National Parkin’ #1: Badlands, Rushmore, Devils Towers

It’s Thursday, 10:30pm Pacific Standard Time and I have taken a shower for the first time since Sunday… Yes, I’m on a vacation from the vacation (Olympic National Park) from the vacation (The baseball trip).  I have a little catching up to do on the blog.  Tomorrow, hopefully, will be Game #9: Seattle.  However, here’s the 3-day journey between Minneapolis and Seattle.

IMG_4518The Twins game ended sometime around 10pm and it’s was around midnight before we were asleep. By 7am we were up and out the door, with eyes on Badlands National Park – slightly better than a third of the way to Seattle.

Badlands gets raves reviews and I was extremely excited to get there. Doing pretty well on time, we approached Southwest South Dakota around 3 or 4 pm, planning to load up on supplies at the infamous Wall Drug. Again, everyone said Wall Drug is a must see. Perhaps that hype led us astray. Both Betsy and I were fairly underwhelmed by Wall Drug, expecting a large, preposterous type monstrosity. Instead, it was a quaint country store, maybe thrice as big as most, with a bunch of other tourist shops lining the little town block it sat on.  

As it turns out, Wall Drug is not the grocery store we were looking for. Luckily, one was close by and we stocked up for the next three days.  At that point 5pm had come and gone but we were off to the park, where we met another curve ball: attempting to enter the Sage Creek entrance (near our campground), we were told the entrance was closed for an emergency and to come back in 30 min. 

We ended up not waiting and headed down to the east entrance, back tracking a little, but it allowed us to see the park as we made our way to Sage Creek Campground.  Eventually we made a left turn towards the campground – about ten miles out.  What ensued was a half hour drive down a rocky dirt road that we would eventually make two round trips on.  What waited for us, though, was the most primitive, yet communal, campsite I’ve ever been at in a National Park.  A dirt road loop with tents and RVs scattered both inside and out. A few picnic tables throughout, but no fire pits and no water. It was perfect.  We grabbed a spot a little on the outskirts of the loop, but later would be joined by a few new neighbors.  After camp was set up, we headed back up that dirt road to find a place to take in sunset.


We returned to enjoy our dinner – bagged salad, lunch meat on wheat, and a bottle of wine.  The camp was serenely quiet and the only thing missing was a clear sky to see the stars.

The next morning we were jarred by an early sunrise – around 5:30 am, an hour earlier than we were used to.  We eventually packed up camp and headed out to do some hiking.  First up, the Medicine Root Trail.  We had considered hiking the short Saddle Pass Trail, but saw this one was longer and ended in the same spot. We literally got 10 feet into the trail before a rattlesnake jumped out at us, curled and primed to strike. After scaring it off, we rather swiftly ran through the narrow trail where the snake appeared, only to see that the rest of the trail was more of the same: a foot wife beaten path surrounded on either side by tall grass.  That, and the lack of any surrounded features led us to the decision to bail on the hike.  It turned out to be the right one.

We then hit Notch Trail, which couldn’t have been more fun.  A 1.7 Mile trail that traversed into and a canyon and up a wooden ladder, leading to impressive vistas facing the west.  Upon finishing that trail, we hit up the smaller features that welcome visitors into Badlands: the Door and Window Trails.  By then, noon arrived and it was time to head out.

After a quick stop at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site it was on to Mount Rushmore. Here, the reverse hype-effect happened.  Everyone had downplayed Mount Rushmore so much that we came into expecting nothing more than a photo op.  

However, we both left wishing we had slotted more time. No, the mountain wasn’t particularly enormous; nor was it small.  And yes, the entire vibe was that of a Nationalistic tourist trap. But there’s something to be said for seeing people from all over the world come to see a monument portraying our nation’s founders.


IMG_4515Finally, it was off to Devils Tower in Wyoming. Our goal was to make it for sunset, which we did comfortably.  We camped at the KOA right underneath the tower.  Though it was a little pricey for a tent site ($30), the amenities made up for it.  Great showers, WiFi that easily reached our tent site, a pool, and they even screened Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, nightly.  And the view was pretty unbeatable.   We explored the Tower for a few hours as the sun descended.  Devils Tower holds a special place in Native American folklore, something I was not entirely aware of before visiting.

After looping around a few times and getting up close, I was able to snag a pretty good sunset picture of the Tower, with a full moon rising behind it.  Pretty lucky conditions, to be sure!


After camping beneath Devils Tower, we were up and out by about 6:30am with a full Saturday of driving – 16 hours from Devils Tower to Seattle – to make the Sunday 1pm Mariners game.


2 thoughts on “National Parkin’ #1: Badlands, Rushmore, Devils Towers

  1. That is a gorgeous photo of a moonrise!


  2. Awesome! And, very cool that they screen “Close Encounters…” nightly — I’m actually taking Alan & Stuart there this summer and pulled out the DVD to show them. This is a really neat way to share an excellent adventure. Thanks! 🙂


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