Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Badlands National Park & Wall Drug Store

Ok, feeling better, or at least good enough for a 3-4 hour day trip.  Our visit here to the Badlands will not be as productive as I had hoped, but we will see enough to get the scope of the area, that is for sure.  And, of course, we couldn't be in this area without a stop to Wall Drug Store, in Wall, South Dakota, and tomorrow we plan to visit Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

The map above outlines our trip for today.  The KOA is at the bottom right of the map, we went up into the park, went along the Badlands Loop, then took a bumpy dirt road for about 10 miles on our way up to Wall, then took the Interstate back to the KOA, which is retracing our steps from when we drove here from Custer through Rapid City a few days ago.

The KOA is just a couple of miles from the town of Interior.  They have this nice sign telling everyone about their city....wish all little towns did this, kind of a nice touch.  What they forgot to add was how their little city had a few friendly bombs explode which were released from airplanes when a portion of what is now the Badlands National Park was part of a Air Force bombing range.  The bombs did not kill anyone, but did destroy a few buildings.
The best thing we found in the small town were these two churches, a Presbyterian Church above, and Catholic Church below.  If they were both filled to capacity, I think it would cover the population of the entire town.
The City of Interior is right outside the park boundaries.  We entered the park, and turned along the Badlands Loop Drive.  The rock formations are "out of this world", for sure.
Above is a picture of this area from afar.  This area represents just a small fraction of the 240,000 acres within the three sections of the park.  This section is in the Ceder Pass area of the north section of the park.
 The rocks are so rugged looking, and the area is so desolate.
And the shadows from the position of the sun either wash-out, or highlight the colors within the rocks.
And up in them there hills are some hiking trails, for those that wish to fight the snakes and the heat in this arid land.  Below the sign says, "rugged 1/4 mile climb" and it will take a "half of an hour".  Translated that means "Dave, it would take you about an hour, and about 45 minutes into it you are going to wish that a snake would come out of its hole and bit you just to put you out of your misery."  So to answer your hike for me....

 The road was very easy to travel on (until we turned off onto the dirt road later)
And there are many turnouts to view the horizon, and many of the turnouts have parking for even large motor homes.
 At one turn out they have this information marker about the "Journey to Wounded Knee", where they tell the story about how Chief Big Foot and his people descended down out of the badlands and down toward the Wounded Knee area where they met their death just 5 days later.  We tell more of that story after we visit Wounded Knee tomorrow.
But as you can see below, this area would not be easy to travel down, especially with women and children as Chief Big Foot did.

As we traveled further down the loop road, the harsh mountains vanished for a bit, and rolling hills, some with these fascinating colors, made the drive that much more interesting.

Below is an area that ancient Indians, around a thousand years ago, use to drive buffalo down into, and the Indians would then kill the ones that got hurt from the fall over the cliff.
At the point where we turned onto the dirt road called Sage Creek Rim Road, there is a vast area of this rugged canyon below.
Now the dirt road is a good dirt road, but our HHR, being so close to the ground already, makes a good dirt road feel like an average California Highway.  But it was along this 7 mile portion that we saw what wildlife we did see....
Above was one of around six Pronghorn...the others ran away, but this big guy just stood there and watched where they ran to.  Below is one of about a thousand Prairie Dogs that we saw, and in the background are three of the dozen or so buffalo that we saw.
I also thought that I saw a couple of dead snakes along the dirt road....but I did not stop to see if they were snakes, and if they were, what type of snake they might be.

We then turned onto county road 502, and within two miles it turned into a rugged paved road, and three miles later a nice paved road as it turned to county road 590.  That quickly took us to the city of Wall, South Dakota...home of Wall Drug Store, more simply called "Wall Drug" by those who have visited it.

Back in 1931 Ted Hustead purchased the drug store in Wall, a city of 230 people.  As he and his wife struggled along, she came up with an idea....let's give the highway traveler free ice water to lure them into the store.  And they put up signs along the highway, which was along the route to the newly opened Mt. Rushmore.  And business picked up...and the store grew....and today they have highway signs from 500 miles away along Interstate 90, they spend around $400,000 a year on billboards.  They do around $10 million a year in business, and draw 2 million visitors per year.  And this drug store is anything but a drug store!  It is more like a shopping mall....taking up an entire city block, but with every shop under one company name...Wall Drug Store.
Above is just a portion of the front of Wall Drug Store.  Below is a portion of one of the sides.

 Above seemed to be the center entrance, although there are many entrances all along the front, and from the back side too.
 It is amazing how they utilize every it all comes together in a western theme.
They have all sorts of merchandise for sale, from clothing to jewelry and general merchandise, to a restaurant and a separate ice cream parlor, and yes, they even have a pharmacy type drug store, along with a western art museum and a chapel.
Let's just say that if you are ever in the area, stopping at Wall Drug is worth your time....even if it is just for a 5 cent cup of coffee....or an ice cream cone and a milkshake like we did.  The staff were very pleasant, and the place is clean.

And a bit of trivia....since many of the highway signs let you know how far away you are from Wall Drug, it has become a geodesic datum, a reference point from which measurements are made.  So signs for "how far one is from Wall Drug" have shown up in American Airbases in Afghanistan, on the South Pole, and other interesting places.

Tomorrow we hope to visit Wounded Knee.

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