After leaving Colorado behind, we drove north through the very eastern half of Wyoming to reach South Dakota. The weather was still uncooperative, and constant cold rain meant that we were definitely staying in a motel instead of camping. But we needed to go through South Dakota as opposed to taking a more southern route for two reasons. The first was that I had never been to South Dakota before, and Katie wanted to show me some of the highlights of her childhood vacations. The second was that South Dakota has very liberal residency requirements combined with zero income taxes, so we were there to become official residents.
As we gained elevation between Eastern Wyoming and Western South Dakota, our relentless rain turned to snow. This did not discourage our sightseeing however, as our route took us right next to Mount Rushmore and that’s one of those can’t miss iconic American stops. I thought it would be free for us since we purchased an annual park pass prior to this trip. That turned out not to be the case, as Mount Rushmore is a National Memorial and not a National Park, so the pass wasn’t valid. Either way, we handed over our $10 entrance fee to the attendant, parked the car, and walked up towards the intricately carved rock face of our most famous presidents.
As you can tell, the weather was not only unpleasant, it limited visibility and made it impossible to see the actual monument. You’d think the person taking my money would’ve given me some sort of disclaimer or warning before paying to enter the grounds, but apparently the fact that the very thing we paid to see was not visible is not something that they feel obligated to share. Thanks for nothing!
On the bright side, our Mount Rushmore detour only delayed us by about 20 minutes, and even with our long driving day, we arrived in Rapid City a bit before dark. This was just a short stop over to sleep and get back on the road. It did seem like a nice city, and the surrounding landscape had many more exciting features than I realized, but even if we wanted to stick around and explore, the next day had a forecast of all day rain. Again.
In the spirit of full disclosure, South Dakota is not the most exciting state to drive through. On the west side, Rapid City has some nice areas with views and varying terrain, and we also really enjoyed Sioux Falls. But in between, the only entertaining thing for the five plus hours of driving are the Wall Drug billboards. These aren’t the giant billboards supported by a ton of steel and lit up all night long. Instead, these billboards are the painted pieces of plywood kind, held up by two wooden posts in the corner of a farmer’s field. And because of that, they must be pretty cheap because they are practically never ending while driving along I-90. The billboards tout Wall Drug’s free ice water, 5¢ coffee, western wear, homemade pie, and free coffee and donut for honeymooners. It didn’t stop there. Numerous others told us Only 137 Miles to Wall Drug, that we should be ourselves, and things like “Wall Drug. It’s Cool!”. So of course we had to stop.
Wall Drug is a glorious display of sprawling capitalistic ingenuity. It must’ve started out as a small area, but has expanded into multiple interconnected stores under the Wall Drug umbrella selling everything from food to clothing to jewelry to arcade games. There are stuffed buffalo, giant jackalopes, and dinosaurs to pose for pictures with. There are fortune teller machines like in the movie Big. They have an automated “band”, similar to a player piano but more grand.
It’s a nearly endless maze of consumerism at, in my opinion, very reasonable prices. Very little actual drug store merchandise was available, but no one seemed to care, including us. They even have free bumper stickers (one per vehicle), which may explain why they are so prevalent around the Midwest. Between the extremely frequent wooden billboards and the free stickers, their marketing campaign is similar to their actual wares, both of which are decidedly old school.
After fully embracing this cultural phenomenon of our soon to be homeland for a couple of hours, we carried on to Sioux Falls. I’m not ashamed to admit that I knew basically nothing about this city prior to arrival. But after spending three days there, I must say that it’s a really nice and inviting place. The Big Sioux River meanders throughout the city and is surrounded almost exclusively by parkland with miles of multi use trails. The flagship park is Falls Park and it’s truly mesmerizing. Here the river flows over pink quartzite stone and adds a lot of color and beauty to the already pleasant water. It even stopped raining for a few hours for us to enjoy it.
The downtown Sioux Falls area is filled with revitalized brick buildings occupied by trendy shops and restaurants. The streets have lots of art as well to enliven the area. Specifically, they had a sculpture installation consisting of dozens of works that spanned a few blocks. This is apparently a tradition each year. Artists supply their work, the residents vote, and the winning piece gets purchased by the city to add to their permanent collection. All in all, we really liked the city.
But the real reason we were in Sioux Falls was not pleasure, it was business. As mentioned above, South Dakota has lenient requirements when it comes to residency and we were prepared to take advantage of them. The entire process was surprisingly easy. Even the DMV people were pleasant. I realize that’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth.
The first step towards residency is to purchase an account through a private mail service, which as nomadic travelers, we needed to do anyway in order to receive mail. We used Dakota Post, and they are very nice people who will help you not only with the mailbox portion but also help walk you through the whole residency process.
Dakota Post will provide proof that you purchased the mailbox service through them in the form of a letter. This, combined with a receipt showing at least one night in a local hotel or campground and a signed waiver that you plan to travel and will not be a resident of any other state is enough to get a South Dakota driver license. That license can then be used to register your vehicle and get license plates if applicable. If you want to read in depth about the steps needed for the residency process, this post was the most comprehensive one that I found when researching it.
So with our California residency officially concluded, we are now free to gallivant around the world without paying extra taxes just because of where we used to live. We will still be responsible for our US federal tax bill because we will be traveling on tourist visas and won’t be staying in any one spot long enough to establish residency while abroad. But with low spending and no unexpected large expenses, that bill should be pretty close to zero as well. It’s kind of crazy how little tax burden there is for someone with only passive income, especially at lower income levels. Add that to the already long list of reasons why it’s good to be retired.
This concludes the series of posts regarding our cross country driving adventure. From Sioux Falls, we traveled to Illinois to stay with Katie’s parents and then onto Michigan to stay with mine. We have been seeing old friends and spending time with family before this nomadic retirement really kicks off. The next travel themed post will be a bit more exotic than South Dakota, as we’re off to Thailand shortly to kick off some time in South East Asia. Stay tuned!