National Memorials & Custer State Park, South Dakota

Lizzie Adamson-Brown on 09 June 2014
Sunrise at the Badlands! Definitely worth the 5:00am wakeup call! The colours are more vibrant, the outlines sharper and the atmosphere calmer – a truly magical experience! As the sun rises, it’s a very humbling and special feeling, as I watched the tips start to glow and draw long shadows across the formations, to paint the most impressive landscape on the ground.

After having our breakfast at Cedar Pass lodge we departed for Rapid City. I wonder what treasures I will encounter today? Arriving in Rapid City I visited the Journey Museum. This was an incredible trek through time, from the formation of the mystical Black Hills over 2.5 billion years ago up to modern times. Inside is the Sioux Indian Museum, with the most amazing original artefacts from the American Indian society, even a holograph of a Native American elder. After my incredible journey visiting here, I now understand the legacy of this land and its people.

Can it get any better? Oh yes, I’m now at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. These 60ft sculptures of the 4 presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are even more impressive in real life! We did our best with 4 members of the group to recreate the monument, but some may say it was a monumental fail!

We arrived at Crazy Horse Memorial, which is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. I loved the visit to Mount Rushmore, which was extremely impressive, but personally I loved the story of the Crazy Horse monument, which is going to be a lot bigger when finished. An elder from the Lakota tribe, of which crazy horse was, commissioned this masterpiece as a lasting memory to the great chief. I was blown away by this true example of hard work and commitment that will take many years to complete. There are controversies surrounding what could be the world’s largest sculpture, but it will be magnificent.

At Custer State Park you get a true sense of the enormity of the USA. It is the second largest state park in the United States and home to one of America’s largest bison herds. This 71,000 acre park features scenic drives, fishing, swimming, hiking, camping and 4 outstanding resorts in a must-see setting. Oh my goodness, the wildlife loop is an amazing drive not to be missed! I made sure I had plenty of battery in my camera and plenty of memory card space, with wildlife everywhere, such as bison, pronghorn antelope (known affectionately as fluffy butts), deer, prairie dogs and even donkeys!

Then we headed for a stop off in downtown Rapid City, which I found is a lovely and friendly small town with some gorgeous colonial architecture. We visited the Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries, a wonderful store that features collections of Native American art, crafts, books and music. The store features regional American Indian artists, as well as a few Non-Native American artists. I found an amazing collection of everything from ceremonial drums to buffalo hide robes and some beautiful native art.

We walked through Main Street Square, a newly-created centrepiece which holds hundreds of events through the year including live music. The City of Presidents is a collection of bronze statues of each of America’s past presidents dispersed throughout the downtown area. It was then time for dinner! We went to the Adoba Hotel for a lovely meal, in this very eco-friendly and chic hotel.

We are staying tonight in the prestigious Hotel Alex Johnson. It is a most imposing, lovely building of German architecture. It even has swastika symbols in the floor, that I found out were a native American symbol for the ‘four corners of the earth’, well every day is a school day, as my hubby would say! Many American presidents have stayed there. We heard it was haunted so we settled onto the rooftop terrace and enjoyed a few drinks around the fire pit. I believe the spooks are mainly on the 8th floor, so I’ll be ok on the 4th, won’t I?