Hello again friends and fellow travelers – it has been a bit too long since our last entry, but that does not mean that we have been resting on our laurels. We simply took our sweet time driving through South Dakota and along the way realized just how little of our own country we have explored. I have always felt drawn to travel through South America, Europe, and Asia in order to be surrounded by new cultures and languages. And while I will always feel this familiar draw to explore beyond our borders, I will also place a greater priority on seeing the countrysides and cities within the United States of America.
South Dakota
Our journey across the corn-covered land of South Dakota began with a bang, when we realized that the speed limit is 75 mph on highways. We took a lunch break in the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls. The lovely spot that we discovered is the namesake of the city, Falls Park.
Driving through the city, we followed a semi-truck filled to the top with pigs. We were on the same route as the truck all the way to the stockyards, when the truck turned into John Morrell, a pork processing plant. I have taken a recent interest in the pork industry and was eager to learn more about John Morrell. It turns out, John Morrell is owned by the U.S. company, Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork producer and processor with annual revenues of $13 billion. Chinese meat producer, Shuanghui International announced in May that they would like to acquire Smithfield Foods. Once this deal is approved, it will represent the largest acquisition of an American firm by a Chinese company in history. China’s expanding middle class has a growing appetite for pork and once the transaction is complete, Shuanghui will be poised to gain substantial market share. The potential takeover has raised questions from U.S. government officials regarding food safety and security in the United States. Others question if the true motive behind the acquisition is more than just profiting off of consumers, but rather that China has polluted so much of it’s own resources with it’s rapid economic expansion that they now are looking elsewhere for access to clean resources. Either way you interpret the takeover, it is absolutely an industry that I will continue to follow in the future.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Alright, that was quite the tangent. Let’s get back to the cross-country adventure. Our first night in South Dakota found us sleeping high upon the rocky riverbank of the Missouri River. The endless heat and mosquitos seemed to disappear as we stepped onto our campsite and felt the swirl of the wind. We began to set up our camp and got our first taste of all the free things you can get by being friendly. Our camping neighbors to the left offered us their campfire, cooking utensils and a can opener. The neighbors to the right let us have all of their firewood. We cooked a delicious tinfoil pouch dinner, walked along the rocky shores of the river and fell asleep hoping the wind wouldn’t blow us away.

Snake Creek Recreation Center, Platte, South Dakota
View from our tent
The next day we awoke and had to make the hardest decision of our day, “where should we go next?” We decided to stay off of the main roads and take the beautiful highway 44 to the Badlands. We don’t tend to plan our days out ahead of time, we don’t know our route before we start driving, and we definitely don’t know where we are staying for the night. While this strategy, or lack thereof, may not work for everyone, it is the only way that works for us.
Keeping track of our route
As we were driving to the Badlands, I was researching places for us to stay for the night and stumbled upon the little known Sage Creek Campground located in the Badlands. We learned from a fellow traveler that it is free to camp in all U.S. National Forests/Grasslands. This makes me very excited, because I love finding ways to take advantage of the tax dollars I have paid to the government.
We entered the Badlands and were instantly awe-struck at the alien beauty of the landscape. At first glace you feel like you have entered a desolate planet, far from Earth. But, as I looked deeper, I noticed a general bobbing of heads near the ground which turned out to be hundreds of prairie dogs standing on their hind legs and then leaping down into their homes in the ground the moment they sensed danger. I witnessed my first herd of buffalo run across open prairie. Antelope climbed across the cliffs. The grasses rippled in the wind like waves in the ocean. I have never seen, or never noticed, so many shades of green in my life. I appreciated the color green so much more as I watched it being swallowed in layers of rock.

