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Do your kids think CNN is the center of the political universe? If so, turn off the TV and head for South Dakota. Yes, South Dakota. They'll see some familiar faces (but not Larry King), and relive the first 150 years of this country's history -- without the help of media pundits. There's a history museum, tours, and special programs designed specially for kids.
Then, for something completely different, drive 90 minutes to Badlands, an eerie, 243,000-acre national park with the greatest number of fossils in North America. Imagine the look on your kid's face, when he or she stumbles over a dinosaur footprint (and there are plenty!)
Sixty-foot-high stone faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln steal the show at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, designed and built by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to commemorate the birth of the U.S. government.
The best way to see these four great American presidents up close? Walk or hike one of these easy trails:
Don't miss the Evening Sculpture Lighting each night in summer. The 30-minute program includes a short ranger talk, a film about the four presidents, playing of the National Anthem, and finally, the lighting of the sculpture.
Grab some dinner at the Buffalo Dining Room, which offers down-home cooking and the most commanding view of the memorial.
In and around Mt. Rushmore, there are hiking trails for all levels of expertise:
White man may have Mt. Rushmore, but Native Americans have Crazy Horse. Boston-born sculptor, Korzczak Ziolkowski began carving the Crazy Horse Memorial 53 years ago in a mountain 17 miles from Mount Rushmore.
His tribute to the great Indian hero, who aided Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, is still under construction. Also located at the site: the Indian Museum of North America, with three exhibit halls showcasing thousands of artifacts.
Type of trip: Sightseeing, hiking
Best ages: 5 and up
Ideal trip length: 3-4 days
Distance: Rapid City, SD (25 miles), Sioux Falls (225 miles)
Best time to go: Spring and summer; many visitor facilities are closed in winter.
Weather: 80/69 degrees in summer, 40/20 in winter
Lodging: Advanced reservations are recommended, especially in summer. For B&Bs and camping, contact the Bed & Breakfast Innkeepers Association of South Dakota, 888-500-4667 or South Dakota Campground Guide, 800-732-5682.
Squirm factor: None
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial I-90 to exit 57, Hwy. 16 (Mt. Rushmore Rd.) Phone: 605-574-2523
Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness Area Black Hills National Forest Phne: 605-673-9200
Centennial Trail Black Hills National Forest Phone: 605-673-9200 (for hiking and mountain biking information)
Elk Mountain and Rankin Ridge Trails Wind Cave National Park Phone: 605-745-4600
Mammoth Site 1800 Hwy 18 (truck route), Hot Springs Phone: 605-745-6017
Crazy Horse Memorial and Heritage Village 17 miles SW of Mt. Rushmore on Hwy 16-385, Crazy Horse Phone: 605-673-4681
Deer Mountain Ski Area Off I-90, Deadwood Phone: 605-584-3230; toll-free: 888-410-3337
Terry Peak Ski Area Off I-90, Lead Phone: 605-584-2165
They don't call it Badlands for nothing. This national park, located 90 minutes east of Mt. Rushmore, is an eerie moonscape of deep gorges and jagged ridges created by wind and rain erosion.
Covering 64,000 acres, the Badlands Wilderness Area is a great place for hiking and horseback riding. Favorite walks include the Fossil Exhibit Trail, a quarter-mile loop past replicas of fossils found in nearby formations, and the Door Trail, a short hike through a natural doorway.
At the Stronghold Unit, an area co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, you can learn about the traditional American Indian Ghost Dances of the 1890s. Exit 109 off I-90 East, Interior, SD. Call 605-433-5361 for more information.
Favorite local spots: Casa Del Rey, 1902 Mt. Rushmore Rd., Rapid City, SD, 605-348-5679, and the very popular Flying T Chuckwagon Supper & Western Music Show, 8971 South Hwy 16, Rapid City, SD. Call 605-342-1905 or 888-256-1905 for more information. Reservations advised.
Local foods: Pot roast, baked fish, and STEAK, STEAK, STEAK.
Best souvenirs: A miniature sandstone replica of Mt. Rushmore (park gift shop), or a build-your-own Ice Age Woolly Mammoth Skeleton kit (Mammoth Site gift shop).
Annual events: For information, contact the Department of Tourism, 711 East Wells Ave., Pierre, SD or call 800-S-DAKOTA.
Traffic alert: Gridlock is common at Mt. Rushmore in spring and summer. Plan to park your car and walk to most sites and trails.
Reviewed April 2004.