Nickname: Mt. Rushmore State
Birthplace of: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Black Elk
Home of: Mt. Rushmore
Famous for: the HBO series, Deadwood
Official animal: coyote
Travelling down south from Bismarck, ND on the Native American Scenic Byway through native farming lands. The scenery starts looking more interesting from the flat North Dakotan landscape with rolling small hills and a winding river. For our first night we stopped by a frozen lake where the ice fishing was still pretty active, even after dark. The ice didn’t look strong enough to us but there were fishing huts, snowmobiles with trailers and even heavy pick-up trucks parking in the middle of the lake!
The following morning we wanted to try the ice so popped down for an ice-walking experience. It was a bit scary. As we were walking on the lake we heard big pops and cracks but still, there were many fishermen already driving on, gathering to find their spot in the middle.
Late morning we moved on. We were heading to the Badlands National Park, despite the warning of the snow-storm. Badlands is a fascinating place and we wanted to make it by the end of the day. The satnav predicted 5 hours through small gravel roads and farming routes so we thought we’ll be there before dark. An hour later, I looked down to check something in the guide book for a minute and when I looked up; the storm has arrived out of the blue. From blue sky and crystal clear visibility to eye-watering milkiness. The ice-cold wind was howling from north, banging and jossling Burt from the right. It was throwing the 8 ton vehicle about on the road. Although it was snowing, the problem wasn’t the “falling” snow it was the already settled snow that was blown across the roads so much and so thick that the visibility gone down to a couple of meters -sometimes we didn’t see the road at all. It was an epic and as we were driving on secondary dirt roads there was absolutely no traffic either way, thank goodness. We also needed to stop a few times to clear the windscreen wipers as they froze to the glass. We only got out for 2 minutes but our hands (through the thick gloves) got frozen so much it took 20 minutes to defrost and warm them up. One can really underestimate the cold or the weather.
The Badlands lacks in water, the scorching sun, arctic winter and bone-chilling wind “earned” its name. The name came from several different directions, the Lakota called it “mako sica” the French fur trappers “whatever-it-is-in-French” with the one meaning “Bad Land” (The Spanish were even less complimentary, they just called it “waste land”) Farmers and some settlers tried life here (in hope of finding gold) but eventually had to move away as nothing grew or survived on the infertile land. But where human failed to survive a healthy prairie ecosystem gave proof of that the land isn’t that bad after all. Lots of prairie animals happily live here. Also the area is one of the richest fossil-bed in the world.
Turned out, it was lucky that we came through farming roads as the highways were closed due to the storm. We arrived at the deserted national park, that usually gets millions of visitors, at dusk -changing clocks again to Mountain Time so it was darker even sooner. We found the Visitor Centre closed but bumped into Rick the park ranger who gave us permission to stop anywhere we like in the park and “enjoy, be our guests”. I think he was quite impressed by the fact that we wanted to camp there under the stormy conditions. We started driving down the internal road with the intention of finding our lovely peaceful night spot. The scenery was epic. Then it was getting dark really fast and with the storm getting stronger (approx. 55-60 m/h) I started to feel a bit uneasy. John totally enjoyed himself, I was peeing my pants and holding on tight as we were driving through the high, narrow and windy roads between the rocks and a deep drops, occasionally going through deep uneven snow patches. And it was all driving against the gale so didn’t do good to our diesel economy ether.
Finally decided to stop at a rest area. Phew. This was our most unsettling, howling blizzard night with not much sleep. We found out in the morning that in the dark we stopped on an open spot on the top of the highest point of the whole place. Doh. Anyway, in some respect it was actually really amazing, seeing the prairie at its most extreme. We got to see this daunting land in such condition not many people get to see.
Spent today in Wall. A small town not far north-west the Badlands. Yesterday, as we were driving from the north, probably from about 80-100 miles from here started to see nice vintage looking advert boards for “Wall Drugs”, a (pharmacy) store in town, on the side of the roads in every 200 meters. So we got intrigued. We also found out that in Wall we can learn more about one of the most infamous atrocities of US history that happened in December 1890 and where 250 unarmed Native Lakota men, women and children were shot by American soldiers. This was something we briefly came across with in one of our books and wanted to find out more about it. And it was recommended to come here as this information center tells an insightful story from the Lakota point of view. Strangely, we couldn’t ask anyone and we found this information building burnt down.
But we are here now in Wall at Wall Drugs. This lovely, old, wild wild west-fashioned big store where the coffee is 5 cent, they still give out free ice water*, they have freshly baked pies, and we can warm our hearts with the sight of hundreds of local art, paintings and photographs, store full of schlock, the largest number of cowboy boots selection, a book store full of stories of local legends (we got an audio book of Lewis&Clark we became fimiliar with on our way in the Dakotas but haven’t got a clue what their story was) they even have a travelers’ chapel and free wifi. Bonus all around.
*The store opened in 1931 as a small pharmacy store by a good-hearted couple.The town was poor and business was a struggle for 5 years. They almost shut the business when the wife thought they could give one thought a try. As they had plenty of water and ice, she thought they could offer free ice-water to thirsty travellers (this was the only route from the east to Yellowstone National Park) The husband and their son made up loads of ad boards and put them up by the side of Interstate-90 and route-14 from about 100 miles. This became a huge success and made not just their business somewhat famous but Wall as a town.
Ever since the store is a blooming business that run by the family (sons, daughetrs and grand children) We were touched by this insipring story and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the store -in fact we arrived at opening time and left just before closing.