A day trip to Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USAWhile I was in South Dakota, I decided that I had to visit Badlands National Park.  I ended up falling in love with the US National Parks on this trip and ended up seeing 10 and changing my plans.  They are well set up, with such helpful staff to advise you the best things to see and do in the time you have there.

I had just visited Sioux Falls and got the greyhound bus across to Rapid City.  I had wanted to rent a car and drive but it was going to cost an extra $900 to pick the car up in Sioux Falls and drop it off in Rapid City!!  To rent it in Rapid City for 2 days was less than $100.

My first day in Rapid City, I visited Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial and the second day I decided to visit Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park is around 60 miles from Rapid City back towards Sioux Fall, so it takes about an hour to drive and I entered at the Pinnacles entrance as it was the nearest to Rapid City.  It costs $20 per vehicle to enter the park, though if you are planning to visit a few of the parks it might be worth buying the annual pass for $80 which is what I did.  Visiting 10 parks on this trip I certainly saved a lot of money!!

It was originally declared a National Monument on 4 March 1929, before becoming the 39th National Park in November 1978.  It covers an area of 242,756 acres with a large grass prairie and rocks eroded over time to create pinnacles and spires.

For 11,000 years this area was used by the native americans to hunt.  The prairie’s were home to many animals with the views from the higher rocks making it an ideal hunting ground.

The area is also popular with fossil hunters, with fossils from 77 species being found in the White River which flows through the park.

I decided first to drive part of the Sage Creek Rim Road to see the views, it is a gravel track so you are unable to drive fast along it, but it’s worth doing part of it to see your first views of the park.  The road is 25.5 miles but I only did the first 4 miles to see these views.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

I then decided to drive along the Badlands Loop Road, it is 22 miles long and winds through the park and takes you to the Northeast entrance where the visitors centre is located.

The views along this road are amazing and there are quite a few overlooks and viewpoints to stop at to admire the views through the valley.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

The colouring of the different layers of rock is stunning to see as you drive through the valley.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Once you get near the visitors centre there are also a few trails that you can walk, with the castle trail being the longest.  Unfortunately as I had to be back in Rapid City to catch a bus to Bozeman for the next part of my trip, I never had time to do any of the walks.

There are quite a few nice boardwalk walks that are short, the Window Trail, Door Trail, Notch Trail and you also walk down into the prairie.

You could easily spend a full day exploring Badlands National Park but if you are short of time then it would take you half a day to do the trip I did.

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Read about my trip to Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA and what there is to see and do there

 

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A visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

As I was in Rapid City I decided to see Custer State Park, that morning I had visited Mount Rushmore and after I decided to head straight for Custer State Park.

It was South Dakota’s first state park and is the largest it has.  It was named after Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who I had learned about at school, who had fought and died in the Battle of Little Bighorn and one of a few places in the US named after him, though it is a few hundred miles away from where he died in the battle. Continue reading

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Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota USA

Before I visited South Dakota I had never heard of the Crazy Horse Memorial, but as I was researching what to do when I got to Rapid City I read about this place in a guide.

I knew about Crazy Horse and Lt Colonel Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn as we had studied it in history at school, so I was intrigued to actually be in the area near to where this famous battle had occurred and to go visit the memorial to Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1842 and was a native american.  He fought against the US Government who were taking the land and changing the way of life of the native american people.

He is one of the most famous native americans and helped lead the assault against Custer leading to Custer’s death in 1876.  He has honoured by the US Postal Service and appeared on a stamp in 1982.

Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA

In 1939 Korczak Ziolkowski was asked to carve a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse which eventually began in 1948.  Korczak worked mainly on this own, until his death in 1982 when his wife Ruth took over the project, changing the focus to finishing Crazy Horse’s face so the visitors would be able to see this from the visitors centre.  6 of his children and some grandchildren now run the project.  There is no completion date known as it all depends on the number of visitors and how much money they get in as to how much work can be done on the mountain.  I was told maybe 2050, maybe later!!

I arrived at the memorial late afternoon and went straight to the information desk to find out what there was to do. At that time I had no idea that the memorial itself is so far away from the visitors centre or that it costs to see it closer.  I also did not realise that it is not funded by the government and is a non profit foundation as Korczak wished that no federal or state funds would ever be accepted to create the memorial.

The cost of entry is $11 per person or $28 for a car with more than 2 people.  If you want to see it closer there are 2 options.  The cheapest is $4 and you can get a bus from the visitors centre for a 25 minute round trip, where you get out and see a closer view.  The picture below is the closest you get from the $4 trip, but well worth doing as you get an idea of how big it is actually going to be and you can get a good view of the face head on.

Crazy Horse Memorial South Dakota USA

Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA

Unfortunately on this trip you can’t get too close as it is a live working site and sometimes you can hear them doing detonations depending on the day you visit.

