Five years ago my parents said they wanted to take us to South Dakota for their 60th wedding anniversary. South Dakota? You mean Mount Rushmore with the presidents’ heads? Really? Okay, why not, something to cross off the bucket list. We’d simply see all the touristy things in a few days and then have three or four days to relax in the hot tub at the Silver Mountain Lodge in Rapid City and never go back.
Rapid City, South Dakota sits on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/blackhills/recreation). At the time we took our trip I lived in Illinois where a bump in the road is considered a hill. The Black Hills are actual mountains.
We of course saw the heads, learned their history, and were in awe of the work that went into creating them. It’s no wonder Mount Rushmore (http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm) has been in many movies, books, video games, theme parks, comics and cartoons, music, stamps, and coins. We also took in the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial (https://crazyhorsememorial.org/) which is just starting to take shape and will be doubly impressive when it’s completed. At this point, it’s not as spectacular and quite a bit more pricey.
Then we traveled southeast to the Badlands National Park (http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm), not entirely clear what a Badland was, some kind of desert? Nope, almost 244,000 acres of peaks and buttes that have been eroded by wind and water. It’s otherworldly and beautiful. There are boardwalk trails throughout the park and we immediately wished we’d brought hiking gear to explore the canyons and talked about returning for a backpacking trip.
We drove through Custer State Park (http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/parks-monuments/custer-state-park) where bison sauntered across the road and mules poked their heads into our cars looking for treats. We rode horses through the Black Hills with men who looked like they’d been born on a horse. We celebrated my folks’ wedding anniversary dinner in the gun-slinging town of Deadwood where my dad tried his hand at poker and did pretty well.
And then there was Sturgis. The town of Sturgis, forty-five miles up highway 90 from our lodge, hosted their 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/rally-info/welcome) the week we were there. During the rally, the population of South Dakota, 850,000 people, doubles. There are live bands, tattooed bikers, and the endless parade of motorcycles through every little town.
Never before have my assumptions of a place been so utterly transformed by traveling there as they were in South Dakota. And now I can’t wait to go back, maybe on the back of a Harley. A week simply wasn’t long enough.
Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, is the winner of the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction and a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year. The sequel, God on Mayhem Street, will be available late 2015. Kristin is the president and a co-founder of In Print, a professional writers’ organization, a board member of the Chicago Writers Association, and editor of The Write City Magazine. As a writing instructor at the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, Kristin critiques manuscripts and offers an online course on cliffhangers. She has a B.A. in psychology and a J.D., both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can find out more about Kristin at: kristinoakley.net
Kristin will give one lucky winner a signed copy of her award-winning novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, which includes a motorcyclist inspired by Kristin’s trip to Sturgis, South Dakota. Remember to leave your contact information with your comment so Kristin can award your prize if you’re picked!
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