Finding South Dakota

My husband and I are opposites in a lot of ways. As you can imagine with this reality over 11years of marriage we’ve carefully honed the fine art of compromise. From our home decor, to where we live, to how we spend out time, pretty much every aspect of our life is a middle ground — a place that neither of us would choose on our own, but a place in which we can coexist, be happy, and in which our relationship can thrive. When it comes to vacations, my ideal would be a quiet beach on the ocean preferably Cape Cod or points north. My husband would like to be in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Throw two young kid  & one lumbering, indoorsy chocolate lab in the mix and suddenly we found ourselves looking for a vacation spot that was not only fun for us, but was family & dog friendly, too. That’s when we re-found South Dakota. We’d both traveled there multiple times on our own and as a couple, but we quickly realized it was an ideal family vacation spot. We’ve been so happy with the trip that we’ve now gone three years running and this year we even met my husband’s parents there, too! For today, I’ll share the first part of our vacation — Mitchell & Custer State Park.

After a middle of the night start — my husband would call it ‘early morning’…. some say po-tay-to, some say – po-tah-to — we met up with my husband’s parents for lunch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and then on to our first night’s stop in Mitchell, SD home of the famed Corn Palace.

20140726-081220-29540808.jpgUnfortunately it was undergoing renovations, so it wasn’t quite the stagger-back splendor or mosaic corn art that it usually is.

20140726-081226-29546012.jpgBut there were still the cool murals made of corn cobs…

20140726-081222-29542100.jpgAnd of course things like this, where you can pose as a little corn cob.

While in Mitchell, we also had just enough time to visit the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Dating from 950AD, this is by far my favorite part of Mitchell and well worth the stop for anyone passing through. Last year we hit it when they had events going on for the kids to learn about archaeology and the ancient village, but this year we just did a quick stop at the site.

20140730-122003-44403025.jpgThey have built a big ‘archeodome’ over the main site, so it a great stop rain or shine. It’s used as a learning site for college archaeology programs in the area and has knowledgeable docents and educational displays throughout — the kids and I had a blast going through the hands-on activities, too. Add in the little museum in the entrance building and I’d say that at $35 for our group of 6, it was well worth the time & money.

On the way west, we drove the main road in Badlands National Park quickly scouting for wildlife — we knew we’d be back at the end of the week so we didn’t linger — and continued on to Custer State Park. There are a lot of things that make Custer State Park great for us. First, it is entirely dog-friendly. Whereas National Parks are very restrictive, Custer State Park is very dog friendly —  there are actually very few spots the dog isn’t allowed and that makes our life so much easier.  Second, it has a great Wildlife Loop Road. My husband loves to hike, but between our young kids and my bum hip there just isn’t a ton of hiking that can happen these days. Once the kids are older, I’ll be happy to hang back while my husband and the kids go, but for now the Wildlife Loop Road makes the beautiful hills accessible for all of us.

20140730-110647-40007743.jpg While you do climb up into the Black Hills, most of the scenery is like this. I don’t know what it is about this landscape that makes me want to buy an little house and a horse and just spend the rest of my days riding across these hills, but that’s how I feel. These huge, rolling hills are home to tons of wildlife, too. From this spot we actually watched a Golden Eagle soaring — what a treat! Antelope, mule & white tailed-deer, yellow-bellied marmots, a couple kinds of snakes (if you look closely), and of course…

20140726-081231-29551675.jpgThe great American Bison all call this area home. This time of year you also see…. 20140730-123702-45422603.jpgBaby bison — which are still big, but heavily guarded by their mamas. The car in front of us found out the hard way — who knows what instigated it, but a mama bison actually gored its back quarter panel right in front of us leaving a hefty dent. Thank goodness no one got hurt!

At the request of my in-law’s, we took one day and spent it further north beginning at Mt Rushmore

20140730-105917-39557601.jpgwhere I took part in the Stitched by Jessalu Summer Fun Photo Contest including my SbJL bag in a photo with a summer destination attraction. My son & I also enjoyed the short hike on the Presidential Trail and we all joined up for lunch at the Carver’s Cafe.

On the way back to camp, we stopped off at Hill City to visit the Museum at the Black Hills Institute.

20140730-110212-39732551.jpgThis museum is small, but it’s literally jam-packed with fossils & skeletons. The kids loved it, but my son was especially in heaven. We, of course, rounded out the afternoon with a stop at Turtle Town, an ice cream and candy shop in the heart of Hill City that is quickly becoming an annual stop.

