We headed off on the Interstate 90 towards the Badlands National Park with Lucinda Williams (“too rock to be country, too country to be rock!) belting out Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The road took us through Wall, on the edge of the Park. from a long way away, roadsigns for Wall Drug started popping up every c5 miles or so. We were driving too fast to photograph them – “Frosted Mug Beer”, “Badlands Maps”, “Homemade Pie”, “Breakfast Roll, Donuts, Fudge and Pie” – all available at Wall Drug. It seems like you can get just about everything at Wall Drug, I was beginning to wonder if there was anything you couldn’t get?  “Be Yourself” at Wall Drug – you can even get therapy?! OK – the temptation was just too much – we just HAD to pull off at Wall Drug.
Wall Drug Store
Every door has “Glad you Made It” on it – and we were glad we did!
It was a fascinating stop. This place was set up in 1931 by Dorothy and Ted Hustead. They started it as a drug store for the local people, but didn’t make much cash that way. So they started to offer free ice water for travellers on the I90 and it mushroomed steadily from there. Today, it is a labyrinth of stores, with everything you can possibly think of to buy there – including some really good quality gear. The coffee is still 5 cents – purchased via an honesty box and you can still get free iced water. The original concept of a refuge for travellers still holds good today.
I took some photos of the souvenirs I should have bought (?) and could have bought. There was a “wish you were here moment” Rachel when I saw all those fantastic cowgirl boots and would have liked someone to egg me on to try a pair on. What I actually bought was a lanyard for my camera – a massive purchase of 89 cents.

We eventually reached the Badlands National Park and drove the length of the scenic loop, stopping at every pull in. This is an incredible place. Frank Lloyd Wright wrote that “the Badlands has more spiritual quality to impart to the mind of America than anything else in it made by man’s God. Let sculptors come to the Badlands. Let painters come. But first of all, the true architect should come. He who could interpret this vast gift of nature in terms of human habitation so that Americans on their own continent might glimpse a new and higher civilisation certainly and touch it and feel it as they lived in it and deserved to call it their own”

The world is large, the sky is larger and you … are very small. The temperature climbed steadily during the drive. the car recorded a high of 104 degrees F at 4.26. it was blisteringly hot. Somehow, the heat seemed to enhance the experience though, because it brought home the horrifying harshness of this land and climate. It actually rains a lot here at certain times of year and snows too in Winter. Rattle snakes inhabit the area too. Can you imagine how anyone ever actually managed to live here?

People did live here though. The native Indians (Lakota) established themselves here more than 9,000 years ago. They lived a nomadic life: following the buffalo; building cosy tipis with buffalo hide; respecting the earth and the life it afforded them and looking after their elderly better than most “civilised” societies do today.
 
In the late 19th century, the homesteaders started to arrive. Many came from Eastern Europe. The government gave them 164 acres of land. This sounds generous until you think that you need about 30 acres to feed one cow. These people couldn’t set up ranches, like there are today in the prairie land. They couldn’t get agriculture going either. They built fences around their sod houses which stopped the buffalo roaming – big mistake. Eventually, they gave up. By this time, the bison were almost wiped out.
 
37 million years ago, other creatures made this their home. Fossil remains of Leptomeryx, Oreodants, Archaeotherium, Mesohippus and Metamynodon (and many more species) have all been found here. The park employs several very dedicated paleontologists and allows you to watch them work in their lab, painstakingly cleaning up remains that are still being discovered today using miniature drills and air blisters. Fascinating. we thought of our friend Bill – you could spend weeks here and still find more to discover!

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