The Badlands, Rushmore, Hot Springs

I rolled out of Kadoka today thinking I’d get much farther than I did.  There was a lot to see today, so I knew it wouldn’t be a long day mileage-wise, but I thought I’d get into Wyoming or Nebraska at least.  I’m still in South Dakota, in Hot Springs, where I just decided to quit when it was getting to be 6pm and I was hot and the sun was getting low.

Kadoka – Gateway to the Badlands

On the way to the gas station at the highway, I saw a brown lab bounding down the dusty road after a pickup truck.  The truck pulled into the gas station and the dog trotted around to the side to greet the owner, then jumped into the truck bed as the man went into the convenience store.  Guess that was his morning exercise. =)  I loved it…a town so small that your dog just chases you to the outskirts and runs himself…and you don’t have a thing to fear about him getting hit.

I hit the highway and got another ten or twenty miles of gorgeous prairie land before I saw what I knew must be the Badlands.  I didn’t really know what to expect.  Turns out the Badlands are a stretch of land where the glacial water receded bit by bit and left behind giant rock formations that must’ve been hell on the covered wagons going west in the late 1800s.  Many of them were just sloping hills, but there were some that had formed into stark ridges and outcroppings.  They were steep, forming gullies and trenches that photos can’t do justice to.  Deep inside were a few little gift shops and campgrounds and such…a town called Interior that I didn’t visit due to road work that hung us up for long minutes waiting for the flagman to turn the sign from STOP to SLOW.  I went into the gift shop, and got several looks from REAL bikers who were clearly reading my Hot Harley Nights Sioux Falls t-shirt and wondering what I was doing wearing it when I clearly was NOT one of them. =)  I bought a few Indian-slogan magnets and a horsehair bracelet and a Christmas ornament…always a “must” for me when I travel.

I wish my car had an altimeter along with a temperature and directional gauge…sure did some climbing and dipping along the Badlands Loop till it spit me back out on I-90.

From there it was about 9 miles to Wall Drug.  I still wasn’t quite sure what Wall Drug was, but after some 300 miles of advertisements, I knew I’d have to stop.  It turned out to be a Boomtown-type place, a real tourist trap with cheap souvenirs and western wear and t-shirts and semiprecious rocks and that sort of thing…stuff that caters to families.  They had a cafe that I finally decided to visit, as they advertised buffalo burgers…but I wouldn’t swear it wasn’t just standard beef.  Not bad.  The cool thing about the cafe was that the walls were lined with real cattle brands from the frontier days, along with the names of the people who’d registered them.  I kept hoping to spot one reading Engelen, but I don’t even know if they had cattle at the time, or what the brand looked like.

Wall Drug

I headed back out on the road with a soda and a chocolate malt, and it was on to Rapid City.  Rapid is smaller than I thought it was…till I got up in the hills above it and saw it sprawl.  It felt like a little prairie town, though, but bigger than the ones I’d seen since Sioux Falls.  The cool thing about Rapid is that it has statues of all the Presidents on the street corners downtown…something Sydne had told me about but I’d forgotten till I spotted Kennedy.  She said there were 40 presidents completed, and that the most recent four would be finished and added soon.  I only saw about 6 or 7, as I didn’t go all the way through downtown, and I didn’t get a shot of any of them.

Into the Black Hills and on to Mt. Rushmore from there…I was excited.  I’d never seen Rushmore before.  All along I-90 across South Dakota were big-rig trailers in the fields beside the road, advertising the Guzton Borglum story…the guy who created Mt. Rushmore.  Knowing that sightseeing is much more poignant when you know the history behind the sight, I decided to stop.

It was in Keystone…another little Old West-looking town with lots of motels and campgrounds.  There was a sky tram that I considered briefly, but passed.  The little Borglum museum was pretty cool…it included lots of his other sculptures and paintings and portraits and had a little self-guided audio tour.  There was a life-sized replica of Lincoln’s eye (life-sized from the mountain, that is, so it was about 8 feet in diameter), showing the cuts and shadows and protuberances that were engineered to catch the light and create depth.  Borglum’s father had two sister-wives who were really sisters…and the second wife left when plural marriage was outlawed.  Pretty interesting story.  There was also a sculpture he made called Rabboni, of Mary turning from the empty tomb to see the resurrected Christ…and it’s in DC.  Wish I’d seen it…it looked awesome in the replicas.  He also had an awesome “Seated Lincoln” that’s a replica of the real one he made for Newark, NJ.

