Tuesday, September 24, 2013

South Dakota: The Americana Extravaganza

As many of you know, I like to take trips that are a bit more "off the beaten path". Don't get me wrong - I love traveling so I will happily travel just about anywhere... but my favorite trips to-date have primarily been to those locations which people respond with a look of "Why did you decide to go THERE?".

While I have many goals in life, one major goal of mine is to visit all 50 states by the time I turn 50 years old. I actually think I'll be able to accomplish this before I turn 50, but there are definitely some states that will be visited solely for the intent and purpose of fulfilling this goal- nothing more, nothing less. I mean, please. Who would willingly go to North Dakota or Idaho (to list just a couple)? 

South Dakota started out as one of those states that I figured would be just like that - I mean, what is there REALLY to see in this state aside from Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands? 

Ah, welcome to my thoughts circa... well, just a few months ago.

Some of you may remember my trip to Maine last Fall - that was the advent of this whole "D List State Vacation List" that some friends and I had conjured up. Well, Maine totally took us by surprise, soaring itself from D List to straight up A List in the course of a single, lovely weekend. In fact, it's so A list (in my book), that I now have a new goal to purchase a Fall vacation home there at some point in my life.

But I digress.

In any event, after that highly successful trip, we decided to see what other gems the good ol' U.S. of A. had to offer.

And that, my friends, is how South Dakota was born. Initially, we were thinking that we'd actually be a little bored if we went for a long weekend - I mean, like I said before, what is there REALLY to do aside from Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands? But the more and more we discussed this with other people... the more and more input people surprisingly had to provide! Who knew so many people had visited this STATE??

Before we knew it, we had an overpacked agenda and were actually nixing things from the list because we didn't think we'd have time to cover it all.*

We had so much to cover, in fact, I had to divide this post up to make it easier on the eyes! So, without further ado... I present to you: South Dakota, The Americana Extravaganza:

Americana Extravaganza - Day One (Badlands, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore)
Americana Extravaganza - Day Two (Rough Lock Falls, Deadwood and SASKATCHEWAN!!)
Americana Extravaganza - Day Three (Buffalo and the Wild West Saloon)

*I'm saying "we" as though I were actively involved in the planning process - please. Special thanks to Purvi and Rina, yet again, for planning this entire trip... and incorporating recommended activities / content that I would just merely forward along with a "Just a friendly FYI..." disclaimer. :)

Americana Extravaganza - Day Three (Buffalo and the Wild West Saloon)

And so we come to the final day of our wonderful, whirlwind Americana extravaganza.

We started off Day Three with a drive through Custer State Park - you can't come to South Dakota without seeing some buffalo roam, after all. That was the primary intent of our visit to Custer - and, boy, were we pleased. We saw all kinds of animals, including but not limited to these crazy beasts we call buffalo.

After driving... and pausing in amazement... and driving... and pausing in amazement... we finally made it through Custer State Park and decided to continue our drive through Needles Highway. A couple of folks had highly recommended doing the drive through the lovely and scenic Needles Highway... but MAN! Talk about the buzzkill to end all buzzkills. I honestly did not understand what the hype was about.

Oh well, gotta document (and check things off that list), right?

After that buzzkill, we ended up heading to Jewel Cave for a little tour. I hadn't been to a cave in ages, but MAN! I loved this thing - again, I think it comes back to me being a complete nerd and fully loving and appreciating the history that surrounded the formation of this cave, but oh well. It was so fun!! Complete with lanterns and everything!

After just about the most rugged thing we did on this trip, we ended up back in that beast of a Suburban... ready for probably the most impromptu... experience (it was nothing short of that, to say the least) of our trip.

Okay, to back up, one of the girls on the trip, Trang, is not only lovable but... well, crazy. Anyway, before / during our trip, she'd indicated how one of her life dreams was to do one of these ridiculous dress up in historically-themed costumes and have your picture taken. I mean, what kind of DREAM was this?? Of course, we all laughed it off in a "Oh, Trang" kind of manner, but... well, imagine our surprise when we were driving along and spotted... of all things, a storefront designed to do JUST that - take pictures of visitors all dolled up in Wild West attire.

I mean... seriously?

Not gonna lie, I was kind of cringing as we entered this little storefront. I had no idea what to expect - I mean, I've done some crazy / shameless things in my life... this had definitely not yet made my list.

I swear, though, Trang was absolutely giddy with delight. I'm not kidding - she was literally GLOWING and BEAMING as soon as we'd entered that store. You couldn't help but get wrapped up in the merriment / excitement... it was absolutely contagious!

