The natural beauty of the Badlands unites campers


The Falls Park waterfalls gave their name to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and have been the focal point of recreation since the city’s founding in 1856. (Photo by Julie Geiss)

After months of planning, the day has finally arrived for us to begin our journey west across the country. Our suitcases were ready and our enthusiasm was running high. We rechecked the campground reservations and viewed the maps again.

My husband and I took one last walk around the vehicle and camper van. We were ready to see our country from the Midwest, across the prairies and to the Rocky Mountains.

Spend time

With three days of travel ahead of us, we had to find ways to entertain ourselves. We started with the traditional license plate game, competing against each other to find all 50 states. Alaska and Hawaii were expected to be tough, but surprisingly West Virginia hid from us as well.

I wanted to find another way for our children to look out the window. I told them I was taking pictures of random roadside attractions, or RRAs for short.

Our first photo was of a 20 foot mouse wearing a cowboy hat and boots near the Wisconsin freeway. It looked like his empty hands once held cheese. Who took the cheese? We could only speculate.

Traveling through the Midwest was like watching a documentary about farming. We were able to assess the fields, whether they were dry or flooded in certain areas. We watched different pieces of equipment roll across the fields and guessed what types of crops were growing.

Falls Park

After our first night in Wisconsin, we continued on, making just one more stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The city park named Falls Park is a free must-see attraction for travelers. The park’s waterfalls have given the city its name and have been the focal point of recreation since the city’s founding in 1856.

The 128 acres of natural beauty can be found just north of the city. Multiple platforms and a five-story observation tower allow viewing of the series of waterfalls that stretch over 100 feet. An average of 7,400 gallons of water per second is carried over waterfalls.

Visitors can also see the remains of the seven-story Queen Bee Mill. The mill was opened in 1881, providing a local mill for farmers instead of having to ship grain to Minnesota or Wisconsin.

We continued heading west on Interstate 90 without much excitement until we approached the Chamberlain exit in South Dakota. The freeway slopes toward the broad Missouri River and abruptly leads to a change of scenery of hills. Everyone agreed that it seemed possible to see gnomes or hobbits running up and down the green hills.

Wild lands

Daylight hours gave way to dusk when we arrived at Badlands National Park. As we followed the winding road through the park my son spotted a deer on top of a mound. We all turned to watch the “deer” move slightly towards the road.

It was a bighorn sheep, the largest I have ever seen. He looked like the king of the mountain, or mound as it is called. Bighorn Sheep were reintroduced to the park in the 1960s. A ram, like the one we have seen, can weigh over 300 pounds and measure 42 inches at the shoulder. It was grayish-brown in color with a white patch on the rump. The most impressive feature was the massive horns coiled tightly near his face.

We stopped for a while and then continued on to the Cedar Pass campsite located in the park. I like to describe Cedar Pass Campground as eccentric. All campers park on the asphalt; only tents can be on the grass.

The view and the location are what make the campsite exceptional. We could see the iconic geological formations of the badlands all around our motorhome. They changed color dramatically as the sun went down and the sky turned from red to purple.

Unit

It was our first stay in a national park since before the pandemic. I’m an introvert to my dad who loved the opportunity to walk around the campgrounds and talk to everyone around him. It was so good to see people without masks, smiling and talking to each other like they weren’t strangers.

I loved listening to the different languages ​​and accents of the people camping around me. There was no hostility among the campers. We came together in a spirit of unity, enjoying the natural beauty of the Badlands.

After days of driving, we settled into our campervan for the night knowing that adventure awaited us in the morning.

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