Ready for a few fun facts? South Dakota is either the 39th or 40th State admitted to the Union (Full Story in my White Butte Post). The State bird is the Ring Necked Pheasant and the State Flower & Tree are the American Pasque Flower and the Black Hill Spruce. The state may be most famous for Mt. Rushmore, and infamous for the Wounded Knee incident where the US Army killed as many as 300 Lakota men, women, and children in December of 1890. One of the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils was excavated nearby Faith, SD. It is also home to Wall Drug, The Minutemen Missile Museum and The Badlands National Park.
Going to Wall Drug was surprisingly worse than I had envisioned. I knew it would be a tourist trap, I just didn’t realize how stupid it would be. But it was a diversion while we were waiting for the drizzle to clear up. Wall Drug covers about 6 whole blocks of the downtown area of Wall, SD and encompasses about 2 dozen different “stores”. You can shop for art, clothing, hats, souvenirs, home goods, pharmacy needs or Tee-Shirts. There is a candy shop, a cafeteria, and an ice cream store. In the middle of this array is a scary amount of large fiberglass animals. Visit at your own discretion.
The Minuteman Missile Museum
The morning drizzle had still not subsided, so after Wall, we drove to the Minuteman Missile Museum. If you are like me, you remember the tension between the US and Russia, but missed the hype about needing a family bunker in the backyard. We did not have “drills” to “duck and cover” for eminent bombs. But it was a part of the American Experience in the 50’s. This tiny museum in the middle of (almost) nowhere is a great stop for a quick history lesson and some pretty cool gifts.
By the time we got to the Badlands southern entrance, the weather started to clear up. That made our small short hikes (The Door trail and the Notch Trail) steamy and humid. If you only have time for one short trail, I recommend the Notch trail. Not only is the scenery more varied, you also get to climb this really cool log ladder. If you are in shape, and don’t mind heights, it is a breeze.
The trail is only about 1.5 miles round trip, but it can take awhile to complete if there is a traffic jam at the ladder. There were a few people ahead of us that did not have the courage to come down very quickly.
After our hikes, we went to the Ben Refiel Visitor Center and picked up some trinkets, and road snacks, and continued driving through the Badlands with frequent photo stops.
While the badlands are amazing to see, the only way I would hike a longer distance through here would be on a cold crisp winter day. The humid hot went to flat out HOT. Also – it all kinda starts looking the same. Amazing, but the same. The Badlands of TRNP in ND definitely have more variety.
We spotted some lone trees, colorful hills that popped from the otherwise drab dirt and even some prairie dogs.
The prairie dogs held our attention for a long time again.
While this park won’t make it to my “favorite” National park list, The Badlands does have it’s own beauty. I am sure that a great sunset would be magical here.
We made the call to drive back to Bismarck after leaving the park, rather than trying to cram more into our day. There are a lot of choices if you plan to visit SD. From hiking, seeing old mines and exploring caves in the Black Hills to visiting a Mammoth fossil site near Hot Springs. Also, in Rapid City visit the Air & Space museum, Reptile Gardens, or Bear Country. But for us, it was 3 pm and time to hit the road for our 5 hour drive to Bismarck. In a straight shot, seeing as there is little civilization between Pierre and Bismarck.
We did pitstop in Pierre for more road snacks. While there we stopped at the flaming fountain (I mean, who can resist that?). I read that the fountain, on the SD State Capitol Lake, is fed by an artesian well with a natural gas content so high that it can be lit. “The fountain glows perpetually as a memorial to all veterans”. Except that it wasn’t lit when we were there.
But there is a nice memorial to honor the Marines, Army, Navy, Air force, Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines.
Because we landed in Bismarck the night before our afternoon flights out, we had time to sleep in. Sunday we slowly made our way to the airport via breakfast, a drive through downtown, and a visit to the Lewis and Clark Park. The park sits on the Missouri River and is very small but does have a nice Keel Boat replica.
Then on to the airport and home. I hope one of these posts has inspired you to go find a new adventure. Happy Trails!