Day 8 : Custer to Sioux Falls
Day 8 was another 400 mile drive, seeing Mt. Rushmore in the morning, driving through Badlands National Park, and ending in Sioux Falls.
So there we were, on the road driving towards Mt. Rushmore when we see a bunch of signs for Crazy Horse monument. Initially we drive past it, but after more googling and reading about it, we decided to turn the car around and just peek in to see what it's all about.
We arrive at a ticket window where a gentlemen in a cowboy hat collects our entry fee of $24. We weren't even sure we wanted to come in... but we're committed now! We park the car, and we can already see the monument in the distance, under construction. There are signs blocking us from walking any closer. We have to take a bus shuttle tour to get closer. (Another $4 per person.)
At this point we're a bit annoyed, we don't even know what we've gotten into and we just wanted to see this sculpture that claims it will be the world's largest (...when it finishes).
So we get on the bus and the guy starts telling us the backstory of the monument... The people creating the monument have never collected government money to fund it; it's all through people's small donations. It was basically started by some dude who worked as a sculptor making sculptures to fund this insane project to sculpt this Native American named Crazy Horse into the mountain.
We felt a little bit better about paying to get in once we learned a little bit more about it all. The whole place focused pretty heavily on the man and his family who are creating the sculpture though. I think I would have preferred a bit more emphasis on Crazy Horse, himself!
After the tour, we checked out the visitors center. It was really nice and had a lot of great things to buy for souvenirs that didn't feel cheap and dumb. I bought some small pottery made by someone from the Navajo tribe and Mike bought an arrow. (Yes. A real arrow, all by itself.)
They also had large a bin of rocks that came off as debris from the mountain, so of course we grabbed one of those. :D
I don't know if the sculpture will actually ever finish... maybe in 50 years or so. But the monument was a fun and unexpected detour.
Next it was time to see the main event : Mt. Rushmore!
It was kind of interesting to think about how this is probably America's most iconic thing... yet how many Americans have actually been here?
Especially after seeing the... erm, less than polished work on Crazy Horse (no offense!)... the monument was surprisingly well done.
Another bucket list destination completed.
After seeing the monument, we headed East towards Minnesota, and about an hour and a half later we arrived at the Badlands, but if we didn't know any better we might have thought we entered another planet.
I didn't know what to expect from Badlands National Park, but it was right along our path east so I figured we might as well go through it! We entered the middle section on the west side (near Scenic), but I recommend you go a little bit further on the highway north; go up and over and enter on the North entrance. The road we took in was all rocks and dirt, and felt really bad to drive on. The scenery was really cool but there's great stuff to see even after the North entrance, so unless you love off-roading or have a Jeep, maybe skip the 16 mile rock road. D:
More prarie dogs! Cute little devils... These ones not quite as brave as the ones at Devils Tower. (But just as squeaky.)
I was curious where the name Badlands came from. When I was googled for the answer, this is what I came across :
The Lakota people were the first to call this place "mako sica" or "land bad." Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900's, French-Canadian fur trappers called it "les mauvais terres pour traverse," or "bad lands to travel through." (via Badlands National Park website.)
Felt like we could have found some dino bones here. In fact, there were signs that warned if you found dinosaur bones, it was illegal to take them. Let's be real though... Who's gonna stumble across a t Rex skull and not take that home???
I learned that those geological structures that stick straight up out of the ground and have a flat top are called buttes. (Of course we called them 'butts' the whole time because we are children.)
On this trip we saw a fox, some bear, lots of elk, bison, deer, antelope and eagles... but one animal that I was a little bummed we hadn't spotted yet was a big horned sheep. We saw signs that they were around...
Suddenly, we spot some!!! Yay :D
Badlands National Park was extremely interesting, especially if you're into geology. I'm really glad we were in the area and could drive through it on the way. (I don't know if I'd go too far out of the way to see it though since there's not a lot there, which is perfect if you want some peace and quiet.
Next we were heading towards Minneapolis, but that was still a ways away, so we ended our day at Sioux Falls. The drive there from Badlands was pretty long and empty, so this was our first time we got a bit tired on the road. (Nothing a good audio book can't solve.)
Day 9 : Sioux Falls to Minneapolis
Yesterday going through the Badlands ended up being a lot of driving, so this day was a nice break, we'd be driving (only) ~240 miles.
