Car Oil Changed and Inspected – Check
Car Filled with Gas – Check
Several Bags of Home Made Beef Jerky – Check
Tons of other snacks to feed a growing 12 year old (make that 13 year old) – Check
GPS Programmed to Rapid City, SD – Check
All my favorite iTune playlists loaded on my iPhone - Check
Mentally set to be annoyed by Zack – Check
Bags packed – check
Everything was finally ready to head out the door on our long awaited vacation! We ended up leaving a little bit later than I wanted as we didn’t get out the door until 4:20PM. No really a problem as this would still put us into Rapid City around 10:30PM.
Ah – no problem except for horrible traffic from Centennial all the way to Fort Collins! What would normal take about 1.5 hours to travel took over 2.5 hours. That put us a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of my goal to reach Rapid City by 10:30PM. Oh well – no big deal as we are on vacation and we had no schedule to keep.
Once we were through Fort Collins the drive turned uneventful. As planned we stopped in Chugwater, Wyoming to get some dinner. Zack wasn’t interested in the slightest in eating at the only restaurant in town – the Buffalo Grill. Because we were already running much later than I wanted I went with his suggestion and we just got pizza from the local convenience store and were on our way. Oh well – I will eat in Chugwater some other time!
Around 10:15PM I decided it was time to pull over and check out the sky as we were absolutely in the middle of no where and aside from our headlights there were no other sources of light. I found a small dirt road on which to pull off. There was no traffic at all on the main route – US Highway 18. We stopped, turned off the car, got out and waited until the inside lights turned off. We were rewarded with one of the most spectacular sights you can ever see – millions of stars and the Milky Way in its full glory! We stood there for about 10 minutes in utter amazement of the sight that filled the sky in above us. Zack was thrilled beyond belief to see the Milky Way in the manner in which we saw it. It was truly beautiful!!
After this beautiful interlude it was time to resume our way to Rapid City. About 30 miles outside Rapid City we had our next little adventure as we went through a police sobriety checkpoint. I think that was the first time as a driver I ever had to do that. Of course I was stone cold sober and the State Trooper let me through as soon as he was finished introducing himself.
We arrived in Rapid City around 12:15AM and we got checked into our room at the Marriott Fairfield Inn near the Waitiki Water Park in very quick order. After taking a few minutes to decompress from our drive we were both in bed and asleep by 1:20AM.
This morning came way too quickly! Regardless we still managed to get up and be out of bed by 8:20AM and out of the hotel by 9:00AM. Our destination for the day was the Badlands National Park. Getting to Badlands was very easy. All we had to do was hop on I-90 (which was right out side our hotel) and head east for 60 miles and the entrance to the park was pretty much right there. We arrived at the park around 10:30AM and began our exploration!
I was utterly stunned by the beauty and wonder of the eroded and wind carved shapes. The broken surface of the earth in the Badlands appears so hard and permanent, but in fact it is soft and malleable. The Badlands erode at an average rate of 1 inch per year. Geologists theorize that the Badlands will be totally eroded and gone within the next 100,000 – 500,000 years. That is a long time for us humans by in geological terms, that is just a blink of eye.
The heat of the day played a large role in how much time we spent hiking through the shattered hills. We did a couple of longer hikes but the searing sun and heat of the midday began to curtail our efforts to climb through the more remote sections of the park. The road through the park roughly follows the “wall” that makes up the majority of the rock formations. The “wall” is a roughly 300 – 500 foot high escarpment that has been eroded into the formations that make up the Badlands. This escarpment runs for over 60 miles and forms the backbone of the park.
The Badlands have been something that has interested me for years since I was a teenager. I read an article in National Geographic about the Badlands and it just captured my imagination. I was mesmerized by the pictures of the rock formations and the animals that inhabited the Badlands and I knew that some day I was going to come here. I am glad that day has finally come. My intention is to come back some time in the not too distant future when the temperatures are cooler and I can spend more time exploring without dying of the heat. Additionally, I hope to be able to spend time here that is more conducive to taking pictures. In the harsh midday sun much of the color is washed out of the environment. Instead of contrasting colors that are highlighted by the glowing orange of sunset or sunrise, the unrelenting midday sun bakes the color out of everything and makes it appear dull and lifeless. Though I took a ton of pictures they all lack the vibrancy and life that makes the Badlands unique and special.
After many hours exploring the Badlands we exited the western side of the park near the small town of Wall, South Dakota. Wall has a total population of 818 people – not even as many people as who live in my neighborhood in Colorado. Yet it sports a remarkable tourist attraction that pulls people in from all over the world – Wall Drug. This unusual store started in 1931 when Ted Husted arrived in town and purchased the failing drug store. For the next five years he and his wife attempted to make a go off it with out a whole lot of success. Then in 1936 they hit upon the secret to a successful future – offer free ice water to all the people passing by during the hot summer. Before long their small little drug store had turned into an unbelievable success. They began to sell more and more and they offered other attractions to pull in patrons from all over. Today the store which now covers 2 city blocks and sells pretty much anything known to man, must host hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. It is truly a unique tourist attraction and Zack loved it. We spent over an hour there and got ourselves some very tasty ice cream!
After that it was another 45 minutes back to Rapid City and our hotel. We discussed going to the water park but after all our hiking and how hot it was, we decided to just hand out in our hotel room and take it easy. We got some dinner at the restaurant in the hotel and just had a really relaxing evening.
Tomorrow we start our journey to Yellowstone. We will see a few more things here in South Dakota and then we have a nice very meandering ride across Wyoming. It should be a very good day to celebrate Zack’s 13th birthday!
Thanks and peace to all! ~J.