South Dakota
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South Dakota

"The Mount Rushmore State"

South Dakota is a mid-west state

South Dakota is located in the northern part of the mid-western states. It lies about 250 miles south of the Canadian border surrounded by Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. The state is bisected by the Missouri River running north to south.

East of the Missouri, the state is extremely flat with endless grasslands and gently rolling prairies. One can easily imagine millions of giant buffalo roaming these great plains in endless herds. This used to be the fertile hunting ground of the Dakota, also known as the Lakota, the Nakota or the Sioux. The movie "Dances with Wolves" was filmed entirely in South Dakota.

Badlands National Park © Michelle Leco / USATourist.com
Badlands National Park contains many spectacular rock formations and is full of wildlife like bison, coyote, prairie dogs and antelope.

The Black Hills and the Badlands are in the western part

To the west of the river, the land becomes hilly and interspersed with dramatic buttes. On the western edge of the state, The Black Hills rise dramatically out of the plains as an isolated mountain range. Southeast of them lies the fabulously eroded landscape known as the Badlands.

The climate is temperate with warm pleasant summers and harsh cold winters. Temperatures can average 25 - 30 deg. C. during the summer months, but can plunge well below zero during the winter. Heavy snowfalls and brutal icy winds can make winters on the wide open prairie rather unpleasant. The best time to visit South Dakota is during the summer months when the weather is the best.

The "Wild West" is a large part of the state history

South Dakota is large, sparsely populated and seldom visited by many tourists. It gained a reputation as "the wild west" during the frontier days of the nineteenth century when many fortune seekers flocked to this beautiful land in search of gold. They established many mining towns in the Black Hills area. The most famous of these frontier towns is Deadwood. Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday are just a few of the people that helped give Deadwood its infamous reputation as a wild western town. Today, many of the saloons and shops in Deadwood have been restored to the wild west era. It has now become a popular tourist destination for shopping, gambling and sightseeing.

Wounded Knee © Michelle Leco / USATourist.com
Today, a small memorial marks the site of the "Wounded Knee Massacre", and descendants of the survivors still live on nearby reservations.

South Dakota is the home to many Native Americans

The Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes had long thrived in this harsh land. They followed the great herds of Buffalo on the plains and hunted the plentiful game in the Black Hills. When General George Armstrong Custer's expedition discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1874, the US government broke its treaties with the local Indians. Fortune hunters and settlers flooded into the Black Hills, and Native Americans were forcibly resettled on Indian reservations. Some of the tribes, under the leadership of their now famous chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud, resisted and even fought back.

In 1876, General Custer attacked a large encampment of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn River in Montana. His entire force was annihilated in what became known as "Custer's Last Stand". By 1890 a spiritual movement known as the "Ghost Dance" swept the Indian reservations and led to an insurrection. The US army responded swiftly and harshly. In a small skirmish at "Wounded Knee" South Dakota, an army detachment massacred 250 Lakota men, women and children. Today, a small memorial marks the site of the "Wounded Knee Massacre", and descendants of the survivors still live on nearby reservations.

The Black Hills are the sacred lands of the Sioux

In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the US government had illegally confiscated the Black Hills from the Sioux, and awarded the tribe $122 million in damages and accrued interest. The Sioux, living in some of the poorest communities in the U S, declined the money. They declared that they want their sacred lands returned.

You can still visit the beautiful South Hills considered sacred by the Sioux. You can also drive through the Indian reservations and see the poor living conditions of these proud people.

Longhorn Saloon © Michelle Leco / USATourist.com
Today, many of the saloons and shops in Deadwood have been restored to the wild west era. It has now become a popular tourist destination for shopping, gambling and sightseeing.

The western half of South Dakota has many popular attractions

Many South Dakota attractions are concentrated on the western border of the state. Badlands National Park contains many spectacular rock formations and is full of wildlife like bison, coyote, prairie dogs and antelope. In the nearby Black Hills, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument contain many wonderful rock formations and can be toured. Custer State Park has the largest bison herd in the US with over 1500 animals. They and many other animals can be viewed from a scenic drive.

Two of the largest sculptures ever created are here

The monument at Mount Rushmore, completed in 1939, is one of the largest sculptures ever created. Twenty meter high faces of four US presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are carved into the granite mountain in precise detail.

The nearby monument to Chief Crazy Horse is a work in progress. It was begun in 1949 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, after the Lakota Chiefs had written asking him to create a monument to the American Indians. When completed, the sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse astride his pony will stand over 150 meters high and 200 meters long. Ziolkowski died in 1982, but his family continues the work. A large visitors center houses over 20,000 pieces of Native American art and craft.

The famous Sturgis motorcycle rally is held each August

There is an abundance of outdoor activities in South Dakota including hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Gambling is legal and there are casinos in Wildwood and on each of the Indian Reservations. The small town of Sturgis near the Black Hills hosts the famous Sturgis motorcycle rally every August. It attracts over 100,000 motorcycle riders each year.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © US National Park Service
Photo Description: The monument at Mount Rushmore, completed in 1939, is one of the largest sculptures ever created.