South Dakota – The Other Oregon Trail

Let’s be real – it wasn’t Oregon but it may as well have been. Buffalo, cows, prairie wagons, grasslands, a Jackalope…sounds on point.

Unlike the pioneers of days gone by, our journey was less heroic than that of moving a family across uncharted terrain yet it was still ambitious. Mount Rushmore awaited us on the other half of the state. Sioux Falls to Mount Rushmore? Pft. No problem….in theory.


Five hours is nothing. In road trip context, five hours is a breeze. That’s twenty minutes in road trip lingo. It was the journey itself that tested my early pioneer qualifications. One straight, long road surrounded by grass, grass, throw in some cows, and more grass. Oh, don’t get hasty now. This wasn’t the green, luscious rolling hills of Wisconsin. This was the dry, brittle, heat stricken grass of the Badlands National Park.

The Badlands actually have a fantastic story behind them. Volcanic ash, wind, sand, salt, and mud eroded the land, however, the sediments built up faster than the erosion could take place thus creating the formations and the land we see today.  Interesting enough, it’s called the Badlands because the Lakota people referred to it as “mako sica” or “land bad” because of its extreme temperatures, lack of water, and rough terrain. Better yet,  French-Canadian fur trappers named it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.” No kidding.

In the midst of The Mount Rushmore State, there lies a quaint tourist attraction yet to be tainted by the new millennium. Wall Drug, a nostalgic drug store made a historic South Dakota landmark. Dating back to 1931, Wall Drug is a massive, not to mention the only, pit stop along the road to Mount Rushmore. Made famous for their “Free Ice Water”, the mini drug store has amassed to a community in the middle of the Badlands. Founders Ted and Dorthy Hustead’s little shop is now a colossal 76,000 square foot retail space selling all amenities from postcards, souvenirs, magnets, and actual products found in a drug store, to freshly cooked bison burgers cooked in-house restaurant. Don’t worry – staying true to their initial offer – ice water is still free and a cup of joe is five cents.

After all that hunting for gold, aka the perfect trophy of your quest of survival across South Dakota, there are some photo ops in be had.

Until next time

-xo amber


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