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June 13 – Badlands, SD
Our eyes had been suctioned to billboards for miles upon miles dangling the promise of 5 cent coffee at the great Al’s Oasis, a welcomed deal to us budget travelers. We were convinced to forgo making our regular breakfast Joe and instead hit the road running this morning. We set off rumbling back up the dirt road that led us to last night’s killer riverside site and pulled into a gas station for diesel and to check the tire pressure. It’s become quite common to strike up a conversation comparing rigs and shooting the road news with the other diesel guzzlers around the pumps at fill up time, and today was no exception. We weren’t setting any fill up records circling the parking lot and maneuvering for the air hose, but it was well worth the extra few moments to ensure Izzy’s shoes were snugged up for the road. Just down from the gas stations Al’s Oasis awaited us with a western town facade and some brown Bison making for the day’s first great photo ops.
Resting Izzy in the sunshine, we went in to Al’s Oasis for a few groceries, a case of beer and of course the coffee we’d been so intently anticipating. To our dismay however, the 5 cent coffee was a cruel misleader for restaurant patronage which was not on our radar by any stretch. We left low on the caffeine kick but the sarcastic humour of the 90 year old lady behind the register saved our morning and Al’s behind!! We were raring to go high on anticipation for the Badlands NP but as we rolled out, the sky turned menacing and the rain started with furry. It was a windy driving rain and it actually started to leak in Beau’s driver side window as well as the living room window behind the couch. Confused and frustrated we quickly pulled off the road in an attempt to dam the river of water pouring down the walls onto the floor. We rummaged around for any towels we could get our hands on and crawled under the couch to stem the flow and limit the damage. To our fortune, the rain eased up and the pooling had subsided as we wrung out our tools and hung them to dry. Our spirits were down trodden when we reached the Badlands due to the weather, the leak, and at least in Diane’s case, low blood sugar. The vistas were sweeping and something to behold but the ceiling had lessened the magnificence of the scene.
Our trip has a goal and it’s to max out our park time so we purchased an annual parks pass giving us entrance to all the national parks in the US. In a slow roll we ventured into the park, drawn to the horizon, and pulled off at the first look out which was packed with other parkies. The best way forward, we decided, was to mow down some chow and hit the land full force and fully fueled. Slowly, as we sat munching away, the parking lot cleared out and so did the clouds and we were left with a spectacular, welcoming view of the lands and a glimpse of what was in store. We walked to the look out and snapped a bunch of photo’s before setting off in search of the visitors center. We hadn’t driven a mile yet when there was another scenic lookout with several entrances to a castle of formations, and long board walk leading to a path across the lands. There were many warning signs about bringing water even if you weren’t going far and to stay on the path or risk the perils.
We wandered the board walk and explored out onto the rocky outcroppings, climbing atop the mounds to get a view of it’s vastness. The view went on forever with little hint of life or comfort in the foreboding landscape, “Badlands” characterized it well. We didn’t go far since we were ill prepared and we had a monster awaiting us in the RV, but luckily the day was kept cool by a consistent breeze and it wasn’t too warm in the RV for Monty. The road proceeded to get windy and steep and an inopportune bump on a down hill stretch gave the bathroom cupboard more than it could handle as it flung open spilling its guts all over the floor and sink. We had even secured this door with a Velcro clasp but that, apparently, was no match for momentum with a splash of gravity. As we rounded the next corner with our shampoo bottles rolling about, there was another scenic lookout which warned “Passenger Vehicles Only!” but there was a roadside pull off so we came to a screeching halt. Tag teaming the stop we divided and conquered! one popping off for some photos while the other corralled our strewn about bottles and bits, the cat meanwhile was shaken and stirred as he hid under the couch till the trouble had cleared.
A long low gear descent and a few turns later we reached our treasure chest of a visitor centre for stamp number 1 in our National Parks Passport. The gift from a colleague was awaiting it’s purpose but now the trail had begun and our path set on track. Cherry Popped! The drive continued in a similar fashion with banging and clanking but minus the crashing for the rest of the 25 mile drive. We stopped at several more scenic lookouts snapping a plethora of photos and hung arm length out the window with video rolling as we wobbled, turn by turn, down the windy road.
With the breathtaking scenery of the paved loop behind us, we exited the park gates greeted by buffalo and peered at by prairie dogs to our stop a mile down the road. Our camping site for the night was a free boondocking spot proposed to us by a pair of fellow RVers in Wisconsin. We had to open a sketchy “gate” of barbed wire to enter the cattle grazing field then carefully maneuver down the dirt path till we found our ideal clearing for the night. We picked a perfect little slice of grasslands and set ourselves up for dinner with a view and sat peering over the badlands from our perch on high. We took a meander, stalked by the cat, but the poor little guy started panting halfway through under the intensity and heat of the sun so we turned back to get him cooled off in the RV. Don’t worry the little fur brat bounced back quickly enough and was soon wondering where second dinner was and whining to go back outside. We were in awe of the spectacular views we had seen that day and also our awesome camping spot. The wind was pretty intense coming over the bluff but we were battened down tight and enjoying the colours of the incredible sunset.