I visited the Black Hills a dozen times or more, starting in 1946. I worked there for the U.S. Forest Service the summer of 1961. It's such a great place, and it's only a day's drive, so I always look for an excuse to go back. I found one in June. My 11-year-old grandson had never been out of Wisconsin, except for Great America in Gurnee, IL. I figured he needed to catch the travel bug that I picked up at age four. So we saw the major sights of the Black Hills, plus we added in Badlands National Park and Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming, both just a few hours away.
The Badlands, named so in the 1800s because they look so desolate, are constantly eroding because they are composed of very soft rock. See them soon before they disappear completely.
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
The Black Hills were formed 56-66 million years ago in an uplift of earth's surface, exposing hard granite. This rock serves carvers well, and in 1928 the carving of four presidents began on Mt. Rushmore. Carving ended in 1941. It really isn't finished, as the original plan was to carve full figures, rather than just the 60-feet high faces.
The Needles is an area of narrow vertical spires of granite, about five miles west of Mt. Rushmore and about six miles in length. The Needles Highway travels through them. The most famous is Eye of the Needle.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse was the leader of the various tribes that defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. In 1939, several chiefs asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked for a while on Mt. Rushmore, to carve a memorial to Crazy Horse. He agreed, and in 1948 he began the project on a mountain about 20 miles west of Mt. Rushmore. My family visited the site in 1949, along with my uncle, who lived nearby and who helped build the road to the mountain. The Ziolkowski family is still working on the project, with no end in sight. It is planned to be 563 feet high and 641 feet long.
Devil's Tower is in Wyoming, about two hours west of the northern Black Hills. It is an igneous rock formation, 867 feet high, protruding nearly vertically. It is composed of hexagonal columns of granite. Indian legend explains them as claw marks of a huge bear that chased a group of girls who climbed a small hill to escape it. While upon it, the gods raised it high enough so the bear could not climb it, leaving only its claw marks. In the film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," someone made a model of it out of mashed potatoes.
From Wisconsin, one can do a quick five-day trip to see the highlight of the regions I showed. I'd venture to say there are no other five-day-trips by car offering so many natural and man-made sights. I am amazed how many Wisconsinites have never been there. Many spent the same number of days in Door County or Up North, often numerous times. Being an economist, I will not criticize their decisions, assuming they truly sense what they miss by avoiding the Black Hills. But I suspect some irrational behavior, just as I, too, have so often irrationally NOT done something I later regretted missing (especially Buddy Holly at the Riverside in Green Bay two nights before he died).