Experiencing Western South Dakota

June 3, 2013

Today’s first activity was a hike at Badlands National Park. Yesterday evening, at the visitors center, I had chosen a hike for our group that was mostly considered “moderate”. Only the initial 1/4 of a mile, which started from the parking lot and took us up the side of the structures towards a plateau was considered “strenuous”. This initial part was pretty strenuous, and, had it gone on for over a mile, would have made a difficult hike. But, after the initial climb, most of the trail system we traversed on this morning, would be pretty flat, with only minor inclines and declines. This, of course, was the part of the trail that was labelled “moderate” in difficulty. I guess, the “moderate” difficulty rating was a let down because, the badlands, while a beautiful natural place, is not a place with a lot of terrain. There simply isn’t 1,000 ft. worth of incline to find.



Difficulty ratings for hikes have no set standard. How any place labels it’s hikes is completely to the discretion of the park. It reminds me of the differences we observe between ski trails labeled green vs. blue vs. black at different ski resorts. Some of the easiest black diamond ski trails I have skied in Wisconsin may even be considered green if they were to be in Colorado; certainly, they would at least be blue, not black. So, I guess it is important to understand the relative context of activities while planning them. While occasionally you will run into an activity with a standardization of sorts, like whitewater rafting, it seems like when it comes to most activities, descriptions of difficulty levels are subjective as well as relative.

The biggest waste of time today was driving about five miles out of our way to search for Bison at the Badlands. The reason being that our ultimate destination today was Custer. In Custer we saw so many Bison, and so many up close, that the search for Bison anywhere else today, well, the idea of looking for Bison anywhere else today seems utterly silly at this point in time.



We gave in to the nearly 200 (well, possibly even more) billboards we saw yesterday, and we went to Wall Drug. This place does a really good job of marketing itself, given that the main goal of marketing is to make people aware of your product. The signs, bumper stickers, and such make sure everyone is aware of the existence of Wall Drug. I had heard from others that the place was a gigantic tourist trap and not really worth it, but it is so close that it is worth going and finding out for myself.



The place was actually alright. It was a little bit cheesy. In the front , there is an actual drug store, true to its name. Behind that is a restaurant and ice cream parlor, which is pretty neat. The rest is mainly souvenir shops. Behind the store, there is this kind of old west town that many tourist traps in the high plains have. The only oddity is that they also have a really poor replica of a dinosaur there too. This was advertised on many billboards, so I am glad the delivered on this. But this does not belong right next to a replica of a village from 1880. Time periods should be consistent.

I made one key mistake there. I ate both ice cream and a donut. That is just simply too much sugar, simple sugar. A little over half an hour down the road, I got that sugar crash, and, for about half an hour could barely keep myself awake. This sucked, because the scenery was starting to become really interesting as we approached Rapid City and then drove Southwest on U.S. 16, and the 16-A.



The mountains here (I guess they are referred to as hills), are legit. I mean, the way the look, both from a distance, and up close when you drive into them, are actually not too different from the mountains of Colorado. This, I find somewhat surprising. When people make lists of states with really cool mountains, and I mean really big ones, it does not seem like South Dakota is ever really on that list. At least the association is never really made in my mind. I had always kind of known South Dakota to be kind of more interesting than the other plains states, and known that this area existed. But, it was not until now that I fully realized that the terrain in this area is significant when compared to other places in the country. It’s not as mountainous as Colorado, but it is not insignificant.





Today the sun rose at 5:30, and set at 8:30, for a total of 15 hours of daylight. I kept thinking about how much is possible with all these hours of daylight. It takes generally an hour or so to set up camp, start a fire, and cook. Today, we were able to take showers because we had extra time after cooking. This was after not arriving until nearly 6:00. In most other months, this would not have been possible. All this week, it seems like we had been less stressed, or had gotten more done than we would have in the fall, or some other time of year with less sunlight.

The problem is, June is the best time of year for a lot of things. Storm chasing is good, rafting is good, and with the most daylight possible, camping, touring, and such are all easier. So, how do we take advantage of our Junes. Should we work our asses off at other times of the year so we could get June off? That might cause too much stress at the other end of the year. How do we decide what activities are most deserving of these days? At the very least, the NBA and NHL can stop extending their playoffs into June so people don’t use up this time watching sports.

Oh, and we also saw Mount Rushmore. It was a bit smaller than I expected.

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