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Mount Rushmore National Memorial, near Keystone, is known as America’s “Shrine of Democracy.” In 1927, sculptor Gutzon Borglum came to the Black Hills to carve his sculpture into the side of a granite mountain. Today, visitors from all over the world come to the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the four faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Crazy Horse Memorial, near Custer, is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. The memorial is a way to honor the culture and traditions of North American Indians. Visitors to Crazy Horse Memorial can see the progress of the mountain carving as well as tour a Native American Museum and art center on the campus of the Memorial.
Badlands National Park, in southwestern South Dakota, features 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes and jagged spires that create a moon-like surface. Thousands of fossils of prehistoric creatures have been uncovered in the park. Archeological and paleontological digs continue today, with some open to public participation.
Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, both in the southern Black Hills, take visitors deep beneath the surface. Wind Cave is considered one of the world’s longest and most complex caves. Its thin calcite fins and honeycomb rock structures stand in contrast to the 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie, ponderosa pine forest and roaming buffalo above ground. Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the world at 141 miles. Its colorful calcite crystals create jewel-like formations giving the cave its name. The official length of Jewel Cave is continually growing as explorers find new passageways. In January 2008, 476 feet of new passageways were discovered.
In the southern Black Hills, Custer State Park is a popular family vacation spot. With nearly 1,500 free-roaming buffalo and numerous prairie dogs, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorns and burros, visitors can experience wildlife in a natural setting. The park also offers mountain lakes for swimming and fishing, dozens of trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as several lodges and campsites. For visitors looking to take a scenic drive, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road offer spectacular views, unique rock tunnels and winding pigtail bridges.
The Black Hills National Forest is 1.2 million acres of pine and spruce forest, granite peaks and outdoor adventure. An area of granite spires, known as the Needles, provides challenging rock climbing opportunities. The 114-miles George S. Mickelson Trail, part of the state park system, has gentle slopes and converted railroad bridges that take bikers and hikers from Deadwood in the northern Black Hills to Edgemont in the south. Harney Peak, in the Black Elk Wilderness Area, at an elevation of 7,242 feet is the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is located near Badlands National Park. The Delta One Launch Control Facility and the Delta Nine Launch Facility were ideal for long-term preservation because they were among the nation’s oldest – with technology dating back to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. Only minor modifications have been made to the deactivated sites, and much of the original mechanical equipment and historic furnishings remain intact.
The Missouri River cuts through the center of South Dakota, dividing it roughly into eastern and western halves, and then forms some of the border between South Dakota and Nebraska. The Missouri National Recreational River protects two stretches of the river in the southeastern part of the state; 39 miles from Fort Randall Dam to Running Water and 59 miles from Gavins Point Dam to Nebraska’s Ponca State Park. These sections of the river are the least affected by the four dams in South Dakota, and offer unique landscapes and ecosystems. The entire Missouri River provides countless opportunities for boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Visitors can also camp, bird watch and hike along the river.
There are nearly 60 state parks and recreation areas in South Dakota. They offer numerous opportunities to experience the state, from an outdoor and recreational perspective to an historic one. Among them, Fort Sisseton Historic State Park, in the northeast corner, was a frontier army outpost in 1864 and is still home to 14 of the original buildings. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, near Yankton, and Farm Island Recreation Area, near Pierre, are two of numerous state parks located on the shores of the Missouri River and offer many camping, fishing, swimming, boating and hiking opportunities.