The 2nd option you can actually go and visit the head and face of Crazy Horse and get a close up picture, this trip though does cost $125 and needs to be booked in advance.  I have seen pictures of people stood by the face and this is when you realise just how big it actually is as the people are tiny!!  I really wanted to go do this, but as a backpacker I just couldn’t justify the cost.

It is the worlds largest mountain carving and just the head of Crazy Horse is 27 feet taller than a head at Mount Rushmore which are 60 feet high.  Once it’s finished it will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide and it’s something I would love to see as it will look amazing carved into the rock.

After the bus tour, I then went into the visitors centre where I watched the orientation film on the history of the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is worth watching as it shows how Korczak came to live on the site and had his 10 children there, how he had to drag everything up the mountain to do blasts, to carve the rock all on his own, sometimes with the help of his children and how much it has changed now.  They now have a team of explosive experts that they can afford to employ run by Korczak’s son and his daughter runs the restaurant.

After watching the film I then went out onto the viewing veranda and watched a traditional native performance while seeing the memorial in the background.

Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA

I then had a walk around the museum and shops before stopping in the restaurant for dinner.  The food is reasonably priced and as I wanted to stay for the laser light show it made sense to sit in the restaurant looking out at the memorial until it the show started.

After dinner I went and got my spot on the viewing terrace, despite it being summer it still dropped cold on a night, so you would want a jumper!!

The show then commenced and it was great, a history of the native americans, worth seeing if you are in the area and visiting crazy horse.  At one point you can see exactly how the memorial will look when it’s completed.

Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA Crazy Horse, South Dakota, USA

After the show it was then back in the car for the drive back to Rapid City.

Crazy Horse was one of my favourite places to visit on this trip to South Dakota and I did prefer it to Mount Rushmore, it is a lot bigger and a lot more impressive.  The history behind it, of one man doing so much of it on his own, the fact that all the money used to create it has not come from any government or state funding but through donations or visitors to the site and it’s a memorial to a native american who was trying to keep his lands and way of life.

If you are in the area then it’s a great place to visit, and hopefully one day I will get to go back and see it when it’s finished.

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Read about my trip to Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota, USA. It's a memorial to a native American, trying to keep his lands and way of life.

 

 

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Sioux Falls – A visit to Falls Park

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Before I travelled to the US, Sioux Falls was not a place I had ever heard of, but as I was visting a friend in Watertown, South Dakota and then going to Yellowstone National Park, my route took me through Sioux Falls.  I had a look on google and saw the pictures of the falls and so I decided I had to get down to the town to see them while I was passing through.

I said bye to my friend and his wife at a small gas station in Watertown just off the freeway and got the greyhound bus down to Sioux Falls.  My next bus across to Rapid City was not until the next day so I had the afternoon & evening to explore downtown Sioux Falls.  The bus station is quite far out of town so I booked a motel as near as I could to the bus station so that I wouldn’t have far to walk that night or the next day.

As I started walking the 300 metres to my hotel I noticed that there was no footpath across the bridge crossing the freeway to get to my hotel.  I could see the hotel but was like how do I get there as it was a 4 lane busy highway with no footpath!!  Luckily in the centre of the road was a divide with a bit of a raised section so I decided that would be a bit safer than walking along the side of the road!!

After about 15 minutes of avoiding cars and trucks I made it to the Guesthouse Inn & Suites, Sioux Falls, where I checked in and asked reception how to get to the falls in Sioux Falls.  I was asked if I had a car to which I replied “No, can I get a bus”, to which I was told, no idea about the buses around here!!  “Can I walk” I asked, “Oh no it’s miles away, too far to walk”.

Once I got in my room I rung the local bus company to ask if there were any buses.  Luckily I got through to a very helpful guy who told me exactly where the nearest bus stop was and the times of the buses and also how to get back. I then walked the 5 minutes and caught the bus into the town of Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls is the largest city in the state of South Dakota and was first settled in 1856 around the falls on Big Sioux river which were created around 14,000 years ago during the last ice age.  When the railroads arrived in 1880’s the town started expanding to what it is today.

There is a 16 mile bike trail along the river and this is where I got off the bus and started my walk down to the falls park.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Its open from 9am to 9pm, and in the evening the falls are lit up which is a great sight.

I decided to first visit the Visitors Centre and the Observation Tower, you can climb up the tower for free which is 5 stories high and has amazing views of the falls and the surrounding area.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

I then decided to walk around the area and see the few buildings remaining on the site and have a closer look at the waterfalls.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Before it got dark I decided to stop and have a snack at the cafe overlooking the falls.  It used to house the hydroelectric generators before it was abandoned in 1974, its now a great cafe with amazing views.

