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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

2 Out of 4 Ain't Bad

~Monday, May 30, 2022~

Day 715

🇺🇸HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY 🇺🇸 to our readers and to our heroes! For anyone who has served or is about to serve this great country of ours, we want to express our gratitude 🙏by thanking you for your service.

As I opened the blinds this morning, I spotted what looked like 4 deer grazing, about 50 yards away. We happened to have binoculars handy inside the trailer, which confirmed they were bighorn sheep, of about teenage size. Inching closer to us, they seemed curious about our presence on the edge of the canyon, which I wanted to capture on camera. But before I could set up my tripod they were already moving on, the skittish creatures that they are.

We got our day off to a yummy start with a breakfast of French Toast, bacon and eggs. Generally, smoothies will do the trick, but without electric hookups as of late, pulling out the generator for that small task isn’t warranted. We’ll get back into them at our next campground.

With the weather turning worse, there’s surprisingly quite a number of people arriving, though most of the Memorial Day weekenders have left. It’s always nice to have a little bit of company, especially in our little corner of the Badlands.🏔 And we’re so glad we decided to stay here vs. the campground in the park.

Trying to go with the flow, we ended up with 2 of our 4 goals met, with intermittent bison viewing between stops. Our first visit at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center was not a strike-out, though we weren’t sure it would be open on Memorial Day. Again, it was another example of what a visitor center should be…plenty of park rangers on hand to answer questions, and a great deal of exhibits covering a vast time period, some of which have audio-visual elements and tactile displays. Having a visitor center filled with artifacts and the details really help piece together the puzzle, especially a place like the Badlands.

Before heading out of the park, we meandered through the Cliff Shelf area via their loop trail which rises 300 feet to a dramatic view of the White River Valley.

Humans have used the Cliff Shelf for more than 11,000 years. But what struck us was the amount of rich vegetation along the trail, due to a geologic slump (like a valley) that retains moisture.

Not checking the internet first before our arrival, we drove to the Prairie Homestead Historic Site just outside the park entrance, only to have it be closed, and not just for Memorial Day. They evidently don’t open until June. We were looking forward to getting a glimpse of what homestead life was like in southwestern South Dakota during the early 1900’s. It is one of the few remaining visuals of the homestead era. They offer tours of a sod home, cave, outhouse, chicken coop and barn, as well as a video presentation. They even offer period costumes if you feel so inclined to get in the pioneer spirit. If you’re ever in the Badlands area, hopefully they’re open on your visit.

Strike #2….the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. We should have known that with a national holiday, this would be closed in observance. This was something Jeff especially was looking forward to seeing, so became even more annoyed when we learned it was also closed on Tuesday, the day we’re supposed to leave. Hopefully he’ll take my suggestion of making a little side trip back to see it on Wednesday with Billie Jean in tow. They seem to have plenty of parking to make it doable, plus, we don’t have a super long drive to get to our next campsite. This historic site once posed a threat of destruction, acting as a deterrent to enemies while paradoxically preserving an uneasy peace; weapons never to be used. This particular location at Minuteman is one of two places in America where the public can actually view a Cold War era missile silo (a topic a little too close to home in light of current Russian/Ukrainian events). Still, it’s a part of history so we are interested.

About 20 minutes from there, we scored with Wall Drug in Wall, SD being open. We couldn’t be in the Badlands without stopping by this sprawling tourist mall which seems to occupy most of the town.

Though we didn’t see anyone offering up free ice-water to thirsty tourists as they did so long ago, we did spot the 5-cent coffee shop that would draw in any weary traveler. The entire town is basically a 76,000 square foot roadside wonderland that is generally not our thing. But it was a hoot checking out the shops, the eateries, the hundreds of black and white photos from the Old West (our favorite part), and its western themed Main Street. I think Memorial Day gave us a glimpse into just how busy this place can get (up to 20,000 people a day). From its humble beginnings with Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchasing a small drug store back in 1931 during struggling times, it became a developing road-trip market with the surge in tourism of Mount Rushmore, Deadwood and Crazy Horse. To get drivers to pull over, they advertised free ice water on hand-painted signs along Interstate 90. And with the hot summer heat in South Dakota, the strategy worked. Soon after, they had more frequent visitors, and the signs grew along with them. A soda fountain, eateries and a bar were added a few years later. But it was Hustead's son, Bill who is credited with its huge expansion beginning in 1951. Today, it remains in the family as Ted and Dorothy’s grandchildren continue the legacy after Bill’s passing in 2000. It was tempting to partake in a fountain soda or a yummy doughnut just for the novelty of it. But decided that having our own grilled burgers and homemade fries back at our campsite sounded more appealing.

It was good to get back before dark with the weather getting increasingly worse. It’s sort of strange that where we are is the only part of the country having severe weather. While everyone else is enjoying those hot days of summer in shorts and t-shirts, we’re donning thermals and beanies. We shouldn’t complain since we’ve had pretty darn good weather the majority of the trip. Just please don’t deliver us a twister!

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