Me sitting and taking in a view of the Badlands National Park
Location: South Dakota, United States of America

The car is packed, the GPS coordinates set and the dust is flying behind me as I take off on my first American cross country road trip! We’ll be driving the Prius from Minnesota all the way to Colorado and back, and stopping at some awesome American icons along the way. So leaving in the early hours of the morning meant we crossed the boarder into South Dakota by 8am, and as I passed dark corn fields and small sleepy towns, the excitement of a new adventure was rising with the dawn, despite the sleep deprivation of a very late night spent packing and procrastinating.

My first stop was the Badlands National Park. If I were naming it I would have called it Mars for it’s out of space feel and desolate landscape, but the area is absolutely beautiful and I kept having to pick my jaw off the floor from the incredible views over the rock formations. For $15 per car (valid for 7 days) you not only get to see the Mars like landscape, but also prairie fields filled with bison, sheep, deer and prairie dogs roaming freely. After driving through the park and stopping at a few major vantage points along the way, we hight tailed it to Mount Rushmore to see the United States’ first four Presidents’ faces carved into the mountainside.

Walking up to the rock formations in the Badlands

Now I have to be honest here, I thought that Mount Rushmore was going to be really lame and touristy, but catching my first glimpse of the Presidents was actually really exciting. It suddenly dawned on me that these faces were absolutely huge, and when I was standing there in front of them looking up at this monstrous rock sculpture, it was definitely a lot more awesome than I had given credit to it. It will also set you back $11 (which is for parking) but that gives you entry for a whole year. The only down side of this was that we had spent too much time in the Badlands so we had to rush, otherwise I would have done the self guided audio guide tour and some of the walks in the area since it was a beautiful day.

Me peeking through a telescope for a close up of Mt Rushmore

By this stage we had driven eight and a half hours from Minneapolis to Mount Rushmore via the Badlands, and still had another hour to go until we arrived at our camp site in Custer National Park; and with the sun already setting, we took the Needles Highway in the Black Hills National Forest all the way to Custer National Park and just managed to set the tent up before it got dark. Entrance to Custer National Park was $15, and a tent site set us back an additional $21, however the facilities were fantastic (flushing toilets and hot showers!) and we were only staying for a night, so I didn’t mind the high price. I also saw my first bison here which just capped off an amazing day for me.

A view of the first four American Presidents at Mount Rushmore

First day done, and nine more to go!

Featured photograph and images 1 & 2 by Auyeung Photography, final image by Jelena Stipanicev.