Giddy Up Gals!

South Dakota, our beloved 40th State, invites you to saddle up your bags and take a trip to explore the Great 8!

Get ready for a unique travel adventure where history, nature and culture intersect to represent the best of the American West.

The Great 8 are the iconic places that have put South Dakota on the map and continue to garner accolades from visitors around the world.

  • Mount Rushmore: A shrine of Democracy that took over 14 years and $1 million dollars to build. The 60 foot faces of four revered United States presidents  Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt – are symbols to remind us of America’s path to freedom and prosperity.
  • Badlands National Park: A sprawling cosmic-like terrain sculpted by millions of years of erosion and glacier movement with canyons, pinnacles and spires as far as the eye can see. The rich earthen colors that paint the landscape come alive at daybreak and sunset, when light dances along the rocks layers and grasslands creating a magical glow. A Surreal Sensation!
  • Crazy Horse Memorial: A family’s labor of love. A tribute to the American Indian honoring the beloved Leader of the Lakota Tribe. Crazy Horse is considered the World’s Largest Mountain Carving in Progress. Started in 1948; now 60 years in process and counting.
  • Deadwood: This historic mining town was famous long before the television series. In the late 1800s, Deadwood made a name for itself when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The town quickly became a favorite of outlaws, gamblers, madams and settlers seeking their fortune. It was a time when quick draw had greater lasting meaning as one’s final fate was generally at the hand of a gunslinger. The legendary, Wild Bill Hickok, played his last card in Deadwood; he is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery overlooking Deadwood Gulch. Gaming is still legal; if you are lucky you will be added to the notorious winners circle and make your mark in history. The Deadwood Legacy Lives On!
  • Jewel Cave National Monument: The third longest cave in the world. A vast wilderness underground with a maze of calcite crystal chambers. Only a lantern lights the way as you tour the 175 miles of deep, dark passages.
  • Missouri River: Lewis and Clark navigated the river in their quest for discovery and expansion. The Mighty Mo’  is a thriving natural resource that serves as a geographic marker for South Dakota – the river runs north to south – essentially, dividing the state in two. The river and its four reservoir lakes deliver abundance and life to every shore. Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case and Lewis & Clark Lake were created from dams strategically built along the river. These lake areas are hot spots for water recreation, fishing and outdoor activities. Along the Missouri River banks, one will also find river towns and communities rich in history, culture and Native American traditions. Fast Fact: The Missouri is North America’s longest river with 2,320.7 miles over eight states. It is 2.5 miles longer than the Mississippi River.
  • Wind Cave National Park: One of the oldest National Parks and considered sacred ground to the local Black Hills Indian tribes. Two amazing geological worlds – above and beneath the surface. Jewel Cave’s little sis with a labyrinth of 141 miles of cave passages. Fast Fact: President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating Wind Cave National Park on January 3, 1903; it was the first national park created to protect a cave.
  • Custer State Park: A family friendly frontier playground with 71,000 acres of grassy meadows and mountain lakes. Towering granite rock formations, fondly nicknamed the Needles, dominate the skyline. Home to antelope, pronghorn, mountain goats, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer and other wildlife. But, the park’s most celebrated residents are the 1000+ head of buffalo. BIG is an understatement when describing this formidable beast which once numbered in the millions. Averaging 5-6 feet in height and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, a buffalo will most certainly make you stop in your tracks just as I did when one curiously approached my car. In Custer Park, the buffalo roam freely and always have the right of way. Despite its size, a buffalo is surprisingly fast on its feet. A buffalo can run up to 40 miles an hour and can jump its own height. Fast Fact: Early explorers confused the species with its European distant relatives giving it the name Buffalo. The Lakota Indians bestowed the name Tatanka meaning Bull. But the Great Plains Buffalo is actually a Bison, distinguished by its large shoulder hump and massive head. Mighty and magnificent, the Buffalo is the largest mammal in North America.

Adrenalin Junkies will not want to miss the annual Buffalo Roundup hosted every September in Custer State Park.

Think Pamplona and the Running of the Bulls…but on horseback.

Over 20,000 spectators came out this year for the 50th Annual Roundup to cheer on the cowboys and cowgirls as they coerced and corralled a stubborn herd of 1000+ buffalo through the park. Many daredevil visitors opted to leave the sidelines to get close-up and personal. They joined the fun via jeep and pickup riding along with the wranglers. The 2015 event was not without drama. The crowds roared on the Buffalo belligerence as the herd  headed for the hills in the opposite direction. As a frenzy ensued, the excitement escalated. Exhilaration with every twist and turn. It was hard not to channel my inner cowgirl. I imagined life as it once was when the Buffalo ruled the plains and the West was a vast open range. The Roundup is sure to reignite your passion for adventure and have you recounting the experience for years to come. A Bucket-List Must! Note: the Roundup and three day arts festival is free but finding lodging or a campsite can be tricky. Reservations are recommended 6 months to a year in advance. To learn more about park accommodations, visit the Custer Park Resorts website.

Your spirit will find wings to soar beyond the ordinary in South Dakota.

I learned firsthand that South Dakota truly lives up to its moniker – “a land of infinite variety”.

The Great 8 are just the beginning of many more inspiring and lasting memories.

Photos Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism and Sheila Gaspers.

Stayed tuned for more on South Dakota. I will deliver insights and tips for planning the perfect Diva “Wild West” vacation.