Friday, August 17, 2012

North and South Dakota (vacation time)

Let me be honest, you better like nature or this is not the place for you.  Sure these states have a rich cultural heritage, Native Americans, and they have the Black Hills, the Badlands, and lots of underground caves, but there is not a whole lot of anything else, and although we had a very fun vacation, that is that and I cannot tell a lie.

Travis flew into Chicago, I picked him up late, and the next morning we drove to Sioux Falls/Mitchell, South Dakota.  There we went to a museums, the corn palace - where they were changing out the corn art, and the Drive In Theater, a family vacation favorite.  I sure wish there were more around the United States, even just for nostalgia's sake.  The next day we went to church, more museums, and local attractions.  We headed out early to our next destination city, Watertown - no where - SD.  We used it as much needed downtime.


The next morning we hit the Fargo/Moorhead, North Dakota/Minnesota area hard going to Bonanzaville, like Landis Valley Museum but not as cool or interactive.  We headed to the Hjemkomst Center where they have a Viking ship, and to "Historic Downtown" this was neither historic nor townsy.  But I did find a mall and score some great shoes and a cardigan on clearance.  From there we headed to our next no name city, Valley City at the AmericInn Hotel - super nice recommend to anyone traveling there.  You see I love small towns, there is where you get a feel for the state and the people. 
Bismark, ND was next on our list and the capital city.  It was the first real city we had encountered on the trip since heading into the Dakotas.  The capital building was beautiful and I wish we would have had more time to explore that.  But we ended up spending an entire day in another museum.  My family really loves museums, especially science related interactive ones.  There were endless logic puzzles to solve and we got to work on them.  We ate at Texas Roadhouse and stayed at a very mediocre hotel.  It wasn't until I headed to the Hotel next door, Country Inn and Suites - where they have all night cookie service and a borrow a book program - that I saw they had an indoor water park in the hotel, thus making me envious. 

From there we went to Medora, North Dakota.  Seemingly it is nothing, population 112 at the 2010 census, but it is the recognized birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt and in the middle of the North Dakota badlands and my personal favorite stop of our North and South Dakota vacation.  There is a national park with wildlife, there are tons of free parks - fancy park, horseback riding, golfing, and family fun activities galore.  The town exists for the summer as a tourist trap, that I would gladly enter time and time again.  Some online reviewers were bothered by this, but I found the town cute and energetic, paying homage to history and Roosevelt while likewise making if fun for kids and filled with modern amenities.  Here is where we played on the world's largest inflatable - a several story inflatable water slide where my bathing suit and I lost a fierce battle with gravity and Travis was there to photograph it for posterity.  Take my butt and like it :).  Also we attended the Medora musical, filled with no plot but a retelling of the history of Medora and North Dakota through the eyes of residents and Theodore himself but with current pop and country music throughout that kept the kids entertained and half singing along.  Super fun plus Wednesdays and Sundays kids are free to this musical making it a very affordable option for our family.
From Medora we headed to South Dakota once more to see Jewel Cave - worlds second largest underground cave and largest disappointment, not the cave itself, because we never got to see it because of how flawed the national park system is run there.  Example:  Call for reserve tour tickets a week in advance, it fills up fast.  I heeded this advice and called a minimum of 5 times a day for one week without every talking to anyone, half the time with no recorded machine service, and once getting there was unable to get on any tour for a day and a half.  Great if you have no other plans or reservations, but if you do - oh no.  Their excuse, high visitor demand.  They have four phone lines and only two phones being answered.  Can anyone say dumb, hire more people, have the tours closer together, and make more money.  There is our government hard at work again making things overly complex, functioning at half their potential, and doing a much poorer job at it than if the private sector were to own and operate it.
In the same area though is Mt. Rushmore - largely anti climatic and Crazy Horse, an unexpected surprise.  The story of Crazy Horse was somewhat emotional for me as it sheds like on our government's shady dealings with the Native Americans through history.  Additionally it is a story of capitalism at it's best - refusing to take government money and to stay private.  And although the blasting has been going for many years and is still not finished, when it finishes some day it will absolutely blow Rushmore out of the water in the Wow factor.
Overall it was a fun vacation, not so much because the area itself, but because being with family exploring is my favorite past time.  And although I may never have a burning desire to return to the Dakotas, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride from the citizens, especially in Medora, who love their state, lands, and rich heritage.  Their love of state made me love it too, despite not being able to find anything so spectacular to set it on a pedestal.

1 comment:

Alisa said...

Really like this post....of course for the obvious reasons of getting to look at your "ace"....but mostly because of how you described small towns. "You see I love small towns, there is where you get a feel for the state...." I really like that and hope it to be true.