Driving east from Rapid City I was treated to one of the most well known rest stop roadside attractions out there- Wall Drug! This reminded me of South of the Border on the east coast with an old west theme rather than a Mexican theme. The billboards for this place range from Montana to Minnesota, and advertise 5 cent coffee, free “ice cold” water, and all sorts of silly things, and an 80′ dinosaur greets you from the highway. I wandered the shops full of junk, browsed the halls lined with old time photos, animal heads and silly fiberglass statue photo ops, and watched some kids waiting anxiously as they taunted an animatronic dinosaur head. Outside I was sorely tempted to run through the water feature and really wanted to take a photo atop a giant jackalope, but in the full sun it was so hot all the kids screamed it was burning their butts so that seemed like a poor choice. So after a quick tour and pit stop, I got my cheap coffee, filled my bottle with that “ice cold” water, shoved a maple donut in my face and continued on to the Badlands National Park.
I had heard how surprisingly beautiful the Badlands were but had no real idea what I was in for. The first overlook after entering the park was, I would later learn not the most spectacular view comparatively, but it was an astounding first sight of this sprawling maze of hills, stripes, canyons, and otherworldly landscape. I may have teared up in awe a little.
The layers of different types of rock, minerals, and sediment are visible and make for something reminiscent of those magic eye pictures that seem all melded and overwhelming visually until you start to see the subtle variations and shadows. I can’t do justice to grasping just how these features were made, but luckily smarter people can. I’m not certain whether it’s encouraged or sanctioned at all but people have created little walking trails up some of the formations off the official boardwalks and sidewalks. The ground on some of these is super crumbly and led to many slips I witnessed and to me sort of sidestep waddling in places to peak through the natural windows but I wasn’t about to venture onto any of the many narrow paths close to the ledges.
Some areas had intense yellows and reds, others the beige with ribbons of color, and in a few areas there were pops of green in valleys or on top of mesas. This is where I spotted many mountain goats in herds or alone, chilling and gobbling grass as the sun rose and set. As afternoon turned into evening a storm system rolled in on two sides and I watched the rain coming down and the lightning striking in the distance, which made for a beautiful show in the darkness on the ridge where I camped along with a long line of other RVs, tents and campers. It was super windy but I was treated to the sunrise over the canyon illuminating the land below, and was greeted by a few goats climbing the steep sides and peeking into the van.
After sunrise I visited the enormous prairie dog town, spotted a few wandering bison, more goat families, and gazed at the hills as the sun crept into the dark reaches of the canyons.
Before leaving the park I did a little quick walk out to a viewpoint over a canyon. I wanted to do a longer one but it was looking like rain and the terrain is supposed to get super slick and tricky when wet, so I passed. Plus it was a humid swamp of gross. Since the one food option in the park was closed- the restaurant due to covid restrictions and the food truck staff just didn’t show that day- I made some egg tacos at a picnic table then stopped at a spot outside the park where the encourage people to feed the prairie dogs peanuts they sell, but I was cheap and thought that they probably shouldn’t be eating that many peanuts anyway, and offered a baby carrot from my lunch. They seemed far more interested in the carrots than the nuts, probably bored from a diet of the same thing every day. I have a feeling that it’s not healthy for them to have any human food but…
I did a drive by of an old homestead with a sod house, and walked through the Minuteman Missile historic site and read up on how we all almost finished off the Earth back in the day- I guess that wasn’t good enough so we had to try the new methods of pandemic and global warming. As I left the museum the threatening rain got close so I decided to take the long way north to my intended camp spot- an extra hour but worth it to not drive into a lightning storm on dirt roads, right?