Our summer vacation to the Badlands started off with some cool August weather which surprised us a bit as we made our way from Wisconsin through Minnesota and into South Dakota.
We stayed our first night in a sketchy hotel along the highway that Troy still swears was nice. Thirteen years later we still have very different opinions on what a decent hotel looks like. lol. We awoke early and went straight to Mitchell Corn Palace. It’s been 26 years since my sister and I took almost the same vacation with our family. I had a few places that were on my must seen again and experience with Cole list. Troy and I agreed Cole would find the Corn Palace interesting although we thought the first time we saw it was plenty. haha. Still looks the same, all these years later.
Cole loved looking through all the different designs that have appeared on the Mitchell Corn Palace through the years.
Cole found himself trying to figure out from photos he’d seen of ours, which year by the design on the front of the Corn Palace we visited. He did a great job by memory too because he got them both right. We did not leave without an ear of corn to pop in our microwave back at home. But I was extremely disappointed they no longer had corn husk chocolate suckers and they thought I was crazy when I asked. They answered with a, “We’ve never had those.” Oh, yes you did. I have photos! lolol.
The 1880 Town has been calling me back since my first trip here when I was ten. My sister, cousin, and I had the best of time here and I couldn’t wait to bring Cole. As expected he loved it and took the time to go in every building and read every bit of literature they had available throughout the buildings. We spent well over two hours here exploring every inch it had to offer.
Prairie Dog Town
This part of my commentary is for my Mom because she kept reminding me to make sure Cole didn’t fall in a prairie dog hole like my sister did. lolol. I do not remember there being baby prairie dogs and we fell in love instantly. They were adorable and more cautious than the adults. Which made it so special when they came close. The Badlands Ranch Store here is a good little stop for peanuts and souvenirs.
Entering the Badlands National Park as the sun was lowering in the sky and the golden hour graced us with beautiful lighting on our first of many short hikes throughout the park.
This is where I started building conspiracy theories in my head about pyramids in the Badlands. lol.
Yodel-lay-eee-whooooooo. Some little man was seeing if the canyons would echo back.
Another pyramid from my theory. There are a lot of things buried in the Badlands, I wonder if ancient tombs are among them? Anyone want to join me for an Indiana Jones adventure?
Day two started off with a short walk through the badlands along the flats where a rattlesnake was spotted that morning. I am always attracting snakes into my personal space so I was searching high and low the entire time. Although, I tried to keep as calm as I could and allow Cole his space to have an adventure. He explored every area he could find, climbing high and sliding down each gulley. He really enjoyed this part of our trip.
After got out a bunch of energy playing on all the formations we headed through the Badlands to Wall Drug. Along the drive we got out a took a few short hikes around and checked out the different band of colored layers in the rocks. Of course we had to make it into a learning experience, it’s the homeschool way. It’s my Mothers fault I’m like this, sorry Cole. Kidding aside, he actually loves learning about a vast array of things and completes every Jr. Ranger Program booklet he can get his hands on. He has collected so many badges and patches from the state park and national parks all over the country. He’s so proud of them.
We arrived at Wall Drug and although Troy and I have been there before it was nothing like our memories. Cole loved all of the silly photo opt spots including the jackalope, Mount Rushmore, stagecoach, and T-Rex. We swiftly passed through the shops. Neither Troy or I enjoy shopping but Cole wanted to peruse a bit so we tried to be patient with all the people. But we started getting hangry and after walking in and out of every restaurant in town, we finally found a great place for lunch at the Badlands Saloon & Grille.
Minuteman Missile Site
With full bellies we decided to take the highway back to the Badlands and stopped off at the Minuteman Missile Site. Troy was reading up on all the missiles we have installed across the great plains and surrounding area. There were 1,000 installed, hundreds still exist. I wish you could see my eyebrow raise right now. Going to be honest, kind of freaks me out. They mentioned that these missiles were the best deterrent during the Cold War against war heading in our direction. I laughed rudely out loud when the lady said they were installed to maintain peace and prevent war.
It was a really fascinating site, and I annoyingly read through all the literature. In commission or not I felt pretty uneasy leaning over and photographing the missile at the D-9 silo. It was really cool though, and I bought an annoying amount of memorabilia from the gift shop.
On the way back to the Badlands Motel & Campground we stopped again to see our prairie dog friends. Cole really enjoyed them and we were so proud of how brave he became with interacting with them. They were adorable and their little barks were so cute.
