Historical South Dakota

Where can you go to be immersed in presidential history, Native American memorials, and spelunking? This may come as a surprise, but South Dakota is the answer. With very little knowledge of South Dakota beyond Mount Rushmore, I embark with my family on a road trip to many historical sites. After visiting a grouping of National Parks and Monuments and a memorial in progress, I find there’s a rich collection of American history and culture in the southwestern corner of South Dakota.

Minuteman Missile National Historic SiteOur first stop at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site recognizes the controversial atomic bombs tested and kept in remote areas during the Cold War. This missile site from the 1950s and 60s had United States nuclear forces prepared for an attack with missiles able to be deployed from underground silos. The missiles could travel to the North Pole in 30 minutes. In 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed by Bush and Gorbachev to decrease the stockpiles of nuclear arms. In 1999, this historic site was established and the missiles were dismantled. Along with preservation this site also holds the controversy of nuclear testing. Being from Southern Utah, my family is well aware of this controversy and it leaves us with a sense of uneasiness, but an understanding that it’s a part of American history everyone must learn from.

Badlands National ParkThe next stop along the green hillsides of South Dakota takes us to Badlands National Park. This mix of grassland and beige and rust sands mirrors the landscapes of the Southwestern United State’s mix of desert and mountains my family is accustomed to. The scientific explanation of this unique mixture retells of how millions of years ago, the Great Plains were covered in sea with Pierre shell, a sedimentary rock formation, at the bottom. As the land rose and forced water away, the climate began to cool. As the land began to dry out, it changed from forest to savannah to grassland to the park’s current state. Although I am not a scientist or archaeologist who explores this current state, if I were I would find the Badlands to be a fascinating combination of natural architecture and greenery décor.

Chapel in the HillsBefore heading to the famed Mount Rushmore, we decide to make a quick stop in Rapids city at Chapel in the Hills. Although I’m not religious, I always find a strong sense of spirituality in small churches with strong architectural details. This replica of the 850-year-old Borgund church, Borgund Stavkirke, in Norway, has beautifully carved symbols and dragons at its roof that make me marvel at its spirituality. The wood carvings continue to amaze and entertain me as I think on the meaning and symbolism of their Viking roots.

Mount RushmoreAfter heading out of Rapids City, we make our way to the monument made famous by the thriller “North by Northwest.” Begun in 1927, work on Mount Rushmore National Memorial was stopped during World War II in 1941. The artist Gutzon Borglum, used plaster faces to help sculptors with measurements and features of the four presidents. What is each president’s importance? George Washington for establishing and building a nation, Thomas Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence, Theodore Roosevelt for creation of the Panama Canal, and Abraham Lincoln for ending slavery and holding a nation together during the Civil War. Although some of these presidents and reasons for choosing them hold controversy, they are all recognized as presidents that shaped the development of the United States.

Crazy Horse MemorialMount Rushmore isn’t the only nod to historical figures in South Dakota. Nearby, the Crazy Horse Memorial, started in the 1960s, is being sculpted with a head and arm just barely visible in the mountains. Hearing a Native American man explain to a crowd nearby about the traditions and meaning of Pow Wows, I take a closer look at the monument being carved out of the mountain. I’m impressed with the features emerging from the stone. They begin to take on a new meaning of how Native Americans were treated by settlers and forced to abandon their lands. I’ve often asked my dad, a Native American Historian, what has become of them, what’s left for them now. It’s not an easy subject to discuss, my sister, and elementary school teacher finds. Perhaps the Crazy Horse Memorial will point the way.

Jewel Caves National MonumentThe third longest cave in the world at 173 miles long guides us along our final destination. Inside the Jewel Caves National Monument, we’re led by collections of quartz, stalagmites, and stalagtites. With unmapped territory in this cave to still be discovered, we can’t stray too far, but there’s an abundance of stairways and cave paths to keep us entertained. Although the caves have been studied for years, starting with Albert and Frank Michaud in the early 1900s, there’s still path to be discovered. According to the National Park Service, cavers can spend up to four days exploring this long cave.

This pocket of a collection of National Parks and other memorials is an intricate compilation of spirituality, ancestry, and natural wonders. Don’t be misled into thinking South Dakota only has Mount Rushmore. With a memorial being built, one of the longest caves in the world, and a Norwegian church, you’ll see how much South Dakota has to offer in addition to National Parks.

This post is part of Monday Escapes hosted by My Travel Monkey and Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox, Budget Travel Talk, Tanama Tales, and Rachel’s Ruminations.

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  1. Ash

    I have never been to mount rushmore! The shots you took were great and you gave some great destinations to visit if I can ever make the trip.


    • brooklyntvlasich

      Hi Ash,
      Mount Rushmore is pretty incredible and I hope you get the chance to experience it!

  2. budgettraveltalk

    I’ve heard a lot about Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, but not the caves. This area seems to have so much going for it!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Hi Jan,
      I completely agree with you. There is a lot of things to see in this part of South Dakota and has so much more to discover than I expected!

  3. InsideJourneys

    Love that church too and like you, I’m not very religious but I always feel very humbled when I see places of worship. I had no idea that there was all this in South Dakota. Thanks for sharing, Brooke!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I’m glad the church resonated with you too. It’s such a beautiful place and has such a natural feel with all of the wooden architecture. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and thank you for visiting!

  4. Ruth

    Thanks for posting about South Dakota. I have hopes of visiting soon. I even downloaded the travel brochure from the their tourism website. There are so many interesting places to visit. I think if will be hard to narrow the itinerary.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      There are a lot more sites to visit than I expected! I hope you discover more on a future visit.

  5. malaysianmeanders

    We went through this area this summer, We stayed in Rapid City for a few days, but I didn’t know about that chapel. It’s so pretty! I wish I had known because I definitely would have visited it.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I hope you get the chance someday to revisit and see Chapel in the Hills!

  6. mytravelmonkey

    My ambition is to explore much more of the USA and Mt Rusmore of course is on the my hit list. So it’s great to know there is more to South Dakota – I never knew about the Jewels Caves. They look stunning. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I’m glad I could inspire you! Always fun to be a part of #MondayEscapes!

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