South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska.
This past March I had the pleasure of taking a 10 day trip out west to visit a dear friend and join up with a large group reunion. The trip was a last hurrah in the United States as I prepared to move to the United Kingdom for an extended stay. The only time I had been west of the Mississippi was to visit Los Angeles when I was a child; it was like another country compared to the beauty and simplicity of the true West.
At the start of the trip I did not know what I was getting myself into. I was visiting South Dakota to see my friend Dani and it seemed foolish to visit her without also touring her State. We both decided to road trip to Denver, Colorado where we were meeting with a reunion group for our online book club. I somehow convinced her to drive from South Dakota to Colorado and back; and she was crazy enough to agree to the trip! Being proudly from the east coast I had not given much thought to the “west”; it was there, it was a part of our history, it had Mount Rushmore, but it all kind of blurs together as one big prairie grass land to those who have not visited.
Admittedly I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually enjoyed my experiences out west.
Day 1, 2 & 3: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Day 4: Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Badlands & Rapid City, South Dakota
Our first big day of travel involved us leaving Sioux Falls and making it across the entire length of the state to Rapid City. There were plenty of stops to see along the way; though a few were disappointingly closed for being off season.
Admittedly I had a bit of a struggle with the continuous driving over f lat, flat, flat surfaces; with only flat, flat, flat surfaces to see in the distance and foreseeable future. I learned the term “slew” along the way; referring to the puddled run off water from roads and fields that gathers in a stagnant pond at the side of the road. And I saw a lot of cattle. And a lot of signs for Wall Drug.
We also had a most unusual encounter with a camel that we saw near 1880s Town (which was unfortunately closed for the off season).
Our first stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Unknown to me until after the trip I have family who were born not but a block away from the Corn Palace in that very town. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the Corn Palace but I was pleasant surprised to discover that it was an auditorium building whose outside was completely decorated with corn. All the murals depicted youth sports and I learned that the murals change year with a new theme.
Onwards we travelled. We passed by 1880s Town only to discover that it was closed for the season. We passed by Al’s Oasis where I got cozy with a Bison statue. As we grew closer to Rapid City I began to catch glimpses of the Bad Lands (and plenty of Wall Drug signs along the way).
Once we reached the Bad Lands we pulled off to complete the Bad Lands Loop Road. This was, without a doubt, the best detour I’ve taken. The Bad Lands are simply simply stunning and should not be missed when visiting South Dakota. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you should travel to South Dakota to simply see the Bad Lands. The landscape was beautiful and unlike anything that I had seen before. There were a lot of pull offs on the Loop Road where you could stretch your legs and take walks through this stunning landscape. It is not to be missed.
We attempted to stop at Wall Drug, only to find that the entire area was quite dead and under construction, another off season disappointment. Once in Rapid City we visited the city center, met a few president’s along the way. I thought Rapid was quite beautiful but it was a lot smaller than Sioux Falls.
Day 5: Mount Rushmore & Hot Springs, South Dakota & Wyoming
Day 6: Cheyenne, Wyoming & Colorado
Cheyenne is quite famous for the Frontier Days festival/rodeo that they host annually. I knew very little of it, or the rodeo in general, before I visited the very neat and informative Frontier Days Museum in Cheyenne. I was impressed with their display and how much I learned about the rodeo.
I think the most fun I had in Cheyenne was visiting the Wrangler Store downtown and trying on cowboy boots and hats. The style is tremendously different from anything I’ve known so it was amusing to me to browse through the store.
We traveled onward to Denver and met up with friends before the reunion. My first glimpse of the Rockies was impressive and I could not wait to venture up to Estes Park for our weekend reunion!
Day 10: Nebraska