“It’s better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times” – Anonymous
After a long drive day from Chicago to our campsite in Minnesota, featuring strange stops in the form of a Mustard museum in Wisconsin (champagne mustard is delicious just in case you were wondering), ‘Corn Palace’, and a strange bicycle/rail road place called Sparta, where we parked up for lunch, we travelled another few hundred miles and ventured into South Dakota, headed for Badlands National Park.
We gratefully gained an hour crossing through a time zone, and set up our tents next to some gorgeous permanent Tee pees which I was slightly devastated we weren’t staying in, before heading out on our first hike of the trip.
Spreading itself over 982.4 km² of South Dakota, Badlands National Park’s history once saw the mass of landscape dominated by the likes of saber-toothed cats, with some of the National Park once being submerged underwater, and even lending itself to American Indians as their hunting grounds.
The name ‘Badlands’ is thought to have originated from the ‘Lakota’ people, who quite literally deemed the land as ‘bad’ due to extreme temperatures, lack of water and the vast and vigorous landscape that it possessed.
Approaching our hiking-destination, we were all completely awe-struck with the unique landscape surrounding us. We chose to follow the “Notch Trail”, which is a fairly short trail, but what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in terrain.
The route quickly escalates, at which point you find yourself on the edge of what is essentially a gorge/mini canyon, which although slightly scary, provides spectacular views of the park. If you’re afraid of heights, I would still definitely suggest you brave this one out. We had a few girls on tour afraid of heights and they all managed really well, the only real problem people had was with the ladder that transported you to a higher elevation, but everyone managed it, even if it did take us a while!
The area surrounding the route we took reminded me of what I imagine pre-historic times to look like; you could almost imagine the dinosaurs that once roamed there. The stark whiteness of the terrain was astonishing within itself; giving it a moon-rock feel to the hike. The pictures really do the talking here though:
One hike down, and two near-deaths (a couple of us stumbled on the cliff-edge), we headed back to the campsite where dinner was being cooked by the second group (fajitas), which left the rest of us free to chill! I ended up swimming with a few others in the campsite pool (American’s doing it right again), while some of the others opted for a game of mini golf (free of course because – America).
The rest of the night was spent around the campfire drinking (there is a pattern emerging here). All heading back to our tents for a good night’s sleep after our hike, two girls sharing a tent, found a frog in their tent.
In their tent.
I didn’t even realise I was scared of frogs until the idea of finding one through poking my toe down my sleeping bag, entered my mind.
I completely freaked out and made poor Joe sift through every single item of clothing in my suitcase as I had left it slightly open, unzip my sleeping bag and shake it, examine the entirety of the tent with a torch for a good 10 minutes, until I finally accepted the fact that there was no frog in the tent (as Joe had established within the first 2 minutes but I didn’t believe him).
Fortunately for them, Emma and Pam had no problem with frogs and picked the little guy up and popped him outside their tent. Unfortunately for me, the allure I had managed to create that I was camp-savvy quickly evaporated as people responded to my screams of “JOE CHECK MY SHOES!”, with giggles.
After inadvertently (totally on purpose), racing another Trek group to pack up (we won), we set off on the road, our first stop being the infamous (in South Dakota), ‘Walldrug’. It’s very hard to describe this place as I’ve never been anywhere like it, but I’ll give it a go…
Set in the town of ‘Wall’, Walldrug is made up of lots of little, South Western-themed shops, with guns, antlers and taxidermy animals mounted on the walls, and even a bar called ‘The Cactus Saloon’ (it looks exactly how you are imagining it).
The entire area was impeccably-themed, and definitely gave tourists an insight into what life can be like in South Dakota. Wallgreen also offers coffees for 5 cents and super cheap doughnuts too! Definitely an interesting stop and it was great to see a side of America that I 100% wouldn’t have experienced had I been travelling without a guide.
With our minivan winding around the voluptuous curves of Black Hills mountain range, twisting and turning around the never-ending bends, plunging into tunnels, and overlooking the incredible views of the valley, we made our way to Mount Rushmore.
Walking up to the memorial itself was quite surreal; it’s something you’ve seen so many pictures of and is featured in so many movies, so you feel quite familiar with it. But the best part about this familiarity is that you still feel completely amazed by the grandeur in front of you. It’s definitely one of those situations where no matter how many photos you take, you just can’t quite do it justice! After a lot of selfie-attempts, we moved onto the gift shop (of course), which was full of temptations that I successfully managed to avoid (minus a postcard).
We then made our way to the Crazy Horse Memorial which is only a short 30 minute drive from Mount Rushmore, so if you’re in the area – it’s definitely worth a visit! The name of the monument originates from 1843, celebrating the life of the legendary warrior and leader of the Lakota Sioux (a Native American tribe). The monument itself is still being constructed, despite the first building work starting in 1948, with the same family leading the construction, and although it’s not being finished it’s still incredibly impressive!
The monument, similar to Mount Rushmore, is a human portrait carved into a mountain face, which seems to be looking out over the surrounding landscape. The plan is for the final piece to be Crazy Horse mounted on his horse – you can see the actual outline of the horse’s head drawn onto the mountainside.
Arriving at another KOA campsite (the best type of campsite), I fell in love. It was THE most beautiful spot to pitch up for the night, and when I think about it now, I just want to go back and camp there again, shared toilets and all!
Devil’s Tower is actually a National Monument in Wyoming, so we counted ourselves extremely lucky that we were able to grab a spot in this campsite overlooking the monument! We arrived at the perfect time late afternoon, giving us just enough time to set up our tents and grab a cold drink before sitting back and watching the sunset behind the monument – it was unreal.
As well as being surrounded by 360 degree gorgeous landscapes, the campsite itself was full of nature…
Bunnies hopped along beside us, munching the grass nonchalantly whilst squirrels chased each other around the bases of trees, and as if that wasn’t picturesque enough – a family of deer were wandering around the campsite, with the two curious little ones edging very close to our tents! – it felt like a scene out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Woken up to a woodpecker chipping away at a tree, it was time to leave our beloved campsite and head on to explore more of the wonderful state of Wyoming…