Steve had never been to the Black Hills of South Dakota. That’s unusual because most of the people I know here in Northeast Nebraska have been there at least once. Most of my other friends have vacationed in the Black Hills more than once because it’s relatively nearby in Western South Dakota.
Black Hills National Monument can boast Mount Rushmore and beautiful mountainous scenery. To the immediate south is Custer State Park also Wind Cave. The famous Badlands of South Dakota is east of there and Devil’s Tower is just west of the Black Hills in Wyoming. South Dakota’s second most populous city is located on the eastern slopes of the Black Hills. Rapid City has about 68,000 inhabitants.
I offered and Steve accepted my plan to drive us to the Black Hills as his birthday present. I asked him to reserve a couple of weeks around early May so we could coordinate our car trip with his birthday. It turned out that he could have the last three days of April and the first week-and-a-half of May away from work. This coincided perfectly with the time I could get away, too.
We decided to take US Highway 20 because it runs roughly parallel with the Nebraska-South Dakota border. This enabled us to visit Cherry County and Valentine– my favorite getaway spots in our state. We would also be able to stop in Chadron, at the northwestern corner of Nebraska, the location of Chadron State Park.
From Chadron, we could skirt the Wyoming border as we passed into southwestern South Dakota. Once in that state we drove to the city of Hot Springs so we could swim at “Evans Plunge” pool and mineral spa. The main attraction being the 87-degrees Fahrenheit mineral water of the large swimming pool and spas.
Later, we arrived at Black Hills National Monument. We decided to stop first at Keystone, where I had reserved a cabin for us to stay for a few days. The lodgings were surprisingly plush. Our cabin was only a couple of years old. There was no shortage of creature comforts, including a luxury bath that included a whirlpool tub. The living/sleeping room was furnished with rough-hewn pine log furniture including a hefty canopy bed constructed of the same type of logs.
We stayed in the Black Hills and the surrounding area for eight days. We felt like we had the place all to ourselves because the regular tourist season doesn’t begin until around Memorial Day. Wherever we went, we met mostly local South Dakotans who lived in or near the attractions. The only busy town was Deadwood. That was largely due to the plethora of gambling houses and casinos there.
We spent Steve’s birthday by hiking a few nature trails and a stop at Mount Rushmore so he could see the Presidents’ faces in person.
The remainder of our stay was spent relaxing and visiting a few tourist traps, just for fun. We both had such an enjoyable visit to the Black Hills that we hated to pull up stakes and leave.
We decided to return by backtracking through Hot Springs so we could have another dip in the Evan’s Plunge pool. We then zigzagged south to enter Nebraska through the infamous village of White Clay, just across the South Dakota border on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We returned to Highway 20, in order to pass through Valentine again on our way home.
An important takeaway lesson we learned was that vacationing during the off-season is one of the best times to enjoy road trips. Of course, it’s important to plan ahead in order to determine if your destination is tourist friendly in the off-season. I recommend booking accommodations whether in motels or campgrounds to avoid disappointment. After all, the off-season is becoming a more popular travel time.