On to the mountain.  I kept scanning the hills looking to catch my first sight of it, and finally did.  Pulled over to the side to get the shot.

First sighting

Went for artsy here…the faces and the overlook and the sky….

The monument was cool…though I must admit, it was smaller than I’d expected.  I mean, it’s still HUGE, but yet not at the same time.  It’s a pretty cool little park you walk through to see it, too.  First non-white, non-Native American people I’d seen in days among the crowds there.  I “swapped” photos with two more couples.  (I wish people knew more about photo composition, instead of always putting the person in the center of the picture, in front of the thing they want their picture taken with.  I coached the two photo-takers at Mt. Rushmore after finding the Badlands shot with me smack in the middle, blocking the formations.)

Profile view of Washington

Bought two beautiful preserved silver maple leaves off a Christmas tree in the gift shop.  One red, one green.  And a Rushmore ornament.  I like my Christmas tree to be a story of my travels.  It’s as good a thing to collect as any, I suppose. =)

Entrance sign and general idea of finished monument on mountainside

After leaving Rushmore, I was a bit monumented-out.  I’d paid $15 to get into the Badlands…$10 for the Borglum museum…another $11 to park at Rushmore…and I was tired of yelling kids and chattering tourists who make any “sight-site” a place impossible to really sink into and meditate over.

The monument thus far…head and outstretched line of arm visible…head of horse somewhat drawn on mountainside.

So a few miles later, when I reached Crazy Horse, and saw the stage of the monument and its intended completion view, I decided to pass on another fee and more tourists.  I got a shot from the road and muddled on down the road.  I figured I’d come back someday, when it was done.  Then I read that the first blast was in 1941.  Hope I’m alive when it’s done…it’s going to be amazing.  But they better get on the ball.

Through Custer State Park…herd of bison right there on the road…more beautiful country…not prairie and not Badlands but Black Hills mixed with rolling pastures.  Granite outcroppings.  Swaths of brown, dead pines, victims of the pine beetle.  That was sad.

When I hit Hot Springs, I’d only gone 192 miles, but I wasn’t sure any town down the road would be any bigger, and I wanted Wi-Fi.  So I stopped and got a room.  Sat inside with my computer and watched a lightning storm flash over the buildings across the river.  We even got a sprinkle.  The weather was finally nice…probably about 75.  Nice change from the 90s and 100s.

Roadside view – just gorgeous.

Tomorrow I’ll reach Colorado…finally.  I’m a bit scared.  I’ll hopefully stay with a friend tomorrow night…and starting Wednesday night, my landlady and her family will clear out on a little road trip for a few days and she said the house would be mine till Friday.  The previous tenant should be out by the first few days of August.  Wish I could have ordered the POD delivered and packed out before going to Reno, but oh well.  It’ll work out.

Black Hills rock formation that caught my eye

Man.  Tomorrow.  I’m getting there tomorrow.  Wild.


And exhilarating.


About merlintoes

Amateur marathoner, constant wanderer, sometime teacher, and pilgrim for life. As of July 2012, I have picked up and moved my life to Colorado, a state where I know no one, have no job, and hear it is very beautiful. I don't understand it myself...but I'm gonna run with it.
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3 Responses to The Badlands, Rushmore, Hot Springs

  1. beverly says:

    I enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for sharing with us your journey. Miss you and am impressed with the amount of mileage you have covered in a short amount of time. God Speed! Blessings to you! Bev.

  2. melanie says:

    Love reading these Chris! Keep posting so I can keep up with you <3

  3. Pastor Jeff says:

    Talked about your travels last night at Church Board. You are missed! Amazing inward and outward journey – you go!

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