• sparkfireswan

A&A South Dakota Tourism, the Badlands, & the Black Hills

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

End of Week #11

Grandma’s House, Wall/Scenic, South Dakota

Miles traveled since last week’s post = 0

It’s the morning after another severe storm in South Dakota, AGAIN, and we are all trying to dry out in the summer sun and put things back from where they have blown away to. This makes 6-7 severe storms since we got to South Dakota two weeks ago, and the end of our patience with them. We seem to have fixed our AC unit from leaking after the first handful of sideways wind and rain, but last night our living room windows leaked as we were pelted and pummeled with chaos. My Grandma’s deck was tossed like salad with all of her furniture, flowers and couches all over the place. The farmland is too wet to bail hay, and we are all just fed up to britches with this weather. After yesterday’s tornado watch, flash flooding alerts, and Saturdays 2 inch hail and 70 mph wind warnings – we are more than ready for a break!

South Dakota has been putting us through a ringer of anxiety and troubled weather conditions, testing our ability to withstand this full time RV life. But in between all of this madness we have done our best to explore fun things the state has to offer too. From the Badlands, to the Black Hills to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, we are still having a great time out here and spending a lot of time with family too. (Our last planned stop with family for some time to come!) 

A&A South Dakota Tourism, the Badlands, & the Black Hills

Ranch Life

Scenic, South Dakota

We have been given the awesome opportunity to park on my Aunt Missy & Uncle Evan’s land, where my Grandparents also live, and experience what life is like on the farm. We have been stationed right in my Grandparents front yard since July 31st, and are just a hop skip and jump away from them and my Aunt. This has been a wonderful time with family, with cousins I see very often, and a time for us to experience country living – full on ranch life.

From side by side rides through the rolling hills, to prairie dog hunting, to feeding the yaks, the barn cats and the momma cows. My Uncle Evan is a rancher, with a beef cow farm, and hundreds of them roam through the fields and right through my Grandma’s backyard! Adam also got to help out in the fields and drive a handful of different tractors to help fluff, cut and bail hay.

[Sidenote about the prairie dog hunting: At first thought it bothered me, but then I learned about the plague they carry from fleas, and about how they destroy farmland and thus harm farm animals in the process. They are the number one pest of South Dakota!]

I’m not going to lie, it’s a little tough for me to think about the fact that all the cows here are just a number, just a dollar sign or just a patty on a bun, but I’m working through it. I have always loved animals, have gone back and forth with vegetarianism in my life, and never really been a huge fan of red meat. But I also fully understand that it’s a different lifestyle out here, and that this is how a lot of people make a living too. It’s all another part of the great experience for me!

One thing is for sure, we are REALLY going to miss grandma’s home cooked dinners once we head out to Wyoming!

The Badlands National Park

The geological deposits of the Badlands make it one of the richest fossil deposit areas of the world! Ancient mammals definitely roamed here, including saber-toothed tigers, how badass!

Hiking in the Park

A few days before we arrived to Grandma’s house, I came across a post in our Full Time RV Living Facebook group, that reminded me to buy our Annual Park Pass. Access to more than 2,000 parks (including all National Parks), for just $80 – that’s a STEAL. The pass arrived a few days after we got to Grandma’s, and just in time for a sunny day of exploration.


Coming to the Badlands from the north, off of highway 240, there is a Badlands Scenic Route that winds you through the entire park, with perfectly placed overlooks around every corner. I believe we drove over 20 miles on this scenic road before we got to our first hiking location. It was a scorching hot day, high of 91, and extra dry and dirty in the park so we decided not to do the 10 mile hike we were originally planning on.

I used the Badlands website to judge which hikes would be best for us, and picked a combination of 3 shorter ones that seemed to offer the best views of the area.

  1. Saddle Pass Trail – A straight vertical quarter mile trail with overlooking views. The climb up was quite strenuous and slippery, but totally worth it to see the White River Valley.

  2. Notch Trail – This one was about 1.5 miles roundtrip, a moderate meander through a canyon, with a log ladder to climb to get to “the notch” up above. Definitely had to watch the ledges and drop offs on this one!

  3. Window Trail – This wasn’t really a trail, but a short walk to a ledge, that looked like a “window” in the rock to offer views of the Badlands and an eroded canyon. Lots of dirt!


