After leaving the uniquely charming Netherfield Natural Farm in Fontana, KS we had a solid 11 hour drive + stops to get to western South Dakota. With only one full day to spend in all of South Dakota, we had no option to pull over and break up the trip. This road trip would be full of many such long driving days. Luckily, Hudson and I are completely content in a car for long periods of time and aren’t the bickering type. We quickly devised a system to make sandwiches in our laps while driving to save time and money on fast food.
Badlands > Wall > Deadwood > Sturgis > Devil’s Tower
Badlands National Park
We arrived at Badlands National Park well after midnight and found the campground we had planned on staying at was full. The next campground in the park was too far and we debated just sleeping in the car until sunrise.
As it turned out, despite the sign saying “Campground Full” there were a large handful of open sites. We decided to take a chance other campers wouldn’t be arriving after 1am and grabbed a spot. We set up camp quickly in the dark and poured two cups of box wine (the staple of every campsite). Sitting at the picnic table with necks strained back, we took in the overwhelming glory of the remote and starry sky for the very first time on this trip.
The darkened drive into the park was eerie as the silhouettes of mysterious peaks stabbed sharp into the sky against the myriad stars. When I woke I wasn’t sure what the landscape would look like in the light of day. It turned out to be almost as eerie as it was at midnight. The Badlands are reminiscent of an alien planet with strange, colored striations painting pointed formations and diving deep into canyons.
The geology you’re seeing in the Badlands formed up to 75 million years ago and layered age after age before eroding back to reveal these jagged spires and vast, unforgiving prairies. As we only had a half day to explore we did the driving version of the park, stopping at various lookouts to take photos and continually comment on how crazy this place really looks. The Badlands was our very first National Park on this trip, and it gets two thumbs up. Sadly we didn’t have time to do any of the day hikes longer than a half mile or so, but this is a park I will definitely visit again.
Wall, South Dakota
After we exited the park we had a short drive to an apparently famous place I’ve never heard of: Wall Drug, South Dakota. Throughout the length of our drive up from Kansas we continually saw signs for Wall Drug that increased in size and frequency the closer we got. Hudson and I like cheesy tourist things, so we went for it. Wall Drug is a drug store in Wall, SD that revitalized the town by offering free ice water to weary travelers. The drug store since has become a traveler’s legend with signs telling the mileage to Wall Drug found all over the world. The town itself was beyond kitschy so we bought a magnet (a requirement in every state) got some gas, and got back on the road.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Our next stop was another historically famous town in American history: Deadwood. If you’ve seen the HBO show you know that this was the home of many a famous cowboy from the original Wild West. It is even the final resting place of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock. Sadly, the town has now become a shiny caricature of itself with daily “showdowns” between cowboy actors in the streets. We managed to find one legit old saloon and had a couple of drinks before continuing on. Definitely worth a quick visit, but didn’t live up to the hype I had heard.
Sturgis, South Dakota
There is only one reason to go to Sturgis and that is to see the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in July each year. Unfortunately, it was June, so there were almost no motorcycles to see. I’m not sure why I thought the bikers would be there anyway. We did stop at a thrift store where I got some jeans and camping pants for $1 though, so I consider it a win.
Overall, South Dakota was a very flat state with an uneventful drive until you get further west. We even saw one South Dakota sticker with a picture of Devil’s Tower on it. Stop trying to steal Wyoming’s monuments, SD! Here is a picture that is representative of most of South Dakota:
Side Note: We skipped Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial so we could have an extra day in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Also, they are both just big faces in rocks.