And that, my friends, is how we came across what turned into one of my top 3 favorite activities of this whole Americana extravaganza. Each of us ended up getting all dolled up (with the help of the store owners) in Wild West attire and... well, posing against a saloon backdrop.

I think the picture just about says it all, no?

Needless to say, we could NOT stop laughing about this experience - it was so ridiculous... and yet, just. so. amazing.

What a way to end our last night of our trip, huh?

And that, my friends, concludes the tales of our Americana extravaganza. Yet another D List gone A List B List (let's not get carried away here) State Vacation for the books.

Til next time!

*Special thanks to Purvi and Trang for allowing me to straight up steal borrow their pictures from this trip.

Americana Extravaganza - Day Two (Rough Lock Falls, Deadwood and SASKATCHEWAN!!)

Well, after an eventful Day One, I wasn't really holding out all that much hope for the rest of the trip. I mean, we'd covered what I'd wanted to cover (Badlands, Mt. Rushmore)... what more could there possibly be?

Enter... Day Two. Day Two started off with a visit to Rough Lock Falls, which is this gorgeous woods-y/forest-y area complete with... you guessed it - waterfalls. We ended up mainly just driving through the area, but we did end up stopping here and there for the occasional picture or two.

This picture, without fail, cracks me up... pretty standard, some might say. (And by "standard", I mean "Christie laughs maniacally at, clearly, nothing that anyone else finds all that entertaining.)

Oh well, it was too early in the morning to be fully sane...

But it's never too early on a Saturday morning to... well, be doing an Irish jig? (Hahah - this picture also, without fail, cracks me up.)

Actually, you know what... come to think of it - I completely forget if these pictures were taken en route to Rough Lock Falls or en route elsewhere. Whoops (this is what happens when you delay blogging about a trip for TWO MONTHS!) - oh well, for all intents and purposes, we are going to say that yes... yes, these pictures were taken en route to Rough Lock Falls.

However, I can 100% assure you - THIS was taken AT the Falls themselves...

Pretty, right?

After doing another hike gentle stroll through some pretty forestry, we headed back into the beast of a Suburban to head to Deadwood. Deadwood is this town in South Dakota that closely resembles a "Wild West" town. While we were going to visit to see the "Wild West" in all its glory, our primary activity in Deadwood was... that's right - seeing a rodeo!!

I can safely say that each and every one of us was at least slightly traumatized by the rodeo - I mean, these cowboys were a bit aggressive when lasso'ing their horses and TYING THEM DOWN??!?!? (I'm absolutely NOT posting pictures of that spectacle taking place - I can't bear the memory!)

After that traumatic event transpired, we decided to walk around the town for a bit... and what a great distraction! It was as we were walking around that I noticed that my birthplace was showcased on QUITE a few license plates in the area - who knew that so many Saskatchewanians would be vacationing in South Dakota, of all places?? I HAD to document accordingly...

And naturally, I HAD to befriend my fellow Saskatchewanian...

(Of course, the owner of the car HAD to come back to his car while I was shamelessly taking my picture with the license plate. Oh well, at least my people are friendly folks, I guess.)

Honestly, seeing all the Saskatchewan license plates (and meeting my fellow Saskatchewanian!) was truly one of the highlights of my trip. I really need to see about making a trip back to my birthplace... if I'm going to advertise it as much as I do (I mean, how can you NOT advertise a place called "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan"... doesn't it just sound MAGICAL?!?!), I should probably see how the place has changed in... I don't know... the past 30 years or so?

Ah, but I digress. Another trip for another time.

We ended up wandering and finding a little tour group of Deadwood, so we ended up hopping right on board.


It was fun - the tour guides were nice (and very knowledgeable!). I mean, the fact that they openly judged us for how little we knew about South Dakota, let alone Deadwood itself, is a mere aside.

After we'd gotten our fill of Deadwood, we ended up piling back into the beast of a Suburban and headed back to the hotel for a little downtime before heading off to dinner. Downtime for Rina and myself consisted of wandering through downtown Rapid City, doing a self-guided tour of all the presidents which line the streets of Rapid City.

We are such nerds, but, quite frankly - I absolutely LOVED THIS PART OF OUR DAY!!! I mean, you have to admit - we've had some serious WINNERS to serve as our presidents... we're pretty lucky, America.

Ahh! Rina and her favorite president - Abraham Lincoln...

Ahh! JFK!!! AND I happened to have Ted Kennedy's autobiography (one of my favorite books ever) in my purse!! It was so just meant to be!!

And... naturally, I HAD to save the best for last.

