It was a long drive from North Dakota to Interior, South Dakota — and there definitely wasn't much to look at. At least until we got to our destination... We were on our way to the Badlands! Which was the third and final National Park visit of our Big Trip, as well as my personal favorite. And there were plenty of adventures in store for us here in South Dakota.
Petrified wood park
Driving through the Dakotas, we started to see signs about a petrified wood museum and park. It sounded interesting enough, so we made a pit stop to check it out — though I'm not sure what the wood was so scared of...
The park was in the small town of Lemmon, South Dakota. We parked the trailer on the side of the road and walked around the park a bit. It was super cool! Apparently the guy who started it collected pieces of petrified wood (which feel and look like stones) and used them to build all sorts of structures.
There were petrified wood castles, houses, towers, fountains, monuments, and just about anything you could imagine. It was actually really interesting for a simple roadside attraction. There was also a museum with some historical artifacts from the area. We talked to the museum attendant for a while about the local art, the area, and North Carolina (his daughter lived there) before heading on our way south.
Badlands National Park
Our campsite was actually in Badlands National Park. So with our trailer in tow, we made it to the front gate of the park and towed our 25-foot trailer through the twists and turns of the Badlands to get down into the campsite — which really wasn't as bad as it sounds.
The campground itself was a bit strange... Remember those rules we talked about in the Montana blog? Well this one didn't feel like listening to them either. Not only were the "sites" just on the side of the main road going through the campground, but they also faced the wrong direction. When we opened our door, it was right into the road! Of course, we cheated a little bit and drove the wrong way down a one-way road just to put our door facing the campsite itself. We didn't like the idea of Luna running out into the road...
But despite the odd layout, the campground was actually very pretty. The Badlands made an incredible backdrop, and we got to see some amazing sunsets over the rocks. And as an added bonus, we were in the Butte Loop of the campground, so it didn't take long before I was forced to take a very mature picture.
To say it was hot in the Badlands was an understatement. I'd say the average temperature during the day the entire length of our stay was 114 degrees! It made it almost unbearable to go out in the day. We came up with a way to stay cool during our walks that was fitting for being in the Old West.
The Badlands is my favorite National Park for two reasons:
We planned to do our tour of the Badlands during one of the days, but it was so hot we didn't want to leave Luna unsupervised in the trailer. The poor little air conditioner could barely keep up! So we pulled an audible and decided to drive through the park at dusk and bring Luna with us.
We left the campsite at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The truck's thermostat was pushing 120 degrees. We all loaded in, cranked up the air conditioning, and hit the road. Since we were literally already in the park, it didn't take long before we got to see some amazing sites. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the park, exploring the rocks, and taking in the incredible scenery.
We got to see the rocks change colors before our eyes as the sun set over the wild landscape. We even got to see a few goats hanging out on the rock formations. There's really no place in the world quite like the Badlands. Unfortunately, despite our looking, we didn't get to see any bison. But there were plenty of warning signs.
We did, however, get this incredible shot of our trusty steed Eugene while we were taking pictures at the National Park sign. I feel like it'd make a good RAM commercial. What a rig!
We finished our tour of the park just as the sun was going down. By the time we got back to the campsite, the temperature had dropped to around 85 (a bit chilly in those parts). Our AC could finally keep up, and we enjoyed a relaxing night in the campground.
Wacky and wonderful Wall Drug
There's one more reason why the Badlands is my favorite National Park, and it has nothing to do with the landscape. Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time, back in 1931, there was a small drug store in the middle of the South Dakota desert in a small town called Wall. The town sat just off the main route through the area, and the owners wanted to attract travelers to buy their wares. They started setting up signs on the side of the road saying "free ice water."
Because the Badlands are incredibly hot in the summer, ice water was a major treat for those traveling through. More and more people stopped by for a cup of ice water. And like most shoppers, they'd also buy a cup of coffee, some medicine, or other odds and ends.
Over time, the little drug store grew. They started offering freshly baked donuts, maybe a sandwich here and there, and plenty of trinkets for tourists. Eventually little Wall Drug turned into one of the biggest and most popular tourist attractions in the United States!
Today, Wall Drug has dozens of different shops, including souvenir shops, hat stores, boot and shoe stores, and even fine art and leather goods. They also have some more interesting attractions, like a traveler's chapel, arcade, jewelry stores, shooting gallery, a giant jackalope, and even a dinosaur! You can see their signs on the major highways from hundreds of miles away. It's certainly one of the weirdest and quirkiest places you'll ever see. And yes, they still offer free ice water.
Many people like to argue that Wall Drug is too "hokey." But we believe that's part of the charm (and those people just don't know how to have fun)! Rose and I love some hokey junk shopping, so we spent plenty of time exploring good old Wall Drug. After a morning of shopping, we grabbed a "soda" and a bite to eat before heading back to camp. We also finally got to see a bison! Kinda...
We loved our time in the Badlands. It might have been ridiculously hot, but the amazing scenery and lovable Wall Drug really made this stop one of the favorites of our entire trip. It's definitely worth a stop if you're ever in the middle of the desert in South Dakota!
He likes pizza.