Thursday, October 1, 2015

Road Trip: Badlands National Park

When we stepped outside at the Rapid City, South Dakota airport, I thought huh...there's really nothing here. That's true and it's not. South Dakota sits back, secure in its beauty and the sites and secrets it holds, and waits for you to come to it. It does not come to you. It doesn't attempt to seduce you with fancy brochures. But you find yourself imagining a life as Laura Ingalls Wilder soon enough anyway.

Our first stop was in Wall, at the infamous and tacky Wall Drug, a must for the tourons out there. About 45 minutes from the airport, Wall is a one horse tourist trap town with meh food in the Wall Drug cafeteria but plenty of people watching opportunities. I adored its little stone library, and there was a little free library rack outside too.
Then it was on to the Badlands after we stocked up on gallons of water and some jerky, nuts, and protein bars. There was a temporary road closure, so we cut through to the back end of the park on a dirt and gravel road (Sage Creek Road). We immediately encountered a shit ton of prairie dogs, some antelope, and some buffalo...and not much else. Wide open spaces, indeed. There weren't too many other people around the first three or four hours we were in the park.
The Badlands are harsh, lonely, and beautiful. It was like being dropped into a prehistoric era except we had electronics and a car. It is not a place where man is king. Weather, animal, earth, and sky are king there. Standing up on the bluffs, I felt how vast the world is, how old the earth is, and how insignificant this life is in time and space. There are very few times when it's good to feel small. This was one of them. To visit this place is to be instantly humbled and aware of your tenuous grip on a tiny strand in the universe.
We stopped at overlooks around the loop road of the park before pulling off to do some hiking at Pig Dig, an archaeological site. We kept it relatively short and took a lot of water with us - it's like the Sahara out there. We saw a lot of interesting rocks, awesome colors, and heard the telltale rattle of a snake so we beat feet the other way. We did some climbing (MFD more than me, of course) and really enjoyed being pretty much alone in the middle of the Badlands.
We continued to loop around the park and checked into our hotel as we got closer. When it comes to National Parks trips, you are limited with your hotel and dining selections if you're staying inside park boundaries. We lucked out with this one. Great views, quiet, and not a bad room.
The food at Cedar Pass Lodge wasn't bad either - the bison burger and ice cream (made at South Dakota State University) were awesome. But enough about the food - here's the sunset.
We were up and out by 7 the next morning to stop at the few places we wanted to see but were unable to get to the day before. On a trip like this, you can't be lounging around wasting your mornings. When there's a lot to see, you're just burning daylight.

MFD did some more climbing and I just stood on a rock taking in the enormity and the silence and the skies that changed by the second.
I know MFD felt like he could spend more time there, but I feel like we got a good overview and that it's definitely doable in what amounts to about a 10 hour day. I loved staying overnight in the Badlands - the stars were incredible and I saw the freaking milky way, right in front of my eyes. My neck hurt from looking up. I'll keep that photo stored in my mind's eye forever.

The day we drove out, actual tumbleweeds were flying across the road. Laura Ingalls Wilder, can you hear me? I made it. 

Next up: the day we saw everything. 

The dirty details - if you'd like a full trip itinerary, please comment below or email me at
Day 1: PHL - Rapid City, SD with a layover at O'hare in Chicago. Arrived in Rapid City at 10:23 a.m. Rental car from Hertz, picked up right in the very tiny Rapid City airport. Stopped for lunch in Wall then on to Badlands National Park by 1.
Hotel: Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park
Day 2: Badlands until 9 a.m.

In my head the whole time? 
Light's out tonight
Trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision
Smashin' in my guts, man
I'm caught in a crossfire
I don't understand
But there's one thing I know for sure, girl
I don't give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don't give a damn for just in-betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now
Talk about a dream, try to make it real
You wake up in the night
With a fear so real
You spend your life waiting
For a moment that just don't come
Don't waste your time waiting
Badlands, you gotta live it everyday
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
Keep pushin' till it's understood
These Badlands start treating us good

 photo green_zpsc25796d6.png

Linking up with Kristin and Joey for Stuff & Things

Stuff, Things, etc.


  1. That stone library in Wall is quite cute. I told you while you were there, but I don't expect you to remember, I drove around the Badlands when I was about 20. I don't think I appreciated it (and I didn't take any pictures) as much as I should have.

  2. My last company laid us off because they were relocating our duties to a center in SD. I've heard parts of it are booming, and that the rest is not. "The rest" part is where I'd love to visit someday! It seems peaceful, and I mean the photos you shared, how can you beat the view?!

  3. What an awesome trip! I've never thought about going to a National Park for vacation but I'm starting to like this idea! Maybe a road trip next summer...

  4. That's amazing! I'm one of those people who picture the midwest as just boring land (sorry to anyone that lives there!). I never thought about the beauty that's there. It's really quite breathtaking! You really don't understand how much there is to see out there (at least I didn't until I saw all of your Instagrams from the trip). Beautiful!

  5. File this under awesome travel blog. You have the best blog in the universe and it keeps getting better.
    OMG rattle of the rattlesnake OMG- glad the lights and angels were around you both. Oh, that sky and I can just imagine the stars and the Milky Way- they are awesome at Lori and Jacks and I get it with the neck hurting! So happy you took all of these pictures. They make me want to sing America the Beautiful over and over.
    Lover, Your MOMMA

  6. Amazing trip report!! I actually feel like I could hear the (imagined) silence. I would love to experience the star views - that's one of my bucket list items... It's something so simple that seems so difficult to do. Your sky pictures are amazing - the vast size of the "nothingness" is captured beautifully! Love.

  7. this is so amazing! i would have loved to stay there looking at the sky and taking it all in.