The fourth day of our trip we started the day off by driving through a different leg of the Badlands. We saw the most beautiful overlooks and enjoyed the time in the car and off our feet on the way to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.
Again, Cole participated in a Jr Ranger Program where we went through the museum. going through and reading all the information boards and getting his hands on every interactive model available. We watched a video chalked full of information on the Sculptor John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum and how they went about building Mount Rushmore.
We took a peek into the past and an up close and personal encounter with the Presidents.
A new feature I don’t remember them having was the Presidential Trail, but I’m sure glad we took the time to get an up close and personal view of the Presidents. It was surreal to be so close. You really come to appreciate how incredibly brave these sculptors and workers were to be up there day after day completing this massive structure.
The Sculptor’s Studio was open so we took a peek in and got super lucky that one of the Rangers had just started his talk about Gutzon Borglum and his carving process. The studio is where Borglum worked from 1939 to 1941. They even have the 1/12th scale model of Mount Rushmore, which was really cool to see. It gives you a real sense of how big Mount Rushmore really is as being such a small scale and is already so large in size.
Our next adventure was in Rapid City. Where we visited the Chapel in the Hills, a Stave Church tucked in the woods behind a neighborhood and a complete oasis hidden away. Cole enjoyed doing the scavenger hunt and earning a small prize as well as a post card which he loved. We chatted with the couple that runs the Stave and showed them photos of the Stave Churches we have here in Northeast Wisconsin and purchased some Norwegian ornaments for our Christmas Tree.
Now on to a few silly tourist spots just for fun.
The Dinosaur Park and Storybook Island are more or less Roadside America’s silly attractions. So obviously, Cole had a blast there. They really were a great way to get moving after being in the car for so long on this trip. We picked up some delicious Greek food from the Elinitsas Greek Grill food truck. This Mama enjoys Greek food like it’s deep in my roots so I was ecstatic to come across this food truck at a local park.
Custer State Park
Our first day in Custer State Park we took a drive around looking at all the different rock formations and overlooks. We walked around Sylvan Lake where we skipped rocks and took in the beauty of the Black Hills and gorgeous lake. Drove through the rock tunnels, saw buffalo even closer up and right outside the restaurant there where presidents stayed at the inn. Cole did another Junior Ranger Program and participated in a class where they got to go out and find small pieces of nature to use in their artwork. This program was particularly fun for Cole. The Rangers here at Custer were such wonderful guides for the kids and really engaged with them. It ended up being a rainy day so this was a perfect way to weather the storm and by the time we were done, so was the rain.
Doesn’t that look like two beavers hugging and looking out into the distance there on the right side of the photo.
Don’t mind the horrible iPhone photo of all three of us.
Jewel Cave National Monument was a pleasant trip before heading to Custer for a second day. We took the tour down to the cave, listened to the tour guide inside the cave, took a look around, and then walked back up the torturous hill. Honestly it was a pretty boring cave, but the cold air did feel good on the body. Especially in the heat of the summer. It was a short tour yet tour but our tour guide was an extremely quirky guy, so it was pretty entertaining. And you guessed it, Cole earned another Jr. Ranger badge. Secondly for the day, we visited Wind Cave National Park where we didn’t get to take the tour but we did get to see the natural opening nearby the visitors center. And Cole earned another badge. Hahaha.
Back to Custer
Since it rained during part of our first day in Custer and Cole needed to turn in his Ranger booklet we decided to stay an extra day. We are so glad we stayed, it turned out to be a beautiful day and we were able to see far more animals and had the opportunity to be out of the car and in nature more.
This guy was such a stud that he gave me his best GQ look and let me photograph him. I seriously ponder how those tiny legs of theirs support their mass. I know my ankles and feet hurt after a few hours. This must be why they lay a lot. I sure would too. Be sure to pick up a copy of “Our Summer Vacation to the Badlands,” off the stands next week. lol.
Mammoth Dig Site
This moment in time is something I had been looking forward to since Cole mentioned wanting to take a vacation to see the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. I have a fond memory of my first paleontology experience excavating at the Mammoth Site & Museum. I was ecstatic that Cole had the opportunity to have the same experience. He freaking loved it. He even wore his Jurassic World shirt to prove his worthiness.
