South Dakota is a state of varying geographic landscapes. Entering the state’s southeast region, we viewed a vast prairie, winds advancing swiftly with no barriers for slowing or stopping. Moving westward, abutments of red and brown colored structures rose slowly until we reached the Badlands, a national park that provides many overlooks for scenic views. Geological processes that I do not understand have formed an uninhabitable area for humans but allow for moments of admiration. Striated layers of rock gather together, pushing upward toward the sky, assembling a sixty-mile-long wall of wonder. The challenge was where to stop for photos and being careful not to wander too far off the path due to steep crevices and warnings of poisonous snakes. Among the rocky structures were patches of grass and mud flatlands that are home to a variety of animals. The brochure for the park promised wild animal sightings, and we were not disappointed. Our three-hour winding car tour brought forth appearances of pronghorn, bighorn sheep, American bison, and my favorite – prairie dogs. While the former animals stubbornly avoided our cameras, the prairie dogs scampered, squeaking sounds of warning, and a few brave souls came close enough to beg for food.
Our goal this day was Deadwood, South Dakota, a place to stay while visiting Mount Rushmore. Shortly after leaving the Badlands, the vista altered again and again until we reached a small mountain range dotted with evergreens and snow. This change continued as we had arrived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Onward the next day, turning off a state highway, one shortly enters the area of Mount Rushmore. After parking and walking two flights of stairs, an avenue of American state and territorial flags on each side adorn the iconic memorial. The visitor center offers a film, books, and displays to help you better understand how the stone faces were carved. Due to the time of the year, Mount Rushmore was not crowded, and despite its fame, we quite enjoyed seeing the four historical figures.
Plans for the next day were an eight and half-hour trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to see the Great Tetons and Old Faithful. The route is mostly prairie and plains but an hour out of our destination, mountains arose before us and, with it, snow. Unprepared for this spectacle, there was some white-knuckling driving until the snow diminished and, with it, a flatter drive. This day we saw moose for the first time and a lone wolf.
Mike decided to plot out our trip for the next day to Yellowstone and discovered that Google Maps offered no way to get to the park. This seemed odd, so on further investigation, he found out that the park is closed this time of the year. Despite the disappointment, it is still fortunate that this trip occurred at all, so with anticipation, we traveled a scenic route to Bozeman, Montana. We saw vistas that defy description, and photos don’t do it justice. Five hours of pure awe as well as an otter sighting.