Hi gang! After the past several posts here, you’re probably wondering if this one is going to include yet another national park visit. The answer to that would be yes… two actually! After leaving Grand Teton National Park, we headed east toward South Dakota. We’ve been making several stops in SD, and here’s what we saw:
Motorcycles: Lots of motorcycles
This one was actually completely unintentional. We planned on stopping in the old western style town of Deadwood and then continuing to Custer. What we didn’t realize at the time we were making plans was that our visit would overlap the biggest motorcycle rally in the world. Luckily, we were still able to find an RV park that had space for us! The heart of the rally is in Sturgis and the event bears the same name, but every town within a 50-mile radius is completely full of bikers. And when I say full, I mean FULL, as in the streets become parking lots for motorcycles because there isn’t enough room elsewhere. It really was something to see… all the unique bikes and the unique characters that went with them. We spent a few hours exploring the historic town of Deadwood, but it was kind of hard to take in the whole wild west vibe when everyone and everything was covered with black leather and the sound of throaty bikes filled the air.
We continued on to Custer, South Dakota, which was also completely full of bikers. We wanted to stay there so that we’d be in close proximity to some of the attractions on our list, the first of which being Mount Rushmore. Karen had never been and wanted to check off that national landmark, but we didn’t really need a lot of time there. I mean it is what it is… four heads carved into a mountain. It is impressive to see, sure, but we wanted to save most of our time exploring some of the more natural wonders the area had to offer. The image at the top of this post is one that Karen shot at Mt. Rushmore.
Wind Cave National Park
This park is located about 30 minutes south of Custer, and is a very unique national park. The park covers nearly 34,000 acres and is home to one of the country’s last remaining intact prairies. Hidden beneath the surface is one of the world’s longest caves. It’s hard to tell just how long the cave is because it’s still being explored, but several hundred miles of cave has already been mapped. Karen and I took a tour of the cave on her birthday and really enjoyed it. You don’t see all the usual cave formations, like stalactites and such. Instead, the cave features this interesting boxwork on the walls and “ceilings” that’s formed from eroded limestone. You can see a picture of it below. We were wondering why it was called “Wind Cave” because it wasn’t windy at all inside. The reason is because at the single natural entrance to the cave, which is just a small hole, has a constant flow of air coming out of it. We were told that the wind coming out of that little hole has been known to reach over 70 mph! After touring the cave, we drove around the prairie and photographed the wildlife. There is quite a lot of different animals that call this park home and they are basically all over, so they’re really easy to photograph. We saw a lot of buffalo, mule deer, elk and prairie dogs, all within close proximity to the car. This park was also far less crowded than the recent parks we visited so the animals seemed more comfortable being in close proximity to the road (and at times, ON the road.)
I know. You’re thinking, “You said this was all South Dakota!” Well, the bus stayed in South Dakota, but Karen and I took a day trip south to visit Toadstool State Park, which was about 30 minutes south of the Nebraska border. Karen had yet to check Nebraska off her state list and we heard this park was pretty interesting. It was kind of like a mini badlands, with lots of formations called… you guessed it… toadstools. Aside from the hour of driving on an unpaved road, the park was an easy visit, with a parking area and a 1-mile loop trail that you could take to see everything. The only bummer for us was that we were there midday, so the light wasn’t very good, but hey, we saw something really cool… in Nebraska.
Badlands National Park
Our second national park in one week! We parked the bus in Wall, South Dakota, which is about 1o minutes north of the entrance to the park. This made it easy in and easy out. I had been to the badlands before, but this was Karen’s first time. The Badlands hold such a different landscape than what we’ve been seeing in recent weeks, with a mixture of grasslands and wild orange and yellow rock formations. We’ve been driving into the park every day for either sunrise or sunset to go exploring. With this park, you can go hiking if you want, but there’s definitely lots of opportunities to see things right from the road, as many of the spectacular overlooks are off the main road. This was nice for us because we could work out of our trunk instead of lugging our gear around.
Here’s a side note about Badlands National Park: If you plan on visiting for more than a day, bring food with you, because there is hardly anything in the park or in town. Well, ok, there ARE eating establishments, but the finest place in town got three stars on Yelp (with explanations that it would really be 1.5 stars if located elsewhere) and every entree came with a side of tater tots. My health-conscious wife is counting down the hours until she can shamelessly indulge at a Whole Foods.
We’re spending one more night here in the Badlands and then heading eastward toward Minneapolis, the town I grew up in! More to come…