So despite having just gotten home from China on a Monday. A buddy and I decided to head to South Dakota the following weekend to experience the Badlands and just take in that part of the country. Unlike the China adventure, this is not a day by day entry, as I was too lazy for that…
First up was the uneventful flight from ORD to Rapid City, SD. The plane was TINY and packed, so it made for a shitty knee crushing experience. One request that i have of people on airplanes is that if you seat feels hopelessly jammed forward, thats probably the super tall dude behind you that you spotted when you were boarding the plane’s knees. It’s not very nice to assume that your aggressive pushing and shoving against the bones are going to miraculously compress his legs. Oh and at 5’6″ i think you are going to be ok.
Anyway, arriving in Rapid City, it was time to explore. We didn’t have much time on the weekend, and we had an aggressive sight seeing goal; Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Crazy Horse, Missle Silos, Cave, and newly added… Wall Drug.
Picking up at Avis, the sky felt BIG
With car packed. We were on our way to explore. We headed first down toward the Badlands national park. But along the way we couldn’t help but keep seeing signs for “Wall Drug”. From free donuts for military men, to $.99 pie. It was shaping up to be an Oasis. Like mice following a trail of cheese we made our way to the town of “Wall”.
The Town of Wall
This little town was AWESOME, but also bizzare. It had a strange mix of tourist, but also locals at the random restaurants and shops. We made our way into Wall Drug to explore…
We Found it
So Wall Drug is really not just a drug store, but more of a Drug-store, restaurant, hardware store, gift shop. It was awesome. We were starving so we were pumped for the famous donuts, but before we could indulge, a special warning.
I never see signs like this in Chicago.
With the warning fresh in our minds, we made it to the Donut Factory but they had made the donuts for the day and they were available at the counter.
My buddy in a sugary donut induced stupor.
Feeling full and grateful that we heeded the signs, we made our way to see some missles.
Looks like a trailer park to me…
Well looks were deceiving. When we made our way inside, we say about 3 other tourists watching a dorky video talking about the Minutemen missles. Um, maybe its not so dorky, because it turned out to be pretty darn interesting. Missles placed in the ground, ready to deploy to end the world, and all of this in fields with Bison. Pretty cool. The one fact that struck me the most was the 5000+ mile journey to Moscow the missles were ready to make in THIRTY, 3-0, minutes. Why did it take me 14 hours to china??
30 minutes to impact…
Now the only part of this, beyond the trailer park housing, that was a bust is that the actual missle sight is NOT there. What? yep, you got it. This information “center” was no where near where the actual missle was. The best part was that “Butch” was going to be closing the missle site in 30 minutes, but if we hurried and made the 15 mile drive quickly, we might beat him. Oh and they were closed the rest of the weekend, so it was to be today or never. Armed with our map we hit the road, and found the random field, and no Butch!
This was pretty damn cool.
It was interesting that it was just sitting in the middle of a field. The glass top had been installed for us tourist to peer in. The thing that struck me was that there was just an open gate to walk right in, and no one in sight for days. More than anything I was thinking about some teenagers pulling a prank to collect souvenirs. I guess south dakota kids have better things to do. Remember the sign from Wall Drug…
Leaving the missle, it was on to the Badlands! having heard all of the hype about it looking like the moon (like anyone has really been there…), and being out of this world, the hype was high.
We’re there…Badlands National Park
The park truly is an experience, and AWESOME. the landscape suddenly struts up from the prairie and it really is unique. But the coolest feature of the park is the fact that you can drive all around it. Having coming back recently from Denali, it was a stark contrast to feel free to drive around and see more of the park, and stop and explore. We wanted to drive every mile of the road to explore, and hike around.
The rest of the landscape was truly stunning and unique. We spent a total of about 3-4 hours exploring the park, including a late night run in with a bison.
Prairie & Rock
Not THIS is the moon
Bison in the way… (Bad photo but good memory)
Exhausted we made camp that night and explored some more the next morning. The one watchout with the Badlands is that it isn’t really hiking terrain. Sure there are trails here and there, but there aren’t many true long hikes to make, as it’s mainly prairie.
Feeling good with the Badlands we headed out to simply drive some of the small towns and roads of South Dakota, and we came across this awesome car in the middle of a cattle pasture.
That’s the awesome thing about travel. Just being able to stop and explore and then keep going. We were cautious of rattlesnakes though. The day was filled with more sights like the car, but we just took it in over good conversation and tunes.
Next up, were the monuments; Mt. Rushmore & Crazy Horse. Growing up I never heard of Crazy Horse and never had any desire to see Mt. Rushmore, but now, hey, we’re in SD, why not. So while the previous day was ugly and rainy, this day was brilliantly clear. Mt. Rushmore was filled with old couples and friends, seemingly completing their bucket list activities, interspersed with a young family or two. We were definitely the only two buddies there under 60. Was funny.
I feel obligated to also give you the beauty shot
It really was a perfect day. Next up was ice cream… So the entire time we are there i am noticing the most delicious looking ice cream with grandma and grandpa. I did chuckle as one grandma went to share her ice cream with another grandma and that grandma knocked the scoop off the cone. They both sort of watched as it went tumbling to the concrete, and the look was pure horror. I wanted to get up and get them another, but when I got there I decided I wanted one.
The Ice Cream Shop. These two guys reminded me of me and my buddy.
Post ice cream it was time for Crazy Horse. The story of this mountain is fascinating, and if you ever visit, please do sit and watch the informational video about how the project started. I rarely link out, but this is worth it. (http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/monument/) The cliff notes are that a powerful Native American chief, asked a sculptor (who was an apprentice on Mt. Rushmore) to build a monument to “the Red Man”. What’s amazing about this project is the sheer scale. Mt. Rushmore is Child’s play to this thing. The heads of Mt. Rushmore would fit on the side of his head, and then that leaves his body and horse. It’s amazing. Check it out. And the project doesn’t accept state or federal funding on principle.
The Vision and The Current State
In the foreground you see a model of the sculpture to be completed and then in the background you see the current status and progress. Yes, its going to take a while to be complete.
A Mt. Rushmore matching beauty shot
Again this monument is huge and amazing. Its a must see. I feel like it should get much more love in the press than it does… But we won’t get too political.
We spent the rest of the trip exploring and just enjoying South Dakota. Overall a big thumbs up to SD and the sights. It’s truly a very special part of the U.S.