October 11, 2015

A Trip to South Dakota with Kristin A. Oakley

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. 

In fact, our rented Ford had trouble making it up Highway 16 which ran in front our lodge and no wonder, Harney Peak, over 7,200 feet tall and the highest summit east of the Rockies, was only thirty miles down the road from our cabin. Add a forest of Black Hills spruce so thick it makes the hills look black from a distance -- breathtaking. And this was all before we set out on site-seeing.

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!

(All info provided by author)


  1. Kristin, what a surprise to read the title of today's blog. My husband and I have just returned from the same journey you describe here. And you expressed my own feelings perfectly. I was rather neutral about taking this group tour but now I'd love to go back! What breathtaking beauty this state holds. Thank you for a return to South Dakota today and a firsthand description of all we saw with pictures!

  2. P.S. I'd love to win your book. Here is my contact info. LSwiftR@aol.com

  3. What a beautiful post with gorgeous photos and a sight that is fascinating and unforgettable. Thanks for this great feature which interests me greatly and the lovely book giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. Your celebration trip certainly looks and sounds unforgettable. How delightful to be together and enjoy this extremely interesting area. Wishing you happiness. Your book would be a treasure. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  5. Great post, gals! I've been through South Dakota and we stopped at Mount Rushmore on a foggy day. I was disappointed but took my camera in anyway. My husband walked up a trail with some mountain goats and I headed for the terrace, hoping to get a decent picture through the thickness. As if on cue, the fog lifted like a heavy curtain and I took to clear pictures of the monument before the curtain fell again. It was a Godly moment, indeed. Kristin, your books sound fascinating. Best of luck with future endeavors. Let us know when God on Mayhem Street releases.

    Susan Whitfield, multi-genre author

  6. Definitely an interesting place, but not one I'd choose to visit in winter.

  7. Kristin, you make me want to go there. I've always been intrigued by the Black Hills.

  8. Sounds like a lovely place to visit. Hope to do so one day in the not too distant future.

    Good luck and God's Blessings.

  9. Husband and I camped in South Dakota for a week for our honeymoon, over 30 years ago. We camped in the Black Hills, drove through Custer State Park, and in general enjoyed ourselves. 20 years later, we took our 4 kids back with us to camp again. We went to the same photo shop that had taken our "wedding photo", and had them pose us in a barroom scene, with me as the floozy, husband as the sheriff, oldest son as the bartender, and the other 3 kids as typical western bar inhabitants. It was a lot of fun! We'll head back some day, especially since one of our sons is now pursuing his masters in Geology. He loved the Badlands back then, he'd want to live there now!


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