Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 5: Wall Drug and the Badlands

This post brought to you by Wall Drug.

Sorry for the late post. I have no good excuse really, though being sick has really taken it out of me. But I'm on the upswing now. Which reminds me: Brian's ox-like immune system is reminiscent of the immune system of a baby ox pulling a wagon on the Oregon Trail who's on the verge of  dying of dehydration. (For any of my international friends reading this who haven't played the computer game Oregon Trail, you're really missing out. ) Okay, he's not going to die. But he definitely caught my cold. Now we're BOTH on a regimen of sudafed and vitamin c.

Tuesday night brought some pretty awesome thunderstorms to our part of South Dakota. What we thought would be scattered thunderstorms and showers after midnight turned into an all-night drenching that lasted well into the morning. Clearly we had no option but to sleep in. When the rain finally let up and we emerged from the tent, we were happy that we packed everything up the night before. The tent held up pretty well to the rain, but everything was still pretty wet and dirty. We loaded it up anyway and decided to set it up as soon as we got a campsite for the night to let it dry out.

We finally hit the road around noon for a long drive across South Dakota to the badlands. The drive was just as pretty as Minnesota and the fields were even bigger. I kept going on about the hugeness of it all and how we had just been sitting in a massive combine in Chicago while they now looked like specks sitting out in the fields. Brian pointed out that THAT'S why they need GPS (this was a bit confusing to us at the museum on Monday).

Brian drove the whole way which was awesome because I got to kick back. I spent the day taking photos of billboards along the road. There were a TON of signs along the road. But if there was such a thing as an advertising mecca in South Dakota, it would be Wall Drug.

We had started to hear about Wall Drug from the Coopers and that made Brian remember that we just HAD to stop there. I was massively confused but it seemed like a pretty big deal so I was anxious to see it. Sure enough, more than 250 miles away from Wall, South Dakota on Route 90 (again…) we started seeing billboards advertising free ice water at Wall Drug. As we got closer, more signs started cropping up for all varieties of goods at Wall Drug. They were simple, small signs set out in farmer's fields along the highway, but they were plentiful. 

We finally arrived in Wall to much fanfare (okay, none at all) and pulled off the highway into the tiny town of Wall which is right next to Badlands National Park. I kept pointing to buildings and saying "Is that it? Is it that one?" and Brian kept telling me it was bigger. Finally we turned around a corner and here is a village straight out of a very gaudy western movie. And there was Wall Drug. We went inside and it was equally touristy inside. Brian was on a quest for ice-cream and wouldn't let me take his picture, of course, but it was pretty exciting. And yes, they had free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and a dinosaur. Can't beat that. 

I should point out that Wall Drug is no longer a drug store. Well, maybe one of the shops sells some aspirin or something, but it's now the definition of a tourist attraction. It's like Disney for western culture. There was gold mining for kids and plenty of photo ops with fake people. There were trinkets galore but also higher end merchandise like sheepskin throws and things like that. 


And of course, the dinosaur. This was the most bizarre part, probably. The whole place was western themed except for this guy hanging out at the end of a hallway.

Before we left Wall I had to get a picture of the massive silos sitting next door. We had seen them sitting out in the fields and they looked smaller but you could still tell they were huge from the cars passing on the ranch roads. Finally we were up close so I snapped a pic to capture the moment. 

Enormous silos. Check out the truck in the foreground for scale. Not a small truck, either.

Then we were off again to the Badlands. Camping in the park is on a first come, first served basis, so Brian was slightly worried that we wouldn't get a campsite. There were two options, primitive camping and slightly less primitive camping. We headed out for the primitive camping, thinking it would be less popular. Plus, it had an interesting looking dirt road that Brian couldn't resist. So off we went along this nifty road along the rim of the canyon. And oh boy was it awesome.

The go pro camera has really come in handy on this trip.

So first was the badlands. I'd never been before but they were awesome. Expansive protusions of rock in the middle of the prairie. Some of the rocks looked like a sunset with the reds and yellows. Then there was the wildlife. So many prairie dogs! And they really do sit up on their mounds checking out the place like you see in all the pictures. Then there were herds of big-horned sheep. 

And then there they were. Bison. Buffalo? If anyone knows the difference, let me know.

