South Dakota: The Billboard State
Every year we drive from Colorado to Minnesota to celebrate the Fourth of July with family. We usually come home through Nebraska, but you can only see so many fields of corn before you start to wonder if you’re even moving. Our only other option was to go through a state that has almost as much nothing as Nebraska: South Dakota.
South Dakota does have sights. They’re just all piled on top of each other in the same three cities that are as far east as South Dakota can go until it becomes Wyoming. Among those sites are the following destinations we visited, or drove by. Heard of. Saw on the map:
Wall Drug. One of the most interesting things about South Dakota is that out of 77 thousand square miles, approximately 65 thousand of those miles are made up of billboards for you to visit Wall Drug. Wall Drug uses these billboards to advertise things like free ice water and five-cent coffee—which taste like watered down coffee grounds made with free ice water. Mostly, the signs say things like, “Have you Dug Wall Drug?” and “Take a picture with a Jackalope.” Which you can, but the Jackalope isn’t real. These signs are littered all over the side of the road spanning every sixteenth of a mile from the Iowa border to the actual parking lot of Wall Drug. Which is located in Wall, South Dakota. There’s a sign for it.
The Badlands. We spent most of our time here explaining to our nervous four-year-old that the mountains weren’t really bad. They were just really hard to drive through when people first drove through South Dakota. Mostly because they lacked roads and cars back then. The closest thing early settlers had to an SUV was a Clydesdale.
Custer State Park. I have no idea why Custer has a state park in South Dakota since the Battle of Little Big Horn was in Montana—also, I don’t recall him winning. So I’m not sure why he even gets a state park. Even back when it was just the Montana Territory, it was nowhere near the park that’s located in current day South Dakota. So, Custer’s last stand was actually four hours and twenty minutes away. That’s like saying you missed your destination by about 240 miles.
Crazy Horse Monument. This is the unfinished statue that has been waiting for funding since before the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Mt. Rushmore. The thing about taking toddlers to Mt. Rushmore, is toddlers don’t care about Mt. Rushmore. It took one of my kids fifteen minutes just to stop asking for ice cream long enough to see the mountain had faces, before continuing to ask for ice cream. The only other thing to look at are state flags. Unless a toddler gets to either hold the flag or ride on the flag, they’re not interested in the flag. Still, Mt. Rushmore is one of those places that you should go to at least once, to say you’ve been there. Also, how many times in your life can you stand in front of a mountain of faces and have your family photo taken by a foreign tourist who snaps forty photos of her left hand?
Black Hills. We’ve never actually been here. My husband points them out every time we drive through South Dakota. “Look! There’s the Black Hills.” The truth is, pretty much everything looks dark from a distance. So, who knows what we’re looking at.
Firework Stands. We don’t go to stands. We go to stores. Because they have carts. This is so my husband can have his own cart and push a cart in front of a store employee and tell them to fill it up until stuff starts falling out. Carts allow the pyro in all of us to race around a fireworks store like we have our very own version of supermarket sweep.
The Pizza Ranch. The highlight of our time through South Dakota was at the Pizza Ranch. This is where my youngest toddler declared, for the first time in the history of her existence, that she did not care for macaroni and cheese because the noodles were too fat. It’s also where my seven-month-old son grabbed my water glass with the strength of twelve men and hurled it to the floor behind him. Then proceeded to grab everything off my plate before eating his entire fist.
After traveling through a lot of South Dakota you’ll be thankful you don’t live in a state that has little in the way of scenery. As you make your way from South Dakota through Northern Colorado, where there is so much nothing, you’re finally home.
Where there are scenic mountains in the distance to the west and absolutely nothing to the north, east and south.
Not even corn.