After lunch in Rapid City, we resumed our journey eastward on Rte 44, which took us through wide grasslands. They were soon capitalized when we entered the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Eventually we reached the town of Interior, SD, where we bought gas and turned onto a road that brought us, within a couple of miles, to an entrance into the Badlands National Park, quite near the visitor center, where we stopped.
We were almost at the eastern end of the loop road, so we turned back toward the west, starting at about 3:30, and we spent 2½ hours exploring and taking pictures of the dramatically weird Badlands scenery.
The landscape of the Badlands is composed of solidified mud where the edge of the higher grassy plain that lies to the north has eroded. Most of the formations are colored a sort of beigey gray alternating in broad or narrow layers with brownish rose. In a few places mineral deposits have colored them weirdly red and yellow.
The loop road begins and ends on the lower plain to the south, at the bottom of the eroded “canyons.” In between, it climbs up to wind along the upper rim. From below you see sharp pinnacles rising from the low plain, but from above you see deep gullies sinking down to it.
The Lakota, who dominated this region starting in the 18th century, called them "bad land" in their own language, and possibly so did the earlier Indian occupiers whom they displaced. The name was carried on by the French voyageurs who were the first Europeans to show up — they called the region mauvaises terres à traverser: ‘bad country to cross,’ which adds an explanatory note. But some travelers have been moved to write about the loneliness and desolation they experienced there, so perhaps the Indians had more in mind than impediments to travel.
It seemed that once again the sun was against us, and I reflected that it would have been ideal to see the Badlands in the morning and Spearfish Canyon in the afternoon. That wasn’t the direction we were traveling in, however — and, besides, the vistas along the loop road lie in various directions, so no matter when we went the light would always be better for some pictures than for others. As it turned out, the sun wasn't much of a problem.
It was a little before six when we arrived at our motel in Wall, SD, at the western end of the loop. This was a backward movement, considering that we were now on our way home, but doing it this way made possible our earlier journey through the grasslands, and when we headed east on I-90 the next day, we wouldn’t be retracing our steps.
Wall sits at the edge of the upper plain, and gets its name from the escarpment which, as you approach it from the east (along I-90, nowadays) looks like a wall. We checked into the motel and headed for the Cactus Café, where we opted for the dinner buffet. It offered roast beef, chicken, wild-rice pilaf, buffalo meatballs in barbecue sauce, soup, salad, and other things as well. We ate moderately, but the cost was moderate also. I accompanied the repast with a dark lager beer that the establishment was pleased to call Moose Drool.
After dinner, we crossed the street to the mind-boggling Wall Drug Store complex to look into its many and varied emporia. The Wall Drug Store achieved fame in the 1930s by blanketing the region with signs offering free ice water and indicating how many miles the thirsty driver was from this oasis. At a time when refrigeration was rarer than it is now, and in a place where water often comes out of the ground at 100°F, this proved to be quite an attraction, and cars have been pulling in ever since. The complex still includes a drug store, but it now has many other stores as well, where you can buy food, souvenirs, T-shirts, Western wear, books, maps, and much more, or drop your coins into the slots of pinball machines or mechanical pianos. After poking around for a while, we each had a sundae in the café and returned to the motel.
So concluded the scheduled part of our trip. As of the next day, we would have no scheduled reservations and could go anywhere we wanted and stay anywhere we could find accommodation. We planned to head east on I-90 through South Dakota and Minnesota, then bear northwest in Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. From there we would enter Ontario and go home by way of Ottawa, Montreal, and Vermont. Our odometer reading at this point was 20,503 miles: 8,512 since setting out.
This section last updated 12-13-2004