I purposefully chose The Powder House Lodge in Keystone, South Dakota because it was a 10-minute drive away from Mt. Rushmore.
On the way to the hotel yesterday, we had to call and let them know we’d be arriving after office hours.
They left the keys on the office door in an envelope with our name on it. This was certainly not a chain hotel.
It was raining when we arrived and raining when we woke up this morning.
A dense fog, like a thick, white blanket, had settled into the area. It was a chilly 50 degrees.
This might be the first day that our plans would change due to weather.
We quickly got in the car and headed in the direction of Mt. Rushmore. As we drove, I read some history of the building of Mt. Rushmore to the family. It took 14 years (1927-1941), 400 men and women (paid $8 an hour), and loads of jackhammers and dynamite to sculpt the four presidential faces (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) into the granite rock face. In the building of the monument, there was not one fatality. Extraordinary.
My plan was a quick visit and some quick family pictures at Mt. Rushmore before we headed on to the Badlands National Park.
As we arrived at the parking lot of Mt. Rushmore, we prepared to pay the $10 parking fee even though the weather wasn’t good. The young lady taking the parking fees told us immediately that the fog was completely obscuring the faces in the granite.
“Do you still want to pay to park,” she asked?
Ohhhh…..that’s disappointing. Would we ever get to South Dakota again? All I wanted was a quick picture but…it wasn’t the Lord’s plan for us that day. Our whole trip thus far has been marked by perfect weather – how could we complain when we missed one stop three weeks into the trip?
We turned around and headed on to find food and The Badlands (cue ominous music).
Our next official stop would be Roberts Prairie Dog Town – a large, natural habitat for prairie dogs in the Badlands that was highly recommended by other visitors. As we drove nearer, the flatlands turned into green, rolling hills. It was only drizzling now.
We passed by several cattle ranches.
We stopped once to get a photo and the cattle seemed to pose in unison.
It’s a wonderful gift to a photographer when your subjects cooperate.
About two miles from Roberts Prairie Dog Town, the paved road turned into dirt. We were on Sage Creek Rim Road in the northern most part of Badlands National Park. The ruts in the dirt made for a very bumpy ride.
As we came over the hill, we saw a huge herd of bison in the roadway.
Oh my, are we in the right place? Could we continue on this road without asking for trouble?
One child (to remain unnamed) was convinced that these were cattle. We had a heated discussion about the fact that we know what buffalo look like. We’d seen plenty of them in Yellowstone. These were buffalo.
As we decided whether to proceed, a truck was slowly approaching us on the other side of the dirt road.
The truck’s emblem read: Blackhills Patrol.
The truck driver was a very nice man – super helpful. We asked him what these animals were. He confirmed that they were buffalo! Mmmmhmmm…
He told us that the male buffalo had sent the females and babies on ahead of them. The males were still behind us – watching us. The females and babies made up the large herd in our way on the road. He recommended just driving slowly through them. He said they would move.
He said, “Just beware if one turns toward you and drops his head – he might charge. Just don’t move and slowly back out of there.”
We asked about Roberts Prairie Dog Town and he told us that we’d find the left hand turn to it just ahead. We followed the mommas and babies slowly up the hill.
At the top of the hill, we saw the road on the left side that led to the prairie dog habitat. It was closed – with rope and a sign blocking it.
So we followed the main road to the right only to find another large herd of buffalo.
They were all staring at us.
And there were some really big ones.
I was having flashbacks of the fear I felt in the tent in Yellowstone.
We just sat in our car observing the bison – trying not to upset them and waiting to see if they would move.
One very large buffalo was actually rubbing his belly on a wood post. We got a kick out of that.
Finally, the two “gatekeepers” of the road moved out of the way and let us proceed. Shortly after, our GPS was trying to reroute us but it was just as confused as we were. I think we’re lost.
We stopped to look at our maps and try to figure out if there was another way to see the prairie dogs.
At that point, Nate got out of the car to stretch.
He wanted to kick the soccer ball around while we tried to figure out which way to go.
He saw a small hill and thought what most boys would think: that looks like a good thing to climb!
He took one step onto the hill and his shoe got stuck in the red mud.
We had to throw some paper towels out the window for him to get cleaned up before we let him back in the van.
After all that mess of getting around the buffalo, we had to turn around. Thankfully, as we came around the corner, the buffalo were all out of the road. We quickly got back to the paved roads and found our way to the Pinnacles Entrance to the park.
At the guard gate, we showed our 4th grade pass (of course) and the attendant told us two things we already learned the hard way – Roberts Prairie Dog Town is closed and hiking isn’t advisable in the rain because you’ll sink into the mud. Yes!
At our first overlook (Pinnacles Overlook) just inside the park, we saw a large group of bighorn sheep females and their babies. Nate did his 2nd grade animal report on bighorn sheep. Even though he’s a rising 7th grader, he really wanted to see the star of his report up close. He was so excited.
Just to our left, we saw a mamma and her baby perched atop the steep hill.
How in the world did they get up there?
It’s so amazing how God has created these animals to live in what people named the Badlands for its harsh terrain and lack of food/water supply.
As we continued along Badlands Loop Road, we saw prairie dog mounds on either side. We were happy when one peaked his head out to say hello.
Then I found some beautiful grass to take a picture of. The kids made fun of me for taking pictures of the grass. But look how pretty it is.
“We have grass at home, mom!”
“No, we only have weeds.”
“This is special grass – a part of Buffalo Gap National Grassland.”
Later that day, I heard Seth say, “Oh Luke, a trashcan. We don’t have those at home. Mom, you should take a picture of the trashcan.”
Funny, real funny!
The Badlands are a real mix of interesting topography – hard clay buttes surrounded by beautiful grasslands.
The variations in the clay make for beautiful patterns in the peaks.
Doesn’t this one look like a golfing green in the middle? I know that I couldn’t hit the green on this hole.
As we were leaving the park, we saw some male bighorn sheep in the parking lot. Nate was even more excited to see a male, with his large horns, so close. Thank you, Lord!
From the Northeast Entrance of Badlands National Park, we headed east on I-90 to Iowa. Our plan was to make it to Des Moines for a hotel. I knew when I planned this trip that the two longest days of driving would be today and tomorrow when we traveled from Iowa to Ohio. But overall, the driving hasn’t felt overwhelming. Today’s drive and tomorrow’s drive would test our resilience by the long hours and by the fact that we would lose one hour each day when changing time zones.
We’re almost to the end. God has been so good in helping us make it this far and allowing us to see so much of his creation. Thank you, Lord.