As it was getting dark I decided to make my way back to the hotel.  I was in between buses so decided to see if I could walk back rather than waiting.

I passed by the St Joseph’s Cathedral which was all lit up, but unfortunately it was shut so I couldn’t explore further.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

I made it back to the hotel in 45 mins, so not really too far to walk!!  I didn’t see one person walking though while I was walking back to the hotel!! I guess everyone has cars and use them for the smallest journeys!!

That night was spent researching the next part of my trip to Rapid City with a visit to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

The next day I got lucky when I was checking out, the maintenance guy in the hotel saw me walking out with my backpack on and asked if I wanted a lift to the bus station.  Not sure if it was safe, but being a typical english person and feeling I couldn’t say no, I said thank you and got in the car.

Luckily I safely made the short distance to the bus station and the guy was fascinated that I was backpacking my way around the US and the places I had seen and was planning on seeing.  He had 2 jobs just to try and make ends meet, a very different life to mine.

After a bit of a wait, it was back on the greyhound bus and on to my next adventure in Rapid City.

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Read about my trip to visit the falls in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

 

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial – A day trip in South Dakota, USA

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, USA

When I was looking at my journey through the US I saw that my route would take me near to Mount Rushmore National Memorial so I decided to make sure that my route passed through Rapid City so that I could rent a car to go see the famous site.  I mainly knew it from films and knew no history about it before I went but decided I had to see the famous monument for myself. Continue reading

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA – What to do in 2 days

Zion National Park, Utah, USAAfter already enjoying 3 national parks in the US on this trip so far, I decided when I hired a car in Las Vegas to see more national parks rather than drive up the west coast.  The first park I decided to see from Las Vegas was Zion National Park.

Zion became a national park on the 19th November 1919 when it became the 15th national park and the 1st national park in Utah.

I picked up in the car in the morning in Las Vegas and drove the 120 miles to the hotel to drop off my bags before continuing on to Zion which was a further 42 miles.  I decided to upgrade and buy an Annual National Park Pass when I arrived as I had already in the past few days paid entrance to Yellowstone & Grand Teton which was $50 and the entrance to Zion was $30 which was the same price as upgrading and getting my annual pass.  If you plan on doing a few parks on your trip then it might be worthwhile.

I normally stay in hostels while I am travelling but around the Zion area there were no hostels available and the cheapest place for me to stay was in Rodeway Inn Red Hills in St George.  It was about an hours drive from Zion National Park but in the US an hours drive is not far and the roads are easy to drive.

After I had bought my pass, my first stop was to the visitors centre to find out exactly what I should be doing while I was in the area.  Also from spring until autumn (fall) the canyon is not open to cars and only to the shuttle buses that will drop you at various points through the park.  You catch the shuttle bus from the visitors centre.  It’s not a huge park and this is a great way to get around as the buses are very frequent.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

My first stop was the Zion Human History Museum where there are indoor exhibits and there is also a 22 minute film on the history of the park.  Well worth watching if you have time.  I also got my first picture in the canyon.

I then decided to get the shuttle bus out to some of the stops so I could get some pictures of the views and to do a little walk from the Grotto to the Zion Lodge.  As it was getting to dusk I saw some deer too.  Dusk is a great time to see animals and the time when I have seen the most in all the national parks.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Deer at Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Once I got back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the drive back to the hotel.

The next morning i was up early so I could be back to the park and able to park in the carpark before it was full.  It does get full early so it is worth getting there early otherwise you will have to park outside the park and walk in.  I once again went to the visitors centre to check the weather forecast, I was wanting to hike part of The Narrows but the risk of flash flooding was high that day and they advised against hiking it.

The Narrows is a gorge carved through the canyon by the river and is 16 miles long and in places only 20 – 30 feet wide. The path is through the river, though at times you can walk along the side, but you need to be prepared for wading and sometimes swimming through the river.  You always need to check with the rangers before attempting it as it might be a sunny day at Zion but 50 miles away there might have a storm and that water can travel down the river causing a flash flood.

As the risk of rain and flash flooding was at its highest I decided instead to just do the Riverside Walk, this takes you from the final bus stop up to the start of The Narrows and is a 2.2 mile roundtrip.  It’s a nice easy walk and getting to the start of The Narrows did make me want to give it a go especially when I saw a few people setting off, but as the risk was at it’s highest I decided to be sensible and give it a miss for this trip.  I will be back though as it does look like an amazing hike.

Zion National Park, Utah, USAZion National Park, Utah, USA

After this I decided to stop at the weeping rock trail which is a short 1/2 mile walk.  From here there is the option of a couple of other longer hikes, the Hidden Canyon Trail which is 2.4 miles or to the observation point which is 8 miles.  I decided against these as I wanted to do the Emerald Pools Trail.