I'd never seen a bison in person. Sure, I'd shot some in Oregon Trail to feed my people and make sure they survived the trip. But I'd never actually seen one. And man, were they huge. On the way back we got a close-up of a guy hanging out by the road. So. cool. 

The rim road we were on was also very cool. Brian drove a little over the speed limit because he was so worried the sites would be full when we got back there, but it was a fun time with all the great views of the land below. When we got back to the campground we were a little disappointed. There was some shade and a pit toilet and nothing else. A few other brave souls were set up there, but it was mostly just hot and seemed like not a lot of fun. It was miles and miles back to the main road so there weren't even any trails around.

So Brian called the other campground to see if there were sites open and we headed that direction. 35 miles and a few slow drivers later, we had a campsite for the night and set up camp. Everything was still wet from the night before, but we put things out in the sun and steady breeze and it was only a few minutes before everything was dry.

Us setting up camp in the wind at Cedar Pass Campground

Then came dinner. The plan was cheddar and broccoli for dinner. And to make a long story short, that's what we ended up having. But because this blog is about spewing details, I'll make the story long again. We had a tad bit of trouble with the stove for boiling the water. First, the problem was the wind. The steady breeze was making lighting anything a little more challenging than normal. The other problem was our incompetence. The fire just didn't seem to be as fiery as it was the night before. In other words, we couldn't even boil water. Here we were, huddled around the stove sitting on the ground in between everyone else's fancy RV's and lawn chairs trying to keep the thing lit. We pumped and pumped but nothing improved the flame.

Finally, it was almost time for the sunset so we decided to blow it out and let it cool down. One thought Brian had was that maybe there was too much fuel in it, since he had just filled it up. Maybe leaving a little more space for the gas would make it burn better. So we turned it off and let it cool down while Brian situated the go pro for a good view of the sunset. We grabbed some painkillers (which are practically the same with the pina colada mix!) and headed to the 9pm Ranger program. 

Sunset from our campground

If I had to sum up my impression of the ranger in one word, it would be: awkward. She was not the best presenter. And her powerpoint was not the best. And I had to pee. And about 15 minutes in Brian leaned over to me and whispered, "She used the bounce transition. Rookie mistake." Needless to say, it was time to leave.

We bailed and headed back. And then, a small miracle happened. Brian figured out the stove. This is the part where I hope my dad hasn't been reading the blog. Turns out we never tried too hard to turn the valve to the open position. It's a little screw that you're supposed to turn to open and then pump and then turn to close. It turned a little bit but then seemed to stop. We had thought the small range of motion a little odd but had thought the wind or the full tank of fuel were the culprit so hadn't really tried turning the screw harder. Woops.

After that, dinner was ready in about 15 minutes. Brian did a lovely job preparing it while I took a nap (my cold was really taking a toll). In fact, after eating a bit I proceeded to lay down on the picnic table bench for another nap. Dinner is a taxing activity. Brian blew up the air mattress for me and I hit the sack. He ended up cleaning up everything for the night which was awesome, too. Then he came to bed.

That night was a doozy. We'd overheard some neighbors mention scattered thunderstorms overnight but nothing too big. After the night before, a little rain didn't faze us. But it didn't rain. And it didn't thunderstorm. Instead, it gusted like a mofo. The wind woke us both up about 2am because it was so strong. Our tent is awesome, as I've mentioned. But it's high profile in the sense that it doesn't play nicely with wind. The top of the tent was pretty much on top of us at points during the night. And of course we hadn't tied down the tent. It's not like it was supposed to storm like it had the night before.

So our tent was just blowing in the wind all night long. I poked Brian to tell him the poles were about to snap and our tent was about to collapse in on us and his response was just "I'm not dead yet." So we went back to sleep and I planned to blame him if we died.

Spoiler alert: we didn't die. And the poles didn't snap. But our tent does have an interesting new shape.


  1. I hope your cold is better, Gail. YOur pictures are awesome! I still don't know if I'm commenting correctly or if you'll ever see this, but I'll try to do it right this time. In spite of the weather and your and Brian's colds, it looks like you're having a great time!

  2. Whoa dudes! Great trip! I have tried to leave messages as you know, hopefully I have succeeded this time!
    Love, Mama