Sage Creek Campground
That’s our little tent on the left

My Honda Civic was tested on the 12 miles of dirt road that led us to our campground. We set up our tent in the dry, hot, arid land and hoped that it was staked into the ground well enough to withstand the prairie winds. With the flies biting, we hiked to the top of a nearby cliff and watched the sunset. Our first night was sweltering and although we didn’t quite wake up “refreshed,” we were excited to explore the Badlands. There is a 25-mile highway that winds through the geological formations and has an excellent Visitor Center. The extent to which the white man hurt the Indian is appalling. We learned about the massacres that the white man committed to both the Indian people as well as their livelihood, the buffalo. How could an entire nation stand by and watch as 60,000,000 (yes, million) buffalo were hunted close to extinction? I cannot help but wonder if there were any outspoken individuals at the time that saw the benefit of living with nature, rather than just taking from nature. Early settlers could pay $18 dollars to the federal government and receive 160 acres of land. If they were able to inhabit and farm the land for at least 5 years, the title would pass to the settler permanently. Thousands of new settlers attempted to survive on the Plains but the majority could not handle the everlasting winters, dry summers and deadly winds. Was there not one new settler who saw their Indian neighbors as wise? I can only hope that man learns from his mistakes and that if I am ever face to face with such atrocity, I will stand up for humanity and the environment.

As evening approached on our second night in the Badlands, we hiked around the hills, watched herds of buffalo drink water by the creek and made our own ceremony on top of a hill to the Indians that lived on this land. Chase played soulful music on his flute to ensure all of the hills would hear his song. As night fell upon us, we laid on our backs, on a tiny space of ground and observed the starry night above us. The sky was black, the stars shone like diamonds, and the vastness above had us thinking about time. The layers of color in the Badlands are geological representations of history. Each color represents a different environment in history, going back 70 million years. When you think about how long it has taken to create such beauty that surrounds us on Earth and then you look up and see the beauty in the sky that lives for millions of years, it truly makes you feel insignificant. To me, the feeling of insignificance is one of comfort because it ensures that no matter what path I take in life, time will continue. It reduces the pressure I feel everyday as I try to decide what mark I want to make in history. No matter what I decide to do, it likely will not still be around 70 million years from now.

The second night tested the strength of our stakes once more as the wind howled down the hills and into our valley of tents. Our tent shook and swayed from side to side. I woke up to the sound of thunder, climbed out of the tent and witnessed the sky turning pink all around me from lightning in the distance. The darkness would engulf me for only a moment as I stood in what felt like the center of the Earth and waited for the next round of light. I could see the sporadic glow of lightening along all of the edges of the Earth. Although, I did not sleep much that night, I did feel alive as I sat and watched a dramatic ballet of light dance around me.

We awoke early and set our sights for the infamous Black Hills of South Dakota. I am utterly shocked at the beauty of South Dakota. I was under the impression that its land was covered with corn and grain. I have never been so wrong. Being in the Black Hills feels like living a rugged mountain lifestyle. The roads wind around cliffs and alongside rocky lakes. We found the perfect campsite at Horsethief Lake. With nary a fly or mosquito in flight, we explored our pristine surroundings with a little walk around the lake. 
Campsite at Horsethief Lake
View from our tent

By road, we were only four miles from Mount Rushmore but to drive there you have to pay a whole $11 for parking. With our tight purse strings lifestyle, we searched for a more economical option. Our map pointed us to a 4-mile trail that would take us right to the entrance of Mount Rushmore. The hike had us climbing rocks, prancing through meadows and singing in forests. All in all, it is the only way that I will get to Mount Rushmore in the future. Mount Rushmore is a wonderful testament to one man’s vision. Suspended 400 feet above the ground, the builders carved 90% of the sculpture with dynamite. The detail of the sculpture is so fine that you can see wrinkles and moles carved into the mountain. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wanted this creation to show the virtues of a democratic nation to future civilization. I am proud of our country for supporting an art project as large as Mount Rushmore. 

As we descended back down to our campsite, we thought that we ought to reward ourselves for saving $11 on parking. We drove into Hill City and planned to have one drink at a local bar. However, we happened to meet our new friends Andy and Malory and ended up drinking the night away, eating a steak dinner, and sleeping in our car on the side of Main Street. The next morning was a rough one. We awoke at 6:00am from the sun shining in our car windows and drove off in search of a place to nurse our hangover. Unfortunately, the two campsites and the first four hotels were booked. We finally found an open hotel room, shut the blinds and slept most of the day away. The next morning we woke up refreshed and headed towards Colorado. After a short seven hour drive we arrived in Colorado Springs where we will be spending a week with Chase’s brother and his fiancé.  

Mount Rushmore
8 mile hike to Mount Rushmore
Loving the woods

2 thoughts on “America the Beautiful

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.