GARRETSON, S.D. (AP) — After a brutal winter in this northern climate, Alan and Patricia Zwart were more than ready for early-season camping. But spring has not been particularly kind, forcing them to hold off until May.
"We usually try to get out in April, but the weather was just too cool," Alan Zwart said, as the couple enjoyed a recent sunny day at Palisades State Park near South Dakota-Minnesota border. "This is our first camping trip of the year."
The nasty cold spells and blizzards of this past winter have made people more eager than usual to go camping, said Doug Hofer, director of South Dakota's Division of Parks and Recreation.
In addition to being home to some of the national park system's most famous destinations, including Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, South Dakota has 56 state parks and recreation areas, ranging from historic parks like Fort Sisseton to Custer State Park, known for excellent wildlife viewing. Many of South Dakota's state parks, like Oakwood Lakes and Lake Louise, offer various types of water recreation in addition to camping and other activities.
Arriving recently in a rented motor home, Helen and Adrean Vandoremalen of Helvoirt, in the Netherlands, were sightseeing on a trip from Chicago to Denver. It's the second time the couple have visited the United States, by way of its many campgrounds.
Traveling via motor home allows them to stop wherever they wish and get a better view of places that are off the beaten path, Helen Vandoremalen said.
"We have no obligation to be anywhere. We can just go where we want," she explained.
The European couple planned to visit several of South Dakota's popular attractions, including Badlands, Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.
The Zwarts, of nearby Larchwood, Iowa, load their fifth-wheel camper and head for area campgrounds about 10 times each year, spending a couple of days on each outing away from home. The leisure time is very relaxing, Patricia said.
"We usually grill burgers one night and brats the next night," Alan added. "That keeps thing simple."
Like thousands of others who enjoy camping each year in this state, they like to ride their bikes, hike on trails and walk among campsites.
And they often have their grandchildren in tow.
"It's a good chance to get to know them better because there are no distractions," Patricia Zwart said.
Palisades State Park is popular with campers, photographers, picnickers, rock climbers, and hikers because of its unique Sioux quartzite formations. Its 50-foot (15-meter) cliffs tower over Split Rock Creek. The quartzite deposits are estimated to be 1.2 billion years old.
In 1886, silver was discovered in the creek, drawing hundreds of mining claims. But the silver proved to be of low quality, and the claims were quickly dropped. This tiny state park was later developed to preserve the area for the public. It has just 34 campsites, six small cabins and a group lodge.
If You Go...
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE PARKS: http://www.travelsd.com/Attractions/State-Parks?gclid=CKTXlu_Tpr4CFfJxOgodXEkADQ
NATIONAL PARK SITES IN SOUTH DAKOTA: http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/home/things-to-do/parks-monuments/national-parks or http://www.nps.gov/state/sd/index.htm?program=parks