapboard buildings modeled after an old west town. Inside you’ll see a treasure trove of gifts, souvenirs, ice cream parlors, restaurants, a playground for the kids, and a giant animatronic T-Rex that gets very grumpy every 20 minutes. Liam had a blast! It was hard to drag him away for the last hour in the car to Jill’s house. But the blueberry pie and ice cream put me in much better spirits, so I didn’t mind.


The next day Jill, Dad, Evie, Milo, Liam and I took the 1880’s Train from Hill City up to Keystone. Liam was in Thomas-obsessed mode, exclaiming, “It’s a train! With steam! They’re filling it with water! For the boiler! Just like Thomas!” And for the entire ride up he sat on grandpa’s lap with his head out the window. The train really did go Chugga Chugga up the track. Evie fell asleep on the ride up, probably because we were inside one of the enclosed antique cars with the windows, and Jill was afraid Milo would start chucking things out the window, so she left hers shut. When we arrived at the station, Evie proclaimed that this was all terribly boring. After a stop at the Fudge shoppe in Keystone and a change to the open air car on the way back, she changed her tune. That’s Liam gnawing on a chocolate-covered marshmallow.

I was a little disappointed we didn’t see Mount Rushmore from the train. So Jill took us right past it on our way back to Rapid. I had Liam and Evie in the car with me, and Jill had Milo and Dad with her. I probably would have missed seeing it, except Evie got all excited in the back seat, pointing, “Look, Auntie Mandy, it’s Mount Mushmore!” A-freakin-dorable.


We spent the rest of the afternoon at Storybook Island, a fairytale-themed playground. They played Disney songs on the loudspeakers, and each area of the park had play structures based on a fairy tale. It was no Disney World, but, hey, it was free! And the kids loved it. The photo above cracks me up…that’s both Evie and Liam posing for a photo on the bridge. See Liam?

That night we met Doug downtown for dinner at the Firehouse Brewery. They boasted a Buffalo Brisket on the menu, so I had to try it. Wow. That was a lot of meat. Good meat.


The next morning we headed for Dinosaur Park, a 1930s throwback to the early days of dinosaur discovery. The dinos were mostly inaccurate, but who cares? The kids could climb on them, and they thought that was pretty cool. Apparently you could also pick their noses.


Next stop, Reptile Gardens! For huge alligators, poisonous snakes, and scampering lizards. They also had this cool prairie dog enclosure where you could pop your head up through a plexiglass bubble and see the animals right up inside the pit. I think the kids liked the giant sand box and playground the best, though.


IMG_2014The kids were exhausted from all the outings, so Jill volunteered to oversee nap/quiet play time while Dad and I got a closer look at Mount Rushmore. Quite a view! I took about a dozen pictures while enjoying some ice cream, but I only got this one sun-dappled one as we were walking in. The clouds moved  in and every other shot I got was gray. Dad and I hiked the whole trail to get a closer view, plus they had all of these artifacts and displays about how it was carved out of the mountainside. Some interesting views through the rocks…and up their noses, lol.


The next day we drove through Deadwood and Lead on our way to Spearfish Canyon. We stopped at this funny little diner for lunch, and Liam was thrilled they had booths. The proprietor was super nice, giving each of the kids a little cardboard road sign bingo game. Then it was off to Roughlock Falls.


IMG_2035Where Milo promptly threw his binky over the edge. Bye bye, binky. We took the kids on a hike all around, enjoying the wondrous view. Liam and Evie stopped to collect pine cones. And we finally got a good photo of grandpa with the grandkids. Sort of.


We got a little lost on our way to the DC Booth Fish Hatchery, but we managed to find it by looking at old-fashioned signs and ignoring our GPS. We fed the hungry trout and took a stroll around the grounds. They even had a fish train car that you could walk inside. Apparently the US Wildlife Dept used to ferry fish from one locale to another to encourage breeding. Interesting.


Underwater viewing! Very cool. They separated the fish by age group, so you could feed these great big guys, or you could feed the teenagers, or you could watch the feeding frenzy ensue when you fed the babies. Evie got a great big bag of fish food and ran from pond to pond. Of course she shared with her little cousin and brother.

Alas, that was our last day in South Dakota. I needed to start heading back in order to meet the delivery man with our new washer/dryer, but dad was going to stay on a few extra days and drive Doug’s truck back to Kansas City for him. It was going to be a long drive, 12 or more hours, so I planned to stay in a hotel somewhere in Nebraska. All that night I kept thinking about the one sight we hadn’t been able to squeeze in this trip: Devil’s Tower. It was about a two hour drive into Wyoming, the complete opposite way I needed to go. I even looked into going up and around through Cheyenne and Denver, but that added too much time. But by the time I woke up the next morning, I’d resolved to go. Who cares if it adds five hours to my drive!? It’s Devil’s Freakin’ Tower, from one of my favorite movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. How could I have even considered skipping it.

When I told dad the next morning, we hatched a plan. Jill had been at work since 5 that morning at Starbucks, and she wouldn’t be back until after lunch. And I had to drive right back through Rapid on my way back to Kansas, probably right through the lunch hour. So I took Dad along for the ride, stopping by Starbucks for a perfectly-made vanilla chai latte, no water, which Jill and I discovered was the best way to drink it. Mmmmm.



And let me tell ya, the detour was so worth it! We strolled along a trail at the base right through a boulder field that seemed straight from the movie. Dad was pointing up the side, trying to figure where the characters climbed up and around, and where the fictitious airstrip must have been. We saw some charred trees, presumably left over from an alien attack, erm, forest fire. It was quite a sight to behold. I wish we could have stayed longer. Liam got pretty upset when we didn’t follow the path completely around. To be honest, I was a little upset, too. But someday…someday…we’ll make it back. And hopefully Liam will be old enough to walk HIMSELF up the hillside.

After a brief lunch at McDonalds and a romp at the playground (which he’d been begging for since we’d left Kansas City), we started back East. I had one last sight to see, so I took a right at the Wall Drug and took us on a two-hour jaunt through the Badlands. I think Liam liked this best of all, traipsing through the moon-like desert and stopping at the vistas to take pictures. Breathtaking.





And then we made the long trek home. We stopped off in the middle of Nowhere Nebraska at the only decent hotel in 50 miles, methinks. All the restaurants were closed on Sunday night, so we ate at the gas station. And Liam was delighted to discover that the train ran right by our hotel. I was not. The next day we stopped off in downtown Grand Island for coneys, ice cream and pecan pie at the Coney Island Lunchroom. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see the town where my favorite childhood book, Night of the Twisters, took place. A very cute main street. Not at all ravaged by tornadoes. Course, that happened a long time ago, back in 1980.

And then home sweet home…in boxes, and in a new city. Not so sweet, really. But it’s getting there, slowly but surely. Check out the rest of our photos here.


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  1. Love, love, love the portrait of Evie & Liam(?) !

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