We have decided that we like staying at campsites for more than one night. The Big Pine Campground in Custer has been good to us for three nights, but it is now time to move on.
Driving out of the Black Hills we saw more evidence of the pine beetle on the pine trees. Splotches of dead, brown trees in an otherwise soft, green pine forest. We learned at Mt. Rushmore that treatment involves thinning out the pine trees. Throughout our few days in this area, we have seen piles of cut pine trees that have been culled.
We pulled into Rapid City and were met on the outskirts of town by mini-golf, go-carts, a drive-thru bear habitat, and every other shtick you could think of. The fine folks in Rapid City route you through their scenic downtown before they let you on the interstate. We stopped at an intersection that had bronze statues of everyday life on every corner. We also saw the Alex Johnson Hotel that Stephanie had stayed in back in traveling-for-work days.
The drive on the interstate between Rapid City and Wall only took about an hour but we must have seen several hundred billboards for Wall Drug. The Wall Drug Store made a name for itself in the 1930s by putting signs for “free ice water” along the highway. Their business boomed immediately.
That first summer, they had to hire 8 girls to help serve ice water. They still use seasonal help, but now they get most of their help from Eastern Europe. Each employee wears a tag with their name and their country. We saw people from Ukraine, Macedonia, Hungary, China, Taiwan, and even a few natives from South Dakota.
We pulled in and ordered up five Buffalo Burgers at the Wall Drug Café. They were doing a booming business. The burgers were better here than we got at the Bumpin’ Buffalo Grill in Hill City.
After lunch, it was time to shop. Wall Drug gives the appearance that it has been added onto over the years. You walk from one room to the next, each filled with fabulous curios and trinkets with Wall Drug stamped on them.
There are plenty of photo opportunities at Wall Drug. Giant jackalopes, covered wagons and bucking horses are available to sit on for your picture-taking pleasure. Wall Drug wants to keep you entertained so you’ll stick around to buy more stuff.
After our adventures around the store, we made one last stop at the soda fountain for some ice cream. The temperature hit 100+ today and what better way to cope with the heat?
We left Wall and our next stop was Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. I was really looking forward to this, as you get an opportunity to climb down into the missile launch control that was located right off Interstate 90.
To my great disappointment, the tours were shut down for the day when we arrived due to prairie fires. We had seen a fire on our drive between Wall and the historic site and that was the one that had shut us down.
We did watch a short video about the history of the Minuteman Missile and how it ended up in South Dakota. Even though the number of missiles has been greatly reduced since the cold war, there are still 450 Minuteman III active missile silos in the Montana and North Dakota area.
South Dakota was chosen because of its low population (if war broke out, the missile silos would undoubtedly by a high priority target by the Russians) and its close proximity to Russia (a Minuteman missile could arrive in Moscow 30 minutes after launch).
As the tours were not operational, we moved on down the road to the Badlands National Park. I love the Badlands. It was one of my favorite stops on our vacation to South Dakota six years ago.
We stopped in the Visitors Center on the way to our campground. Even for us, this represented an extreme minimal time elapsed between entering the park and browsing at the Visitors Center. To nobody’s surprise, it rained on us as we drove through the park.
The elderly lady who sold us our purchases struck up a conversation with us, as her husband attended Oklahoma A&M College. We made a remark about the heat (100+) as we were leaving and the lady told us, “That’s what we get for sending men into space.” That might be the best line we heard all vacation!
South of the Badlands National Park, we passed over the White River on our way to our KOA campground. The river was bone dry.
Once the tent was setup, we hit the pool. Stephanie was mesmerized by the fact it was a metal, in-ground pool.
Stephanie made us sloppy joes for dinner. Ironically, we have run out of napkins and paper towels, and cannot remember to purchase any when we visit the store. The kids have been instructed to lick their fingers to keep them clean.
We ended the day around a campfire, warming up banana boats. It was windy and warm, and nice change of pace from the cold nights we had at Yellowstone!