South Dakota – Unexpectedly Interesting

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Where to begin with South Dakota? This is not a state that was ever on my radar for travel until we started RVing, and then we started hearing about how beautiful and interesting it is. The past 3 years, we traveled in the winter which is NOT the season to head here since they can get 70” of snow. When we left Connecticut in June this time, we knew we had to head for South Dakota.

First stop was Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota with a population of about 190,000. That’s about 10,000 more people than Providence, but while the latter is condensed in about 18 square miles, Sioux Falls is 78 square miles large! What a neat city it is, too! We were in a state park about 20 minutes from the downtown area, and encountered no traffic at all, driving in. As a matter of fact, if we turned right out of our campground, we could take the three-mile dirt road that got us into the city faster!

The dirt road, East Maple Street, that took us from our campground to the city of Sioux Falls.

Our main reason for stopping here was to take care of some maintenance issues. First, our A/C quit on us. We’d been relying on fans to get us across the country in 90+ degree heat, and some repair shops told us we’d have to wait until August or September. Schapps RV Traveland in Sioux Falls offered us the earliest appointment, was happy to take care of the warranty paperwork and, most importantly, fixed the problem. We were on our way with no bill at all, and we’re grateful to them for taking good care of us.

The Honda made up for the motorhome’s $0 bill. Our emergency brake cable had broken and Bob, who is the handiest man I know with plenty of car repair knowledge, was unable to repair it himself or even put a bandaid on it until we got to the shop. We had no choice but to tow it from Victoria, Minnesota, where the failure occurred, to the Ford dealer in Sioux Falls. You could hear the cable banging around in it’s housing and I knew it would be bad. We ended up with quite the unexpected bill for this, but we know that as full-timers things like this are bound to happen once in a while. Let’s hope we got it out of our system early in the game!

So, we had time to explore the city, and it really quite nice. The downtown historic district area of South Phillips Avenue has tons of shops, restaurants, salons and an art installation showcasing sculptures from artists around the country. We enjoyed the stroll and breakfast at a local bistro, Josiah’s Coffee, Cafe and Bakery.

The best part of our Sioux Falls stop was seeing our friends Dawn, Doyle and Winky, who we met last winter in San Antonio. Dawn and Doyle recently sold their home in Alabama and became full-timers. They had just left the San Juan Islands in Washington state and were heading for Michigan’s upper peninsula. We loved catching up and helping to celebrate Doyle’s birthday and look forward to more fun when we see them in San Antonio this winter.

Dawn, Doyle, Louise and Bob; Dawn and Bob practice guitar together.

We made a quick stop in the tiny town of Chamberlain on the banks of the Missouri River, then headed for the Badlands.

We’d been looking forward to this stop since the start of the trip. We weren’t just coming here for the Badlands, we were coming to visit Rene, the daughter of Bob’s best friend. A culinary school graduate, Rene has had the travel bug at least since college. After graduation, she treated herself to a trip to Europe and has been itching to travel ever since. She scratched that itch a few years ago by taking a six-month position at Deadhorse Camp in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on the Arctic sea where she whipped up all kinds of delicious baked delights for the truckers and loggers who stopped to eat at the camp. Now, Rene has taken a summer position at the Badlands where she manages the front desk at the lodge. She’s doing a great job, getting to see the country, making friends and building skill sets. We’re so glad that we’ve been able to spend time with her!

Visiting Rene was absolutely the highlight of this stop!

As for the Badlands … wow! The striking rock formations got their start about 75 million years ago when there was a shallow sea covering this portion of what is now North America. Over the course of millions of years, various types of sediment mixed with volcanic ash to create layers of shale, limestone and clay as well as vegetation that was covered by ash. Eventually, with the movement of tectonic plates, the earth began to push upwards and the sea began to disappear. As a sea became rivers, then streams, erosion of this very fragile rock wore it away causing the folds, fissures and formations that are visible now. Erosion continues at the rate of about one inch per year. Compare that to the erosion rate of the Black Hills in far west South Dakota, which is about one inch per 100,000 years! Someday, the Badlands will disappear completely.

The Western Interior Seaway covered this entire section of the continent millions of years ago.
Various images of the terrain in the Badlands showing layers of sediment.
I always love rocks that look like “things,” in this case, Alfred Hitchcock and Cruella de Vil!
There must be millions of prairie dogs here, and you can see millions of prairie dog dens as you drive.
Sunset at the Badlands through smokey air from the Oregon wildfires 1,300 miles west.

There is not much in the way of wildlife in the Badlands because it’s a pretty harsh landscape with little water. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, a small herd of bison, porcupines, snakes (including rattlesnakes) and a few hearty birds are pretty much all you’ll see. And the bighorn sheep are a pretty common sight — they almost seem to come out and pose for the cameras.

Wildlife, from top left going clockwise: Prairie dog, cliff sparrow, bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer and magpies.
Bighorn sheep coming down the rocks. Look at the narrow ledge he landed on!

The RV park we’re in is in a great location … we’re 3 miles from the Badlands North entrance and less than a mile from Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which educates about the Cold War and pays tribute to the tens of thousands of women and men who worked on the Minuteman project in all of its facets as well as the United States citizens who prepared for nuclear holocaust and lived in fear of the end of the world. It’s a small but well-planned exhibit with a very interesting 30-minute film. A few miles down I-90 is the Delta-09 Silo containing a decommissioned missile which anyone can peer down into. Also nearby is Delta-01 Silo where they take one small group of six persons each day down an elevator into the control chamber. Get tickets well in advance for that — there were none available the week we stayed here.

Bob leaning against the 5 ton door to the Delta-09 missile silo. Each of the 1,000 missiles planted in the Great Plains carried a 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead.

And so we’ll finish up our week in the Badlands, enjoy Rene’s company, and then continue westward!

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