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South Dakota

Tourist attractions in South Dakota? An exciting road trip? An escape from the sirens and cabs of New York City? You're probably thinking, maybe a spa or the
Caribbean. Well, what if I suggested South Dakota? I know you're thinking, what is there to do in South Dakota? Actually, quite a bit!

And once you arrive, you can find great lodging for an economy price. I stayed at Super 8 motels my entire trip. To be honest, I've never stayed at a Super 8 before and I really didn't know what to expect. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. For a very reasonable price, they sure pack in a lot of great amenities for which most five star hotels and resorts charge extra, such as wireless internet, and their free SuperStart Deluxe breakfast, which includes at least two types of cereal, fresh fruit, pastries, and some include oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, and fresh baked cinnamon buns. Most of the properties at which I stayed also had an indoor pool, jacuzzi, and sauna. But the best feature of all was their incredible hospitality. Everyone was always extremely helpful in mapping out points of interest and making me feel at home. Although they are part of one of the largest international hotel companies, Wyndham Worldwide, each Super 8 has its own unique flavor, depending on the general manager. Some are entirely non-smoking, which is nice too. Here's a hint…when researching the Super 8 in the location you will be visiting, check to see if it has a "pride" ranking. If so, that property has been recognized for going above and beyond and you can expect to get an extra bang for your buck.

There are many tourist attractions in South Dakota. Confident that I'd have a clean, friendly place to stay no matter where I landed, I flew into Aberdeen in the east, and home of the first Super 8, and out of Rapid City in the west. What many people may not realize is that South Dakota is filled with rich history and character of the Wild West. The east part of the state tends to be flat, and hosts the many hunters who come for pheasant hunting season from October through January. I was invited to visit Ron Rivett's Pheasant Preserve, and for this New York City girl, seeing the various wildlife standing in the living room and hanging on the walls was quite a stray from the normal home d?cor. As the slogan goes in South Dakota, "this is the only place where we eat our state bird."

Also in Aberdeen, SD are such attractions as the Dakota Prairie Museum, Wylie Park, and Storybook Land, which features characters from all our favorite nursery rhymes and the Land of Oz, where one can stroll down the yellow brick road and visit Munchkin Land. The best part about it….admission is free!

From Aberdeen, I headed to Watertown, home of the Redlin Art Center, which houses Terry Redlin's beautiful oil paintings. Known as the "Master of Memories" he is known for capturing life's experiences. The center was s gift from the world famous artist to the state of South Dakota and is free to the public.

If you've ever watched "Little House on the Prairie" or read any of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" novels, you'll enjoy a visit to Ingalls Homestead, "Laura's Living Prairie" in De Smet. Here you'll have the opportunity to take a covered wagon ride and participate in hands-on pioneering activities, while reading her poems and experiencing what was going through her mind growing up. Laura Ingalls Wilder home is definitely worth a visit.

One thing I found amusing about finding tourist attractions in South Dakota is the fact that one can drive for miles with nothing but flat land around them, when all of a sudden, you'll arrive in a town, such as Mitchell, South Dakota, where you'll see a big corn palace as you enter town. A bird's best friend, the palace chooses a new theme of decorations each year. In the early summer, all of the grasses and grains are removed from the building and replaced, and in the late summer, using nail guns, over a half a million ears of corn are sawed in half and nailed flatside to the building. The Corn Palace has been host to entertainment icons like Bob Hope, Lawrence Welk, and Willie Nelson. Definitely a site to see!

The largest city is Sioux Falls is a must see South Dakota tourist attraction. It has a great downtown area with music venues, and a great Steakhouse, Minervas. The falls are gorgeous, especially when they are lit up at night. Be sure to stop by and see Ann at the Super 8 in town. She will fill you in on all of the hotspots. Originally from England, you can tell she definitely loves living in Sioux Falls!

On Thursday, it was time to head west and hit some of the more touristy parts of South Dakota. While driving west on I-90, there is no way you can miss the infamous "Wall Drug" with the array of signs lining the highway, advertising free ice water. When you stop at Wall Drug, you'll get a lot more than free ice water. Since 1931, it has evolved into a 76,000 square foot wonderland of free attractions. It features a Frontier Town with unique western shopping, restaurants, and homemade ice cream.

As you continue on I-90, you will hit the 240-Badlands Loop Scenic Byway, which gives you a panoramic view of the breathtaking Badlands. It's amazing what the wind and water have created. Sometimes referred to as a "moonscape on earth," the national park is home to a variety of wildlife such as big horn sheep and buffalo. There are many trails one can hike, but as the signs say, beware of the rattlesnakes!

Thursday night, it was time to do a little gamblin' in Deadwood South Dakota and the Black Hills. The entire town is a registered national landmark, with tons of modern day fun. Main Street is lined with casinos and hotels, including Kevin Costner's Midnight Star. The town is definitely reminiscent of the Wild West days of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. I won some money in the slots at the Silverado, but of course gave it back to some of the other casinos later on.

Although it was raining and very foggy on Friday, there were some very important parts of history to experience. The one thing I knew I needed to see on my trip was Mount Rushmore. What I didn't know was that there is another mountain carving in progress, one that has been in the works since 1948 and is being built on funding from the interested public and not the taxpayer. It's the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was hired by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to carve Crazy Horse. "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes too." Although we didn't get to take the bus ride to the mountain because of the fog, just as we were leaving, the fog lifted and gave us a magical glimpse of the nine-story high face. Work is now underway blocking out the 22-story-high horse's head.

Close to Crazy Horse is Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest. In Custer, the wildlife loop will take you about 45 minutes and will treat you to sightings of Buffalo, whitetail deer, mule deer, mountain goats, burros, bighorn sheep, and elk. Definitely a picture taking paradise! Finally, it was time for the part of the trip I had really been looking forward to…Mount Rushmore. Well, you can imagine how disappointed I was when I got there and saw that the fog was so thick that I couldn't see a thing. I did not want to go home without having the chance to see it, so I decided to stay until Saturday, hoping the heavy rains would stop and the fog subside. I was thrilled that I did! I experienced one of the best parts of my trip Friday night in the fun town of Keystone, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, fudge and ice cream shops and a saloon, which had a fun wild west show and live country western music at night. Saturday, I awoke to a beautiful clear sky and anxiously made my way to Mount Rushmore. I couldn't believe how amazing the President's faces looked as I approached the memorial. Everything I've ever seen on television or in pictures was nothing compared to the experience of seeing it in person. The memorial houses two theaters with films telling the story of sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, a gift shop, and the studio where he worked on the carvings. I spent the rest of the day driving through the National Forests and Parks, which were all so beautiful. If you have more time, there is an 1880s steam train that will take you through Hill City and Keystone, and some wonderful caves with stalagmites and stalactites.

So if you're looking for a trip full of history, wildlife, with a flavor of the wild west thrown in for fun, I would highly recommend tourist attractions in South Dakota. If you'd like to experience the true essence of South Dakotan hospitality, be sure to stay at the Super 8s, where they "will see you along the way!"

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