It is April 2021, and the worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic that has kept everyone from traveling is beginning to come under control. Although International travel is still nearly impossible, travel within the United States has become a possibility, especially if one has been vaccinated against the virus, as Julie and Rocky were with 2 Moderna shots in January and February. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to travel somewhere where we had never gone and where we could enjoy the great outdoors without crowds. South Dakota seemed to be just the right place.
South Dakota and Eastern Wyoming are parts of the country a bit “off-the-grid” and the home of numerous spectacular landscapes, animals, parks, and attractions. We decided to fly American Airlines from our home in Florida on Saturday, May 1st, 2021, through Charlotte to Sioux Falls, S.D. and pick up a rental car to use for sightseeing. The trip took most of the day, but upon our arrival in Sioux Falls at ~4:00pm, we were pleasantly surprised by 1) 93-degree temperatures, and 2) the Enterprise Car Rental Agent, as we were upgraded at no charge to a Dodge Charger. We then sought to drive west ~290 miles to the town of Wall where we had motel reservations. Since the speed limit on I-90 is 80 mph, the trip was fast and enjoyable with sightings of deer, pheasants, and extensive prairies (The author of “Little House on the Prairie”, Laura Engels Wilders, home is marked here), giving way to hills, wind farms, and Minuteman silos. After passing the town of “1880” we arrived in Wall and checked into our motel. Quickly freshening up, we traveled to the old town center for a late dinner but found most shops already closed for the evening. Instead, we grabbed dinner in The Badlands Saloon, where we talked with locals at the bar. After a pleasant evening, we called it night and prepared for exploring the Badlands the next morning.
Sunday morning, the sun came up early, and after getting a “grab-and-go” breakfast from the motel and checking out, we set off for the nearby Pinnacles Gate Entrance to The Badlands National Park. The temperature was now in the 50’s, as we went to the nearby Pinnacles Overlook. From there we could see a few Bison roaming near the Sage Creek Run Road, so we headed down to look. After watching the Bison, we traveled further down the Sage Creek Run Road, taking in several overlooks with views into the Badlands, before finally reaching the Robert’s Prairie Dog Town where thousands of Prairie Dogs scurry about chattering and yelping their “all clear” signals. We then returned to the main road stopping to take pictures of Mountain Goats and more Bison.
Upon traveling deeper into the park, we stopped at Ancient Hunter’s Overlook, and then at Yellow Mounds Overlook where the rising sun delivered stunning colors of the geologic layers. Here we saw more Mountain Goats and our first group of Bighorn Sheep. We continued through the park stopping at each overlook and enjoying the variety of park animals until we got to a short hike along the Fossil Exhibit Trail – a boardwalk that highlights fossils derived from different ages of local sediments.
We then hiked the Saddle Pass Trail through eroded Badlands’ terrain, until we returned to our car and drove to the Cedar Pass Gift Shop and visited the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center. From here, we hiked the Cliff Shelf Trail and tackled the Notch Trail, which included a somewhat climb and return descent on an unstable trail ladder. After a lunch snack at the car, we hiked the Door Trail and explored the views from the Windows Trail.
We then exited the park at its eastern end and began the western trip back to the town of Custer. Along the way, we stopped to look at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and Visitor Center, but it was closed on Sunday. Upon traveling back through Wall, we visited the tourist attraction “Wall Drug”, which is a series of stores that sell nearly everything one could think of and also sells 5-cent coffee! In the back, they have a huge historical collection, and “protect” it with a very realistic T-Rex who comes to animated, mechanical life every hour! After shopping, we continued to the town of Custer, which is located near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. After checking in to our motel, we had dinner at the Buglin’ Bull Restaurant before heading over to Mount Rushmore for its evening lighting of the memorial. Every night, the lights illuminate the faces of the four presidents until 11:00pm. We then returned to the motel for a welcomed night’s sleep.