South Dakota

This past week we traveled up through South Dakota for a large family vacation. It was the first time we went on a multiple day camping trip since having Kalyn (we’ve done many overnight trips) and it was definitely a challenge, but worth it in the end. This is a long post, but it was a great trip and I wanted to share it all. 🙂

First, we planned to visit the Mormon Handcart Visitor’s Center and Independence Rock in Wyoming. However, we got there after it closed. No big deal… we planned to go in the morning. We camped at the church owned camp site and were a little puzzled that there was only one other tent camper there, but lots of RVs and mobile homes for the couple missionaries who work at the visitor’s center. I think we figured out why we were the only tent campers when our tent started to collapse in 40-50mph wind gusts coming across the plains. We have a pocket wind speed calculator, plus our speed calculations were confirmed by the news report the next day. We ended up packing up camp and driving to Casper, where we stayed the night at Motel 8. As a result we ended up missing the Handcart Center & only seeing Independence Rock in the dark.

The next day we spent some time hunting for a jacket for Tim, since I had forgotten to pack coats for us (I was so worried about making sure the children didn’t get too cold I forgot about us.) While at a sporting goods store we found a little kid’s tent + sleeping bag + flashlight + compass set for $30 and decided to get it, since we had such difficulty getting Kalyn to settle down into her bed to sleep with us in the same tent. It was the best purchase of the whole trip! Kalyn loved her tent and would go to sleep much faster in it by herself than if she had mom and dad in the same tent to play with. We just put a clip on the zipper to make sure she wouldn’t get out of her tent while we were asleep and wander off.

We then headed up to Devil’s Tower and spent the next night there. We enjoyed doing the easy hike around the tower. Kalyn loved all the pinecones and rocks and had a great deal of fun walking along.

The next day we were planning to do a tour of Wind Cave, but ended up going through Jewel Cave instead since we could buy a ticket for a specific time beforehand (versus just going and hoping they have space) and it seemed like a more interesting tour.

We bought our ticket in the morning and then headed down to the Hot Springs KOA. Staying at the Hot Springs KOA was kind of a last minute decision to solve our laundry and shower problems, so we ended up wishing we had done a little bit more research and stayed in a more central location, like Custer.

That afternoon we also did a tour of the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, which would have been a lot more interesting if we had not been so hot and tired and miserable. It is a site of an old sink hole where over the ages many mammoths got caught and preserved. Eventually the sink hole filled with sediment and became a hill. The mammoth bones were discovered during construction in the 1970s and today they are still excavating mammoth bones.

After the Mammoth Tour we were seriously thinking of skipping the Jewel Cave tour and eventually only went through with it because the ranger assured us that if Kalyn was unmanageable they could call someone to come take us back up the elevator. I am so glad we went! After the first couple of minutes Kalyn calmed right down and enjoyed exploring the “big tunnel” and looking at all the rocks and “tails” (stalactites). I also think she enjoyed going up and down the stairs as much as she enjoyed looking at the interesting sites. I was completely exhausted by the end from keeping her focused and carrying her up the big stairs when she got tired, but it was worth it.

After the tour we stopped for dinner. We then decided to drive back home through Custer State Park just to get an idea of the layout since we planned to do some stuff there the next day. Little did we know that this small choice would triple the amount of time it took us to get back to camp! As we drove through the park we got to see lots of big animals that bed down on or near the road at night. On the one hand, it was pretty cool to see the animals in the night (especially some big elk that we didn’t see at any other time). On the other hand, it was a little nerve-wracking to drive knowing that a large animal could walk into the road at any point.

Since I was thinking it would only be another 30 minutes or so until we got home, instead of 1 1/2 hours, I had neglected to change Kalyn’s diaper after dinner. Huge mistake! Changing an exploded diaper in a tent in the dark while trying not to wake up your tent-neighbors is NOT FUN. Also, that night we discovered our air mattress had a hole in it (that got bigger throughout the trip). It’s been a great air mattress for the past couple years, but it seems to be beyond repair now. We made due, though, and I was surprised by how well I slept without a good air mattress.

The next day, on the 4th, we went to Mount Rushmore via the Iron Mountain Road. When we were about 3/4 of the way there it started to rain and continued to rain for much of the rest of the day. We enjoyed Mount Rushmore and the great new facilities there. It was pretty crowded, although it probably would have been even more crowded if it weren’t for the rain. I laughed at the amount of Mount Rushmore sweatshirts I saw being worn – apparently most people were not prepared for rain.

Unfortunately, Kalyn was pretty miserable most of that day due to a cold she had started to come down with. It was so sad to her droopy little frown in the back seat the whole time.

After Mount Rushmore we drove back to camp via the Needles Parkway, which was a pretty cool place to see. The road winds through several granite rocks that stand up around the road, and through one particularly large tunnel.

That night we were seriously thinking of calling it quits and heading home the next day because Kalyn seemed to be so miserable. Luckily, she seemed to be doing a lot better the next morning so we headed on to Badlands National Park.

On our way out of the campground a huge beetle jumped into our car. Tim tried to get it out but it ended up curling itself into a tight ball and falling down a hole in by the windshield. It then crawled up out of the hole about 20 minutes down the road. We’re not sure what kind of beetle it was… take a look at the picture and let us know if you have any idea.

On our way to Badlands we stopped at Reptile Gardens, which was surprisingly fun. Kalyn is especially excited about reptiles at the moment (almost as excited as she is about bugs) so she had a blast looking at all the animals there. They have the largest collection of venomous snakes in the world, as well as a good collection frogs and lizards. Kalyn especially enjoyed petting the giant tortoises.

We then made a short stop at Storybook Island in Rapid City. We didn’t stay too long, but Kalyn’s favorite thing was the pumpkin house. Storybook Island is a free public park with a large variety of storybook-themed play features. We thought it was fun, although some of the features were a bit old and in need of repair.

That evening we got to Badlands. I was awed by how beautiful the scenery was. The Badlands are a series of eroding cliffs surrounded by very green rolling fields (unlike the stubby yellow-brown-green grasslands you get around here). Tim was less impressed and said that it was like a half-hearted copy of Bryce Canyon. 🙂

That night we camped at the White River KOA. If you ever visit the Badlands I recommend camping there because there only 2 or 3 campgrounds in the area and the others (including the park service one) are fully exposed to all the elements with no shelter or trees. The KOA, though, is next to river in a depression in the ground so you have trees for shade and you don’t get so much wind.

The next day we were planning to go home after doing some stuff in the morning, but Tim had caught Kalyn’s cold and was feeling quite miserable. So, we just drove through the park and then left for home.

Chimney Rock was on the way home for us so we stopped to visit the visitor’s center there. We were surpised by how much was in the visitor’s center. It was really interesting to learn about the pioneers who traveled through the area and what Chimney rock meant to them. Kalyn enjoyed packing up the wagon they had there for the kids.

Now we are home! Today we have been taking it easy and trying to catch up a bit on laundry & etc. We both had a great time, and even though there were several things that went wrong we are all looking forward to many great trips in the future.

2 Responses to South Dakota

  1. Gramma says:

    Thanks for sharing your vacation with us. Those are things that I will probably never see and places that I will never get to visit so I appreciate your pictures and stories of your experiences. Looks like you had so much fun!
    Love you,

  2. Michelle says:

    What a great adventure! I’ve only been to a few of those places, but agree that the Badlands is fascinating! Plus I love Kalyn’s tent- great idea

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