On the way back to the car, I had a bit of an accident….

20140730-110214-39734977.jpgA triceratops ate my knitting! Doh! Have no fear, I was brave and managed to wrestle it back. Phew. I couldn’t lose it — I had a new pair of socks in there…

20140730-110216-39736526.jpgJeck  by Regina Satta in Sweet Georgia Yarns’ BFL Sock in Magpie (I’ll explain why that colorway is ironic tomorrow…). There actually wasn’t quite as much knitting as I usually get to do on this trip and I did miss a day or two of sock knitting — yikes!  On the second day of the trip, my husband hurt his back and he graciously accepted a lot of extra help around the campsite. Usually I am completely spoiled by him on these trips — allowed to sit in my camp chair the bulk of time we spend in camp as he cooks and cleans and directs the children. With him hurt though I spent more time running for water, making random trips back and forth to the car, washing dishes, and tending the kids. At first it was a little disappointing, but I’m thankful for a different perspective on this familiar, a better understanding of how hard my hubby works to make it great, & I’m glad I could help him still enjoy his vacation despite being in a fair bit of pain.

Our final day  in Custer State Park we let the kids attend a short snake program at the Ranger Station – which they loved — and then we took one last spin around the wildlife loop. It was a special trip for my daughter whose favorite part of this trip is feeding the burros.

20140726-081235-29555188.jpgWe bring a couple big bags of carrots on these trips so she can feed these non-native inhabitants of the park. They are the only animals in the park that visitors are allowed to feed and it is a feed-at-your-own-risk situation. We are overly careful, of course, preferring to feed them when possible where there is a fence between us and the animals, but there are also moments like the one above. As is her thing, my daughter named each one she fed — Superman, Batman, and Fluffy. The one above, of course, is Batman.

Tuckered from our long days of fun, each night we snuggled into our sleeping bags just like this photo from our last night in the tent…

20140730-110217-39737890.jpgeach with our own headlamp and favorite book.

I didn’t manage a photo of the campsite all set-up, but I did manage to snap this one just before we left.

20140730-111108-40268448.jpgYou can see it’s right next to a babbling brook — my husband revealed he picks such sites now because the noise of the water means I don’t freak out when mice and critters run around the tent at night. I tend to jump to conclusions like it’s a mountain lion or sasquatch, so I’m not complaining with the added background noise — I sleep much better!  It is also great bird habitat. We’ve come to know that this campground is wonderful for birds — red-naped sapsuckers are abundant every year and this year was no different. We also see red-eyed vireos, gnatcatchers, a variety of fly-catchers, and occasionally mountain bluebirds, black-headed grosbeaks, and western tanagers. I think this campground is the kind we could stay at all summer long and never tire of it.

Alas, as is always the case, at some point we have to start moving back toward home. Thankfully for this holiday adventure we had one more stop… Badlands National Park before home. Stay tuned tomorrow for photos and thoughts on those last couple days of our wonderful family vacation!

16 responses to “Finding South Dakota

  1. The Corn Palace! We went last year, as they run a fabulous bike ride called Tour de Corn out there at the end of August. My team goes, and we are the largest team that rides it. We have a great time riding, and also at the hunting lodge we all rent. Good times! Thanks for posting vacation pictures, I love getting glimpses of the kids.

    • That sounds like fun! I’m always leery of posting photos of the kids, but I think they are such a huge part of the my story that I can’t not. 🙂 Plus, I love telling the story and — I think we may have discussed in the past — I look at it as a kind of memory book for my family, too. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the mention of the Jeck pattern; just printed from Ravelry. I am always looking for sock patterns that work well with the wonderfully colorful sock yarns that are available to us. I enjoyed your pictures from South Dakota, too. I spent a fun vacation there after high school, oh so many years ago. It brought back some very pleasant memories!

    • My pleasure! So far I’m finding Jeck really fun! I also love how it looks, so I think it’s a winner. There is a great pair on the Miso Crafty Knits blog that uses a variegated yarn, too. That was my inspiration. 😉

  3. I would love to see a Golden Eagle! Wow! (I know I can see them here in Iowa in the winter on the rivers, but I’ve just never actually specifically went birding to spot one.) This is definitely my kind of vacation. Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I LOVE Custer State Park & have since I was a wee one–the Bison were always my favorite part.

    • I think this is the second time I’ve seen one. The first was on the way to Devil’s Tower 11 or 12 years ago. They are pretty impressive birds!

      The only complaint I have about Custer is that it is such a good family trip it makes it tough to argue for trying a new spot!

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