#3 trail

After completing our 3 hikes we had thought about maybe adding in another 4 mile one to take up the afternoon, but decided against it as the heat and the dirt exhausted us over. When you are in the Badlands it almost feels like you are in a clay oven, just baking and roasting. Plus there really aren’t any trees for shade out there!

Sheep Mountain Table

My Uncle Evan’s land has been in his family for many generations, and butts up to the actual Badlands park (and you even drive in and out of the park a few times to get to his house). Just a few miles down the road from his land, there is a great place called Sheep Mountain Table that you are able to access and hike for free without paying park entry fees. Before our Annual Pass came, we took an afternoon with Evan, and my Grandparents, and drove up the high clearance road to Sheep Mountain to take a look around. Thankfully, we took my Grandpa’s suburban, as the roads were eroded and washed away with mud from one of the recent storm disasters. The road to the peak offered plenty of wonderful areas to stop and take in the view – “best views of the Badlands”, according to my family.

With Evan as our tour guide, we did a little off roading onto the peaks for even more extreme views. Being extra careful of ledges, slipping rock, snakes in the grass, and anything else out there, we were able to see some of the most amazing panoramic views of the Badlands you can get. A wonderful place to go if you don’t want to deal with all the noise of the park, or the fees!

Wall, South Dakota

Wall Drug

A historic tourist attraction, and the promise of free ice water! (They also have 5 cent coffee and a free coffee and donut for honeymooners!) Wall Drug is a modern small town shopping center to offer tourists a break as they travel through the area. It is said to have started in 1931 in this little prairie town of only about 300 people. Now the area is filled with shopping centers, restaurants, statue photo opportunities, crystal shops, leather shops, and so much more. It’s fun to walk through and take a look at everything, even if you are just window shopping.


While we were in Wall, Grandma also took us out to eat at the Badlands Saloon & Grill. The pickle chips were wonderful, and so was the salad I ordered. The only downfall is we were on high anxiety alert as we were tracking another severe storm heading right to our trailer in Grandma’s front yard!

Sturgis 79th Motorcycle Rally

It’s pretty random and cosmic that we just so happened to be out here while the Sturgis Rally was going on. Originally, we had planned to be out here a few weeks earlier, but then with our house, and things going on with my family, we had pushed our dates back. It just so happened to line up with the Sturgis festivities and we of course had to go check it out!

I would say Sturgis was just about what I expected it to be – thousands of bikes, lots of leather, and lots of women without shirts on. (And apparently the REAL naughty areas of Sturgis aren’t even downtown, but in the campgrounds outside of the street vendors!) It’s definitely not a place to go if you are a hardcore feminist, as everything is basically geared towards middle aged men with beer bellies. The bumper stickers on the motorcycles were even borderline offensive to the sensitive types (me – I’m the sensitive type). The bartenders were all women, mostly in bras and underwear paired with some fishnetting here and there. Street vendors would paint your tata’s for you if you wanted to take your shirt off. There was even one bar where you are encouraged to take your bra and panties off and hang them on the ceiling! (No way in hell I was going to take the only bra I own anymore, my $50+ Victoria Secret bra, and hang it from the ceiling.)

Uncle Evan chaperoned us out to Sturgis, guiding the way and reminiscing on stories from all the years he has attended. He took us to his staple bar, where every year he carves his and my Aunt Missy’s initials into the wooden table. We walked the streets and grazed the food and all the vendors. We may have taken a few shots of Jack Daniels, as there was no shortage of it anywhere. We met some fun people in the process, and enjoyed a steamy afternoon in the sun. The best part was when we went to the Knuckle Saloon and Evan volunteered for a random entertainment and had to hold a potato in between his buttcheeks and walk it over to a bucket! It was a lot of fun, and I’m glad we got to do it, as who knows when and if we will ever experience that again!

The Black Hills National Forest

Comprised of over 1.2 million acres of forest and mountain wilderness, the Black Hills are a truly incredible place and a breathe of fresh air from all the dirt and dust of the Badlands. The “Black Hills” name comes from Lakota and was named because from a distance the ever so green tree covered hills appear black to the naked eye.


