Year 2 Days 260 and 261 The Black Hills

Yesterday, we just hunkered down as it was a rainy day. A series of thunderstorms moved over our area and, at times, delivered some very heavy rains. It left us trapped inside LeuC as it rained with long drum rolls of thunder overhead.

This morning the sun had returned but we had to move on as we press westward toward the Pacific Northwest. Our goal for today was Custer, South Dakota. It is tucked high up in the Black Hills, with an elevation of over 5200 feet. It is also near both Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which we are anxious to visit. Furthermore, it is the home of an old school chum, Ed, who I saw at my 50th high school reunion last month. Ed and I not only went to high school together but we also went to junior high and Marble elementary school together. Good times! We will be having dinner with Ed and his wife, Jeannie, this coming Thursday.

As we made our way toward the Black Hills, we passed along the northern edge of the South Dakota Badlands. If you are not familiar with the Badlands, it is an area of about 380 square miles lying between the flat grasslands of eastern South Dakota and the Black Hills, which are along the western border of the state. Its name captures the unique landscapes of the area which is dominated by pinnacles and buttes, sharp hogback ridges, and deep sided gorges that were carved into the landscape by wind and water erosion. The Lakota Sioux called the place “mako sica,” and early French trappers called it “les mauvaises terres a traverser,” both meaning “bad lands.” This picture that I took from the Internet, gives you an idea that its name is well deserved.

This is what Badlands National Park in South Dakota is all about

To explore this area would take a good couple of days which we did not have, so we just waved as we droved by. Our exploration of this area will just have to wait until the next time we are in the area. Once past the Badlands, the number of roadside signs and billboards advertising Wall Drugs significantly increased. For those of you who grew up traveling across country are familiar with this icon of a tourist stop. As a kid growing up in Michigan in the 1950s and 60s and driving to the west coast each year with my family, we all were always anxious to make this stop. Back in the 50s, cars did not have air conditioning and traveling over the dry grassy plains of South Dakota was very hot. As the miles went by, we were inundated with signs of “Ice Cold Watermelon” whizzing by about every 10 miles. After a couple of hours of this, all of our tongues would be hanging out and thoughts of this delicious treat were dancing in our heads.

As kids, this stop was nirvana, not only because of the ice-cold watermelon that was washed down by a Green River (a lime phosphate carbonated drink which left a residue of lime on the roof of your mouth…yum!) but also because it had a number of cowboy exhibits than any red-blooded kid could only dream of. There was a one-cell jail where a nasty bad guy (a dummy) was kept. Not only was the sight so realistic but so the smell. It reeked of moldy animal skins and dust because it had moldy animal skins covering the bed and the floor was dirt. Wall Drugs also had a bucking bronco ride that was perfect for a wide eyed 8-year-old that only cost a nickel to ride. These were the fond memories that I shared with Mary Margaret as we drove into the small town of Wall and followed the signs to Wall Drugs.

Alas, nothing ever stays the same and this was especially true of Wall Drugs. What was once an exciting stop in a dusty little town where you could quench your parched throat and be surrounded by the life of a cowboy, it had now morphed into the biggest tourist trap you could imagine. The place had grown to about 4 times the size that I remembered. It now consisted of a number of buildings housing junky souvenirs. Its old, long drug store soda counter was now just a0 small ice cream counter with the most exotic beverage being offered being Diet Coke. Sigh.

We opted to have lunch at its “cafe” where we stood in line to order a buffalo burger and a tuna fish sandwich. Double sigh. Its burger was tasty but the ambiance was disappointing. As we left, I just had to revisit the dusty old jail and see the bucking bronco. Unfortunately, the open dirt area where this was all located was now concreted over and there was no longer a little jail. Plus, the bucking bronco had be replaced with a large bunny rabbit that you could sit on. Really? A bunny rabbit????

With memories crushed, we returning to LeuC and continued down the road. About 1 ½ hours later, we pulled into our campground. Weeks ago, we had tried to find a nice campsite in Custer State Park which is in the heart of the Black Hills. However, since it is past Labor Day, most of the campgrounds were now closed and we could not find a site. Thus, we opted for the Buffalo Ridge RV Park. Not fans of RV parks, this one is OK because we have a large open field in front of us which offers a nice view. Given that it is now off season, it is not very crowded.

Tomorrow, we hope to visit Mount Rushmore and take in the Crazy Horse Memorial if the weather is agreeable.

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