We’ve enjoyed tours of both National Park caves in the Black Hills. We took the Historic Lantern tour of Jewel Cave. The park ranger was in Historic costume with a fitted coat and riding pants. That was the standard uniform of the 1930’s. We met at the log cabin rebuilt to the specifications of the cabin lived in by the first Park Ranger and his wife. Half the people were given kerosene lanterns to carry just like they did in the early days. We were warned that the tour was considered strenuous, we would climb up and down about 600 steep wooden steps (some ladder-like) and be required to bend and stoop in some areas.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cave as well as providing plenty of information about the crystals on the walls and the various bats that inhabit the cave. It was interesting to see how the early cave explorers saw the caves and fascinating to think they could see so little of the path ahead as they went through the cave. I was very tired when we finished but glad I took the tour.
Our second cave was Wind Cave and we took the Fairgrounds Cave Tour. We enjoyed this hour and half tour. The cave continually equalizes the atmospheric pressure of the cave and outside air causing it to “breathe” in or out. Our tour was part of the upper and middle levels of the the cave. It is considered the most strenuous walking tour of the park with 450 stair steps along the 2/3 mile hike, but there are rails to hold on to. One flight has 89 steps going up. Our tour guide was a young lady in her first year with the Parks service. She was very knowledgeable about the cave, its history, and the formations. The major attraction of this cave is the Boxwork formations found in the middle level of the cave. We also saw popcorn and frostwork formations. This is an excellent tour and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a strenuous hike.
We were looking for a campground with full hookups near Badlands National Park and Wall Drug and Arrow Campground in Wall, SD was one of our two choices. This is an older campground that is showing its age. We ended up in an area with a crew of construction workers. The hard working people left early in the morning and returned in the evening. Some of the campsites are set up with sites “back to back” so our neighbor’s 20 year old travel trailer on the driver’s side was pretty close. I’m sure we could have stayed in a different site had I asked. (Note to self: speak up!) The bathhouse was clean, but worn. After we were starting to set up I realized that there had been a sewer backup on the site on the other side of our camper at some point that needed to be cleaned up. However, someone cleaned it up shortly after that. Wall Drug is close by and if you don’t mind walking across some railroad tracks, it is easy walking distance. Speaking of the railroad tracks, we heard, I think just one train a day and none at night. One of the entrances to Badlands National Park is just a few miles south of town. Campground WiFi wasn’t very good but my Verizon 4G was fine. I had no problem getting my Dish Network satellites. On a future trip I think I’d try the other park or maybe forgo staying at or around Wall and just drive out from the Rapid City area.
After a short move we arrived in Wall, S.D. We decided to have lunch at the famous Wall Drug that is advertised on hundreds of billboards along the highways across South Dakota. Even on the state highways between Pierre and Wall I saw about 40 signs for Wall Drug. The store is huge, taking up a city block. Even on a weekday afternoon it was full of people. We had their famous hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course, their much advertised free ice water. For dessert we had apple pie and a cup of the 5 cent coffee. Again it was excellent! I had seen how large the sandwich was so we split the meal and were satisfied. There is a wide variety of shops with every kind of tourist item you can think of. It is very family oriented place with a play area and free water park for kids along with an animated dinosaur that opens its mouth and roars every 12 minutes.
The Badlands National Park is a very different experience. We have an America the Beautiful Pass for those of us over 62 so we avoided paying the $20 entry fee. We arrived midmorning and it was already getting warm. There is a wide variety of wildlife here. We saw some Bighorn sheep, several prairie dog towns, an antelope, and a few birds. Although the loop road was busy we had no difficulty finding parking at the overlooks. We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, had our picnic lunch in a covered shelter, watched the movie, refilled our water bottle, made a few purchases, and headed on out.
On our way home from the Badlands National Park we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National historic Site. There is a variety of hands on displays showing the significance of these sites in the Cold War and the arms race. The memorabilia is a reminder of those who served and the effect of the Cold War on the civilian population. There are actually three sites in the area, but we only stopped at the visitor center.
As you can tell, we enjoyed our time in Wall and especially, Badlands National Park.