For the Labor Day holiday, Anderson Design Group employees Molly Mann and Ally Cizowski traveled out west to see National Parks, State Parks, and National Memorials. The mission? Experience wilderness & wonder and come back with new inspiration and reference photos for future ADG poster art!
Why Explore Western South Dakota Attractions?
Our group of explorers included a powerhouse duo:
- Molly Mann: Director of Social Media, Communications Expert, Customer Service Guru, and Star Wars Aficionado
- Ally Cizowski: Studio-Store Manager, Front Desk Queen, Order Fulfillment Wiz, and Wanderlust-Filled Travel Devotee
Molly and Ally's trip began with a flight into Rapid City, South Dakota. From there, they spent five days exploring Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Badlands National Park. Naturally, when they got back our first question was, "What drew you to South Dakota?" They responded that, after traveling to so many National Parks over the years in lots of corners of America, neither of them had ever been to the Dakotas to see a part of "The West" that not everyone gets to see. And given that they could see several National Parks, State Parks, National Memorials, and National Monuments in one region, all the better!
First Stop, Mount Rushmore!
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is perhaps the best-known National Memorial on the roster. Even for those who've never visited this South Dakota icon, virtually every American knows what Mount Rushmore is and has seen pictures of the four U.S. presidents carved into the granite. With construction beginning in 1927 and finishing in 1941, Mount Rushmore features the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
As soon as Molly and Ally landed in South Dakota, they decided to visit Mount Rushmore first, as it was an easy attraction to see with just a few hours of daylight to spare. Our team of explorers set up camp at Under Canvas. This adorable glamping outfitter offers customized tents with many of the comforts of urban living nestled just ten minutes from Mount Rushmore.
Upon arrival at Mount Rushmore, both Molly and Ally were awed by the carvings and the very real feeling that this was a National Memorial. The sense of national pride was profound, and a deep respect for American history pervaded the Memorial.
Not only were the faces of the presidents historic and meaningful to our adventurers in their own way, but the Memorial offered them a visitor center and a museum to learn about the history of the Memorial, information about the presidents carved into the mountain, and a few well-maintained hiking trails to see the carvings from different angles.
Custer State Park, America's Most Underrated State Park (More Like a National Treasure!)
Day #2 saw Molly and Ally leaving Under Canvas and the Mount Rushmore area and heading into the town of Custer. Custer would be home base for a couple of days, and shortly after arriving at a cute little cabin in the park, Molly and Ally began exploring Custer State Park.
Established in 1912 and covering 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is home to huge bison herds, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, cougars, burros, elk, coyotes, deer, prairie dogs, otters, and plenty of bird species and rich, diverse flora.
Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills, "Paha Sapa," as the Indigenous Lakota who lived there call the hills. Given its location, Custer State Park presents a beautiful medley of granite peaks (including Black Elk Peak, the tallest mountain east of the Rocky Mountains!)
Below the granite peaks, one can find rich forests, river valleys, and lakes (great for kayaking, canoeing, and rafting).
Molly and Ally saddled up and joined a horseback tour of Custer State Park, courtesy of Blue Bell Lodge Stables, located in the park. This was a highlight of their visit to the park. It was an incredible and different way to experience a national wonder... from the back of a horse!
Tips from the Travelers; Enjoying Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Once Molly and Ally finished telling us about their adventures at Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park, we naturally had plenty of questions about how best to enjoy these beauties. Molly strongly recommended that visitors to Mount Rushmore stop at a roadside pull-off after leaving the Memorial, as there is a great place to snap a photo of George Washington's profile as you leave the area. The address for the pull-off is 13000 SD-244 Keystone, SD 57751.
When we asked Ally about her tips and highlights from Mount Rushmore, she said it was a must-see for all Americans, especially the kiddos. It is such an icon of American history and a great, fun way to learn about our country's roots!
Quick note, there are powerful lights that shine up and onto Mount Rushmore at night, so if you can't make it out to the Memorial during daylight hours, no worries! You can still see the presidents at night.
Highlights and Best Features; Must-Sees in Custer State Park
From both Molly and Ally, we heard about two roads that you absolutely must drive on when visiting Custer State Park. One is Needles Highway, a high-up, winding two-lane that takes you through tight, one-lane tunnels and around hairpin curves; beautiful views and vistas all around! Another is Ally's favorite aspect of the park, Wildlife Loop Road. Here, the travelers saw bison and wild burros, with the burros coming up to the car and begging for food!
Sylvan Lake is another must-see in Custer State Park. And fun fact, Sylvan Lake was where production crews filmed "National Treasure 2"! Molly and Ally did not see Nicolas Cage scrambling around the rocks looking for national treasures though. Maybe next time!
Other local treasures included some great places to spend the night, like the Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort. Molly and Ally also had some great eats at a place in the town of Custer called the Mount Rushmore Brewing Company.
Poster Art of Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park
Prior to Molly and Ally's adventure out west, our award-winning poster artists had already created several original illustrations of famous South Dakota icons. These include:
And there's more to come! Molly and Ally took hundreds of reference photos while on their journey, and our poster artists are going through them now to find new inspiration for South Dakota art, National Park art, State Park designs, and National Memorial illustrations.
Next week we pick up with Molly and Ally departing Custer State Park on Day #3 of their adventure. Next stop, Wind Cave National Park!
See you next week!
- Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer