We have made a brief stop in the small village of Oacoma, South Dakota and are camped along the banks of the Missouri River. This area is part of the Lewis and Clark trail. In my school days everyone learned about this historic adventure into the western wilderness. This was truly the first organized step towards the United States’ expansion to the Pacific Ocean. It also marked the beginning of the end of the traditional life of the Native Americans of the west. There have been many books and studies on this expedition and is a fascinating story. There are also many web sites on the subject. One of my favorite is below.
Our first visit here was to the Akta Lakota Museum at the St Joseph’s Indian School. We have, in the past, been contributors to this school and were very interested in seeing the school and museum first hand. The museum has excellent history and culture exhibits. Unfortunately, they did not allow photographs.
We then drove the river roads marked as the Lewis and Clark Trail. In many areas, it is possible that Lewis and Clark would have recognized the area still today, even to the sight of native ponies on the hills. Of course, many other things have changed from the installation of a dam on the river to the native tribes now living for the most part on reservations.
We also visited the larger town on the east bank of the river-Chamberlain, SD. What can I say about this town? We have seen so many in a similar condition.
We have moved on to Chamberlain, South Dakota, as we begin the east bound leg of this trip. We have visited a number of places in the greater Rapid City area that we have not mentioned.
Just outside of the Air Force is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, which had some interesting displays both outside and in the hangars. It is free to all and worth a visit.
Since we are here just before the big Sturgis Rally, we had to check out the town before the big event. As I expected, it was a bit like Quartzite, AZ before the big RV and Rock gatherings-small and quiet. It is hard to imagine this small town with over 500K motorcycles.
Deadwood is just up the road from Sturgis. This is one of the famous Wild West towns, perhaps best known as the place where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. It has changed a lot since our last visit and is now another huge Casino town.
Along the back roads, we stumbled on an a 1950’s roadside tourist trap with interesting collections of memorabilia, classic cars, gifts, food and entertainment. I am sure it will be packed with motorcycles in the next few weeks.
In Rapid City proper we visited the town dinosaur park that was completed about the same time as Mount Rushmore and a park with two sections of the Berlin wall on display. There is replica church modeled exactly on the famous 800 year old Norwegian Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal. Services are held through out the summer. It is in a peaceful setting with volunteers available to explain its history. A short prayer walk is just behind it in the woods.
Lastly, we visited the Journey Museum, which contains a geological history of the area, a good summary of the interactions of the European immigrants’ and Native Americans and extensive display of artifacts. For those interested in getting an overview of the area and its history, this is a good place to start.
When you are traveling in this part of South Dakota, it is almost mandatory that you make a stop at Wall Drug. Started in the small ranch town of Wall, SD in 1931, it had a very poor start in business. The family business got the idea to pull in people from outside the area with small road signs along what passed as main roads in those days.
Jump forward to the 1950’s and my first trip to the west with parents and siblings, where it seemed like we started to see these signs as early as Iowa. They were everywhere and by the time we got to South Dakota it was a must to stop and see this place. They promised free ice water, which was a big deal before auto Ac and lots of fun stuff to do. It in fact was very interesting and I never forgot about Wall Drug.
Jump ahead to the mid 1980’s, as we took our children on their first trip west and we started seeing those signs. We had to stop.
It remains the same today with signs along all routes into Wall. They have managed to back this small town into world attraction. Needless to say it has grown a lot since my first visit there, but the principle remains the same. They now have a large collection of historic photos from the region that would take many hours to look over. There is half a main street of stores selling all the tourist gifts you could want. Ice water is still free and coffee is 5 cents.
It is almost the definition of a tourist trap-with some fun thrown in.
The Badlands National Park is one of the most popular parks in the country. It has very rugged terrain formed over millions of years as the inland sea disappeared and left large mud deposits which in turn over thousands of years has slowly eroded into what is seen today. It is estimated that in another 500, 000 years most of what is seen today will be gone.
You can see the park by car, bike or on foot. With many trails and paths, you can do a lot of hiking. But with the difficult terrain, heat and snakes, you need to be well prepared for any long hikes.
Since it was closing in on 90 degrees, we opted for mostly a drive view of the park with only short hikes. It is an amazing place. I hope the pictures give some idea of the place.