Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Hill City, Custer, Keystone, Wall Drug, Badlands NP
Leaving Lake Itasca State Park, we struck out Southwest to South Dakota. There are plenty more places we’d like to visit in Minnesota, but because of its proximity to IL, we plan to come back sometime in the future on a week or weekend trip. First stop in the Dakotas was Sioux Falls, SD. Had to check out the town’s main attraction and namesake – Sioux Falls! It’s an iconic and sizable waterfall around which the city has created a park, and is doubly cool because it’s surrounded by rock formations that are fun for climbing! We enjoyed doing some rock scrambling and jumping around to get various perspectives of the falls. Also: The visitor center has a five-story viewing tower we climbed to get a wider, bird’s eye perspective!
I spent the afternoon at a picnic bench near the falls doing some work on my laptop and just enjoying the sight and sounds of the pounding water. It is wonderful to be able to make your workspace wherever in the world you want it to be. In the shade of the conifers next to Sioux Falls in South Dakota was my “office for the day.” I feel very thankful to be able to do this, and know it may not last forever so I plan to take in each moment of that career freedom whenever I can. The very earliest thing I can remember wanting in life is just to be outside – come sun, come rain, come snow.
Had a great experience and connection point at our brewery choice for the evening in downtown Sioux Falls. The name was WoodGrain Brewing, and if you’re in the area – HIGHLY recommend. It was a slow night, so the head brewer Steve came out and joined us to talk craft beer and offer some samples. He was awesome! And their Peanut Butter Werewolf is THE BEST peanut butter beer David and I have ever had…which is saying something cuz we’ve had a lot. We asked how he got it to be so much more thick and flavorful, and he told us that he actually brewed it with real peanut butter instead of peanut butter powder like every other brewery uses. Because of the natural oils that exist in peanut butter, he said the cleaning process after making the beer is 3x times as long and a pain in the butt. Buuuuut clearly WORTH IT for the superior product with a hilarious name aka PB Werewolf. Anyways, good conversation with brewer and bartender, an awesome couple of flights, and Steve going in the back to surprise us with 2 free bombers made for a solid end to our first evening in South Dakota.
Stopped in Mitchell, SD on our way west to see “The World’s Only Corn Palace,” a giant building covered in Western-themed images made entirely out of ears of corn. It’s only on the outside though, as I don’t think corn ears would hold up well structurally. A pretty cool idea to represent for midwestern corn country! I loved how they creatively incorporated the natural darker and lighter kinds of maize/corns into the images for shading and depth.
Since we knew John & Ann (David’s parents) were in Custer, we decided to drive across the state and surprise them for John’s birthday! David talked to them on the phone and got the name of the KOA they were staying at so we booked a few nights at the campsite next door. We asked where they were at the office and snuck right up on them while they were grilling hamburgers! They were very surprised. Mission accomplished.
The next morning we were up before dawn for the annual Buffalo Roundup that happens inside of Custer State Park. 20,000 people were expected to attend to see the 1,500 buffalo that would be stampeding on by into the corrals. We were in a long line to get to the huge “parking lot” and walk down with our chairs to find a spot in the crowd. They even had a huge pancake breakfast for everyone and we made it just in time before they stopped serving.
The roundup itself was really cool! Don’t often get to see that amount of buffalo altogether, nor as close up as we got to be, and there were a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls at the back end herding them along while on horseback. It did seem to be less bison than we had been told to expect, but I think that was because of too much hype/unrealistic expectations, or maybe covid had something to do with it…I’m not sure how, but I’m throwing it out there because it seems to affect everything else. Still – very glad we got to be there and watch the running buffalo and their calves!
Enjoyed an afternoon birthday lunch at Mt. Rushmore Brewing and then took a scenic drive up the Needles Highway. Beautiful! Those Cathedral Spires are a sight to behold. Tall, narrow, and reaching high in the sky so you sometimes have to crane your neck to see the tops! Passed through the Needle’s Eye Tunnel at the top, a thrilling and long granite tunnel barely wide enough for a single car to pass through at a time…so you just hope someone isn’t coming through the opposite direction.