If you plan on this experience or the cave tours, make sure to get there first thing in the morning to get tickets because only a few people back and they were already sold out. Cole took his time listening to the his educator, and each research associate, immersing himself completely. It was a fascinating and educational experience for him that he couldn’t get enough of that we can’t recommend enough.
On our way back through town, we had lunch at the Red Shed Smokehouse which is a small food truck type of establishment with a few tables around it. It was a great lunch until it started down pouring and our little man got pretty freaked out by the lightening. We took shelter in our car, finished our lunch and at the same time the sun came back out.
Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood
As the sky cleared up we made our way to Deadwood, South Dakota. Enjoyed dinner at FLYT Steakhouse and proceeded to have issues getting into our room and after trying with three different rooms they ended up having to let us into a room with their master key so we got the big suite right next to the office. The boys enjoyed the big jacuzzi and we spent the evening cozy watching the Disney Channel. In the morning we joined the tour at Broken Boot Gold Mine and panned for gold for the first time. We all got lucky and found enough to bring home in our own bottles. The tour was pretty cool for how small this mine is and at the end they give you a souvenir “share” of stock.
Our gold panning pro and now shareholder in the Broken Boot Gold Mine.
Devil’s Tower National Monument
Our trip into Wyoming to the Devils Tower National Monument was pretty short lived. We spent time here reading through stations they had set up in the visitors center. Cole completed a Junior Rangers booklet and earned himself the Devil’s Tower Badge. Following our shopping spree at the gift shop we decided that we were all starving and luckily the Devil’s Tower Gulch was close by to fill our stomachs. This evening we stayed the night in Sidney, Montana at the Wingate by Wyndham Sidney and ate at The South 40 Restaurant Lounge.
Fort Union Trading Post
At the Fort Union Trading Post we met a woodsmith that once worked at the State Park just down the street from our house. He actually lives in Wisconsin with his family during his off season.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
The Cannonball Mystery
Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit
Following our first day discovering Theodore Roosevelt National Park we stayed in Medora, North Dakota at the Hyde House. Before settling in for the evening and enjoying our private abode. We dined at Boots Bar & Grill and took a stroll around town. Cole loved meeting Theodore Roosevelt outside the local theatre and got his photo with the statue version. We grabbed an ice cream and took in the incredibly charming town.
When morning came we started our day with a hearty breakfast at the Farmhouse Cafe. Then headed straight for Theodore Roosevelt’s South Unit. We first started by driving around the entire park. Dinner at Little Missouri Saloon, where we met yet another Wisconsinite who was our server. After taking another evening stroll through town, chatting it up with local shop owners.
It was a trip back in time staying in the Historic Rough Riders Hotel & Hyde House.
We headed inside for the rest of the evening. The Hyde House was a quant one room home and a lovely place to stay the night. However, this evening we moved into the Historic Wing of the Medora Rough Riders Hotel. Which I particularly enjoyed. This hotel just had cowboy charm written all of it.
Our last morning in town we grabbed a wholesome breakfast on the way out at The Cowboy Cafe and sadly left Medora behind. We really enjoyed everyone we met in this small but lively town. It was a fun peek into the wilder days in the Northwest Plains.
When we chatted with the Rangers at the Visitors Center, they said none of them had actually ever seen an elk in the park. They all took a peek at our camera because they were in such shock. Which tickled us a little because we had a local park in St. Louis where lots of elk roam while you picnic. But this guy was a total stud.
Burning lignite seam
This guy was our buddy for the entire time we were in the Southern Unit of the park. He was injured, older, and no longer able to keep up with his herd. He walked along side us while we slowly drove through the park. He’d occasionally wander off the path and up to a area and take a rest. Then out of nowhere he’d be back, right next to us again. Parting with him was really hard for me. I grew up having horses so when I saw this guy struggling and separated from his friends, I feared the worst for him. I cried a lot.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin
This is the cabin Roosevelt had built along the Little Missouri River. He stayed here during his time in North Dakota while he split his time between here and New York for several years. While staying here he hunted buffalo and enjoyed the lifestyle of a frontiersman and cowboy. Cole really thought it was cool to stand in the same doorway that Roosevelt once stood.
Our summer vacation to the Badlands was coming to a close. On our last leg of our family vacation we visited Itasca State Park in Minnesota. Lake Itasca is the headwaters of the Mississippi River. A river we’ve lived alongside for most of our lives. It was wild to see it clean and wadeable.
The End to our summer vacation to the Badlands
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