God, Bill Clinton. I don't know how much more of a love someone can have for a president. (Ironically, for how much love I do have for him, he's actually my second favorite president... second only to FDR, in case you were curious.)

In any event! We ended up wandering up and down the streets a bit more before finally heading back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for dinner at Everest Cuisine - which happened to have only some of the most amazing Indian / Nepalese cuisine I've ever experienced. Rapid City... who would've thought, huh?

*Special thanks to Purvi and Trang for allowing me to straight up steal borrow their pictures from this trip.

Americana Extravaganza - Day One (Badlands, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore)

My friends and I decided we would all fly out to Rapid City, South Dakota on Thursday night and fly back on Monday morning. Because we were all coming from various locations (San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago and Yosemite-ish), we figured it was just going to be easier to meet at the airport.

Easier said than done. I think Purvi's flight from San Francisco was the only one that was remotely on time (landing around 9:30 PM). The girls flying in from Chicago ended up being delayed and arrived only around midnight / 1 AM. And my flight from St. Louis was straight up cancelled. I think there were some weather issues going on but still - what kind of start to the trip WAS this?

Oh well, some of us aren't seasoned travelers for naught. I mean, traveling can be a nightmare but a snafu here and there really isn't the end of the world - it actually just adds to the adventure, no? (Okay, I may be stretching the optimism / positivity a bit here.)

In any event, after approximately four hours of sleep on Thursday night (at this hotel that the airline put me up at), I was back up and at 'em at the Houston airport (I had had to connect from St. Louis through Houston to get me to Rapid City)... ready and waiting to fly through Dallas to connect to Rapid City. (Who knew I would be getting such a tour of the grand state of Texas through all this?)

Ah well - nothing a nice cup of (iced!!) coffee can't cure

After the craziness of Thursday night, Friday's flight(s) were fairly uneventful. My friends were ready and waiting to pick me up in the rental car (and by rental car, I mean the beast of a Suburban that Purvi had been able to swing with Hertz) at the airport so that we could head straight for our first planned adventure - the Badlands.

Oh, let me back up quickly to explain who all was on this trip. It was basically the Maine crew minus one plus two - yeah, I'm sure that made no sense. To spell it out... this trip was comprised of myself, Rina, Purvi and Trang (we all went to Maine together), Joyce (another friend from Chicago who is just crazy and added some real razzle dazzle to the group, let's be honest here) and Mark (another friend from Chicago who decided to make South Dakota a pit stop after a two-week backpacking adventure in the wilderness). 

Our trip started off as a bit of a reunion - some of us hadn't seen each other for AGES! So you can only imagine what ensued... lots of this...

And this...

Aaaand... finally, we got it just right...

(Poor Mark - I think he questioned joining us on the trip from this moment onwards.)

In any event, we continued along our merry way, hiking through the Badlands. I think "hiking" is a loosely used term in this situation - more... a gentle walk along pebbly ground, one would say. 

I mean, don't get me wrong. There WAS room for confusion at various points in time... 

But thankfully, Trang took the initiative to sign us up at various points along the trail in case of emergency situations... 

Can never be too prepared, I guess... ;) 

Overall, though, the Badlands turned out to be pretty picturesque:

I would argue that it's not necessarily worthy of a solid 3.5 hours of hiking gently strolling through pebbly terrain, but to each their own.

After the Badlands, we drove back to Rapid City with a stop at Wall Drug - this ridiculously touristy place, filled with all KINDS of tschotchky items. I couldn't BELIEVE how HUGE this place was - it was like a little playground, if you will.

Once we'd gotten our fill of Wall Drug, we piled back into that beast of a Suburban and headed straight for... where else? Mt. Rushmore.

I was so, so, so excited for Mt. Rushmore. I mean, it's an historical American LANDMARK!! I love history! I love America! How could one NOT be excited for this 20th century masterpiece?? We got to Mt. Rushmore close to dusk, as we were strongly encouraged to visit Mt. Rushmore for its spectacular night light show (or something like that). Check it out in all its daytime glory...

It gets even better at night!!

Okay, to be perfectly honest - Mt. Rushmore was nice to visit and all, but it's definitely just one of those "check things off a list" kind of things. I have no desire / need to visit Mt. Rushmore again... I mean, it's cool and all but... well, it's a lot SMALLER than I was expecting it to be. God, Mt. Rushmore is to South Dakota what the Panama Canal is to Panama... kind of a giant buzzkill.

Sooo, in a nutshell, that was Day One of this Americana extravaganza. You ready for Day Two?

*Special thanks to Purvi and Mark for allowing me to straight up steal borrow their pictures from this trip.