The Badlands Beckon

After more waffles, we drove east from Rapid City this morning to visit the Badlands National Park. It was hard to tell from the pictures and the literature what exactly to expect there, but it was quite a place. From our hotel it only took about an hour to get within sight of the place. We stopped near the park entrance at a gift shop place that also had an area where you could see and feed prairie dogs, so we let the kids chase around some prairie dogs for a while. This was the hottest day yet, and by the time we entered the park around 11 am it was already close to 90.

Badlands NP is a National Park because it is a landscape out of place with its surroundings. From the west, you drive pretty much exclusively through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, which also completely surrounds the park, until you get there, with little evidence of any change in topography. Then, just inside the far end of the park, you’re met with something that looks like a cross between the Grand Canyon and some other planet. Huge craggy cliffs jut into the sky and plunge down below you, all colored in alternating narrow stripes. This goes on with some variations through much of the 20 miles or so that comprise the main road through the park. There are quite a few lookout points along the way, I’d say the ones in the eastern half are more interesting than those at the western side.

After stopping at a few of these lookouts and letting the kids run around and climb on the rocks, it was already lunch time, but as luck would have it near the Visitor Center is a combination gift shop, lodge and restaurant that served up some decent grub. Then it was back into the heat for more lookouts (or viewpoints, as the signs said). We made it to the other end by 2:30 or so, which connects back with the highway in the town of Wall. Wall is a wide space in the road except for the enormous Wall Drug which is advertised at least every 1/4 mile as you approach it along I-90. It’s a sprawling department store, crammed full of stuff all subdivided into narrow rooms so you can’t tell without a map where you are or how to get out. At one end is a animatronic T-Rex that starts moving and making noise every 12 minutes. Much of the souvenirs they sell are just everything you can possibly think of with the words “Wall Drug” emblazoned on them, which makes it sort of a recursive souvenir, as it would seem the primary purpose of the store is to sell souvenirs of itself. We walked around a bit, but were there mostly for the ice cream, except for Justin who wasn’t impressed with the selection.

We were back in Rapid City by 5 with no specific items left on the agenda, so we headed for the Rushmore Mall so we could pick up a few supplies at Tar-zhay and then eat dinner at Fuddruckers, one of those chains that used to be in our area but aren’t any more. We dropped Beth and Chloe back at the hotel and then Mom, Justin and I went back to Keystone to see the evening lighting ceremony/extravaganza at Mount Rushmore. There was no laser light show, just a brief speech about the history of the flag, followed by a movie covering the four presidents, and then the lights came up gradually on the monument. The rain and lightning we saw on the way back from the Badlands had held off for the evening, and getting out of the park afterwards was a snap, we were back here by 10:15, with a sleepy Justin who was happy to have taken a few pictures on his newest disposable camera.

Tomorrow is another big driving day through eastern Wyoming to the next hotel, but the kids have lots of movies left to watch, so it shouldn’t be too bad.