Labor Day Weekend – South Dakota

Spontaneous decision making is the hallmark of any good adventure. Going to Rapid City, SD for Labor Day Weekend was one of those decisions. We figured that if we left Ames around 3pm, we would get to Sioux City around 6pm to meet Bailey. After Bailey made a cameo at a baseball game to see if he would win (he didn’t) two round trip tickets to anywhere in the US courtesy of American Airlines, we were able to get out of Sioux City around 9pm and on our way to Rapid City. This allowed for seven hours of throwback music from every band on the ipod we know but never play — or play in secret because we don’t want anyone to know. Some classics included Smash Mouth, Andre Nickatina, Shaggy, Avril Lavigne, Metallica, the list goes on for seven hours until we arrived in Sioux City at 3am Mountain Time.

German Chocolate Shortcake

As many people know, Rapid City is the hub for tourists looking to visit many famous places like Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Sturgis. It is recommended that you skip Crazy Horse as the entrance fee is outrageous for an unfinished monument that can be completely seen from the highway. I think Bailey and Felix will agree that the best part of our visit was without a doubt the food. Bailey’s mom made the German chocolate cake pictured along with many other amazing dishes. And Bailey’s dad is a barbecue master. Felix had never been Rapid City before and we had two full days to explore. We decide to go to Wind Cave National Park, Mt. Rushmore, and visit the Badlands on the way home. In the meantime we would try to find some bison as Felix had never seen one before.

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave Natural Entrance

On January 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill designating Wind Cave National Park as the eighth national park in the United States, and the first established to protect a cave. Wind Cave is an intricate series of tunnels that consists of over 141 miles of known passages. However, the entrance to the cave is barely big enough for an adult to fit through. The park service offers tours of parks of the cave that highlight various geological features. On of the most prominent features in the cave is the “boxwork”. The theory goes that the millions of years ago the cave was filled with water, This water eroded the limestone and when the water exited the cave the limestone fell out of the boxwork like bricks out of a wall. I was never able to get a good explanation about why the boxwork has such a haphazard pattern. I would love to get a good explanation for why we see this stick-breaking pattern in the boxwork.


The “cave popcorn” is another one of wind cave’s renowned features. There has been a considerable effort not to destroy the frostwork that forms on the cave popcorn. Cave popcorn, speleothems, are small nodes of calcite that form on the cave walls. For more information about the cave popcorn visit the National Parks Service official site.

Mt. Rushmore

Luke Fostvedt Mt Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is possibly the most underwhelming tourist attraction ever. Roadside attraction would be a more appropriate description of the monument. You literally just stop, take you picture, maybe use the bathroom, and leave. They have tried to spice up the site with a 30 minute hike option and a small museum describing how the carvings were made, but this still leaves much to be desired. The best part about Mt. Rushmore is the ice cream at the visitor center….Seriously, they are known for their ice cream.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

The Badlands of South Dakota are one of many places on the planet that is rich in fossils. The badlands formed through a process of deposition and erosion beginning nearly 70 million years ago when a great sea covered what is now the great plains. As this ancient sea retreated, the process of deposition from rivers, floods, and other natural phenomenon built up the sediment. The process of erosion that produced what visitors see today is estimated to have begun around a half million years ago. One of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America is located within the park. The Badlands are similar to Yangykala Canyon in Turkmenistan which formed in a similar fashion and is also rich in fossils.

On our drive back, we stopped by the Badlands to explore the natural beauty through a few short hikes. It was a perfect bluebird 90 degree day and the trails were just waiting to be explored. I’m not convinced that the Badlands are expansive/remote enough for multiday hiking trips, but the day hikes sure are scenic contrasting the prairie with the sandstone.

Luke Bailey and Felix Badlands National Park

On the drive back to Ames, I put in a series of lectures on existentialism from the late Robert Solomon that explored the ideas of Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Satre, and others. This quickly put Bailey and Felix to sleep for 200 miles. We rolled back into Ames at 12:30am with both Felix and I having to be at school early the next morning.

Weekend Well Spent!