Friday, August 17, 2012

South Dakota Supreme: Part 2

South Dakota Supreme: Part 1 chronicled our first day in South Dakota. This post covers our second day.

View from motel parking lot, Interior, South Dakota
Wednesday was another banner day that I had been excitedly waiting for. I was grateful for the 10 a.m. check-out at the Badlands Budget Host Inn because it got us moving earlier than usual. After breakfast, we got back on scenic route 240, the Badlands Loop Road, and drove west through the rest of the National Park to the Wall entrance. I didn't really know what to expect from the Badlands. From what we saw, it was a lot of amazing, other-worldly scenery and some hiking trails. I think we drove past a visitor center in the darkness of the previous night, but on our drive-through in daylight we didn't really see much at all other than scenic overlooks. We got out once or twice for pictures and noticed signs warning of rattle snakes. A concerned man looked at the swarm of kids crawling out of my minivan and informed me that he had seen some rattlers himself and that we should be sure to stay on the trails. I assured him we weren't going anywhere, just stretching our legs and taking some photos. None of us were dressed for hiking. Another time, I hope. There was some construction going on, so at one point we had to pull over and wait for a leader truck to guide us past the work zone. The road was down to one lane, and there was no wiggle room, so they had to make sure traffic was only moving in one direction at a time. This took a few extra minutes, but wasn't terrible.

The Wall Drug backyard, Wall, South Dakota
We exited Badlands National Park in the town of Wall. So far we had seen approximately 573 signs advertising Wall Drug, the world's biggest drug store. Who can resist 573 signs? We had to investigate. Well, it's big alright, but not as I had imagined. Wall Drug is basically a block filled with stores that are connected to each other. You can get from one to the other from the inside. But you have to pay for your items from one area before moving onto another, which definitely made it feel more like separate stores than one big store. There was quite a bit to look at, and it was neat-o. But it was also crammed to the max with merchandise and tourists. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had no children with me, or if my kids were older and I could trust all of them to meet me at a certain spot and time, so we could all look at what we wanted to look at without irritation, confusion, and frustration. Since that was not the case, I was about to blow my top after a short time. I was sick of their obsession with gift shops already. And I am especially not such a big fan of crowded shops. We saw what the fuss was about and got back on the highway.

Our next planned stop was one I had been dreaming of for years. We reached the Ramada in Rapid City, where I had made reservations ahead of time. For once we arrived before check-in and killed some time eating lunch at the mediocre 50s style diner, Arnold's, that's next to the hotel. As soon as we could, we got to our room, unpacked, and freshened up before leaving for Mount Rushmore. I have always wanted to see Mount Rushmore up close and personal. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because the famous national monument is just so iconic and patriotic. We had all been looking forward to it, and we were all excited.

Mount Rushmore was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel. A twisty, curvy, up and down hilly drive through the Black Hills. The drive was a little more intense than I had been expecting. In fact, I wasn't really expecting intense at all. We had talked about staying for the 9 p.m. lighting ceremony so we could see the monument all lit up. But doubt started creeping into my mind...I wasn't sure I wanted to make the drive back to the hotel in the dark.

There they are! Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota
Before we even went through the gates, we had a few glimpses of the Presidents. They were right there. Wowsers! We paid the $11 parking fee (this is the only entrance fee), found a parking spot in the parking structure and went in. I don't know quite how to describe it, except to say it was more built-up and modern than I had expected. The setting was beautiful, both natural and man-made aspects. Seeing Mount Rushmore was amazing. We took a lot of pictures, browsed through the visitor center (skipped the film, which I wish we hadn't), had over-priced ice cream cones, and did some shopping. There is a trail that allows visitors to get closer, but it started raining and I worried about the little girls slipping on the endless stairs leading up, up, up. Plus the rain confirmed for me that I did not want to drive back to the hotel in the dark. So we decided to leave earlier than we had planned and skip the lighting ceremony.

