"I've been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country," wrote Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935, "but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands." Me too, Mr. Wright. Our main purpose in traveling the area a bit to the southeast of Rapid City, SD, where we were staying was to visit the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. Since that involved two different places along I-90 we decided to sandwich a drive through the Badlands National Park.
A couple we had met at dinner way back in Glacier National Park told us that we'd see all sorts of bison, or buffalo as many call them, in the Badlands. Well, we'd seen enough in Yellowstone thank goodness because we arrived just after the yearly roundup of bison in the Badlands. The roundup is done every year to gather data and check on the health of the herds. So on our drive through, we did not see any bison but we did get a chance to see so much more.
The Badlands are desolate mostly except for some large prairie areas where bison (when not rounded up), bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live. The rocks and stone faces of the landscape take on an amazing array of colors and I would imagine if you spent the day wandering around there you would see even more as the sun's rays changed direction.These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here.
As we drove through the park, we made some great discoveries thanks in part to the other cars pulled to the side of the road for animal spottings. At one point we decided to get out and walk a bit. The first thing we saw was a sign warning of rattlesnakes. OOOOkaaaay. I made Bob go first. We didn't see any but I was willing to give him my camera and run the other way if we did.
The fun part of the park was going through the prairie land. We suddenly realized that what at first we thought were small rocks were actually prairie dogs. A little like my favorite zoo animal, the meerkats, they would pop their heads up and look around. One fellow had his burrow so close to the road that he was in danger of being run over.
It was time for lunch by the time we came back out of the park and we decided to eat before going to the second Minuteman site. All along the way from the first entry into South Dakota and even more so in this area of the Badlands, we had seen signs for a place called Wall Drug. It seemed, according to the advertising, you could get almost everything there including a five cent coffee. We set the GPS for it.
Wall is a town just off of I-90 and easy to find with all the signs pointing to Wall Drug which is the biggest thing in town. It is a huge cafeteria that seats 530 people and even though it wasn't high season, it was a mass of confusion with people in lines ordering food and then carrying it around on trays. I wasn't ready for the chaos and said we ought to check out a different place which we did and had a much quieter lunch.
We returned to Wall Drug to walk around. It is set up like a mall with all sorts of shops selling everything from souvenirs and western gear to ice cream and fudge. Definitely one of the tourist traps in the world of travel but a hoot to visit. One place, the Travelers Chapel was unique. I'd never seen something like this outside of an airport. A good place to stop and reflect on all that we'd seen.