North and South Dakota in the far north of the United States have some of the most wondrous scenery in the country. The Great Plains, National Grasslands and The Badlands to name a few. They are also some of the least populated states. I was recently in the Dakota’s and here are just a few reasons why you too should take a trip there:
In the Black Hills of South Dakota they have Mt. Rushmore National Memorial featuring Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Nearby is the Crazy Horse Memorial and in Rapid City and Wall they have giant concrete Dinosaurs! Keep an eye out along the highway in Wall you can’t miss the big concrete Brontosaurus!
In North Dakota they have the Giant Buffalo at Jamestown and Salem Sue! She is a giant cow up on a hill in New Salem. You can’t miss these!
Similar yet so different. In North Dakota they have the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (you can see his old cabin the Maltese Falcon, which was originally built on his ranch not far from the park and later relocated) and in South Dakota there is the Badlands National Park. Both offer the very unique mounds and rock formations that typify the Badlands, but at the moment North Dakota’s is extremely green due to all the rain they had leading into summer. Quite a surprise!
When out in the Badlands, make sure you keep an eye out for Prairie Dogs. These cute little critters have so much personality and have become one of my favourite animals! I could spend hours watching them scurry about. It is quite fascinating how they communicate with each other including high-pitched noises for warnings of danger (not from me!). To me on a cuteness scale they are the “new chubby Meerkat”
Speaking of animals, North Dakota has wild horses, South Dakota has wild donkeys (Burros)! South Dakota also has thousands of wild Buffalo in Custer State Park. I drove off the main road down a dirt track and ended up in the middle of hundreds of them. What an amazing experience!
In North Dakota at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown (where the Giant Buffalo is) you can also see albino Buffalo. They have names like White Cloud and Dakota Thunder. Very unusual! That is just scratching the surface in regards to the animals out there in the Dakotas!
In regards to George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) that famous Cavalry Commander who in the later stage of his career was involved in fighting in the Indian wars (prior to this and appropriately to the name of this post, he fought on the Union side in the US Civil War), take a look at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park south of Bismarck in North Dakota. Here you can see his former home (he and his wife Libbie lived there when he was the forts commander from 1872-1876 until he died in the Battle of Little Bighorn in present day Montana) along with the remains of the 7th Cavalry fort (established 1872) that was once a major frontier defence during the fighting against the Native Americans (Greater Sioux Nation). The park is also where you can see the traditional On-A-Slant Indian village of the Mandan tribe made up of earth lodges and believed to have been established around 1575 and in use until abandoned in around 1781 due to what historians suspect was a smallpox outbreak.
The Capitol Buildings:
At first the North Dakota Capitol Building in Bismarck seems a disappointment – it looks like it was built in a Communist country in the 1950’s, but here is the surprise. It was actually constructed in 1933 (the earlier one burnt down, as so often happens) and inside contains some of the most impressive Art Deco styled architecture you will see. There is also an observation deck up in the tower with a great view of the surrounding gardens and city.
South Dakota’s Capitol Building in Pierre on the other hand is of a more traditional design and very elaborate inside (constructed 1905-1910). Take the time to wander around inside both buildings. They are very impressive in very different styles.
Lots of movies have been filmed in both states over the years. Two notable ones that you can see something of today are the infamous wood chipper from the movie Fargo in Fargo, North Dakota and the Fort Hays set from Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves in Rapid City, South Dakota. Of course there was also that famous scene in North by Northwest at Mt. Rushmore too.
In The Black Hills of South Dakota don’t miss Deadwood that one time unruly and deadly frontier town that was home to gunfighter and lawman Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Not too far away is Sturgis the motorcycle rally capital. Also you can see the geographical centre of the United States in nearby Belle Fourche.
Further over to the east of South Dakota is the Mitchell Corn Palace where since the late 1800’s they have been decorating it each year in murals made from corn (inside and outside). It sounds crazy I know, but looks really cool! This is the 3rd or 4th Corn Palace since 1892 – the others were wooden structures that were not built to last I guess? The current one was built of more solid materials in 1921. Nearby Sioux Falls is also a great place to visit with beautiful waterfalls right in the middle of the city.
Oh and in Murdo, South Dakota you can see an original The General Lee, that high-flying, car jumping 1970 Dodge Charger from the TV Series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) at the Pioneer Auto Show (a huge collection of cars and Americana). YEE-HAW!!! I loved the Dukes (especially Daisy Duke!) and there meddling with the local law and Boss Hogg’s devious plans. I just had to check it out! I mentioned to the lady at the counter that I saw the sign mentioning The General Lee 130 miles out of town and just had to see it. She took me straight to the Lee and blasted that famous dixie horn for me. Excellent! They also have a 1976 Harley Davidson motorbike that belonged Elvis Presley.
A surprise for me in North Dakota was the amount of wetlands. Apparently there is an arrangement between the government and farmers to maintain wetlands on their property for migrating birds. It seems to work as I saw many birds as I was driving by. Two noticeable ones were Cormorants and Pelicans.
I now rate the Dakota’s as two of my favourite states in the USA. Natural wonders, historic places, friendly people and lots of quirky places to visit. I wish I could have spent more time in both. I plan to return!