Travel Journal Day 17-18: South Dakota, My New Favorite State

Despite planning our cross-country trip for over 6-months, we still ran into surprises. And one of those surprises has been South Dakota. Who knew we’d fall in love with this state so much?

If you’ve ever been there, this probably doesn’t shock you. But we could have EASILY put down roots in South Dakota and stayed forever. Or at least until it snowed!

As you might know if you’re a regular follower of this website, we have been on a trip across America with our kiddos. I’ve been posting travel updates throughout our journey.

There was something a tad bittersweet about arriving in South Dakota. Up until this point I continued to say “we haven’t made the turn yet.” In golf “making the turn” means you’re moving to the back 9 holes. In other words, you’re half way through. This could also be taken literally in South Dakota because we were now driving East (heading towards home.)

On Day 17 we all woke up pumped to see Mount Rushmore!

I struggled planning our time in the Black Hills. I really wanted to see Mount Rushmore during the day. We wanted plenty of time to take it all in (and take pictures!) But I also knew we wanted to attend the Lighting Ceremony. The time frame presented a tiny bit of a challenge, but in hindsight, I think we handled it well.

Incidentally, this was the ONLY portion of our entire route where we actually did a little backtracking!

We ended up spending a few hours at Mount Rushmore and then walking around Keystone. We did some scenic driving, and finally checked ourselves into our hotel in Rapid City. Then we backtracked to the Lighting Ceremony.

I think my favorite moment of the entire day came when we pulled over to take a picture at one of the scenic overlook spots. We’d been doing this for almost 17 days and I’d gotten used to jumping out and aiming my camera where everyone else was pointing theirs. Most often it was an animal or gorgeous view.

On this particular occasion we obviously knew we were getting close to Mount Rushmore, but we weren’t THERE.

As I jumped out of the car I realized that everyone was looking behind us and I turned around to see George Washington’s profile. It absolutely took my breath away. It was SO unexpected and WAY bigger than I ever imagined. Of course I made Brent and the kids hop out (without telling them why) and their reaction was similar to mine.

The lighting ceremony was also incredibly special. I mentioned this briefly in my last post, but I am so thankful my kiddos JUST did a fabulous American history curriculum this year. They could practically recite the script for much of the Lighting Ceremony (a history of the 4 presidents carved into the mountain and some of our country’s founding.)

Side note: I HIGHLY recommend Story of The World. In particular, Volume 3 and Volume 4 cover a lot of American History and we’ve been shocked at how much we’ve encountered throughout our trip!

After the Lighting Ceremony we were all eager to get back to our hotel and get some sleep!

Day 18 was packed with FUN!

We started our day EARLY with a quick hotel breakfast and then headed straight for Wall Drug Store. This wacky roadside attraction was everything we imagined. Since we’d just eaten breakfast, we didn’t partake in any of the food options. However, we did shop and walk around a bit.

Leaving Wall Drug Store, we headed for Badlands National Park.

There’s pretty much nothing I can say about the Badlands that will do it justice. We all absolutely LOVED it! The views are breathtaking and the animals are everywhere. We couldn’t get over the way the wind blew the prairie grass (not the best idea to wear a dress!) Seriously, everything in the Badlands was amazing.

Once again, I could have stayed for days. But, unfortunately, I didn’t plan that kind of time this trip. We will absolutely be back to The Badlands!

Leaving the Badlands we headed East, driving the length of the state. We arrived at The Ingalls Homestead mid-afternoon. This was a sponsored stop and you can read much more about our time by clicking this link: Our Favorite Day Ever! It was absolutely surreal and a dream come true (I’m a huge book nerd and ALWAYS wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder!)

The kids learned how to make rope, drive a buggy and took a wagon ride to the schoolhouse. We all had a blast running around on the farm! I spent some time getting us settled into our covered wagon for the evening.

We’d eaten a huge lunch somewhere in the middle of South Dakota so Brent and I decided we’d just get some snacks to enjoy by our campfire for dinner. There is a tiny grocery store in De Smet so we grabbed a meat/cheese tray, s’more ingredients and some campfire popcorn.

Two other families were camping in RVs on the homestead for the night and they joined us for s’mores. It was so much fun for the kids to all play games together! Mary Grace exchanged addresses with two of the girls and they all look forward to being pen pals.

By the time we got everyone settled into the wagon for the night it was SUPER late. I really debated setting my alarm for the sunrise…but I’m SO glad I did!

I couldn’t get either of the kids to wake up, but I snuck out of the wagon. Brent followed a few minutes later. It was drizzling, but the sun also came through. It was such a strange sight, but so awesome!

Brent and I debated going back to bed. The rain on the wagon was incredible and so cozy. But, we were honestly afraid we’d end up sleeping all day! Reluctantly we loaded up the car and checked out in search of coffee.

I’ll pick up next with our Day 19 travels to Minnesota and Iowa!

You might enjoy reading:

The Top 11 Destinations From a Little Globetrotter

Renting a Car For Travel

21 Free (Or Inexpensive) Things To Do At The Beach With Kids

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