We got up early and planned to get into Minneapolis in time for lunch to meet some friends. After arriving, we checked out Minnehaha park. The leaves had their Autumn colors out in full force!
After lunch we took a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge. Then we played around in a nearby theater that had a view of the bridge we just walked across.
By the time we started heading back to our hotel, the lighting was shining so beautifully on the bridge. Nice lighting + scenic background means prime handstand practice spot!
We got dinner, did some people watching, and came back to the bridge for some night photography practice.
I liked the smoke coming out of this chimney thing, and it made for an interesting long exposure.
And with that, the adventure starts to wind down.
Day 10 : Minneapolis to Normal, IL
If you're wondering what the heck Normal Illinois is or why I went there, it's because that's where my family lives! Since we were driving cross country, it just made sense to make a pit stop there. Driving for the day would be 450 miles.
(If you're doing a road trip, you'll probably just go through Chicago instead.)
Bye Minneapolis! Hello miles and miles of cornfields.
About halfway between Minneapolis and Normal is Madison, Wisconsin, so I thought we could go there and eat some cheese!
We stopped at a big cheese store before getting into Madison. The selection did not disappoint!
And the people there are happy to help you and give you some samples. If you are completely lost, they have a sign of their 10 most popular flavors, so if you pick some of those, I'm sure you'll get something you like.
We tried a few kinds of cheese, including a 'cheese fudge' that was bizarre. You'd never guess that it was cheese!
My favorite one out of the bunch we got was a smoked garlic cheddar.
Next we explored downtown Madison. They have a cool looking city hall building that you can wonder into and a rooftop viewing area.
While we were there, kids were trick-or-treating and the roads around the city hall building had tractors pulling carts for hay rides.
We found the highest rated cheese place in the area (Fromagination) and decided we needed more cheese. Because come on... Can you ever have too much cheese??
We even bought a sliver of some 15-year-old cheddar (because a review on Yelp said you HAD to, even though it was $80 a lb. )
And with that, we headed onward to Illinois.
These were the landscapes I grew up seeing, so although I can appreciate their beauty, I don't find them that spectacular.
But it's always nice to visit my childhood home!
Day 11 : A Normal Day
We got a break from driving for a day to spend time with my family.
We got some donuts from a build-your-own-donut place called The Donut Experiment .
Although my mom was stressed out by the ordering procedure and decision making process, I think we all were in agreement that those were some damn good donuts. 8)
While home we relaxed, played music, and repotted my plants with the expert help of my pro-level gardener mother. Then after some coercing, we managed to fit MORE things into the car (two kitchen chairs, a tiny end table, and my violin).
Day 12 & 13 : The Final Stretch
The home stretch!
We would only make one more pit stop before arriving in Boston, and that was an overnight stay in Pittsburgh. Normal to Pittsburgh was ~530 miles.
The weather was so cooperative for us the entire trip, it was bound to flip on us sooner or later. And that's just what it did. It began raining and continued to rain on us for the rest of the drive.
We stopped for an hour to grab lunch in Columbus, Ohio.
It was cool to again see the landscape slowly morph as we traversed it.
It was also fun to cross so many state borders in a relatively short amount of time. (Some states we were in for barely 20 minutes!)
We didn't really make any exciting stops for the remaining time, unfortunately. From here it was all about getting home quickly and in one piece.
After Pittsburgh, it was just a short 580 miles to Boston!
The last little bit was the longest, but it was exciting to be so close to the finish line after 2 weeks of exploring the country.
More rain, more winds. A dramatic finish!!
We arrived at our new home late, tired, and ready to be done driving for a little bit!
I couldn't be happier with our time on this road trip. It's something I've always wanted to do and I feel very lucky that I got the opportunity to do it! It's a lot of work to drive so much, but I was pleased with how spread out the driving sections were; it was challenging at times but there were so many fun things sprinkled in-between that it was absolutely worth it. And having a friend to go with makes it doable. (I don't know if I could have done a trip like this on my own.)
... Maybe next time we'll explore the southern parts of the U.S. ;D
Thanks for reading!!
Sophie is a video game developer who has a variety of passions including yoga, traveling, and photography.