Our 2021 Road Trip #9: Remember the South Dakota

USS South Dakota sailor man!

It’s a battleship. It’s a museum. It’s a battleship AND a museum. It’s a battleseum!

When you’ve taken as many road trips as we have, sooner or later you find yourself in states you’ve seen before. The big planning question is: do you revisit the best attractions you’ve already seen or find new places you missed the first time around? When the encore under discussion is in a state filled with countless options from end to end, it’s cool when you can respond to yourself with: why not both? For our return to South Dakota, we began with column B.

Welcome to South Dakota!

The Mount Rushmore State lives up to its name, even hundreds of miles from Rapid City.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

We arrived in South Dakota late in the afternoon of Day Two because we’d underestimated how much time Cedar Rapids would take. The rental car debacle bears the more shameful blame, but their welcoming downtown had its aesthetic charm that invited some light dawdling on our part. Also, somehow Iowa tripled in length as we drove west for hours on I-80, and drove, and drove and drove and drove. Cedar Rapids’ best features did not quite extend statewide.

Wall Drug sign!

Once again the Wall Drug signs were South Dakota’s loudest heralds, popping up near the end of our Iowa leg. We did not return there in 2021, nor did Anne care for my idea of composing a special photo gallery of Every Wall Drug Sign Ever.

Longtime MCC readers may recall South Dakota was the focus of our 2009 road trip, also our all-time longest excursion until 2021. Once again our entry point was Sioux Falls, which got short shrift last time. The two restaurants we’d sampled were fine for what they were, but we hadn’t left time to do anything else there. This year they deserved better consideration…but not on that Saturday. We were beat. We had just enough time to check into our hotel near a number of medical buildings, grab dinner, and call it a night.

DAY THREE: Sunday, June 27th.

Anne and I let my son sleep in while we tiptoed out in the early hours. After a quick stop for donuts we headed a bit to the northeast to check out a battleship memorial. On previous vacations we’ve taken tours of such decommissioned ships as the Wisconsin in Virginia, the Alabama off the Mobile shore, and the Intrepid docked in Manhattan. In those cases, they saved the entire ship from bow to stern, and visitors could take guided walks atop and inside them.

In this case, the good people of Sioux Falls had less to work with.

USS South Dakota!

…maybe pretend the entire ship is there but buried under millions of years of sediment. (The Altima is an Easter egg at far left.)

The USS South Dakota was christened June 7, 1941, and launched onto the Delaware River in New Jersey. It cost $73 million, weighed 35,000 tons, had 100 antiaircraft guns, and was awarded 13 Battle Stars by the end of World War II. Chiefly active in the Pacific theater, its fair list of engagements included the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942 and the Battle of Guadalcanal less than three weeks later. It survived a direct hit from a 500-pound bomb at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, did some convoy duty with the British Home Fleet in 1943, and continued serving through the end of the war and beyond. It was given the code name Battleship X, which I dearly wanted to work into this chapter’s title but couldn’t craft a properly gratuitous X-Men joke around it.

By 1962 its time at sea had come to an end. The South Dakota was removed from the Naval Vessel Register, dismantled and sold for scrap. The Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce acquired several of those portions and in 1969 opened their very own USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial, comprising said parts outlined by a concrete wall in battleship shape. A museum was added later for context and for housing some of the smaller parts. We visited too early in the day for the museum’s pandemic-era hours, but were in time to note a kids’ baseball game in progress in the adjacent park.


The main-mast, climbing forbidden.


The cannon! The cannon! The cannon!


The bronze propeller alone was 17 feet high and weighed 18.2 tons.

Dual Purpose Gun!

Slightly smaller hardware: a 5″/38 cal. Dual Purpose Gun, one of sixteen that were mounted on twin turrets and could fire 15 rounds/minute.

wild perennial lupine!

Some wild perennial lupine adds a touch of nature around the Dual Purpose Gun.

anchor chain!

The anchor chain.

Mark 4 Fire Control Radar Director Antenna!

One of the ship’s four Mark 4 Fire Control Radar Director Antennae.

metal travelog!

A metal map of the South Dakota‘s various assignments and quests.

Their battleship memorial may not be an entire ship blocking out the sun or heating up to 120 degrees on the inside in the middle of summer, but I can sympathize with the pride in having a giant ship named after where you live. At least South Dakota has these modest souvenirs from the South Dakota, which is more than I can for the U.S.S. Indianapolis. We’re grateful for the men who served on it and have long appreciated those who survived its sinking by the Japanese Navy, but otherwise all we have to commemorate it are their treasured recollections and a Nicolas Cage film I’m afraid to watch.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

2 responses

  1. I’ve never been to South Dakota, but would love to visit one day to explore urban attractions and natural beauty Badlands National Park including. Thanks for sharing and have a good day ☺️ Aiva


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