August 9 – The Badlands, a Minuteman Missile Site, and Wall Drug (Part Two)

In my last post I told you about visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and then ran out of space. There was still a lot of day left when I departed the Command Center, so I rode back along I-90 to the eastern end of the Badlands National Park and turned onto the access road.

Before I got back to the park, though, I stopped to wander through the Prairie Homestead and find out what a real, honest-to-goodness sod dugout house looked like. You may remember an earlier post where I described my visit to De Smet and the Laura Ingalls Wilder compound. Since the guide told us Ms. Wilder had written about living in a sod dugout home, I was curious to see what a real one looked like. As restored, it looks like this:

The original dugout has a dirt floor and is about 12 feet (l-r) by 24 feet (front-back)

The original dugout has a dirt floor and is about 12 feet (l-r) by 24 feet (front-back)

The later add-on has a wood floor and is about 15 feet (l-r) by 12 feet (front-back).

The later add-on is all wood and is about 15 feet (l-r) by 12 feet (front-back).

This is the front room in the original dugout.

This is the front room in the original dugout. The back room holds a bed and dresser, along with a couple of trunks.

This shows part of the add-on room, looking back to the original dugout. Notice how thick the wall is between the two.

This shows part of the add-on room, looking back to the original dugout. Notice how thick the wall is between the two.

The site also includes a root cellar, a chicken coop, a barn, and other buildings. Tools and equipment that were used on the land when it was actively being farmed are also lying around.

This land was originally homesteaded in 1909, which surprised me, because I knew the Homestead Act had been signed in the 1860s, and somehow I thought all the homesteading was finished by the turn of the century. Not so. The western parts of South Dakota, at least, weren’t fully homesteaded until during the Great Depression. A common saying among homesteaders was  this (a reference to the homestead filing fee, the size of the homestead claim, the five-year residency/improvement requirement, and the difficulties involved):DSC01318

After leaving the Prairie Homestead, I entered the Badlands National Park, and was disabused of another misconception. I had thought that the Badlands area was a large part of South Dakota, similar in size to, say, a mountain range (like the Black Hills). While it *is* large (in my terms, anyway – the park is 244,000 acres), the Badlands themselves are actually a boundary between an upper plateau and a lower riverbed, where erosion has created some fantastic shapes and sights. The “rock” making up the Badlands is really very soft, and actually looks more like hardened mud than rock. I think it’s actually kind of a transition material – it was compressed hard enough for long enough that it’s not just mud any more, but not so long that it became “real” sedimentary rock like sandstone or limestone. It’s estimated that in 500,000 years or so the Badlands will be completely eroded away. In fact, if you’re there during any kind of serious rainfall (I wasn’t), you can see it eroding right in front of you. This photo is a good example of how quickly erosion takes place. While this particular USGS marker is now in a display, it was originally at ground level outdoors. After only 45 years, the surrounding “rock” had been worn away about a foot. In contrast, Mt. Rushmore’s erosion rate is about 1/10 inch per thousand years.


The Badlands are like other western canyon systems, like the Grand Canyon or the Painted Desert, in that when you’re on the upper level, you can be walking along and not see any of it at all. Then, suddenly, you’re standing at the edge of a HUGE hole in the ground – like this:


It’s kind of like an anti-mesa. Instead of there being a structure that rises high above the otherwise flat ground, this is cut out of, and falls below, the otherwise flat ground.

The Badlands are also very visibly layered. Naturally, the photo isn’t nearly as awesome as the reality, but here’s a shot of the layers.


And now for something completely different. The west end of the Badlands scenic route ends in Wall, SD, which is the home of Wall Drug. If you’ve been anywhere *remotely* near Wall, SD (like within, say, two or three hundred miles), you’ve probably seen a billboard for Wall Drug. They’re all over the place! I think the first time I saw a Wall Drug sign was in the mid-1980s when we took a family trip through the area and saw Mt. Rushmore (among other sights). But until today, I had never gone in. Since I was so close (2 miles or less), and it was dinner time, I decided to pay Wall Drug a visit.

Oh. My. Gawd.

I think what Wall Drug has evolved into over the years is a self-contained mini-mall all under one roof. While it took me three photos to capture the front facade of the building, inside is a much different story. If you buy something in, say, the leather-goods area, you have to pay for it before you wander into another area. Plus, there are spaces that are vacant, and there are wide hallways that guide traffic from one area to another. I don’t know the financial arrangements between all the entities, but it was very big and very confusing.

The outside:




The inside (a VERY small part of the inside!):



After eating a shabby dinner at a restaurant across the street from Wall Drug, I fired up the Honda and headed back to camp. I watched a rainstorm coming from the west, and eventually decided it was time to suit up to stay dry. That proved to be a wise decision, as I was rained on (albeit not as hard as I had expected) as I rode through Rapid City. The weather cleared as I got back to Sturgis, and I was able to stop and take this shot of the “sign” (?!?) in front of the Full Throttle Saloon:


And THAT, Dear Readers, is the end of the two-part saga of August 9. A lot of riding, a lot of sightseeing, and a lot of fun.

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