I then caught the bus from the Weeping Rock to the Zion Lodge to start the Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper and Lower Pools.  It is a 2.2 mile high, but is quite steep and tricky in places but well worth it to see the views.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

After this hike I then got the shuttle bus to canyon junction where I got off and walked the final 1.75 miles to the visitors centre along the river, amazing views and great to be able to do a final walk.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Another hike I really wanted to do but was advised against due to the weather, though the sun had come out in the afternoon was Angel’s Landing.  It is a tough 5.4 mile hike (generally takes 3-4 hours), up to the summit 450 metres high.  The last half mile is hiking along the sandstone ridge and this trek can be very dangerous after rain as it gets very slippy.  It can also be a problem for people with a fear of heights.

As the weather wasn’t good for the 2 hikes I wanted to do, I will be back in the future to complete these!! They both look amazing and I am excited about returning for them.

Once I was back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the 75 mile drive to Panguitch, where I would stay overnight before exploring Bryce Canyon National Park the next day.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

To get to Bryce the quickest way is on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway, this road goes up through the park and through a 1.1 mile tunnel cut through the mountain.  Anything larger than a car needs to have the traffic stopped as they need to drive down the middle of the tunnel.

As you can see when I entered the tunnel it was a beautiful day with a few clouds in the sky, when I left the tunnel 1.1 miles later, probably not even a 5 minute drive later, the heavens had opened and the rain was unbelievable.  I put my windscreen wipers on full and still couldn’t see anything.  Thankfully there was a car park next to the entrance of the tunnel and I pulled in there to wait until it eased.  While I was waiting I could see and hear the hail coming down and hitting the car, it was the size of a tennis ball!!! After about 10 minutes it eased off a bit so I got out to check the car.  What I saw and heard when I got out of the car amazed me.  Below me was the river, raging and carrying huge trees downstream as if they were twigs.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

The ranger controlling the traffic came over and told me that 10 minutes ago where the water was coming down into the river below, it had been totally dry.  Now there was a huge amount of water coming over the edge and into the river below.   Now I saw how quickly things can change.  Five minutes before it has been a sunny day, now there was a huge torrent of water where there had been a dry river bed and I had seen how quickly a flash flood can happen.  I was certainly pleased I had made the decision not to hike in The Narrows.  It just shows that if the rangers are advising against hiking in an area due to flash floods, to listen to their advice.  Zion will always be there for you to return and have another attempt in the future.

After it had stopped raining so hard I continued my journey down Highway 89 until I reached my hotel and chilled out for the night.  The scenery along the way was stunning and we even got a rainbow after the rain had stopped.Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion National Park was certainly one of my favourite national parks to visit in the US and if you are in the area one you must certainly visit.

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA

 

 

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Things to do in Memphis, Tennessee

Graceland Mansion - Memphis

When I saw that Elvis’s home the Graceland Mansion was in Memphis, I knew that it was a place I had to fit into my trip.  My mum was a huge Elvis fan, I was brought up listening to Elvis and mum would go to Elvis tribute nights and we even played one of his songs at mums funeral (I just can’t help believing).

Graceland Mansion - Memphis

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Everglades National Park, Florida

After 4 days in Miami and driving from Key West I arrived at the Everglades Hostel in Florida City, a hostel with a big outdoor area, pancakes for breakfast, free wifi and nice big dorm rooms, as I was out of season it was very quiet and on my second night I had the dorm room to myself.  I love it when that happens, though it’s very rare.  That night I spent planning what I wanted to do the next day in the Mexican restaurant next door.

As I was going to the everglades I wanted to do an airboat tour in a small boat and I decided to do this in Everglades City, Continue reading

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Things to do in Key West, Florida

After 2 days in Miami beach it was back to the airport to pick up a car with a couple of girls from Spain that I had met the day before in my hostel.  They had told me they were going to get the bus to Key West but as I had an empty car they decided to come with me.

There is a bus that picks up from different locations in Miami beach around 7am and then leaves Key West at 5.30pm, so you don’t need a car but as I wanted to visit the Everglades after and stop on the way to Key West I wanted the flexibility.  Cars are cheap to hire in Miami but a pass for the toll roads costs nearly as much as the car!! Continue reading

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Miami Beach

When you imagine Miami, you think blue skies, warm weather and beautiful beaches and I wasn’t disappointed when I landed it was very hot and sunny.  I had flown that morning from Cuba, a distance of 210 miles as the crow flies.  Unfortunately in December 2015, there still wasn’t any commercial flights between the US and Miami meaning I had to fly via Panama, a distance of 2,100 miles and taking a total of 7 and a half hours. Continue reading

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