From Mitchell, South Dakota, we continued our westerly trek. I couldn’t wait to get to Badlands National Park.
South Dakota’s Badlands holds a special place in my heart. I was a mere 14 years old the first time this gal from Illinois laid eyes on this incredible land.
It was the first family excursion in my dad’s new pride and joy; a brand new motorhome.
That was an exciting adventure for our family of five, because this was a trip that didn’t entail fishing in Wisconsin, my dad’s favorite pastime. Family vacations ALWAYS centered around camping near fishing action. No fishing involved during this trip!
My brother was eighteen at the time and getting ready to head off to college. Dad put him in charge of navigating, which was a much better choice than my mother, who could get turned around in the blink of an eye; directionally challenged one might say. While the guys were up front driving and navigating my little sister, mom, and myself sat at the dinette table taking in the sights out of the motorhome’s big windows.
The barren, rugged land made mom quite uncomfortable. While the rest of us were oohing and aahing, she sat in silence. You see, mom and dad grew up in Germany, even my brother was born in Germany and this kind of vast desolation doesn’t exist in her homeland. This was like nothing she’d ever seen before and it made her feel uneasy.
We stopped at various pull-outs and scenic overlooks before it was time to decide where to camp for the night. Dad was definitely feeling adventurous during this trip and decided to take the twelve mile rutted and rough gravel-dirt road to the primitive campground. It wasn’t a campground, but merely a designated parcel of land allowing overnight camping. I don’t even remember there being a pit toilet, just raw open land. Ah yes, this is what us RVer’s now refer to as boondocking.This was definitely not mom’s idea of a relaxing vacation and I remember her freaking out as my brother and I took off exploring.
So here I am, umpteen years later and oohing and aahing every bit as much, if not more, as I did years ago. I really wanted to camp at that same primitive campground from the family trip, but with temperatures in the 90 degree plus range, we opted to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground with electric hook-up so we could run our air-conditioning during the heat of the day.
However, a trip to the primitive Sage Creek Campground was in order. I had to refresh my memory. Unlike my last visit, this time I saw plenty of buffalo aka bison.
We turned off the main paved road onto a well maintained gravel road. The road was in much better condition than all those years ago. We continued the twelve miles down the road passing herds of buffalo in the distance. The sky was hazy with smoke drifting down from the Pacific Northwest wildfires.
Not only was the road very well maintained, the campground turned out to be a little more developed than all those years ago. There were picnic tables and pit toilets…. no water. The campground is used predominantly by tents, but is also accessible to RV’s.
Bison routinely meander through this campground causing a need to watch where you step…. fresh Bison droppings wouldn’t be fun to step in.
I was sitting in the truck taking his photograph when he started to approach me; heading straight toward me and the driver’s side door. As his pace quickened in my direction, I dropped my camera and put the truck in drive, not waiting around to see what his intentions, if any, were. Perhaps we made eye contact a little longer than he liked or perhaps he just wanted me to scratch behind his
ears horns. Didn’t matter, I was outta there!
Bison have been known to attack, so ample distance, a wide berth, and good judgment should always be heeded.
After my fun moment of reminiscing and communing with buffalo, we continued on the scenic drive to the town of Wall, located near the Badlands National Park western entrance. This is definitely a tourist attraction complete with plenty of souvenir and T-shirt shops.
Wall Drug is the focus of this tourist draw and although Al and I usually shy away from such venues, we found ourselves entertained. The story of the Hustead family is one of tenacity and the pioneer spirit. You can read their fascinating story here. We were also surprised to find a place where you can still get a cup of coffee for 5¢. Granted, we’re not talking designer coffee (aka Starbucks), but for a nickel it was a tasty cup of Joe.
Three T-shirts later (yeah, I have a thing for T-shirts), we headed back to camp. I spent the next couple of days close to camp observing natures beauty.
There’s an abundance of rich and varied vegetation, including one of the largest mixed-grass prairies in the country.
And then there’s the bountiful wildlife. A watchful eye and a silent slow pace will reward onlookers.
This land of extremes, evokes a sense of mystery. While living in my RV surrounded by the Badlands, I immersed myself in this surreal landscape.
Due to the smoke-filled, hazy skies and extreme heat during our visit, our explorations at Badlands National Park may have been minimal, but the visit was equally as memorable and special as my childhood experience.