“I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere – an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth, but created out of it,” said Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935.
The Badlands and Black Hills
The Badlands are breathtaking…with so much light, color and character on their buttes. We learned about the relationship between the buffalo, the Lakota, and the pioneers. Both Lakota and homesteaders shaped this land. Lakota hunted what they needed to support their way of life. The bison that played such a vital role for the Lakota were eradicated by non-Indian buffalo hunters. The National Park service shared that after 40 years of struggle, ending in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, the Lakota were confined to reservations. Cattle replaced bison, and wheat fields replaced prairies.
We visited Prairie Homestead, one of the few original sod houses remaining in the country. This was a gem! It is the original home of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Brown, who homesteaded the acreage in 1909. The log beams of the house, made from cottonwood, are original. He plowed buffalo grass sod for the upper walls, and his living room was dug out to stay warm in the winter, and cold in the summer.
We saw Praire dogs, and other farm animals, and were able to explore in pioneer dress up clothes. Brady loved playing with the goats, and Piper was in Heaven with the chickens.
Little House on the Prairie
Politician Peter Norbeck helped make Custer State Park in 1912, by persuading President William Taft to consolidate 48,000 acres to create Custer State Forest. Now, the park spans 71,000 acres of wilderness and is the home to buffalo, praire dogs, coyote, pronghorn, cougars and mountain lions. We saw buffalo walking everywhere, and learned so much from the park service through attending many of the Naturalist lead educational sessions, including the Lakota and their use of the buffalo (we held a bladder and learned it was their water jug!), the kids participated in a buffalo olympics, and we learned about praire dogs, wolves, and the water cycle.
We camped at Blue Bell campground, one of the 8 campgrounds, where we hiked, rode bikes to dinner and the local general store, saw wild turkeys, and went swimming in Center Lake. It was a great place to recharge and attend evening sessions with the Naturalists.
Thank you South Dakota State Park Service!
There were so many kids activities in Custer State park, and Steven and I were even able to go on a hike, while the kids had a blast at a half day Animal Detective camp, all included within our park pass. And Brady and Piper earned their Junior Naturalists badges, similar to Junior Ranger in national parks. And Brady turned 11!
We see why Mount Rushmore is such a national treasure. Traveling through the tunnels and glimpsing at the four Presidents along the way (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt), serves as a small teaser for the enormity of the real thing.
Designed and sculpted by Gutzon Blorgum, his work began in 1927, through his untimely death in 1941. Each of the heads is 60 ft. in length, and plasters were made of each so that the total of 400 workers could feel the texture to guide their sculpting, while dangling from a secured swing.
The Last Worker
We were honored to meet the last worker alive, who helped to carve this monument. Nick Clifford is 96 years old and he originally got the job because his Mom did laundry for Borglum’s family. We were able to get an autographed copy of his book!