We had planned to just drive through the Badlands, but since we arrived mid-morning, we decided to check in at the campground ($8 for seniors, and no admission fee to the park), near the eastern end of the loop, drive through, see Wall Drug, and go back along the loop in the evening, stopping to watch the sunset.
It was a rainy day, but eventually the weather cleared and we had a great view of this magnificent and yes, awesome in the truest sense, natural wonder.
Along the way we met our first real fellow stealth campers, Bill and Carrie from Australia! They have stealth camped in their native country, and decided to do the same in North America, taking a four-month tour that began in Vancouver, BC, where they rented a tricked-out van that is colorful to say the least! Theirs even has a kitchen in the back that is accessible when you open the rear doors. They also sleep in their van and told us that they have only paid for one night’s lodging so far, when they were in grizzly country! We had a nice chat with them before they continued their trek east and we went west. Bill and Carrie, if you read this, add a comment and let us know how your trip is going!
We were amazed at the fortitude of the native peoples and homesteaders who tried to make a life in this rugged land. Some of the homesteaders even took apart a reaper, carried it up onto one of the plateaus, cut and baled hay, then ran the bales down a cable to the bottom, just to provide food for their livestock. Today traversing the Badlands is a pleasant drive, but it’s easy to see why in frontier days both the native and homesteader populations call it the bad lands!
And what can I say about Wall Drug? This store out in the middle of nowhere has mounted the biggest and most effective marketing campaign I’ve ever seen. What began as a few signs along the highway offering free ice water to travelers has become an enterprise nearly a block long, a mixture of drug store, restaurant, museum, shopping mall, and souvenir store. And there are signs advertising it around the world! I took photos of a few of them, which were posted on a history wall: Paris - 4278 miles, 6951 kilometers to Wall Drug Store; Amsterdam - 5397 miles; Canberra, Australia - 11,550 miles, and my personal favorite, South Pole - 11,568 miles. We also saw photos of Wall Drug signs and bumper stickers in Moscow, SaudiArabia, and many other countries. Along I-90 we saw probably a hundred or more, starting from when we picked up the highway around 300 miles away, advertising homemade doughnuts, 5¢ coffee, hand-churned ice cream, and of course free ice water. We sampled it all, except the ice cream, and after wandering through the complex, admiring the excellent western-themed artwork on the walls (including an N.C. Wyeth), we headed back to the Badlands to catch the sunset and take a nice warm shower at the campground. We also took a side road and spent some time watching the antics of the inhabitants of prairie dog town.
Next morning we arose early (4:30 am) to see the sunrise and get some good photos, and while we were driving, we spotted, in the dark, a 4-point buck deer in the road. We chased him with our lights, and got a few hurried photos before heading on. We were the only vehicle on the road at that point. Near the end of the loop again, we stopped at a picnic area, where we were alone, to make breakfast. As I was sitting there, eating Art’s delicious scrambled eggs with meat and veggies, watching a brilliant sunrise, and feeling a gentle breeze on my back, I reflected on how blessed we are, and wished that some of my non-camping friends could share that moment. I would rather be there than in the best restaurant and hotel in the country, and I thanked God for the privilege of being alive and in the “badlands.”