The Badlands aren’t bad at all

We had an early start out Sioux Falls and for the first time, MINI gave us information about a scavenger hunt. With a 6-hour drive ahead we decided to hit the Interstate and make a beeline for Sturgis, but we did make two brief stops along the way.

The first of those was the “Surprise and Delight” at the 1880’s Old West Town, a roadside tourist attraction featuring a replica of an old-western town and some movie memorabilia from older movies, including the Kevin Costner classic, “Dances with Wolves.” It definitely provided for some good photo opportunities, especially because they had a MINI in the middle of the old town!

The history of transportation in one photo, at the 1880's Old West Town.
The history of transportation in one photo, at the 1880’s Old West Town.

Back on the Interstate we could see the terrain change almost immediately as we closed-in on Sturgis, giving us a taste of things to come. This trip felt very fast compared to some of the others of the same length, and I think it was because we spent all of it on the Interstate. Almost forgot…the 80 mph speed limit helped a bit and we borrowed another hour when we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. We’ll have to pay three of those hours back on the trip home, which won’t be nearly as pleasant.

The South Dakota terrain began changing about 70 miles outside of Sturgis.
The South Dakota terrain began changing about 70 miles outside of Sturgis.

All along the way we saw signs for additional tourist attractions and the cheesy, homemade ones for Reptile Village/Rushmore caverns made me smile, reminding me of old Florida. I had been told by several friends that a stop at Wall Drug in Wall, S.D. was a must, and those signs had been appearing as soon as we hit the South Dakota line, so we decided to stop.

Wall Drug is a conglomeration of a bunch of gift shops and tourist stores centered around a drug store and restaurant. It’s a fun place with all kinds of corny tourism stuff (80-foot dinosaur, squished penny machines galore) and the restaurant is actually quite good. I had a tuna sandwich and a fried donut, one of their specialties. They also had an old-fashioned soda fountain and advertised 5-cent coffee and free ice water. The Wall Drug signs reminded me of the old Stuckey’s signs in Florida and the whole thing reminded me of the old Webb City in St. Petersburg. Business was booming, so it’s definitely a popular stop.

We only had about an hour to go at this point, so we rapidly headed to our camp site in Rapid City, the gateway to Mount Rushmore. Once at the camp we had another gravel road episode when trying to go up a hill to our campsite. Based on our previous experience, I back out right away and went around to the top of the hill then slowly rolled down and we were able to get in fine. It’s a beautiful site with tall pine trees and fresh pine cones on the ground. My friend Michelle Townley was right next to us with her T@G too and we always cause a stir with the big RV folks when they see our setups.

We had arrived very early and by 3 PM we were set up. I had noticed Bear Country U.S.A was right next to us, so we decided to go check it out. It’s one of those places you can drive through and see the animals roaming free. They wouldn’t let us go in the Roadster because of the soft top, so they loaned us an old Buick Regal sedan with a column shifter. Fun! We drove through and had some close encounters with black bears, elk, wolves and other animals indigenous to the area. Afterward we went to the baby bear area and Hope enjoyed seeing the babies frolicking around.

When we returned to the campsite a bunch of people had begun to post about a bad storm that was coming. The sky was very dark so I decided to check the local radar. There was an initial warning from the NWS saying the storm was very dangerous with “softball-sized hail that could break windshields and kill animals and humans.” That got my attention, and since I had been planning to go Sturgis for the evening event at the Knuckle Saloon, I needed to focus on our safety before leaving the camp.

The weather radar was ominous as we waited-out the storm.
The weather radar was ominous as we waited-out the storm.

We buttoned-up the beehive and went up the road to an abandoned gas station to park under the roof there and wait it out. I kept checking the radar and luckily the worst of it passed just north of us. Many of my MINI friends were huddled in similar situations and some ended up caught in the storm on their way to Sturgis. Some posted videos of hail hitting their MINIs but luckily it seems no one sustained damage. The photos below show actual hail from that storm. We definitely dodged a bullet.

This is the hail that fell during the storm.
This is the hail that fell during the storm.

 

Another look at the hail from the storm.
Another look at the hail from the storm.

Once I could tell we were in the clear I took Hope back to camp and zipped down to Sturgis to the event. MINI gave us breakfast-in-a-bag and parking passes for Mount Rushmore, since we are not having a Rise and Shine here and they wanted to have extra time. It was cool to be in Sturgis, mecca for our motorcycle friends, and see all the MINIs parked along the main street there. The dinner was nice and after visiting with a few friends, I headed back to camp, to turn-in and get ready for Mount Rushmore and the road to Cheyenne. Yeehaw!

A cool souvenir I picked up in Sturgis...laser-cut birch emblem, about three feet long.
A cool souvenir I picked up in Sturgis…laser-cut birch emblem, about three feet long.

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