  8. I've added your stops to my RV road trip bucket list, I can't wait to hear about the other days.

  9. Wow. Just wow. Not only was it incredibly beautiful, it was so exquisitely described! Your writing skill is overflowing here!

  10. Badlands was absolutely playing in my head as I read this. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

  11. Gorgeous pics! Now this is the part of South Dakota I wish I got to see! All I saw was the nothingness from the neverending highway while driving clear across the state. I didn't even get to see Mt. Rushmore. It's time for a do-over :-P

    Green Fashionista

  12. oh my goodness, what absolutely gorgeous photos! i love what you said about feeling small.. very true. i love and hate that feeling, but when i'm travelling and somewhere new it's hard not to love it!

  13. I mean the views are just amazing - open spaces, beautiful animals and a great partner to share it all with! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

  14. You're right, no one talks about going to South Dakota but you've just changed my opinion on that. The views are amazing!

    Martinis & Bikinis

  15. Your photos are AMAZING! I'm so excited to hear about your fabulous trip!

  16. Wow, just so, so pretty! I loved all your instagrams during this time and every time they popped-up, I wanted to just be there .The place looks incredible and the cabin!!!! Ugh, I want to be there right now. Thank you for sharing. I kinda want to bank this for a future vacation, everything looks so stunning.

  17. We chatted about this before you left so you already know the Badlands are on my travel bucket list. So yes, I'd like your itinerary, please and thank you.

  18. Wait... wasn't the Badlands on The Bachlor / Bachlorette recently? :) Did you see any jilted roses anywhere? :)

  19. These pictures are just absolutely amazing!!! I kept getting distracted just looking at them. This is so not what I think when I hear South Dakota. I love bison burgers!

  20. See that is my kind of place. I'd love to see all that natural beauty. What a great experience!

  21. I love places that leave you in awe and remind you of your place in the universe. I felt like that when we did the redwoods last year. The thought of the thousands of years that place had been untouched and that those trees had grown made it so majestic, I assume very similar to the Badlands. I haven't ever been there, but it's now on my list. I can't wait to see/read more about the trip!

  22. I've always wanted to visit South Dakota and Montana, they are both on my bucket list! Your pictures really capture the amazing views of the west!

  23. I feel like if you don't experience this in person, it's hard to take in that such a place exists. It's just beautiful beyond words.. And vast.
    Prairie dogs are something else. A friend of a friend had a pair of them years back and they were the most comical little buggers ever. I love those buffalo - aren't they just massive creatures?!

    Looks like you had an amazing trip girl.

  24. man y'all saw a lot! it's hard to fit it all in but looks like y'all did it right. this makes me want to go there right now.

  25. I love love love looking at all of your vacation photos! It looks (and sounds!) like such an amazing trip. A SD trip never crossed my mind until now :) Can't wait to read and see the rest of the trip!

  26. There are really no words for how amazing this trip must have been. To be out in nature where you are a speck in the big scheme of things is beyond huge. I am in awe of the pictures so I can't begin to imagine what your experience was like. Fabulous.

  27. Awwww... the prairie dogs are so cute peeking out of their holes! lol :D
    So cool that you got to see the Milky Way, and in such a gorgeous setting!

  28. Oh I am so in love with that first paragraph and how you described South Dakota. I've never been, but I can feel it now! I've wanted to see the Badlands for a while now and even moreso after seeing these amazing pictures and hearing about your adventure. So glad you got to have this incredible experience! Thanks for sharing bits of it with us.

  29. I love absolutely everything about this. The pictures are amazingly beautiful and your words describing the whole thing were perfect. Plus, you stopped at Wall Drug :)

  30. What an awesome experience. To experience the world with only one look at the environment around you. What a satisfying trip!

  31. I LOVE all these photos, Steph!!! I saw the Badlands as a kid, probably around age 8-9 and while I remember thinking it was awesome- I know I would appreciate it so much more now as an adult. Common theme for a lot of things in life I guess :) I would love to go back and stays IN the park like you did- I love the lodge you stayed in!

  32. Wow. Nature is amazing. I really appreciate your sense of adventure and all of the planning and route choosing that must have gone into this, too.

  33. I'm glad you were able to enjoy your trip to the Badlands.
    When we saw the Laura Ingalls Wilder sign we got all excited, I think I may have a picture. I'm horrible I still have to go through pictures. You are on it! :)

  34. I think I would love it there, such wonderful views and everything nature. It is so amazing how something that big makes you feel small, and part of the world.

  35. Oh the tumbleweeds. I hate them. Were you near De Smet???
    We stopped at Wall Drug a few years ago!

  36. Oh the tumbleweeds. I hate them. Were you near De Smet???
    We stopped at Wall Drug a few years ago!

  37. hearing about your vacation/seeing pictures keeps giving me the chills.

  38. This is so amazing! I'm copying and pasting your itinerary as you post it. ;) The hotel situation kinda scares me on a trip like this (I'm a germaphobe), but the one you were in is cute! I think we'll be renting a campervan, but that kinda scares me too. Ha! I seriously never knew where Wall Drug. Those places are so weird, but I'll have to stop. I remember the first time I saw tumbleweed in Arizona and was shocked that it really existed. (I was 13, don't hold it against me. Haha!)

  39. I was obviously stalking your Instagram while you were away, but I loved reading your thoughts in this post and seeing even more beautiful images. (And I'd love a copy of your itinerary! Eric and I have been discussing visiting a lot of the places you guys hit on this trip.)

    I've actually never been to South Dakota. It's actually kind of ridiculous since I've been living in a neighboring state for 6 years now. I'll make it there one day ... I have to hit all 50 states eventually!

    Oh, and I love bison burgers. :-)


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