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A wonderful time in South Dakota

Published October 19. 2013 09:00AM

Last month my husband and I headed out West again for our annual two weeks' vacation to South Dakota.

This year was a little different for us. We decided that we would stay a few days in our home away from home in Geddes (just to give our sore and tired butts a rest after driving 1,322 miles) and then we were going to head off to tour the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and all of the other wonderful sites the area has to offer.

This is another five hour drive so we thought we would stop in Pierre, the Capital of the state, which is not far off Interstate 90. I had not been there since an eighth grade field trip many, and I repeat, many years ago.

The capital building was completed in 1910 and is the second smallest state capital in the union. It is located in a pleasant residential neighborhood in Pierre which has an approximate population of 14,000.

It was more beautiful and pristine than I remembered. Many new additions were built around the capitol grounds.

A very large bronze statue called the "Fighting Stallions" caught our attention quickly. It depicts two horses fighting fiercely and bravely. This is a lasting memorial to Governor George Mickelson and eight other state employees and corporate leaders who died in a plane crash in April of 1993. Due to poor weather conditions the plane crashed into a silo over the state of Iowa.

Governor Mickelson was one of South Dakota's most popular governors. The population of South Dakota was shocked and saddened by the tragic event and many say, as they look back, it was South Dakota's 9-11.

Another monument sat just yards away.

It was the state's World War II Memorial built on a peninsula on Capital Lake. It has six larger than life bronze figures representing the military branches in which the state served. Facing this monument is the Korean War and Vietnam memorials. These are life size and historically accurate statues of a fighting solders during that time period. Their faces showed weariness of mind, body and spirit.

Another interesting fact was the flaming fountain that was located near the monuments. Capital Lake is fed by an artesian spring that has a high natural gas content so the flame burns continually as the water flows into the lake.

We both agreed it was an amazing place to visit.

Next stop, the Black Hills. The Hills, as they are referred to if you live in the area, are a small isolated mountain range with some of the highest peaks east of the Rockies. Their name is derived from the dark appearance in a distance as the hills are covered in trees. This land is claimed as sacred ancestral land by nearly two dozen Native American tribes and is very rich in Indian history.

Right now the state is fighting a war with the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. In the last two years over 335,000 trees have been cut down in the Black Hills to try and stop the spread of this toxic beetle.

This small insect colonizes and lives in the bark of the Ponderosa Pine trees. They tunnel beneath the bark of the tree to disrupt the tree from getting food and water resulting in the death of the trees.

The state is trying to move fast on this as the dead and dying trees pose a very serious problem if a forest fire should start.

Looking at this in the eyes of a tourist, the beauty and serenity of the Black hills has been severely affected from this plight.

Mount Rushmore was my highlight. I first visited the monument when I was nine years old with my parents. I was in awe then just as much as I was in awe now as we stood looking up at this great tribute to our country.

On a granite cliff are the huge carved faces of four American presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. It was designed by sculptor John Gutzon Borglum in 1927 and along with 400 workers completed the project in 1941. Sad to say Borglum died a few months before the monument was completed.

Over three million people visit Mt. Rushmore each year.

Attractions that we are glad we missed was the historical blizzard of 2013 that left thirty inches of snow on the ground just a few weeks after we visited and the government shut down of Mount Rushmore. Although I recently read the state of South Dakota has reopened it for now.

Our suitcases are unpacked and put away but memories of our great history-making vacation goes down in the photo albums.

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