We were up and out quick this morning. With no running water in the primitive campground, the morning routine consisted of waterless teethbrushing and baby wipe face washing. The day’s plans would bring us through the Nebraska countryside, into eastern South Dakota, then back across to western SD.
First up, was the desolate expanse between Chadron, NE and Interior, SD (home of Badlands National Park). There were no interstates between here and there — so we found ourselves on some country roads.
These roads were quite desolate and often were unpaved for 30- or 40-mile stretches.
However, they did provide quite the picturesque setting for the cows and windmills we encountered. (NOTE: No humans were ever encountered on these roads…)
After many hours of driving through nothing-ness, we arrived at the National Park!
Badlands National Park gets its name from the difficulty early western settlers had in traversing across and surviving on the landscape.
As you can see, its jagged, random landforms would make for near-impossible passage by wagon — and the vast prairie near-impossible to farm because of harsh winds and uncertain rainfall.
These difficulties aside, though, the landscape was beautiful and captivating.
After stopping in Wall, SD for gas — without seeing the infamous Wall Drug — we were on our way to Wind Cave National Park.
This park is particularly unique because almost all of the main attractions are underground. It is home to the (currently) 6th-largest cave network in the world. Most speculate, however, that the caves are much, much larger and will eventually prove to be the largest ever explored — they just need more time to do so. The contrast between the calm rolling meadow/prairie/forest on top, and the caves below, must be striking. (We wouldn’t know, though, because cave tours are all guided — thanks, whoever made a guide be required — and tickets for the day sell out by mid-morning.)
After checking out the Visitor’s Center (and getting our patch / pin / postcard combo), we were off to our campsite — Oreville Campground in the Black Hills National Forest. [Ed. Note: Some of our camping plans the last few days have been more “off-the-cuff” than normal. These National Forests have proven remarkable in having developed campgrounds ready for use. Along with some of the state parks we’ve stayed out, we cannot stress how easy it is for people to get in their cars and go explore around them. Just pack up and go!]
Before we could get to the campground, though, we had to pass by the “Crazy Horse Memorial.” This is a private attraction, in the vein of Mt. Rushmore (giant stone carving of a mountain), that has been in-progress since 1948! Because of the controversy surrounding the memorial — including its long-standing “development” — we decided to just see it from the road. (Check out Patrick’s Dad and nephew Caleb’s blog from 2014. They went.)
We got to the campground and had plenty of sites to choose from. We picked our favorite and set up.
After that, we took some time to clean up and change — tonight we’d be having dinner with one of Patrick’s bosses, who happens to live in Rapid City, SD. A quick stop at Mt. Rushmore, though, before we met up with Susan and her family at their house.
Many we’d spoken to in planning this trip have downplayed its impressiveness — nearly all aggressively so. We could not disagree more. While most we heard was how “disappointing” or “small” the monument was, we found it imposing and simply stunning. Nearly immediately, the faces of Washington, Jefferson, (Teddy) Roosevelt, and Lincoln watch as you walk in.
This walkway gives way to the “Avenue of Flags” — commemorating each of the 50 states — that frames the remarkable feat of engineering beautifully.
Really, the most impressive part to us was the manner in which this monument was made. The hand carving — and precision dynamiting — of such a large “sculpture” is just hard to wrap our heads around. The Visitor Center’s video on its creation was very cool.
Right on schedule, it was time to head back to Bullseye for a trip over to the Boss’s house. Her home was only about a 30-minute drive from Mt. Rushmore, and took us to some remote parts of Rapid “City.” Once there, we were greeted by a sprawling view of horse barns, horse runs, and a sunset over the Black Hills.
Thank you, Susan and Jeff, for a delicious dinner! We had a wonderful time and it was such an awesome break from picnic tables and campground meals. After a long time of chatting away, we had to brave the many, many deer on our journey back to the campsite and were quick asleep.
Tomorrow, North Dakota!
Chadron, NE to Custer, SD – 350 miles (6 hours)
-Ally and Patrick