Needles Highway, Black Hills, South Dakota

The Stunning Vistas of Needles Highway

“Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy”. – Anne Frank

No visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota is complete without a drive through the impressive Needles Highway. Designed in 1919 by Peter Norbeck (an American politician from South Dakota who is most famous for commissioning Mount Rushmore) the 14-mile highway meanders through a vast web of spires and pointed, needle-shaped rock formations that look like they are launching off to space. There are several turnouts along the road where you can get out and do some fabulous hikes. However, even just pulling over to take in the view of the massive rock formations is enough to make it worth your while.

It took two years and 150,000 pounds of dynamite to make the Needles Highway. Engineers at the time thought it would be impossible to carve out a road through such wild land yet Norbeck proved them wrong. Finally some of the most gorgeous untouched land of the Black Hills was available for the world to see and enjoy. But not without a cost.

The most dramatic, awe-inspiring way to travel the Needles Highway is from south to north. You can begin in Custer State Park and end your journey at the beautiful Sylvan Lake for a snack and a short one-mile hike around the lake. Or if you are feeling more adventurous, you can pick up the trail for Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota and experience a fantastic four-hour roundtrip hike.

Needles Highway, Black Hills, South Dakota

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The Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota

Pride and Hope at the Crazy Horse Memorial

“By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create a means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwile.” – Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski

Soaring proudly above the Black Hills of South Dakota lies perhaps one of the most impressive monuments-in-progress of all time: The Crazy Horse Memorial. Once completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest mountain carving in the world and one of the only monuments to honor America’s Native American past, the Lakota leader Crazy Horse.

The Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota

I had honestly never heard of the Crazy Horse Memorial until venturing out to the Black Hills of South Dakota this past June. With a guidebook in hand and plenty of recommendations from friends, we decided to make it quick stop at Crazy Horse after our drive through the Needles Highway. Little did I realize, the Crazy Horse Memorial would blow me away, even more so than the better known Mount Rushmore.

The Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota

Driving up to the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are sacred to the Lakota people who rightfully and lawfully owned the land until it was taken away six months after gold was discovered near French Creek. The discovery of gold brought thousands of opportunistic miners from all over the country to the plains of South Dakota resulting in the Indian Wars of death and destruction to the Lakota people. Their way of life died along with the many innocent people who lost their lives in battle. Crazy Horse was one of the most heroic leaders and warriors who fought until his death in 1877 for protecting their land. Crazy Horse became a symbol of all that they had lost.

“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.” – Crazy Horse

The Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota

From a distance, you can see how incredibly large the monument will be once completed. It is quite impressive!

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The Great American Road trip: Part 1

I have always been a traveler and my love of travel started as a child. Growing up, my parents took us everywhere and most of the time, our primary mode of transportation (to our chagrin) was via our 1970s wood-paneled diesel station wagon. Our boisterous family of five and sometimes the family dog, piled into the car well before car seats, electronics and any sort of sensible kind of entertainment, and drove from the depths of Minnesota to such far away places as Orlando, Los Angeles, Montana, Wyoming, the south of Texas and even Mexico.

The three of us kids fought like cats and dogs, and looking back I have no idea how on earth my parents survived. To me, the memories of the unending whining, complaining, fighting, boredom and “are we there yet’s” would have driven me mad. I am shocked that they didn’t leave the three of us miserable children on the side of the road. Yet of course they got through the ups and downs of our annual road trips and I have many fond memories of the travels we made.

I would not be lying, however, in saying that I hesitated long and hard before embarking on our own family road trip. For a girl who likes to travel, I loathe being in the car on the long, endless roads of America. I’d much rather be on an airplane or a train where I can get up and down and move around instead of being crammed into an uncomfortable seat for hours staring at farms and roadways. I can’t read in a car because I get carsick so it is either a lot of talking or just sitting there bored silly. The kids seem to do fine thanks to the invention of the portable DVD player and electronic devices. It is me who goes crazy.

As a family, we have done some relatively short road trips to neighboring Wisconsin or even the six and a half hour drive to Chicago. But we held off as long as we could before we were truly ready to embark on the “Great American Road Trip“. I call it that because Americans tend to love their cars and they love road trips. Many families pile their kids into the car once school lets out for the summer and do a roadie somewhere. As uneasy as I felt about it, I decided it was finally our time to experience the highs and lows of a road trip. If I hated it, we wouldn’t do another one again. If I loved it, well then the road is endless.

Heading west

Heading west

We packed up our car to the rim with stuff, loaded up on movies and books on tape for the kids, and hit the road driving west to the Black Hills of South Dakota, famous for Mount Rushmore and the gateway to the wild west of Yellowstone National Park and Colorado. I had been on that trip decades ago myself as a ten-year-old child and was curious what it would be like 30 years later as a mother myself.

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