The stark beauty of the Badlands of South Dakota rendered both of us speechless—again. We’d visited the area last year and were so entranced with it that we knew we’d return if the chance came up. It did
While browsing Facebook a few months ago, I saw the announcement of an event that was to take place at the Crazy Horse Memorial near Rapid City the first weekend of June, and from a previous tour of some National Parks, I knew visiting both sites was doable. It didn’t take much encouragement for my husband to agree. “This time,” he said, “I just hope it’s not raining.” And after a few moments, “And maybe we’ll see some bison this go-round.”
Yes! I thought. It’s gonna happen.
Nine days ago, we whizzed right through Interior, South Dakota and headed straight to the Cedar Pass Lodge for a hearty breakfast. I opted for a kids’ meal and added a pancake with ears. After all, we were planning to hike three trails, and I wanted to be fortified with vitamins and fuel. Although I was hungry, I couldn’t eat but half the pancake. That’s how generous the servings are. After breakfast, we ambled over to the gift shop where the hubs purchased a couple of tee-shirts and a hat.
After a picture taking frenzy of taking photographs of other happy campers and them taking pictures of us outside of the Ben Reifel Visitors’ Center next door, we knew it was time to start hiking. Ummm. Hiking might not be the correct word. Walking is probably better. Along all three trails we stopped to examine plants and rocks and to take photographs of the drop-dead gorgeous nature all around us. While all the trails were relatively short, easy, and awe-inspiring, the last one was probably our favorite. We felt like we were on the moon—no plants, just craters and buttes and spires.
After spending several hours at the Badlands, first called “mako sika” by the Lakota, we agreed that we’d have just enough time to squeeze in a quick visit to Wounded Knee. How could we come this far and not make the effort? We consulted with a ranger at the Visitors’ Center who advised us to take the dirt road through Sage Creek leaving the park to get us closer to Wounded Knee. Though dirt, Sage Creek Road was smooth and well-maintained. The animals, especially the small prairie dogs, were an added bonus.
About five miles down this twenty-six mile, less-traveled road, we noticed rain clouds in the distance. They were menacing, and we tried to ignore them. What if we got stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone coverage? But then the clouds shifted, and we inched along, keeping our fingers crossed that we’d be spared a deluge. Soon there were more miles behind us than before us, and we began to breathe a little easier. Sage Creek ended, and there was an asphalt road before us. We turned right, and soon we were in Scenic, South Dakota, not exactly a garden spot but a unique and unforgettable one for sure.
We saw what looked like a store, and I was appointed to go inside and ask for directions. A woman at the counter pointed left and said, “Just keep going straight, and you’ll run right into it.”
“Really? It’s that easy?”
“Yes,” she said with so much assurance that I walked confidently to the car, pointed straight, and said, “That way.”
On and on and on we went through Pine Ridge Reservation, the eighth largest in the nation…the poorest too. Cows, horses, and prairie dogs dotted the fields and wide open spaces along the way, quite a difference from the rugged and rocky terrain of the Badlands. Occasionally, a home or community building came into view, and in a least one area, Porcupine, we saw people and buildings.
Turns out Wounded Knee wasn’t exactly right at the end of that road, but that’s a story for another day. The experience deserves its own post.