On the other side, climbed around on some more granite spires and saw the “Needle’s Eye” namesake formation. It really does look like a giant eye of a sewing needle!
The next day, the four of us spent the day walking the town and shopping in Keystone and Hill City, two more small, historic towns in the Black Hills. Lunched at the Ruby House, an old saloon decked out in Western garb and decor – felt like a step back in time. Also played a sunset game of mini-golf in Keystone, which ended up just being more hilarity because the course was NOT well maintained, very steep since it was on the side of a mountain, and sometimes almost impossible to actually get the ball in the hole when you were a foot away! Had us laughing at our ridiculously high scores later. After golf, we hunted down this brewery/winery that we had wanted to visit called Firehouse.
Always nice to spend a few days mid-traveling with family! Glad we got make some fun memories together for my father-in-law’s birthday weekend.
We left them and headed back east to check out the famous Wall Drug store and Badlands National Park! Wall Drug started out as just a tiny drug store in 1931 and has grown into a ~76,000 square foot tourist attraction with everything you can think of: Souvenir shops, Western shops, bookstores, full restaurant, an indoor “Cowboy Alley” that is essentially a mall, a museum with local historical photos, backyard for kids to play in, a giant animatronic T-Rex, and more. It is a must-stop with 5 cent coffee and one of the best breakfasts we have ever had – the flapjacks are out of this world! Ice cream and free ice water are among a lot of things they advertise on their TONS of billboards you will see driving down I-90.
And just South of Wall, SD…the BADLANDS! We’ve wanted to visit Badlands National Park for quite a few years now, and finally had the opportunity to spend a few days there. It was magical.
****NOTE: Most of the Badlands pictures will be at the end of this post – it was easier to upload them all at once!******
Upon entrance, I stepped outside the RV onto the park grounds for the first time with Badlands by Bruce Springsteen playing on my phone. Clearly the best way to enter the park. We had to have listened to it at least 10 times throughout those 3 days, whenever the fancy struck us to jam out 😀
We started with the main Badlands loop, route 240, and just took our time. Did a small hike out into the craggy, rocky desert on the East side and on the way out passed a ton of signs in a row reminding us to turn back and “get more water!” before proceeding. It was eerie, dry, jagged, sharp, looked almost identical in every direction once we got away from the road, and often just felt like we were walking on the MOON. Would be totally outside of the average human’s comfort zone…which is exactly how David and I like to live our life. Love it.
There are so many more stories from our time here, but for the sake of catching up I’ll just pick two that stand out in my mind.
Our second day we decided to brave Sage Creek Rim Road, the dirt road that goes out into the prairie on the West side of the park. Usually, trailers and RVs are not recommended to drive on these….and for good reason, as we discovered. We were both laughing along the drive, everything shaking and rattling and rolling around and falling off walls and counters – felt like we were going through a consistent earthquake! And we had to yell to hear each other because it was so damn loud. But it was crazy fun, and WORTH IT. After an hour and change of bouncy driving we got to a place where all the buffalo hang out. We got to eat lunch right next to a whole small herd of them right outside our vehicle, could see the facial expressions and observe their mannerisms so clearly! And the bright, cinnamon colored small calves are precious. One of the more intimate experiences with a buffalo herd – just them and us.
The last story I’ll tell is from when we dry camped on BLM property neighboring the national park. You basically just drive around on grassy roads and find a level-ish spot to park. We lucked out and got a wild spot right next to the cliffside, and David lined it up nicely so that we had the most magnificent view out of our living room window! Watched the moon rise over a herd of bighorn sheep walking around right under us on the cliff’s edge. It’s something else being in your PJs and being able to observe from inside our little home. That we can be in places like that makes me love our home on wheels all the more for making it possible.
Woke up the next morning for the sunrise over the cliffs – and all I had to do was sit up in bed.
Oh, this wandering life. If so blessed, I would choose to do it for always.
****Here’s a selection of our favorite shots from the Badlands: