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My Van Life: Day 14

Friday, July 23, 2021

Belle Fourche Dam & Reservoir – Badlands National Park (with some stops along the way).

Today was a day in which I’m especially grateful for summer Fridays. My company has actually given us every Friday in July completely OFF so it goes beyond a traditional summer Friday. Summer Friday or not, today was by far one of my favorite days of this trip.

We left Belle Fourche this morning around 9:30am with the intention of heading to Mount Rushmore. We wanted to stop and get coffee first so Adam directed us to the nearest Starbucks which just so happened to be inside a Safeway – not the first time that’s happened to us on this trip. We usually choose to move on to the next location so we popped into the parking lot and looked for the next nearest Starbucks. This one hopefully an actual freestanding destination. I did notice that there was a Walgreens across the way and it’s kind of tradition on our road trips to pop into Walgreens in the middle of random cities and see if they have any Squishmallows. Yes, I’m a child in a 28 year old woman's body, I’m sure we’ve covered this already BUT they’re just so CUTE and I'm obsessed!

Well, surprise surprise, would you believe, we hit the jackpot – a mini Woody AND a Buzz Lightyear from the Disney Squishmallow collection. The day was already off to a very promising start aside from the whole Starbucks snafu of course. Well we plugged in the next Starbs destination and off we went. It was an overcast morning with a light sprinkle so thankfully the temps dropped and it wasn’t quite as hot and muggy as it had been the last few days. As we neared the real Starbucks I noticed signs for Deadwood, one of the places I wanted to visit while we were in South Dakota. Turns out the Starbucks location that maps was guiding us to was smack dab in the middle of Deadwood! Talk about fate.

Deadwood is a wonderful little tourist destination known for being the burial ground for Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. It’s a popular spot for tourists because it’s still quite rooted in its rich Gold Rush history from the buildings to the roads, the signage, and everything in between. Absolutely a must visit town. We grabbed our coffee, snapped a few photos, and continued on our merry way to Mount Rushmore. Of course we hit yet ANOTHER tourist trap on our way to Mount Rushmore, (I swear I’m such a sucker for them), Candyland, the largest Candyland in South Dakota! Talk about worthwhile tourist destination. I am not only a huge sucker for tourist destinations – pun intended – but especially for ones involving candy. I mean come on!

Once sufficient candy was procured we were really on our way to Mount Rushmore. I promise this time. Mount Rushmore is one of those places that leaves you utterly awestruck. I’m not sure that it was exactly what I expected it to be honestly – most historical monuments of that magnitude aren’t – but that doesn’t diminish how absolutely spectacular it is. Visiting that historical monument is a moment in which you feel especially proud to be an American. Today I feel incredibly grateful to have seen the things I’ve seen thus far, in this beautiful gift of a life. Mount Rushmore is a destination I don’t think I ever really expected to see yet there I was, gazing upon those four big ole heads carved into the size of a mountain almost 100 years ago. 100 years!!

It was pretty busy at Mount Rushmore and it started to drizzle so we took our pictures, walked around, did our gift shopping and hopped back in the car. We ran out of water in the van this morning actually so Adam found a place we could fill her back up unfortunately it was in the middle of Custer State Park. I say unfortunately but it turned out to be the greatest blessing in disguise. After driving five or so miles into the park and filling our water tank back up, we decided to take the scenic route out of Custer State Park also know as the Wildlife Loop. Adam hadn't seen a bison before so we’ve been trying to take advantage of every opportunity to spot one in its natural habit especially since we managed to miss all of them in Yellowstone which is the only time I’ve personally ever seen a bison.

There we were, winding along this wildlife loop, not a creature in sight but boy were our eyes peeled just bouncing between the road and the wide open fields surrounding us. Suddenly we turned a corner to be confronted by taillights in the car in front of us and then the car in front of them and on and on for about twenty cars up until suddenly there they were…Bison! At least 50 of them all sprawled out right alongside the road. It was absolutely spectacular. You forget how massive those beasts are until you’re right up on them like that. I was so happy Adam finally saw his Bison and not just one or two but an entire field full of them. Mama Bison, Daddy Bison, Baby Bison – the whole spectrum of Bison from the Bison family. It was a magnificent sight to see.

It felt in a sense like a weight was lifted from our shoulders in that moment. We could check off “see wildlife in their natural habitat” from the to-do list and any animal we’d see beyond this point would just be an added bonus. You know, sometimes you just have to take the "scenic route" in life. You never know what it may bring you.

With Mount Rushmore checked off the list – not to mention so many other things – the day was really ours to enjoy. We had our camping destination decided for the evening and it wasn’t too far so we started heading back that way knowing that we had one more very important stop to make (aside from gas and the grocery store). Wall Drug was another tourist destination demarcated as a must visit spot in South Dakota. Turns out when Adam and his mom made the drive out from Chicago not too long ago, they had actually stopped at Wall Drug but Adam took advantage of the time he had to take a nap while his mom went in and shopped around.

Wall Drug covers multiple blocks in this town, the town of Wall in South Dakota, and has everything and anything you could ever need. From food to souvenirs, homemade fudge, books, boots, hats and everything in between, I can see how one could spend hours scouring the aisles and rooms in Wall Drug. Unfortunately we arrived with only about an hour and a half before it closed so we kind of had to speed through and didn’t get to experience everything but we grabbed our souvenirs and took it all in. I think we’re going to try to go back tomorrow when it opens at 8am for the donuts and infamous $.5 coffee plus it’s honestly worth another walk through. Just before closing time we piled out of Wall Drug and drove to snag a spot at our campground for the evening at Buffalo Gap National Grassland just outside Badlands National Park. This was another find by way of Campendium and while we got here right before dark, we were able to see how truly spectacular this spot is. We’re waking up early in the morning to catch the sunrise so I’m going to call it a night on this amazing day. Can’t wait for another one tomorrow!

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