1. The Badlands Are Just As Badass As They Sound
South Dakota has some serious bragging rights. It’s not everyone, everyone after all who can claim the world’s third-longest cave in their backyard. And if someone tells you they do, but they don’t live in South Dakota, they’re lying.
Just 13 miles west of Custer, N.D., in the 244,000-acre Badlands National Park, lies Jewel Cave. This natural wonder features a massively impressive 166 miles of subterranean pathways.
The scenery in the Badlands are often compared to a moonscape, is full of stunning, awe-inspiring spires and deep gorges. Plus, it’s the richest source on Earth for fossils from the Oligocene epoch. They’ve found remains from saber-tooth cats, miniature deer-like animals, and really old three-toed horses here. How cool is that?
2. Where Rocky Raccoon Comes From
Anyone who has seen the Black Hills of South Dakota can understand how it could play muse to the Beatles’ “Rocky Racoon” Its a beautiful place, unlike any other. There’s a certain kinship among people—real or fictionalized in song—who’ve experienced the paradise found “somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota.”
The Black Hills of South Dakota are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but people who live there have a much deeper appreciation for the beauty, wonder, and endless possibilities of these pine tree-covered mountains of the Great Plains.
3. Sioux Falls Is The Biggest Small Town In America
Let’s not kid ourselves; size matters. But so does knowing how to use what you’ve got. And Sioux Falls can boast both.
This is South Dakota’s most populous city, but it’s only home to about 162,000 people. It’s not stuffed full of towering skyscrapers or teeming with traffic, but it’s still a lively urban center with great options for dining, shopping, entertainment, the arts, jobs, and more.
Sioux Falls also offers a low cost of living, a much-below-average crime rate, and lots of friendly folks… all notable features for a metropolitan area.
4. South Dakota? Oh, You Mean East River And West River
The Mighty Mississippi may hog national attention as a dividing line, but the Moderately Mighty Missouri River cuts South Dakota in half, severing the state into two distinct regions.
To locals, these regions are “East River” and “West River,” and South Dakotans are well aware of the many differences between the two sides.
East River—the much more populated side—claims Sioux Falls as its major metropolitan area, while West River has Rapid City. Agriculturally, the east has more precipitation and is dominated by flat land, wheat and corn production, and pig and poultry farms; the west is arid with rugged terrain and is focused on ranching and dryland farming. East River has strong European roots (especially German and Scandinavian), while West River is associated with Native American resettlement and a Western gold-rush history.
5. Wearing A Banana Belt To Warm Up
It’s even sexier than it sounds, if that’s possible.
A “banana belt” is a region sheltered from the worst of inclement weather by mountains, and the Rapid City area at the foot of South Dakota’s Black Hills is a famous example in the U.S.
In the winter, there’s less snow in the banana belt than elsewhere in the state, and average high and low temperatures are as much as eight or nine degrees higher in Rapid City than in Sioux Falls on the other side of the state.
So, in January, while Sioux Falls residents are freezing their fingers off at an average low of 3 degrees, people in Rapid City are lounging around enjoying the balmy 11 degree weather.
6. Being The Cool Dakota
Speaking of being cooler because you’re on the warmer side, South Dakota has North Dakota beat. Even these famous guys prefer to hang out here. SD’s average lows don’t even dip into the negatives like ND’s do for a few months of the year, and the lower state gets less snow.
It’s only natural there’d be some rivalry between two states with the same surname. Even in 1889, President Benjamin Harrison and Congress saw it coming, signing both states into the Union simultaneously to avoid either trying to pull rank.
South Dakota has about 120,000 more people than its northern twin, undoubtedly a testament to how much more awesome it is. Plus, South Dakota doesn’t rob you every year like its neighbor to the north, which brings us to…
7. Life’s Good When The State Doesn’t Steal Your Money
South Dakotans are in a special class when it comes to taxation. They live in one of only seven states with no state individual income tax—so stick that in your accountant and smoke it, North Dakotans.
In fact, SD has the country’s lowest total per capita state tax rate. There’s also no state inheritance tax, and the sales tax rate is notably low at 4 percent.
8. Diversity… Umm… Not So Much
South Dakota may be a lot of things, but a melting pot it is not. You could even say the ethno-socio-politico landscape is as monotonous as the geographical landscape throughout much of the state. But that would be mean, so you won’t.
Of the 845,000 people living here, about 85 percent are white and around two-thirds of them were born in the state. More than half the remaining people are Native Americans. Over 60 percent of residents identify as Protestant, and pretty much everyone else is Roman Catholic. The state’s whopping three electoral college votes reliably go to the Republican candidate for President; voters didn’t even go blue for SD’s own native son George McGovern in 1972.
9. You Can Challenge Lady Luck Anywhere You Can Buy A Beer
When some people have a drink, they like to stare off into space and wonder where it all went so horribly, horribly wrong. But not South Dakotans.
They much prefer playing video gambling games with real payouts in the hopes of funding the next round or 10. These games are legal in the state and found practically everywhere alcoholic beverages are served.
The best part is, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own bar stool to go gamble!
10. Or Gamble Old West-Style In Deadwood
If you watched the show Deadwood, you know about the South Dakota town’s intriguing wild-west history. The once-illegal settlement had everything you could want—whorehouses, opium dens, and saloons where you were as likely to get shot as get to drink your shot.
In November 1989, the city officially embraced its roots and adopted limited stakes gambling to increase tourism and raise funds. Now there are more than 80 “gaming halls” in town. So, when the video machines in the bars don’t quite cut it, Deadwood’s the place to go.
While in many ways this state has moved on from its pioneer roots, it’s still managed to hold on to its proudest traditions of cherishing nature, freedom and most of all its Wild West spirit.
Feature Image Search: Source: Flickr user loomingy1
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