One of the things that often amazes me about travelling is discovering how many majestic places are hiding just a short distance away from our own home. This summer, Jeremy and I decided to discover some of those places by driving to the Black Hills region in South Dakota to check out some of the wonders it had to offer. From our home in Southern Saskatchewan, the drive is less than eight hours.
We had the chance to take the brand new 2016 Ford Edge on our adventure and it made every minute of our trip a smooth, comfortable experience for both us and the boys. Once we were there, I only wished we’d visited sooner! If you’re planning on making a trip to the region, these three mind-blowing monuments should be on your family’s must-visit list.
One of the most well-known and popular South Dakota attractions, Mount Rushmore is an easy choice when deciding what sights to see in the area. Going early in the morning is highly recommended, as the crowds can get a little congested later in the day. But fortunately, the large, open area means that getting a great view of the majestic sculpture is achievable even when the area is packed.
Personally, I loved taking the Presidential Trail walking path around the base of the monument to get a proper view of the creation from a variety of different angles. And visiting the Sculptor’s Studio was a great way to learn more about the work that went into creating Mount Rushmore. I was fascinated to learn that the original plan had been to have full bust carvings of the four presidents, but the rock composition had limited the artists to just carving the faces.
For those visiting later in the day, Mount Rushmore has a stunning evening lighting ceremony held in the ampitheatre at 8:00 pm daily until October 2. We didn’t have the chance to view the illuminated sculpture but it’s something I’m going to be sure to schedule into our plans the next time we’re in the area! Sticking to a budget on your vacation? Admission to Mount Rushmore is free, and the parking pass for a private vehicle is just $11.00. Best of all, the pass is good for a full year!
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is one of the lesser known attractions of South Dakota, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The work-in-progress sculpture is being created as a monument to the Native American people and once complete, will be the largest stone sculpture in the world. In fact, just the head of Crazy Horse is larger than all four of the heads of Mount Rushmore combined!
Admittance to the Crazy Horse Memorial lets visitors explore the Indian Museum of North America, view a video about the creation of the memorial thus far and take photos of the memorial itself. One of the facts that I found most fascinating about this sculpture is that its creator, Korczak Ziolkowski, believed it should be completed without government funding. He thought that to accept government money for its creation would cheapen the emotional value of the monument. As a result, all funding for the sculpture’s progress comes from donations, admission to the area and fundraising efforts. The price of $28 per carload makes visiting this monument a little more pricey than most attractions in the area, but knowing the money was going towards the creation of the memorial made it worth the cost in my mind.
Looking at the progress of the Crazy Horse Memorial since the carving first began in 1947, I have to say that I have doubts I’ll ever be able to see it complete in my lifetime. But I do have high hopes that my boys might someday be able to see the finished masterpiece. And I’m so happy that they’ll be able to say they once saw it as a work in progress when they were children too. This creation has always been a labour of love for everyone involved and seeing the work currently being done is something that shouldn’t be missed.
While this amazing natural wonder is actually in Wyoming, it’s only about an hour’s drive from the Black Hills of South Dakota and is a popular destination for people visiting the area. After seeing two powerful examples of the beauty that man can create, it was even more humbling to visit Devil’s Tower and experience the majesty of which nature is capable without any aid from humankind. Approaching the butte is almost as awe-inspiring as arriving, since seeing it from so far away offers a bit of perspective into just how massive it is.
But there really are no words to describe actually standing at the base of Devil’s Tower and looking up to its peak. That first view makes it easy to understand why the Native Americans believe the structure is sacred. And after being struck speechless in that first moment, it’s only natural to want to get as close as possible. The base of Devil’s Tower is a mass of large, broken rocks and climbing to the top of them is a highlight of visiting the area. All four of us clambered up as quickly as we could, often jumping from rock to rock when needed. Once at the top of the rocks and the base of the tower, we made our way through a gap in the trees to quickly touch the base of the butte. But going past the rocks is something that’s restricted for mountain climbers that have registered with the park officials. After watching people scaling the sides, I now have a goal to make it to the top of this structure one day.
Devil’s Tower also features two hiking trails and numerous viewing points, so after climbing back to the bottom of the butte, we walked the 1.25 mile-long Tower Trail that loops around the base of the structure. It was a fun way for the boys to burn off some energy and let us feel that we’d experienced the area as fully as possible. The $10-per-vehicle admission also gave us access to a visitor’s center with exhibits, ranger-led activities and a prairie dog town for those that want to spend a little more time in the shadow of this stunning natural wonder.
Getting to all our must-visit attractions took a bit of driving, but the Ford Edge made every moment enjoyable. Boasting seating for five and a roomy back hatch, it had all the space we needed for our gear while still leaving plenty of room for my boys to move around in the back seat. I loved the individual climate controls for the driver and passenger that let me enjoy extra heat while Jeremy stayed nice and cool. And with SIRIUS satellite radio for entertainment and Adaptive Cruise Control for safer driving, this car really made our road trip an experience to love!
I have to admit that I was surprised by just how much the Black Hills area had to offer in the way of family fun. From amazing hiking trails to tucked away swimming spots to breathtaking monuments and natural wonders, it’s an area that’s made for exploring. And doing that in style and comfort in the Ford Edge was one of the highlights of our summer this year! If you’ve never seen these iconic spots, why not plan your own road trip before summer ends? It’s sure to be one your family will remember for years to come!