Marilyn Foster: Bizarre, colorful, scenic, bad! That’s South Dakota |

Marilyn Foster: Bizarre, colorful, scenic, bad! That’s South Dakota

Marilyn Foster
One would not expect to see this otherworldly scenery in the Badlands of South Dakota, one of the most scenic parks in the U.S. National Park system.

It’s comforting to know there still is a “home where the buffalo roam and the deer and antelope play.” That home can be found at Custer State Park outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, within the Badlands and Black Hills region and home to Mt. Rushmore, one of this nation’s most iconic national memorials.

We sometimes forget what incredible scenery and history we have within our own country. Instead of traveling thousands of miles across eight or nine time zones, we can hop a plane in Reno and within less than five hours disembark in Rapid City, S.D., to begin our visual journey of some of the most dramatic scenery in our country, crossing only one time zone. A trip to South Dakota doesn’t seem to be at the top of that “travel bucket,” but it should.

I traveled to this region many years ago with my late husband, Paul, and still recall the awe we felt as we looked at Mt. Rushmore and listened to the story of how this monument came to be. The incredible scenery found along the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, so named because of the high granite “needles” and the Needles Eye Tunnel that was blasted through sheer granite walls, is quite the photogenic drive, although everything in this region begs to be photographed.

Seeing and hearing the tale of how Mt. Rushmore — “America’s Shrine to Democracy” — came to be is worth the trip alone, but this is only a small section of the 1.25 million acre forest known as the Black Hills National Forest. Mt. Rushmore was the passion of father and son artists Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum who were instrumental in bringing to life in granite the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The sculpting began in 1927 and was finished in 1941 and the story — and the trials and tribulations — associated with this great carving is quite fascinating.

Another carving still in progress is Crazy Horse Memorial, considered the largest sculpture in the world depicting Lakota leader Crazy Horse. It was conceived to let “the white man know that the red man has great heroes too,” as Henry Standing Bear made reference to Mt. Rushmore. Started in 1948 on private land, the sculpture is still a work in progress and is being funded by private donations.

The public relations piece from Visit South Dakota reads, “The Badlands are a wonderland of bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. Erosion of the Badlands reveals sedimentary layers of different colors: purple and yellow (shale), tan and gray (sand and gravel), red and orange (iron oxides) and white (volcanic ash).”

Fossil hunters will delight to know prehistoric bones within the Badlands National Park are still being found today and preserved in what is considered the world’s greatest fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. So, grab your hat, camera, and backpack, put on your hiking boots and discover ancient history in this ancient land.

The Carson City Chamber is accepting reservations for a Collette Vacations trip to this unique corner of America departing May 17, 2019. This is a one-hotel, unpack once, stay in Rapid City with day excursions to the attractions mentioned above and include more not mentioned. You’ll see the Devil’s Tower Monument in Wyoming and the historic town of Deadwood.

Nine meals are included with daily breakfast and three dinners featuring a Native American chronicler telling stories about the Lakota and Sioux way of life to begin the tour. Dinner on day 4 will be at Devil’s Tower National Monument, the backdrop of the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” On your last night, you will have cowboy show and dinner at the High Plains Heritage Center.

A lot is included in the $2,299 per person pricing that includes air, admission charges to the various monuments (and there are a lot of them) transportation, nine meals, a knowledgeable guide to give you the history of this “bad land,” and even airport transfers from the Chamber to the Reno airport and return. There’s also plenty of time built in to hike and explore.

We love being able to showcase this incredibly wonderful and diverse land of ours. Journey with us! You may find the full itinerary by clicking on the travel club page found at or call the Chamber at 775-882-1565.