In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my day spent seeing Badlands National Park and the town of Rapid City.
After two long days’ driving up from Texas, I woke up in the tiny hamlet of Interior, SD, right outside the borders of Badlands National Park. On my way in to the park, I bought a Parks Pass that would get me free or discounted entry to all national parks for one year. It was $80, but I knew I would be entering Wind Cave and Teddy Roosevelt National Parks and Devil’s Tower and Jewel Cave National Monuments, which were all about $30 apiece, so it was definitely worth it. I would recommend purchasing the pass to anyone visiting the several national properties in the area.
The Badlands are jagged, severely eroded, dissected rock formations, fascinating and utterly alien. The rocks are pink, white, or grey, depending on the light, which makes a bizarre contrast with the endless plains of green grass surrounding them. There are a lot of different kinds of terrain: cliff-like walls, gullies to scramble around in, and “fields” of jagged rock spires. I’ll let the landscapes speak for themselves.
One moment of excitement was a flock of (female) bighorn sheep, one of which passed quite close to us!
Oh yes, and the prairie dogs were everywhere. They’re cute and they make funny sounds!
It took me just about the whole morning to explore the Badlands to my satisfaction, between hiking at various spots and pulling off the road for lots of photo ops. I then took the “back exit” out the west side of the park (rather than head up to I-90 at Wall), which involved driving on quite a few miles of dirt roads. There was some great scenic solitude but I would not recommend it for sedans!
Rapid City, the largest town in western South Dakota and the “gateway” to the Black Hills, is only about 45 minutes from the Badlands. The natural setting right at the foot of the hills and the piney vegetation remind me a lot of Colorado Springs. The downtown is fairly neat; one cool thing (that I didn’t get any pictures of) was a set of statues of all the presidents.
By far the most interesting thing in Rapid City, though, is Chapel in the Hills, an exact replica of the 870-year-old Borgund Stave Church in Norway. It’s incredibly intricate and quite striking. There is also an adjacent log cabin museum, showing what life for 19th-century Norwegian immigrants living in such a cabin would have been like.
After a very good dinner at Dakotah Steakhouse, I headed toward the village of Rockerville, where I was staying that night. On the way, I had some extra time, so I stopped at Bear County USA, an animal park where you can drive around and see tons of wild animals, like wolves, deer, elk, reindeer, bears, raccoons, badgers, porcupines, beavers, and more. I’d driven around safari parks before with tropical animals, but never one with more temperate/northern animals. It was fun!
If I had had more time, I would have poked my head in House of Scandinavia, right next to Bear Country, but it was closed by the time I got out of the animal park. So I made my way the last few miles to my abode at Rockerville Lodge and Cabins. Easily the tiniest room I’ve ever stayed in (barely bigger than a walk-in closet), but clean and comfy and in gorgeous surrounds.
Tomorrow: Mount Rushmore!