A Wild Week On The Road: From South Dakota’s Hidden Gems To Life On A Kansas Farm

This Week:

  • Visiting 2 national parks, 2 national monuments, and over 60 mammoth fossils, all within driving distance.
  • Waking up to a baby cow LICKING my van.
  • A taste of what it’s like to live on a farm in Kansas.

July 2023

Su M T W Th F S

Where In The World Was I?

  • Rapid City, SD
  • 📍 Hot Springs, SD
  • 📍 Mt. Rushmore
  • 📍 Devil’s Tower
  • 🚐 Spearfish, SD
  • 📍 Badlands National Park
  • 🚐 Nebraska
  • 📍 Deerfield, KS
  • 🚐 Ottawa, KS (outside Kansas City, KS)

Live Travel Map 🌎

Exploring The Ins And Outs Of South Dakota

Phew what a week!

Getting back on the road has meant getting back to so much happening just in a single week.

It started off in Rapid City, SD where I went to Harriet & Oak, a cool coffee shop Sunday morning before heading into the Black Hills.

The Mammoth Site

Mammoths?? In South Dakota?!

I drove down to Hot Springs, SD where I stopped at The Mammoth Site, a museum and active archaeological site of over 60 fossilized mammoths!

It was actually really cool!

Here’s the TL;DR for how the heck this happened:

100+ million years ago, a sink hole formed at this location. Fresh water filled the sink hole up to the edge, creating a location where animals would congregate to drink the water, but the edge of the hole dropped off over 60 feet. This created a perfect trap for animals, particularly mammoths, who would wade in but didn’t have the claws to climb back out after falling in.

The scientists here have found fossilized bones of at least 61 mammoths in this location, many still in incredible condition.

Wind Cave National Park

Just north of The Mammoth Site is Wind Cave National Park.

The unique feature of this National Park is the “tale of 2 worlds:”

  • Above ground is a rolling grassy prairie, the largest in the U.S., which is the home of many wildlife (bison, prairie dogs, deer, etc.).
  • But below ground is a the 7th longest cave in the world (3rd longest in the U.S.) with 154.2 MILES of explored cave passageways!

Unfortunately the cave’s elevator was undergoing maintenance so I didn’t get to explore below ground, but I did get to see the cave’s natural entrance, which blew a constant cool air from a seemingly random hole in the ground.

It was this hole that led the original explorer’s to find the network of caves underground.

At golden hour I hiked up the ~1mi trail up Rankin Ridge to see over the prairie and even out to Badlands National Park!

Mt. Rushmore

And just a little north of Wind Cave National Park was Mt. Rushmore!

THE Mt. Rushmore.

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t realize Mt. Rushmore was in this area until I was driving around Rapid City and saw signs for it. Woops 🤦‍♂️😅

I got a tip-off from a National Park ranger to drive up Iron Mt. Road (16A) north because you can see Mt. Rushmore from miles away!

And THAT was cool.

Quite the tourist destination!

Needles Highway

Just southwest of Mt. Rushmore is a highway that runs through the granite cliffs of the Black Hills. It was a monumental feat to create a highway through this area.

Unfortunately for me, it runs through Custer State Park, so even just to drive the highway, you have to pay the $20 state park entrance fee! I was a bit shocked and disappointed, but I ended up deciding to pay the entrance fee anyways, as it might just be worth it.

It’s this penny pinching mindset that I hope to tear apart one day…

Halfway through was Needles Eye tunnel, whose clearance I thought I might just barely make by a matter of 2-3 INCHES.

But after watching 2 Mt. Rushmore tour buses drive through 😱, I knew I’d be fine.

The first bus put on quite the show, jokingly getting stuck halfway through, putting his flashers on and throwing his hands up in defeat as he frantically pushed buttons on his dashboard 😂

Devil’s Tower

I hadn’t originally planned on driving to Devil’s Tower since it’s about an hour west of South Dakota in Wyoming, just enough to be “out of the way.” But, after some back and forth, I decided to go for it anyway… and I’m glad I did!

Scientists still don’t know exactly how this formed. There are 3 main theories, but they do agree that it was formed from magma that cooled underground millions of years ago.

The Morning Of The Cows

As a side note, I camped in the Black Hills National Forest just outside Devil’s Tower the night before. It was a wild night of cracks of thunder and pelting down hail.

But I woke up to some unexpected… moo-ing.

Less than a minute after I woke up, I looked out my back window to see this:

Then watched as this baby cow started licking the back of my van 😂

I was both terrified (these cows are MASSIVE) and laughing.

Badlands National Park

By Wednesday I had finished all the things I needed to do up here and hit the road south!

I stopped by Badlands National Park to drive the scenic road through the park since it was essentially on my way.

Unique, weird, and cool! It reminded me of Bisti Badlands in northern New Mexico!

Driving America’s Great Plains

Nebraska: straight and curving roads through rolling green hills

Kansas: straight roads across flat farm land for miles and miles and miles

Life On A Farm In Kansas

I stopped by to visit my cousin in Deerfield, Kansas, who’s been a farmer all his life!

He and his wife have lived here for the past 67 years!

And he built everything himself.

E v e r y t h i n g.

The house? Yep.

The patio? Yep.

The barn? Yep.

The grain silos? Yep.

About 30 years difference:

Touring the gardens:

Freshly dried peppermint and wheat berries!

Learning the family history:

Barbecue with distant relatives!

Life on the farm:

Shot my first .22 rifle and pistol (we hunted some rabbits that were terrorizing the gardens):

I had a great time, I’m so glad I stopped by.

Heading East!

What’s Next?

Lots and lots and lots of driving! I’m headed back to my family in Massachusetts.

Flight leaves in T minus 1 week 😳


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