South Dakota – Much More Than Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore, SD

On a must-see-list of the US is, of course, Mount Rushmore – the “majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln” carved in a mountain. It is definitely worth a visit, but there is much more to see in the “Mount Rushmore State” South Dakota I realized when explored the area in 2013.

Another impressive mountain is the Crazy Horse Moutain, where in 1947 Chief Henry Standing Bear and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started an undertaking that is still going on today: Carving the likeness of the Lakota Leader Crazy Horse into a mountain.

You can take a tour close to the mountain, and I would also recommend attending the Legends in Lights laser show in the evening (from Memorial Day through September). It is quite the spectacle, when the mountain becomes a giant screen for a laser show.

And then there are, of course, the Badlands , a spectacular mountain range you can explore hiking.

If you need a place to stay, and are ok with something really basic – but clean an with the friendliest owners, how about the Badlands Budget Host Motel in the tiny town of Interior, right at the entrance of the national park, with a population of 67.

You realize how much comfort you are used to these days when visiting the Prairie Homestead, the home of the early settlers.

And in case you were wondering how a prairie dog looks like, here is one.
If you want to see buffalos, however, make sure to be in South Dakota for the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park. It is interesting to see all the buffalos rounded up together, to be counted and checked out.

An exhibtion of a completely diffent kind is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, where you can check out different planes and can sit in a cockpit of a F-106 fighter jet.

They even have an original “Rosinenbomber” (Candy Bomber) used in the Berlin Airlift 1948/49, when the Western Allied Forces supported Berlin – cut off from West Germany by the Soviets – through the air. The billboard mentions Col UASF ret. Gail Halvorsen, who dropped candy bars with tiny parachutes off his plane for the kids in Berlin – hence the name “Candy Bomber”.

I had the pleasure and honor to meet Col Halvorsen at the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in 2008.

Col UASF ret. Gail Halvorsen, Mr. “Candy Bomber”

What else is there to see and do in South Dakota?


Dinosaurs – at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City.
The Black Hills with its waterfalls and scenic roads. If you feel romantic, spend the night at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

And don’t forget to stop at the “famous” Wall Drug Store, 55 miles east of Rapid City. You will see the billboards when you are still miles away. It is, well, made for tourists. But you can get free ice water, just like in the old days.

I’ve already written a post about the Minute Man Missile Site.


And if you feel really adventurous yourself, spend a few hours in the Aerial Adventure Park.

A Historic Blizzard in Deadwood, SD

Ever experienced a blizzard in a historic mining town? If you are lucky, you are on the right side of town, and have enough cash to last you through a few days.

The historic blizzard of October, 2013, dumped dozens of inches of snow onto the Black Hills region in South Dakota. From October 3 – 5, much of the area was paralyzed. I was in the middle of it, in Deadwood, the historic mining town.

It started to snow heavily on the evening of the 3rd, and didn’t stop for over a day.

Since the trees still had leaves, the heavy snow made them fold as if they were made of paper, taking power lines with them. Half of the town lost power. People had to be evacuated from one of the big hotels, which had no heat and no lights. Getting food was a challenge. Most of the restaurants and shops were closed.

Blizzard Entertainment in Deadwood, SD

The saloon, however, still provided food, drinks, and entertainment, just like in the old days, I guess.

The next day, most of the shops and restaurants were still closed, there was no way of getting out of town. My car was in a garage, so I didn’t have to worry about it. But then, in the evening, all credit card machines stopped working.

Spent the last couple of Dollars on pizza and wine

For the few dollars I had left in cash, I got a pizza and wine. All I could do was be patient, cuddle up in my hotel room which thankfully still had heat and electricity, and wait.

On the third day, people started to slowly dig themselves out. I took a walk around town and into the hills. People were anxious and stressed out, they had not been able to leave their homes for 48 hours, had no electricity or phones and over a meter of snow in their driveway. I made a phone call for a lady who wanted to know whether her relatives were okay and ask them for help. The roads out of town, however, were still closed. I was supposed to fly home the next day. Well, that was not going to happen.

On October 6th, with a rental car with summer tires, I dared to take the road that would get me to Rapid City. It was a bit scary at first, but I made it. The airport, however, was still closed. It would take two more days, until I was able to head home.

Before heading home, though, I managed to visit the fifth state on my trip. I mean, I was grounded anyway, but the big roads were clear, so why not take another trip.

Four States in a Day

The day I arrived in Deadwood, I had taken a trip through four states: Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Of course I bought a magnet in each state. (Have I mentioned that I collect these magnets?)

In Wyoming, the plan was to visit Devils Tower National Monument. Guess what? It was closed because of a government shutdown. Sound familiar?

Well, I like traveling in the US, because you never know what jewel you will encounter along the way. In Baker, Montana, I just wanted to take a quick break and stretch my legs. And walked right into Prairie Rose Classics, an antique and classic car sales store, that takes you back to another era. They not only exhibit cars, but hundreds of everyday items from the last century. It’s like a museum.

Prairie Rose Classics, Baker, Montana

So after the blizzards, and while waiting for the airport to open, I decided to take another trip to South Dakota’s southern neighbor, Nebraska. It was only a quick trip, and I had to buy a deck of cards with the state’s name on the back, because I could not get a magnet.

As I said, I didn’t drive far, but still managed to make this a trip I will never forget. I have one tip for you: Even on an empty road in Nebraska, stay within the speed limit. And if you don’t, at least buckle up. It might make the difference between a ticket and a warning. Trust me. I know.

State Trooper in Nebraska, Photo: RS

Cold War Dinosaurs

Minuteman Missile Silo South Dakota

Minuteman III Missile Launch Facility/Missile Silo Delta 09

The Cold War is long over – but in the Midwest of the US there are still relicts, like this Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota, 75 miles east of Rapid City on Interstate-90 (I-90). The missile shown below is a dummy, there are no longer any active sites in South Dakota.  The START Treaty signed in September 1991, directly led to the deactivation of 150 Minuteman Missiles of the 44th Missile Wing in western South Dakota.

Minuteman Missile Dummy

But there are still 450 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles on 24/7 alert in F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. And they are tested regularly, for example in December 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

More than 500 airmen work in shifts underground – and the ICBM-guards get bored, as Walter Pincus from the Washington Post writes. That’s understandable, because besides waiting, there is not much to do. So it is surprising, that 34 ICBM launch officers cheated on their monthly test rather than using the time to study.

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