Okay, all this build up to see Mount Rushmore, then we finally got there and we did not take full advantage of the situation at all. I have regrets, but the kids were happy and satisfied. If they had seemed heart broken because they weren't going to see the Presidents lit up, I probably would have caved. If they had begged to watch the film in the visitor center, or pleaded to walk the trail, I don't think I could have said no. But they didn't. We were all tired. It was a long day. That's the problem with this kind of trip. But at the end of the day, we saw Mount Rushmore, and I'm so glad we did.

On the way back we decided to simplify dinner and pick up some pizza to eat in the room. We found a Little Caesars and headed back. The kids were also chomping at the bit to try out the totally awesome looking pool they caught a glimpse of when we checked in.

A word about the Rapid City Ramada.When I called to reserve our room, I was asked if I wanted a room by the pool or a room with an exterior door, so I could pull right up to park. I chose the exterior door because I thought it would be less trouble when unpacking for the night. But I didnt' want to have to walk outside to get to the pool, so I asked about that and was assured there were indoor corridors too and not to worry about that. So I had imagined that the room would have both an exterior door and an interior door. But it did not. The set up is kind of odd. The pool is literally in the same room as the lobby. There are rooms all around the pool, inside. Then there are the rooms with the exterior doors. There are some corridors, but there is definitely some outdoor walking involved to get to the pool, the front desk, and the breakfast room. It ended up not being a bad walk once we figured out the lay of the land, but it was very different.

When we checked in, before our trek to Mount Rushmore, there was one kid swimming in the pool. When we came back after dinner, the place was jam packed. My heart sank. Then I felt the water. Icy. Crap. "Bethany, take Mattie in the pool, please." Yes, I am that mom. It's too bad, because it really was an awesome pool. It was shallow and perfect for kids, with zero entry on one side (picture walking into a lake from the beach, without the pesky sand and rocks). Lucy lasted all of two minutes or so, then joined me on the pool side because she couldn't take the cold. Mathilda had some fun jumping to Bethany several times, but I had to put an end to that before long because she was shivering and her teeth were chattering. Bethany stayed in for a few more minutes, and Connor was the last hold out, but we only had to wait for him for about 10 minutes or so. Have I mentioned that I hate freezing cold swimming pools? Well, I hate freezing cold crowded swimming pools even more. For the first time in our trip so far, the night was cool, and we had to walk partially outside to get back to our room. Not a huge deal, just not exactly ideal.

Breakfast the next morning was a mixed bag. They had a great selection, for sure. I love complimentary breakfasts with lots of options. But, no surprise after our experience at the pool, the breakfast room was very crowded. We nabbed a four-top for the kids the moment the previous diners finished their food, and then I commenced to eat breakfast while standing up. A couple of nice ladies from a neighboring table had two empty chairs, so they invited me to sit with them. My mom joined us when she came back with her food. We had some pleasant conversation, and it all worked out. The thing is (you'd probably never guess, right?) that I am not crazy for crowded places. Especially places that are crowded to the point of barely being able to walk, like the Ramada breakfast room in Rapid City, South Dakota. Note to self: I need to learn to be more flexible. In progress.

Our time in South Dakota was all too brief, but filled with wonderful, long-lasting memories. There was more I had hoped to be able to do, but we had places to be and people to see, so we did our absolute best with the time we had available to us. In Rapid City, I really wanted to check out Dinosaur Park and Storybook Island, two free kid-friendly attractions. I also wanted to partake in the City of Presidents walking tour, to get a good look at every one of the life sized presidential statues adorning the street corners of Rapid City. The Museum of Geology sounds interesting, as well as historic Deadwood. Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, and Custer State Park all sound amazing and are practically within spitting distance of Mount Rushmore. I discovered that I love South Dakota, and would like to, at some point, fully dedicate an entire vacation to this beautiful state.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Lucy is holding her handcrafted rope from the Ingalls Homestead. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park, South Dakota

I can't believe we're here! Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota

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