Cross-Country Trip Day 6: Rapid City to Murdo

South Dakota! Got to say, we don’t recommend it after this visit. At least not the part we spent time in (it looks like the Black Hills are nice). Though we found some bright spots, I’d just as soon drive through it as fast as possible next time.

The day started with breakfast at a slammed Denny’s, next to which was this amazing tribute to the Statue of Liberty... at a restaurant called Boston's. Huh?

Boston's restaurant with Lady Liberty

At Denny's, it was clear they were in serious trouble with how behind the kitchen was. The servers were standing around waiting for their food, and customers were walking out after losing patience with the wait. We weren’t in a hurry, though, and our waitress was very pleasant, checking in on us and keeping our coffee warm, so we waited it out. Our food was a bit of a disaster (clearly just thrown on the plate, and had to be sent back once), but served its purpose (calories!), and in the end, the staff so appreciated our patience that they discounted our meal.

The highlight of the day was Badlands National Park, which is just about an hour from Rapid City. We were keeping the day short in terms of driving in order to have lots of time at Badlands, and to spend some downtime at the hotel. Our hotel - a locally owned place called Range Country Lodging - was just another hour beyond Badlands in Murdo, SD.

All along the highway between Rapid City and Badlands, there are billboards advertising WALL DRUG. Rarely do I buy into these roadside attractions, but for whatever reason, I felt like we just could not miss WALL DRUG. Here is what we found:

wall drug Photo credit: Wikipedia

It is quite a scene there. The place is huge and packed full of tourists. It includes gift shops, a soda fountain, a cafeteria-style area, and more that we didn’t see, I’m sure. We grabbed a slice of cherry pie, a donut, and two cups of 5-cent coffee. You just drop your nickel in a slot, grab a mug, and serve yourself.

Wall Drug coffee Photo credit: TripAdvisor

We turned off the main highway after Wall and headed south toward Badlands National Park. On entering the park from the northwest, we discovered that the visitor center is at the other end of the park, and most of the hiking trails are also around that end, based out of the visitor center. The park is primarily a single road that winds past different viewpoints, so we set off down that route to see what we would find.

The area around there is largely uniform, flat, and grassy, so when you hit the colorful, jagged pillars of Badlands, it’s quite stunning.

Badlands view

You enter from higher up so your first viewpoints look down over the rock formations and out onto more grassland. It feels as if the land around it exists at two different levels, with the Badlands marking the place where they join.

panorama of Badlands

Side note: One thing you’ll see at the far edge of this photo is a woman in a homemade dress and bonnet, similar to Amish dress. There were a lot of tourists dressed like this in South Dakota, but I’m still not totally certain of their affiliation.

The road then winds down to the lower elevation, so instead of looking down on the formations, you’re right in among them.

Badlands formation

We got out of the car to enjoy the view once, maybe twice, but there was just no way we were staying outside for more than a few minutes. It was HOT. I mean, just unbearably hot, and with no shade in sight. Somehow it was supposedly only in the low- to mid-80s, but it felt hotter than when it had been over 100 in Utah. We had hoped to get in a hike, but we quickly agreed that was not happening.

We made one additional outdoor stop at an area where they featured different fossils and information about how the different layers of the Badlands were formed, which was very cool to check out. There was a ranger giving a talk about fossils who we listened to for a while, thanks to a bit of shade from the shelter where he was standing.

Badlands ranger giving talk on fossils

selfie in the Badlands At the fossil exhibit area.

After a stop in the visitor center, where we enjoyed the AC and darkness while watching their 20-minute video about the area’s history, we headed on to Murdo.

Brendan was strongly inclined to say to hell with our hotel reservation, let’s push on through as far as we can make it tonight (and get the hell out of South Dakota), but after checking in and finding that our hotel room was really quite comfortable, we decided to stay the night.

Range Country hotel in Murdo, SD Photo credit: TripAdvisor

The hotel itself has a rustic, frontier feeling, and Murdo is a funny place. It’s right off the highway, and kind of built into a hill so that from the main strip you can’t tell how much more of a town there is over the rise. It feels not like a rundown tourist town, but like a real, if rundown, town.

Also funny to find was this scene in our hotel parking lot:

Tesla chargers in Murdo, SD

That's more than 1 Tesla charger for every 100 residents in the town! We learned that Tesla has placed these chargers on a cross-country route so that its customers can make the drive without issue - pretty sweet! See this article for more info.

The restaurant where we had dinner, the Rusty Spur, was the kind of place where people wear cowboy hats out to dinner and the entertainment is a 70-year-old man crooning country songs to a backing track.

Rusty Spur in Murdo, SD Photo credit: TripAdvisor

We got burgers, onion rings, and beer, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We were hoping for a good thunderstorm (maybe even a tornado!), but what we did get instead after dinner was a passing rain storm followed by a lovely double rainbow.

We hit up a local ice cream and hotdogs kind of place for some soft-serve, and were enjoying our walk back to the hotel when I looked down and realized I was being bitten on my legs by 5 mosquitoes simultaneously. We broke out into a run and ran the entire way (½ mile?) back to our hotel. We’d pause for a second to check and see the swarm still following us, then yell to each other to keep running. AAAAAAHHH!!!

So yea. I don’t recommend South Dakota.