In 1994, Brian went on an RV road trip with his family. They went to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, and Yellowstone National Park. Brian considers it his funnest childhood family vacation, though a lot is fuzzy, since he was 10 years old at the time. I’ve never visited any of the places, so we planned our late summer to roughly repeat this trip, with a few extra stops added in.
We were planning to dry camp at a no-hookup campground in Badlands National Park. We dumped our tanks and filled our water at a rest area (South Dakota rest areas have dump stations!), but about 2 minutes outside in 90-plus degree heat had us rethinking this plan. We started calling around to some campgrounds and found one with availability. As we were turning around at the next exit we saw a sign for a “express” campground that has 8 large pull-though spots, is next to an un-manned gas station with bathrooms, has electric hookups, and is $10 a day. Can’t beat that price for electric hookup (outside of Brian’s parents’ driveway)!
The first stop we made, before we even entered the park, was Wall Drug. The ultimate roadside attraction/tourist trap! We had been seeing signs advertising Wall Drug for hundreds of miles, and since Brian had good memories of visiting as a kid, we had to go!
Wall Drug began as a small-town drug store in 1931. It didn’t do very well until they started advertising “Free Ice Water” to tourists traveling to Mount Rushmore. They started putting up signs for miles around, and it has evolved into a large complex including many stores, a large restaurant, western decor, a backyard area, old photographs, a “mining experience”, singing animatronic creatures, a chapel, and a fountain.
We spent hours exploring and taking pictures. We ate lunch there, hot beef sandwiches and delicious donuts. We aren’t the type of people to let a tourist trap suck us in, so we only bought a puzzle, two bottle openers, a t-shirt, postcards, a patch, two smashed pennies, and a bank shaped like a bison.
Badlands National Park has two main attractions, the layered badland rock formations, and large mixed grass prairie and the wildlife it supports.
There is a scenic drive through the park from east to west. On the east side are the more impressive rock formations, and on the west side there is more wildlife.
We didn’t do much hiking in this park, because it was too hot! The Badlands is a “go anywhere” park, meaning hikers aren’t instructed to stay on the trails. Which is surprising to me, because the badlands look so crumbly.
We drove the road several times, and admired the scenery and kept our eyes peeled for animals. We saw two male bighorn sheep right on the side of the road. We watched them for awhile, and one reared up and they clocked horns. I think they were just showing off, because afterward they just looked at us like, “did you see that?”
Sage Creek Rim Road is a gravel road on the west side that leads to the no-hookup campground we considered staying at. We drove this road as far as we could until it left the park, and we got stuck in a badlands traffic jam for a few minutes.
The park video they show here is one of the more depressing ones we’ve seen, describing how this land was once used by Native American tribes, and when white settlers came, they drove the bison nearly to extinction ruining the Native American’s way of life. Bison, bighorn sheep, swift fox, and black-footed ferrets (the most endangered land animal in North America) have been reintroduced into the park since it became a National Monument in 1939.
There are also serveral prairie dog towns within the park, made up of hundreds of prairie dog dens. The way they dart in and out of their dens, and squeak warnings to each other is pretty darn cute.
Badlands National Park is a beautiful place!
Day 312 | Mile 32,810