Wildlife and Wild Sights in South Dakota - Page 3
Days Five, Six, and Seven: Custer State Park to Badlands National Park to Rapid City (195 Miles)
Roughly 60 miles east of Rapid City on I-90, you reach the town of Wall. Back in the Depression, Wall Drug (605.279.2175) gave away free ice water to thirsty travelers. Now the megastore is a souvenir emporium, good for all those tacky gifts you want to bring back the neighbors. You can opt for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the 520-seat restaurant. Roast beef with all the fixins will set you back about eight bucks.
Head south on Wall on Route 240 to reach the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands (605.433.5361; www.nps.gov/badl). Soon after entering, you'll be mesmerized by this phantasmagoric blend of topography--multi-hued rock steeples, massive canyons, and jagged peaks. The Loop Road (Route 240) is a 41-mile jaunt (35 miles of which is designated a National Scenic Byway) that leads to many of Badlands' awe-inspiring overlooks like Conata Basin and Prairie Wind.
Book one of the 100 sites at the Park's Cedar Pass Campgrounds (605.433.5361 for group reservations). No open fires are allowed in Badlands, so a cooking stove is essential. The next morning head out on one of the eight hiking trails. The 10-mile round-trip Castle Trail opens up onto an otherworldly terrain straight out of a Star Trek episode. Expect to spot more bison, prairie dogs, maybe even the black-footed ferret, the most endangered mammal in North America.
Just south of the Badlands is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (www.lakotamall.com/oglalasiouxtribe), home to the large Lakota population. You can visit the site of Wounded Knee or better yet, head 18 miles south to the Red Cloud Indian School (605.867.5491; www.redcloudschool.org) in the town of Pine Ridge. They feature a wonderful collection of Native American arts in the Heritage Center. An adjacent gift shop, selling handmade Lakota items, plays an important part in the local economy. After loading up on a bevy of souvenirs, it's back to the asphalt-lined route to Rapid City.