DAYS 38-40 – Hills, Badlands and Birthday in South Dakota with Photos Added

Friday, September 12 (Muriel)

Today was to be my rather unusual 70th birthday.  Setting out late in the morning, we drove through light rain to the Black Hills National Forest.  We drove the Iron Mountain Road, through the Pigtail Bridges’ upwards spiraling roadways and through narrow tunnels.  We had distant views of Mt. Rushmore and learned about Peter Norbek, South Dakota’s farsighted governor and senator from the Teddy Roosevelt era who pushed for preserving this and other outstanding natural areas in the American west.

We drove through Custer State Park and its nature loop to the south of the park, where we saw buffalo, white-tailed deer, prong-horns, big-horned sheep and prairie dogs.  We heard the whistles of the prairie dogs better than our views of them.  Probably they were spooked by the horses that had apparently been used for rounding up the buffalo into a huge nearby field.  The reluctant horses were being led into trailers next to us, and the prairie dogs were scurrying for safety.  It was starting to rain hard and we scurried for our car.



We got back to town in time to visit the new Rapid City Cabela’s store.  In honor of my big day, I got a pair of hiking shoes (the old ones were coming apart), trail pants, and a vest.  Then back to our hotel to clean up and go out for a fancy dinner at Enigma Restaurant downtown.

Saturday, September 13 (Muriel)

We got up early and took a Gray Line Tour of the Black Hills.  This was partly duplicative of the preceding day, but it lived up to our expectations of being very informative, with an excellent driver/guide, as well as being a day off from driving.  Fortunately the weather was clear and pleasant, although the afternoon became increasingly windy and cloudy.  The tour began with a well done guided visit to Big Thunder Gold Mine.  The guide was a retired history teacher who probably didn’t have many bored students back in his classroom days.

Next we visited Mt. Rushmore, where Allan and I took the trail up to closer views of the huge monument.  Back on the bus, we stopped for a buffet lunch and then went to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We learned much about the motivations for the on-going building of this immense monument to the Native Americans and how it is being realized.  The memorial will dwarf Mt. Rushmore if the amazing project is ever completed.  I finally bought Allan a three-month tardy anniversary gift, a Lakota belt buckle, in the gift shop.


After we were dropped off at our hotel, we headed back to Cabela’s, this time to buy a belt for Allan’s new belt buckle.  The sky had turned an ominous charcoal color and fierce winds picked up, hurling tiny raindrops at us.  We had the worst meal I can remember eating at a Chinese restaurant and returned to our hotel, the weather continuing to threaten awful events.  We were grateful the day’s outing had been in pleasant weather and that the nasty weather never became worse.

Sunday September 14 (Muriel)

The nasty weather disappeared during the night.  We drove south to Badlands National Park in pleasant weather.  On the way we stopped in the small town of Wall and visited the famous (notorious?) Wall Drugstore.  Wall Drugstore fills an entire town block with stuff to sell to tourists.  There is a small drugstore, an infinite number of knickknacks, “Western ‘art,'” T-shirts, minerals and fossils, food, replicas of Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, and on and on.  Think Madonna Inn moved to South Dakota and turned into a tourist stuff store.

Badlands National Park was delightful.  We drove through terrain that alternated between rolling grasslands (prairies) and fantastic eroded shapes in shades of gray, pink, maroon and pale gold.  There were excellent signs at overlooks that explained the geology.  One overlook offered a short pathway that was a display of fossilized mammal skulls from the Oligocene and drawings of the creatures they once belonged to.

Eventually we got to a nature center where we learned that we had been driving along the edge of an upper prairie separated from a lower prairie by a 60 mile wall of exposed sedimentary rock.  That is the wall that the town of Wall and its drugstore are named for.  Between the nature center and signs at overlooks, we learned a lot about the geology of these Badlands.  Some of the displays were reminiscent of the La Brea Tar Pits and prehistoric mammals that got trapped in soft sediment (rather than tar) at drinking holes and then attracted predators and scavengers who got trapped in turn.  These fossils are older than the ice age fossils found in the Tar Pits, Most found in the Badlands are 30 to 35 million years old.

We returned to Rapid City in time to go out for a very pleasant dinner in still pleasant weather.


2 Responses to “DAYS 38-40 – Hills, Badlands and Birthday in South Dakota with Photos Added”

  1. 1 Dave September 19, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Well, a belated Happy Birthday, Muriel. And an even later belated Happy Anniversary to you two. You are an amazing couple. Drive Safely!! -d

  2. 2 Cynthia September 21, 2008 at 7:15 pm


    Happy 70th. I’ll be joining you soon. Mine won’t be as exotic. Your trip sounds fabulous so far.


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