August 31, 2012

Good Times at the Badlands and Driving Through South Dakota

After Rapid City we began our long slog across the state of South Dakota. South Dakota turned to be exactly as boring as I had expected it to be, if not more so. Granted, we crossed the state on interstate 90, and did not take too many side country roads, so I can’t guarantee that the whole state is not one huge corn field, but it sure seemed that way. The excessively hot temperatures outside did not help make the drive any better either. It was so hot and dry that there were highway signs warning drivers to smoke only inside their cars and to empty all ashes into the ash tray. The chance of grass fire was very high.

Views from Interstate 90 in South Dakota
Driving through South Dakota
We passed corn field, after corn field, after cornfield, most of them dried up for the season. The only entertainment that we had on this interstate were the whimsical billboards for Wall Drug, a middle of nowhere South Dakota tourist trap that really likes to advertise. In the 48 miles of highway that we drove from Rapid City to the city of Wall, we saw 50 billboards advertising the store. (Yes, we counted them…what else did we have to do?) And you know what? We stopped in at Wall Drug, lured in by their 5 cent coffee and promise of cold root beer floats.

Advertisements for Wall Drug on Interstate 90 in South Dakota
One of the fifty billboards we saw
The town of Wall is only 2 square miles, and you can probably guess where most of their revenue comes from. Wall Drug is a collection of many stores under one roof. If it’s a nick-knack item or a touristy souvenir you’re looking for, you’re guaranteed to find it there. We saw wide arrays of cowboy boot spurs, pajamas that have buttoned openings for midnight trips to the bathroom, and “Ropes used by local cowboys”. Yes, in case you collect ropes used by cowboys in South Dakota, you can add to your collection at Wall Drug.

Inside Wall Drug in South Dakota
Inside Wall Drug
Ropes used by local cowboys for sale in Wall Drug in South Dakota
Ropes used by local cowboys of South Dakota
The town of Wall is conveniently placed at the western entrance to Badlands National Park. The park is mainly accessed by highway 240, which loops from the town of Wall to 30 miles further east on interstate 90. To visit the park you can drive in on either end, drive through the park, and be on your way on interstate 90. By no means is the Badlands not interesting, it’s just that you can see most of the park by driving on the 240 loop, and unless you plan on doing some grasslands hiking, there is not much to do in the park outside of seeing the sites at the scenic pull-offs.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Our first view of the Badlands
We planned to stay one night in the Badlands, and had hoped to boondock at the dispersed campground in the park, but when we saw how hot it was outside, we had no choice but to pay the $28 to camp at the Cedar Pass campground where we had access to electricity. The temperature gauge in the truck said that it was 123 degrees outside, which is probably a little off, but it sure felt like it. :o)

Our campsite at Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Our campsite at the Badlands
 The Badlands are an incredible sight. Like I said, most of the state of South Dakota is corn fields and grasslands, so when we drove into the park, we were really thrown by what we found there.

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Staring into the abyss at the Badlands
Turns out that 75 million years ago, a shallow sea covered the Great Plains. When the continental plates started shifting around, the Rocky Mountains formed and the sea drained away. Forests flourished for millions of years on the newly created land. Eventually the climate grew cooler and drier, and turned into the grasslands. Over the years, weathering of the grasslands soil has exposed the buttes and pinnacles we see today. Driving through the park we experienced three landscapes. On the eastern side of the park we found ourselves driving among the tall peaks. On the western side we were high above deep canyons. In the middle of the park we saw where the grasslands were in the process of eroding into those canyons. It was alike to standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but dramatic in a different way.

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Grasslands giving way to canyons
The Badlands National Park in South Dakota
The Badlands
The Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Fiona, patiently waiting for us to finish taking pictures
Again we saw the colorful soil deposits we had seen before in the Painted Desert in Arizona. While there were warnings about rattle snakes, we never saw any, but we did see a very overheated rabbit resting in the shade, one far away buffalo and a deer family. After driving around and doing a bit of hiking inside the canyons, we attended the nightly ranger talk. On our way back to our trailer we saw several brave people who were attempting to sleep in their tents. I don’t know how they did it, the temperatures didn't dip much that night.

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Beautiful colors at the Badlands
Tired rabbit at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
An overheated rabbit resting in the shade
Deer family at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Family of deer
Me at the Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Hiking around the canyons
In the morning we continued our drive across South Dakota. We crossed the Missouri River, and in doing so crossed back into the Central Time Zone. We made one more stop to another South Dakota tourist trap, the Mitchell Corn Palace, where we saw a basketball arena that is almost completely decorated in murals made of corn husks and cobs. We couldn't stay long there because the high temperatures continued to hold, and we were afraid to leave the dogs alone for too long. We ended our drive in the city of Sioux Falls, right on the border with Minnesota.

Crossing the Missouri River bridge on Interstate 90 in South Dakota
Crossing the Missouri River
Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota
Mitchell Corn Palace
Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota
Murals made of husks and cobs
That evening we explored downtown Sioux Falls, aptly named for the falls that flow through downtown (kind of similar to Spokane). We parked our truck at the falls and caught a free trolley to downtown, about 2 miles away. There we got off and walked through downtown back to the falls. We did not spend much time in Sioux Falls, but I can’t say we were horribly impressed. The falls were all but dried up, and the water smelled of old pond. We were told there was a pretty light show over the falls grounds after dark, but we didn't stick around to see it. Maybe we missed something?

Downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Downtown Sioux Falls
The Falls in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The falls in Sioux Falls
Now I’m just happy we made it through South Dakota! I look forward to seeing a little more variety in the coming landscape of Minnesota and Wisconsin!

To see more pictures of South Dakota and the Badlands, click here.

Happy Boring State Traversing,


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  1. This post brought a smile to my face. I actually grew up in Sioux Falls and didn't move to Arkansas until I was 16. Allstate, the insurance company, did recently rate Sioux Falls as the safest place to drive! I agree that for touring there isn't a whole lot of excitement, but I can assure it's a great place to raise a family. :) I haven't been to the Badlands in many years. Thanks for sharing the pictures!


  2. Oh man! If we'd known, we would have asked you for some pointers on what to see and do!