Leaving Nebraska behind, It was time to log some serious miles and head to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We knew we wanted to see Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore, but we weren’t sure where we were going to stay in vicinity. At a quick fuel and breakfast stop, we did some hardcore googling and began to realize that the farther north you drive in late winter/early spring the less campgrounds there are for you to choose from. Luckily, Nicole was able to find us accommodation at a place called Hart Ranch. It was one of the few places that were open year round, and we were able to make a reservation for late check in!
The drive up to South Dakota and then West toward Rapid City was fairly simple, but as time moved forward we began to truly get the feeling that we were “out west”! Just outside of Sioux Falls, we began to notice the small roadside signs that began directing you at a peculiar place called Wall Drug. Some of the signs are small, and some are more like billboards; however, they all have unique, attention grabbing wording like “free ice water”, “free doughnuts for honeymooners”, and “5 cent coffee”. As the miles wore on we started to formulate a plan for the following day. We would set up at Hart Ranch, get a solid nights sleep then backtrack to Wall Drug early in the morning and spend the rest of the day in the Badlands.
We got to Hart Ranch camping resort at about 5:30 pm (Not too bad considering it was an 400 plus mile ride)! We headed to our preassigned spot, and I was confronted with my Achilles heal – the back in parking space. Why I hadn’t practiced this maneuver before we left, I don’t know!?! The entire way from Florida to South Dakota, I never had to back into a spot. Long story short, we finally made it into our space after running over some of our new neighbors grass, bruising my ego, and cranking my anxiety level up to 11. Luckily with the help and advice of a fellow camper I was able to practice backing up in a empty part of the campground and no longer fear moving the gear shift into reverse!
The next day, we got an early start and made a beeline for Wall Drug. When we got there we found plenty of free parking right on Main Street. We were lured in by the fresh doughnut signs the day before, but we ended up getting a real breakfast (in addition to our doughnut…which was AMAZING). The breakfast ended up being a great choice too! They really do have 5 cent coffee and free ice water. Free ice water is what kept Wall Drug in business back in the summer 1936. The Hustead’s realized that people were hot and thirsty after driving through the prairie. Therefore, they posted signs for free ice water…and people started to come to their store! Now, it is a destination! Tons of stores and history wrapped into one roadside attraction. If you are in the area, you must stop! And don’t forget to get your free bumper sticker!
Once we finished there, we headed to the second National Park of our trip – the Badlands. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around a small portion of this 244,000 acre park! We marveled at how beautiful and expansive the scenery was, and Nicole was thrilled to death about the prairie dogs! We were very lucky to also see big horn sheep…up close and personal! It was a spectacular first day in South Dakota!
Next stop Sturgis and Deadwood!