2012 Western Road Trip: The Badlands

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Before I jump into stories from our trip, let me set the stage for this year’s vacation…

After last summer’s trip to Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, Jason and I discussed sticking closer to home for the next few years. We are making amazing progress on paying off our land, and we figured that saving some money on a few vacations would help us put even more money towards our loan. We’re right on track for our original five-year plan. In fact, we might make it in four years. Fingers crossed!

So my original thought for our 2012 trip was a tour of northern Wisconsin: camping at Big Bay State Park, taking the ferry to Isle Royale National Park for a few days, maybe hitting the Minocqua area on the way home. Then work happened.

I’m not going to lie, this year was not a good one for me at work (working in higher education, my year runs August through May). While I have been presented with amazing opportunities, worked with great students, and done good work, I was absolutely miserable. Tearful calls to Jason in the middle of the workday were a common theme.

During one of these depressing calls in late February/early March, I made it clear that I needed to get away away. I needed mountains. Plans were quickly underway to get the heck out of Wisconsin.

I have never been so glad to have a bad day at work   😀

Jason and I hit the road the afternoon of Friday, May 11th. We needed to get to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming by Sunday, May 13th. The first half-day of the trip, we made it to Sioux Falls, South Dakota sometime around 11:00pm. We resumed our drive early on Saturday knowing we had several stops to make, yet wanting to get as far into Wyoming as possible. Our first major stop: Badlands National Park.

Welcome to Badlands

South Dakota is not an exciting state to drive through…until you hit the Badlands. You start to catch glimpses of the topography shift right along the interstate. Then you exit off the interstate, drive down a simple road surrounded by nothing (except a sod house – any other National Lampoons Vacation fans out there?), and suddenly it’s like you’re in a completely different state. It felt very desert Southwest to me (although I’ve never been).


Desert Southwest with open prairie woven in.


In the Badlands

Jason and I kept it simple and just drove the Highway 240 Loop Road. It essentially starts off I-90 and takes you right back to it. We stopped at a couple of overlooks and at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, where my souvenir shopping spree began   🙂

A Road Runs through It


Note: The next two photos were from the car window. I was pretty proud of how well they turned out.

Yellow Badlands

Yellow Badlands

We made it a point to stop at the Pinnacles Overlook. I assumed it was good since it was the only overlook actually noted on our US atlas. It did not disappoint.


Buddy Bison! I accidentally left him behind last summer and on our trip to Shenandoah   🙁
Buddy in the Badlands

We encountered several snake warning signs in South Dakota. This was the only one with a visual. Good, but scary, to know.

Beware Rattlesnakes!

South Dakota?

Mix of Topography

Badlands is also where we encountered our first “Idiot of the Day.” So, you saw the sign indicating that rattlesnakes could be in the area. And if you look at the last photo, you will see that the grass around the area isn’t exactly short. Our first “Idiot” decided to go off running through this tall grass with his dog in order to chase after a wild turkey. While we didn’t care if the “Idiot” got bit by a snake, we were so sad by the possibility that his dog could get hurt. Jerk.

In terms of wildlife, we saw some prairie dogs in the park. We didn’t stop to observe their little “town,” but it wouldn’t be our last opportunity for prairie dogs. Badlands is also where we had our first casualty of the trip. We did see one rattlesnake…right in the middle of our lane just as our car was about to run over it. Oops!

After we drove the loop, we came out in the town of Wall, home to the infamous Wall Drug.

Wall Drug

We couldn’t not stop for a visit. Although it wasn’t as cool as we expected (cool might not be the right word), I did pick up some Black Hills Gold earrings. And now we can say that we’ve been to Wall Drug.

Up next… Mount Rushmore!

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2 thoughts on “2012 Western Road Trip: The Badlands

  1. Ellen

    Beautiful pictures Laura! Badlands NP is one of my favorite places in South Dakota. I hope you found much recharging and solitude on your trip. I can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip!

  2. Jennifer

    LOVE the pictures. I’m going to really love these upcoming postings because it will help with my trip planning for next year. Badlands is a stop we will be making….these pictures are making me anxious to go next year!!! Hope you had fun and that you were able to relax!


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