Hiking in the Park

Without doing any research at all on where the best places to hike are, we put our trust in my 16 year old cousin Samuel to take us on an adventure. Thankfully Sam likes to hike too and wanted to take us to one of the most popular trails, the tallest peak of the whole Hills! Formally known as Harney Peak Trail, the Black Elk Trailhead was a true workout full of otherworldly views of the area. Before we even got there we cruised through the mountainsides in his Grandma’s convertible, with rolling hills and lush green trees everywhere.

There were a few different trails you could take to get to the peak, and of course we choose the longer, more strenuous, roughly 7 mile trail. I would probably rank this in one of my top 5 toughest hikes, but it was so well worth it, offering picture perfect views the whole way through. The round trip hike took us just under 4 hours to complete, but we stopped quite a few times on the way up and hung out at the peak for probably about an hour exploring the views and having ourselves a rewarding snack.

The top of the trailhead stood about 7,500 feet up, with a fire tower lookout offering 360 views of the area, and supposed views of four different US States: Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Super odd – but at the top of the trail there were SWARMS of ladybugs! Literally everywhere. It was a full on attack! We had to take our photos quickly and move to a different area of the rock to sit and have a rest. 


There are tons of other trail opportunities in the park and we hope to check out at least one more this week – hopefully tomorrow if the weather will cooperate for us!

Mt. Rushmore

A National Memorial! I saw it once, around the age of 10, on the way out to Yellowstone with my Dad. I honestly never remembered it being in the midst of the Black Hills though – in my mind it was always just off a regular highway or something, ha!

Mount Rushmore is located about 30 miles away from Rapid City, near Keystone, and features 150 years of American history with the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt in the side of a mountain. The monument is about 5,725 feet above sea level and scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall.

In an effort to continue to save money where we can, we did not go inside the gates to capture our views. Instead we pulled over on the side of the highway and snapped some photos and moved on. (We were also starting to outrun a storm by that point!) What’s cool is that as you’re driving to or from the entrance you catch a quick glimpse of George’s head peeking out through the mountainside.

Crazy Horse

This monument isn’t any more finished than it was 20 years ago when I first saw it – which is really too bad! Again on this one, we did not pay to enter the gates, and instead pulled on the side of the road to catch some quick views. You couldn’t exactly see much, but that’s also because there isn’t a whole lot done on it.

Crazy Horse, the world’s largest mountain carving, began in 1948. A Lakota Sioux warrior artist and his family intended to create a 641 foot long, 563 foot high statue. Work has since been paused, stopped, and donations have been sought after to allow continuation of progress.

Custer State Park

Known for its scenic drives, bison herds, historic sites, fishing lakes, campgrounds, resorts, and hiking trails – Custer State Park has been named one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations. This is one of the nation’s largest state parks, with over 70,000 acres to roam.

We hope to travel out here tomorrow, so we will see what that journey brings!

Other Places to Check Out

Jewel Cave – One of the longest caves in the world, with over 202 miles of documented trails! It is filled with brilliant crystals, colors, and an ecosystem not found anywhere else.

Wind Cave – Another one of the world’s largest known caves, with over 142 miles of passages. Wind Cave is known for its variety of minerals and displays of boxwork formations.

Devils Tower National Monument – We plan to find this on our way through Wyoming! Devil’s Tower is a striking wonder and Native American Legend, standing 1,267 feet high. This was one of the nations first proclaimed national monuments by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906! There is a 1.25 mile trail around the base that I hope we have an opportunity to check out.

Scenic, South Dakota – An abandoned downtown, with only an apparent gas station and possible church/food station open. Just a few miles from my Grandma’s house and something you can put yourself in jail over. (See above!) 

Everywhere I go, I keep falling in love with the trees, and wanting to stay just a little bit longer. 

Aside from the severe storms, we have really been enjoying ourselves out here, but unfortunately we are nearing the time for us to solidify our next plans and start to make our way to Wyoming. At this point in time we still do not have our route set, or our next stop, but we will be working on that for the next few days of the week. By this time next week we should already be through parts of Wyoming, crazy! Here’s to wishful thinking that we will have nothing but sunshine for our last few days in South Dakota.

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Week #12 life updates! Our new tentative travel route across the United States, how we are doing on budget and finances, and more! I also hope to do a second post next week on what it’s been like to travel with 2 feisty Bengal cats.

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