A group of 30 excited travelers, dubbed as the Glennville First Baptist Church Senior Adults, embarked on an 11-day excursion to the Midwest on Friday, September 8, 2023. The sites visited included the Badlands, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the crowning finale of Mount Rushmore.
The group, led by tour organizer Shelma Kitchens and bus driver Aaron Brown, departed from First Baptist Church of Glennville in a Diamond Tours motorcoach that featured the Savannah Bananas' logo on the sides. Aaron Brown is one of several who drive this popular baseball team to their games played on the road. Many pedestrians and motorists took pictures of the bus, so the Savannah Bananas' team has a national following.
The first day on the road took the travelers to Smyrna, Tennessee, for a pre-paid dinner at Logan's Restaurant. They arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, at a comfortable hotel for rest for their next day of traveling on Saturday, September 9.
With a visit to the St. Louis Art Museum planned, a flat tire delayed the group, and this venue was missed, arriving in Blue Springs, Missouri, for the night.
Sunday's drive included a stop at the national WW I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and the travelers found the 90-minute tour was fascinating and educational.
Sioux City, Iowa, was reached for a delicious pre-paid meal at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery, followed by residing for the night at the Holiday Inn Express at nearby Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.
Monday, September 11, took the travelers to Mitchell, South Dakota, where the group visited the phenomenal Corn Palace.
The Corn Palace was established in 1892 for early settlers to display the fruits of their harvest on the building exterior. Murals are still created every year by local artists, using thousands of bushels of corn, grain, grasses, wild oats, and wheat. After touring the Corn Palace, the group enjoyed lunch on their own and visited the local shops.
The cost is $130,000 to replace the exterior "Art" each year, and the attraction brings in over 500,000 visitors a year to visit this unique structure.
Monday afternoon, the travelers arrived at the Wall Drug, with a city block filled with retail and specialty shops. A stop by the Wall Drug Café is where most enjoyed a maple iced doughnut (or several for later!)
After a pre-paid dinner at the Colonial House Restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota, the group were back on the coach to their next hotel of the Baymont Inn and Suites in Sturgis, South Dakota, where they stayed the next four nights.
On Tuesday, September 12, the first stop was in Spearfish, South Dakota, where they were treated to a tour of the High Plains Western Heritage Center. This site is a five-state regional museum honoring old west pioneers. A second floor allowed a view of three states that could be seen from the wide windows of the second floor.
Tuesday afternoon's highlight was a trip to the downtown of Deadwood, South Dakota, where the visitors enjoyed watching a re-creation of the shooting of "Wild Bill" Hickok, with Glennville's Kim Dubberly Rhoden and Princeton Pirkle selected as two of the card players in the saloon where 39-year-old Hickok was killed by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. Restaurants, casinos, bars, and "old west shops" were available to the group. Also, a tour guide shared the history of the area with a presentation on the Open Cut, a former mining area.
Now, the abandoned gold mines are used as the Sanford Underground Science Research Laboratory, the facility that hosts world-leading experiments nearly a mile underground.
Several visited the Mount Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. She requested to be buried by Wild Bill, although the two were never lovers.
One of the interesting stops on the trip was to the 50-foot Dignity sculpture. Representing the rich Native American culture of South Dakota, this tall native woman gracefully wears a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes designed to flutter in the wind. At night, LED lights cause the diamonds to shine in the night sky. It is located at the Lewis and Clark Welcome Center in Chamberlain, South Dakota. The view is also gorgeous from the site.
Wednesday, September 13, brought the travelers to Rapid City, South Dakota, to the Journey Museum where the journey of the Native Indians of South Dakota was revealed along with an array of artifacts. The museum also includes an interactive learning center for children. This museum allows visitors to experience the history of Black Hills as well as the Native American culture.
A trip to Hill City, South Dakota, gave the travelers a look at the nation's largest Smokey the Bear carved by a chainsaw. The downtown shops and restaurants were visited by the group for a couple of hours.
The afternoon visit to Crazy Horse Memorial was a breathtaking experience for the Glennville tourists. Crazy Horse is the true patriot of the Sioux tribe. The Visitors' Center stop included a brief video on the history of the memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills in Custer County, South Dakota. It will depict the Oglala Lakota Warrior Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. To date, the face of Crazy Horse has been completed, with its beginning date of June 3, 1948, 75 years ago. The face, completed in 1998, is 87 feet, 6 inches high. Another 40 to 50 years will more likely pass before it is completed. Korczak and his wife had ten children, and they are continuing their father's massive undertaking. The sculpture's final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.
The day of Thursday, September 14, was cloudy, with temperatures in the mid-60s. The first stop was in Keystone, South Dakota, where the group visited the Borglum Historical Center. Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was the American sculptor best known for his work on Mount Rushmore. He began sculpting the massive project of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln in 1927. Borglum died six months before the sculpture was completed, and his son, Lincoln, completed it. He also is associated with the carving of Stone Mountain in Georgia, and many other notable public works of art.
The Tattnall tourists next arrived at their destination of the Mount Rushmore National Monument and were awed by the mountain sculpture. The site is simply breathtaking, and this creation began in October 1927 and took 14 years to complete. The sculpture features the 60-foot-tall heads of the aforementioned U.S. Presidents. The memorial park covers 1278 acres, and the mountain's elevation is 5725 feet above sea level.
After leaving Mount Rushmore, the travelers enjoyed the Wildlife Loop, which is located in Custer State Park and offers a wide variety of experiences from open grasslands to rolling hills. Many of the park's wildlife species can be seen and include bison, bighorn sheep, antelope, deer, elk, coyote, prairie dogs, and numerous birds. This 18-mile stretch of road offers incredible views.
For the evening meal, a Chuckwagon Dinner was enjoyed, followed by delightful entertainment by the Fort Hays Wranglers. This versatile band of six were phenomenal, singing various genres, including gospel, country, 60s-90s, and even several Elvis Presley favorites.
Friday began the departure from Sturgis to the Badlands National Park. This drive through the Badlands was a sight that overwhelmed all the man-made chiseled creations the travelers had seen before. The majestic peaks of rock and deep valleys were viewed on both sides of the winding, steep highways. This was a favorite place for photos with the magnificent backdrop of the mountains. The Badlands National Park Visitors' Center had a display of artifacts as well as an interactive lab for students.
Friday night found the travelers at the Hampton Inn in North Sioux City, South Dakota, and they arrived next in St. Joseph, Missouri, after lunch at the Pony Express Museum. The Pony Express was only in operation for 18 months, but its riders were romanticized in their journeys across the country to deliver the mail.
The Pony Express was an American express mail service that used relays of horse-mounted riders. It operated from April 1860 to October 1861 between Missouri and California. During its 18 months of operation, the Pony Express reduced the time for messages to travel between the east and west U.S. coast to about ten days. It was not a financial success, even though subsidized, and went bankrupt in 18 months when a faster telegraph service was established.
Saturday and Sunday were days of travel for the Glennville based tourists.
The travelers arrived home the evening of Monday, September 18, 2023, tires and weary but enthralled with their experiences and sights they encountered.