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South Dakota is sparsely populated and often overlooked as a holiday destination in the USA, and visitors won't find flashy attractions or nightlife. Instead, the state enjoys a hauntingly beautiful landscape of vast prairies, broken granite hills, and echoing caverns.
Attractions in South Dakota include the famous tyrannosaurus rex called Sue, unearthed in the bewitching Badlands. The iconic stone faces of Mount Rushmore are instantly recognisable while the city of De Smet was influential in shaping the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of children's literature classics such as Little House on The Prairie. The city of Deadwood is also the location of gunman Wild Bill Hickok's fatal poker game.
Long being the home of the Sioux nation, the inhabitants of this harsh land followed great buffalo herds across the plains. In the 1800s, settlers seeking riches flocked to South Dakota and skirmishes between the Native Americans and US soldiers quickly followed.
The infamous Wounded Knee Massacre was one of the last conflicts. It was here that US soldiers slaughtered a large group of Sioux, including women and children. Today, visitors can pay homage at a small memorial at the site.
The Sioux remain a large part of the population of South Dakota, their culture continuing to permeate and enrich the land. The Black Hills form a solitary range of mountains covered with pine trees, dramatically rising from the plains and considered sacred by the Sioux.
The rolling prairies, meandering rivers, and staggering peaks of South Dakota create a landscape naturally groomed for the classic American road trip. It makes for some of the most beautiful scenery in the country and is a must-see on any American journey.
South Dakota is a rugged and beautiful state in the heartland of the USA, celebrated primarily for its incredible outdoor grandeur and touch of cowboy romance. Mount Rushmore is a state treasure and one of the most recognisable landmarks in the country, with the Mount Rushmore National Park drawing thousands of visitors each year.
The Badlands National Park offers keen hikers some lovely trails, while the more daring explore some of the world's longest and deepest caves. A region rich with fossils, incredible sites in the Badlands include the resting place of the world-famous tyrannosaurus rex named Sue.
Wild West enthusiasts can stop in historic Deadwood, the setting of the hit television series of the same name. History buffs will enjoy learning the background surrounding the Gold Rush Era, which attracted droves of hardy pioneers to the Black Hills.
Deadwood in South Dakota grew into a mythical Wild West town in the 1800s when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. It quickly became home to a colourful cast of prospectors, gunslingers, and gamblers.
Brick streets, frontier architecture, and turn-of-the-century streetlamps are restored, with the entire town designated a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can relax in a historic hotel near Main Street, have a drink at the local saloon, or try their luck in one of the historic gambling halls.
They can pan for gold at the Broken Boot Mine or climb to the Mount Moriah Cemetery to visit the graves of notorious Old West legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. From the cemetery, there is a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills.
There are several historical museums in town, including the Adams Museum and the Days of '76 Museum. Deadwood's notorious reputation inspired the hit television series Deadwood, which takes place during the town's early rough and tumble days.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is literally South Dakota's biggest attraction. It covers 1,278 acres (5 square km) and draws over two million annual visitors. It depicts 60-foot (18m) carvings of US Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, representing the first 150 years of American history.
Together with 400 workers, Gutzon Borglum sculpted Mount Rushmore between 1927 and 1941. Costing under one million dollars, it's somewhat remarkable that nobody died from the dangerous nature of the work during its creation.
Interestingly, the artist originally intended the faces to have bodies. The sculpture is controversial among Native Americans, as a previous treaty had granted the land and mountain, known as Six Grandfathers, to the Lakota tribe.
Visitors to the site stroll through the Avenue of Flags that depicts all 50 states, walk the Presidential Trail to the best viewing areas, and watch the evening lighting ceremony held nightly from late May to September. The site has a visitors' centre, gift shop, and cafe.
The Lakota tribe gave this area of South Dakota the name Mako Sica, translating roughly to 'bad land'. The people led by Chief Sitting Bull weren't exaggerating, as modern visitors to Badlands National Park brace themselves for an unsettling and otherworldly terrestrial experience.
Drenched and blasted by winds for millennia, the landscape is a series of sharp ridges, steep canyons, gullies, pyramids, and buttes. Exposed rock often appears in beautiful bands of colour, from deep purples through to vermillion, orange, and gold.
Trips to Badlands National Park offer hiking trails with plenty of signage and first-class camping facilities. Programmes with rangers are available, including children's activities, hikes, lectures, and audio-visual presentations.
Exhibits display fossils from ancient plants and animals, alongside the pretty wildflowers. Guests can also take advantage of the Night Sky Program, enjoying the clear blanket of darkness studded with silver stars. Rangers will help to identify constellations and planets.
Located near popular Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Crazy Horse Memorial is carved out of Thunderhead Mountain and depicts the eponymous and iconic Sioux warrior mounted on a horse. Work began all the way back in 1948.
Currently incomplete, the memorial nevertheless includes the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center. Both contain art collections and other artefacts, offering visitors the chance to learn more about the culture of the Plains Indians like the Lakota and the Sioux.
Various events occur throughout the year, including rodeos, laser light and pyrotechnic shows, and art exhibitions. The Crazy Horse Memorial is privately funded and relies on admission fees and donations to continue construction of the monument.
The Black Hills enjoys a continental climate with four distinct seasons. The area is known to be susceptible to wide ranging weather systems from raging blizzards to blistering droughts. During the winter months, snowstorms do occur.
The Black Hills is often warmer than Rapid City in the winter due to its elevated position and a temperature inversion. During the summer months, days are sunny and warm but afternoon thunderstorms are common. May and June are the wettest months of the year.
South Dakota has a temperate climate. Its summers, particularly July and August, are hot, dry, and pleasant, making it the best season for tourists. There are occasional occurrences of thunderstorms. Winters are bitterly cold and harsh, with relatively significant snowfalls and strong winds. January and February are typically the coldest months of the year, though snow is more likely to fall in March and April.
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