While getting breakfast together this morning, I had the song from Mt. Rushmore – “My Country” – going through my head. I may have even sung a few words. Stephanie said she was also thinking of the song today. Hmmmm, must have been a good song.
Today we set out to hike some trails at Badlands National Park. The site was protected as a National Monument in 1939 and redesignated as a National Park in 1978. No matter what you call it, it provides a surreal landscape created by soil deposits and erosion. While it is unusual, it is by no means unique. Every continent has badlands formations.
French-Canadian fur trappers gave this area its name (Badlands) by calling it “les mauvais terres pour traverse” (bad lands to travel through). The Dakota Indians also called it “mako sica” (land bad). It blows my mind there were French this far inland 200 years ago, but then again, the French owned it all until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
We began our first hike before 9:30 at the Door and Window Trails. The parking lot was nearly empty. Maybe it was because the temperature had already hit the 90s. These first two trails are only a mile round trip combined. By the time we finished these hikes, the number of vehicles in the parking lot easily doubled.
There is another, longer, trail located at the same trailhead called the Notch Trail. The girls needed a break but Miles and I were interested so we hiked it alone. Wow, this was the hike to take. If you only have an hour to spend at the Badlands, take the Notch Trail. It included a ladder to move from one level of formation to another, and ended with a fantastic view of Cedar Pass at the summit. It is 1.5 miles roundtrip and definitely worth it.
Miles and I ran into a young couple from New Jersey at the top and we took their picture. They were on Day 6 of a Six Week Vacation across America. Jealous!!
Following the Notch Trail Hike, we stopped at the Visitors Center to refill out water bottles. Miles had already completely drained his Camelback hydration system. It was hot and dry.
We also drove through the Cedar Pass cabins located near the Visitors Center. We stayed in one of the original cabins six years ago. We were sad to see that they were removing the original cabins and replacing them with newer & larger versions.
We took one final hike and that was Saddle Pass Trail. This is only a quarter mile roundtrip hike, but it is straight up and straight down. We made it to the top without losing anybody.
Moving toward the western side of the park on our way to the Prairie Dog Town, we stopped at several scenic turnouts. We slowly passed a minivan from Maryland in one of the parking lots to admire their National Park stickers and got the evil eye from the grandma sitting in the back seat. I’m sure we looked suspicious.
To get to the Prarie Dog Town, you have to drive on five miles of unpaved road. I am certain that it is the first time that many vehicles ever drove on a dirt road.
Since we were less than 10 miles from Wall, we decided to drive on into town and get some ice cream at Wall Drug. How many times in your life will you find yourself hot and in need of refreshment, and be just a few minutes from Wall Drug?
We ate a picnic lunch under a shade tree on a Wall street, then got our ice cream at the soda fountain at Wall Drug. It was the same cast of international characters who helped us yesterday.
Another reason I wanted to drive into Wall was a chance to see a Minuteman Missile site. Yesterday, we were unable to visit the Control Center due to prairie fires, but the Missile Site is accessible any time of day or day of the week.
As we drove down Interstate 80, we knew the exit we were taking because our Badlands Visitor Guide told us. It’s a good thing because there are no signs until you have already exited the interstate.
The site we were visiting was Launch Facility Delta-09. This was one of hundreds of missile launch sites taken out of operation, but it was kept relatively intact for the public to view. Standing at the missile silo, you can easily see the interstate less than a quarter mile away.
We concluded our day back at the KOA campgrounds. The pool felt great and was popular with us and most of the other campers. The campground offered Indian Tacos every night, so we decided to let KOA do the cooking. They were quite tasty.
While eating dinner, the wind started to pick up and the skies got dark. We put the rain fly on our tent “just in case” and took down our tailgating tent. Sure enough, in no time the rain came down. It rained into the morning.
Oh well, the storm gave us the opportunity to pack most of our things tonight and we will not need to do it in the morning when we leave. Tomorrow we say goodbye to South Dakota and begin our two day trek back to Oklahoma.