We ended up staying 8 nights in South Dakota due mainly to alternator problems on the RV. Happily we arrived at an ideal time and were able to see the Buffalo Roundup at Custer Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial walk held just twice a year, visit Mount Rushmore and do several scenic drives on the Needles Highway.
Buffalo Roundup at Custer Park
Each year at Custer Park the park officials do a buffalo round-up. The buffalo are vaccinated and checked for illness as well as culling out a few to make sure the Park can sustain an appropriate number of buffalo. The herd numbers around 1300. We heard about the roundup at the Rushmore Shadows Campground where we stayed the entire time. Around 15000 people attend the roundup and you have to get up at the crack of dawn or in our case 5am to drive to the site. We were glad we got up early as we got a great viewing point. There are two places you can view the buffalo and we were at the one where the buffalo come over the hill and are then rounded up towards the corals. It was a great time with our $6 pancake breakfast.
I found it amusing that politicians are the same all over the world. The South Dakota governor or senator not sure attended with a hugh entourage. They were on a hill opposite us which strangely was a bad viewing point. Given the conversation around us I suspect that the governor lost a lot of votes from South Dakota voters because of his separateness from the commoners on the hills. That aside it was amazing to see the buffalo come over the hill with the cowboys and cowgirls herding them. It must have been breathtaking 150 years ago to see them on the plains when they numbered in the millions all over the midwest.
Crazy Horse Memorial Walk
Twice a year people are given the opportunity to walk through a Volksmarch to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial. You either make a donation of a few cans of food and pay a $3 per person cost. The day we did it was in glorious sunshine and along with a few thousand other people we enjoyed the walk up to the memorial. Afterwards we returned to the visitor centre which I highly recommend a visit. I never knew that the memorial being carved out of granite was a private undertaking with no government funding and being done by one family. The sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started the memorial in 1948 and after his death in 1982 his wife and 10 children carried on the work. When it is finished it will dwarf Mount Rushmore.
Any visit to South Dakota has to include Mount Rushmore. We went twice during our time in South Dakota. There is no entry charge to visit the site but you do have to pay $11 for car parking valid for one year. The layout of the complex is from the car park you walk up through a corridor of flags from each state and to a viewing platform overlooking the amphitheatre where you go for the evening show. Below the platform are a couple of theatres showing a short film about the history of the site as well as an exhibition you can walk through. The night show is a movie about Mount Rushmore and how Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln, all Republicans, were chosen. It is quite amazing given the equipment they used that no one was killed in the 15 years sculpturing the faces. Mount Rushmore is well worth a visit and it gets 3 million visitors a year although when we were there it did not feel that busy.
I loved South Dakota because the people were friendly and for a New Zealander there are a lot of interesting sites to visit. We also drove the Needles Highway and the amazing scenery, attended a musical show and did some wine and beer tasting during our stay. All in all I would love to return to South Dakota in the summer to do some hikes and explore it more.