South Dakota


If you have never been to badlands, never seen pictures of them, or never heard of them, you will find yourself amazed by them. They seem to be out of this world, like a moonscape. We had already seen some badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota however it still didn’t prepare us for the immense volume and grandeur of the Badlands National Park. It was beautifully desolated.

It was hot there. The 1st day we were there, it was 109F at 2PM. We waited until the next morning to go for a hike as we usually like to hike for a minimum of two hours and it was not wise to hike in heat. Badlands near Notch TrailWe picked the Notch Trail because it was only about 1.5 miles so we would have a lot of time to explore the trail and the area around it before it would get too hot.

The trailhead also had trails leading to the Door and Window trails. We warmed up by taking the short Window trail first to get a great view of an intricately eroded canyon. There were many rattlesnake signs to warn unwary tourists. Stairway to Heaven, Badland, Notch TrailAny chance of snake sightings would always get me agitated and cautious; we decided to take our hiking poles as safety measures.

We started off the Notch trail by winding through a canyon. Susan with Bryden climbing stairs at Notch Trails, Badlands NPBadlands got the name because pioneers found them to be hard to navigate through and we soon discovered the reason. About a half way through the canyon, we noticed some people were hiking at the top of the canyon above and ahead of us. We were wondering how they got up to the top and soon we found out how: there was a steep ladder about 100 feet tall. I took Kadia by hand up the ladder. The last 20 feet were too steep to walk together side-by-side. Kadia with no fear, climbed up the rest of the way herself. Susan & Kada on Notch Trail, BadlandsSusan, with her fear of heights, scrambled up with Bryden on her back. It wasn’t difficult climbing up but, later on, on the way back down the ladder, she was shaking with fear: every step took many seconds.

The trail up on the canyon provided us a great view of the canyon we just hiked in.
Hiking at Notch Trail, Badlands NPIn some places, Looking down at the Notch Trail, Badlands NPit was a little treacherous so I had to keep a good hold of Kadia’s hand and we were glad that we brought our hiking poles. There were very few people on this trail and we felt like we owned the place, exploring through some of the side canyons there, enjoying ourselves. At the end of the trail, we arrived at the Notch above the Cliff Shelf with a great view of White River Valley. We waved to some people down at the Cliff Shelf nature trail and had the feeling that we were in heaven. This was a great and fun hike. Next time we will do some fossils hunting as well; maybe we can come face to face with a dinosaur and not blink.Ralph and Kadia having fun at Notch Trail

As we drove from North Dakota down toward Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, we started encountered many groups of bikers. At first, we didn’t think too much of it other than perhaps people were out having fun. Geo Center, Belle Fourche, SD We made a stop at Belle Fourche to rest and discovered that it is the Geo Center of the U.S. How strange was that? Our Route to Mt Rushmore I would have thought it would be in Kansas (click the picture on the right to see the explanation clearly.) Maybe all the bikers were visiting the world famous Geo Center of the U.S., I reasoned.

By the time we got to Spearfish, there was no doubt that something was going on: everywhere we went, we saw a sea of bikers, bikes easily outnumbered cars by a ratio of 100 to 1. We had entered the Planet of the Bikers. We decided to take the scenic route (14A, 85 and 385) to Mt Rushmore: to live up to our motto “take the scenic route whenever we can” and perhaps to escape the onslaught of bikers. We soon entered the area known as the Black Hills, the tallest mountain range east of the Rockies. We had been driving most of the day through areas mostly flat; it had been hot (100F) so this was a welcome change as we started to gain elevation. The drive was a pleasant surprise, windy roads among forested mountains, dotted with canyons and gulches. The Black Hills is a sacred place supposed belonging to Lakota Indians but it is still in dispute to this day (see here).

Us near Mt RushmoreAlong the way, we saw groups of bikers everywhere; I was starting to get concerned about where to stay that night. Biker at Keystone near Mt RushmoreAll the motels we passed by had no vacancy sign up. Luckily we were camping and were able to find a campground (Rushmore/Grizzly Creek) within 5 minutes of Mt Rushmore. Actually the campground was almost surprisingly empty. I supposed bikers do not camp much.

It costed 8 dollars to park at Mt Rushmore and our national park pass was no good there; Mt Rushmore at night
no wonder a lot of bikers were on the side of the road to view the Mt Rushmore. The parking pass was good for a whole year so we went there three times, that afternoon, that night and the next morning. Mt Rushmore at NightThe best time was in the morning when the sun shined on the sculptures. We took the Presidential Walk (about ¾ miles) to the base of the sculptures to admire them at a close range from a different perspective. The walk had many interpretive panels about Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln portrayed on the mountain. An easy and informative walk should not be missed.

We asked some bikers there about what was going on and discovered that it was the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. They said that they expected around 500,000 bikers there. That was amazing. I never knew there were that many bikers. Although bikers have the stigma of being rough and rowdy (and unfortunately couple of bikers were killed at Custer State Park when we were there), we ran into a few soft-spoken and gentle ones there. Mt Rushmore with bikersWe took a picture with some bikers who belonged to B.A.C.A. (Bikers against Child Abuse). A few days later we camped with a couple of bikers in Wyoming. They were on their way back to Alberta and Vancouver. That was a long way to ride motorcycles for a rally. They had been to the Sturgis Rally a few times and think it was getting too commercialized now not much of real racing actions so that they wouldn’t go again.

In the past, I thought going to see Mt Rushmore could be a big disappointment because it would be a long drive to see 4 statues carved on a mountaintop that I have seen hundreds of time already. Would it be worth it? Yes, it was. It is one place Kadia still remembers and talks about to this day. The statues were amazing, how could anyone think of doing something that big? What an ambitious project it was! Mt Rushmore at nightIt took Gutzon Borglum, his son Lincoln Borglum and 400 workers 14 years to complete the 60-foot high carving. Actually they ran out of money; they had intended to carve the statues down to waist as depicted in the Sculptor’s studio at the base of the Mt. Rushmore. For outdoor lovers like us, the Black Hills itself, even without Mount Rushmore, was worth visiting. We will plan more time next time we go.