The South Dakota Badlands

Today (Wednesday) was mostly spent in the Badlands National Park, near Wall, SD. We got a pretty early start for us, leaving Wall about 9AM headed east on I-90. The reason we were going east was that we learned to our surprise that the National Park Service continues its excellent record of preserving sites that are going to be historically important. In this case, NPS has acquired a Minuteman launch control center and a Minuteman ICBM launch silo close to I-90. The site is so new that they haven’t really got all the road signs in place. Six miles east of Wall is the Minuteman silo. They have done a clever job of showcasing how the design protects the missile while still allowing us to see the (deactivated) missile in its silo. They have partially withdrawn the massive cement silo cover and erected a glass viewing cover to protect the missile from the weather. A very friendly, knowledgeable ranger was on site to answer questions, but he was carrying on an endless political discussion with another visitor. I was a bit rude in interrupting to ask specific questions about the site. I chastised myself afterward, but do not know what else I could have done.

We then drove the fifteen miles to the visitor’s center, whereupon I realized that I had left my camera bag back at the silo! So I left Kris at the center and raced back to the silo. Fortunately the bag was sitting where I had left it, apparently undisturbed. Sheepishly returning to the visitor’s center, I had to reassure several rangers that Kris had alerted that I had indeed found my bag. I also learned that the launch control center was five miles back the way we had come. Feeling that we had spent enough time on a site that interested me more than Kris, we pushed on towards the entrance to Badlands National Park.

Our next stop was a restored sod house and, of course, gift store. Kris decided to pay the admission to get a closer look inside the sod house and other outbuildings. I stayed outside the perimeter, photographed the buildings from a distance, and took some picturres of the prairie dog community that also occupied the site.

Finally, we entered into the park itself. As advertised, the scenery is stunning. Out of the prairie jut these sandstone buttes carved into fantastical shapes by wind and water. On a geological time scale we are seeing the Badlands at the estimated half way point. They were formed 500,000 years ago and are expected to be eroded away in another 500,000 years. I jokingly suggested that perhaps they should apply a clear, polyurethane sealer over the hills to protect them for future generations. The park has an excellent visitor’s center and a decent restaurant, but the weathered buttes are the true attraction. The road through the park winds up and down through the buttes with many opportunities to stop at overlooks and trails. We decided to traverse more of the park than most people and we went out “the back way.” This took us on (pretty good) dirt road for 20 miles. We saw even more of the badlands and some additional nice scenery to the south and west of the park.

Finally we started our trek to our motel in Keystone, SD, the town closest to Mount Rushmore. The highway took us through Rapid City, SD where we had a picnic dinner in a shaded city park next to a rose garden. SD-16 winds through the Black Hills until you take SD-16A to get to Keystone. The center of town was swarming with bikers and bikes, motels, bars, and restaurants. The Econolodge is about 1/4 mile out of town to the east on US-40. Again, we winced at the price of such basic accomodations.

We got a bigger dose of bikers today. They were all over the Badlands, rife in Rapid City, and overflowing Keystone. But this is not your Hell’s Angels bikers, more like Hell’s Angels wannabees who grew old somewhere along the line. In the Badlands gift store, I turned a corner and was confronted with Biker Grandma. Leather chaps, goggles, decorated do rag, leather jacket, the works. But she was old enough to be my mother! (Sorry, mother.) At the restaurant, a withered woman walked in a leather bra and jeans. Let’s just say that it is tougher for older women to carry the look off. The men, of course, were no better. Macho clothes over pot bellies. Not a pretty sight.

We are getting tired. So we will see the sights in the Black Hills tomorrow and then spend the next two nights in Hot Springs, SD. We hope to rest, soak in the hot springs, launder our clothes, and reorganize the van. The price of the Econolodge in Hot Springs is a bit easier on the wallet. Only $110/night.


P.S. This corner of SD seems to be a deadzone for my cell phone. I have not gotten a “bar” since Albert Lea. So, if you  are trying to reach us, email is best.



  1. Kara LaSota said,

    August 7, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Does your blog allow you to include photos? Sounds like there are interesting sights to be seen already on this trip. 🙂 Drive safely!

  2. Tim said,

    August 8, 2008 at 11:39 am


    I’m working on the photos, but who knew this vacationing would be so strenuous? I’m not sure how much more of this we can take! :^)


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