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My Van Life: Day 15

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Badlands National Park, SD - Sioux Falls, SD - Minneapolis, MN

The main emotion today is exhaustion. Due to a number of reasons. First of all, the spot we parked at was on the slightest downward sloping angle (it was seriously so minuscule), but large enough to make me feel like I was falling all night. It didn’t help that we were parked toward the edge of a giant drop off and I couldn’t orient myself mentally as far as what side of the van I was on. Was I on the side closest to the dropoff and therefore tilting slowly toward my untimely demise? Or was I on the safe side? The side that would give me enough time to realize what was happening and make a break for it? Imagine that internal dialogue all night long in addition to fighting the inevitable gravity from sleeping on a downward slope.

Let’s add to that the fact that I wanted to wake up and watch the sunrise. I woke up at 4:30am after a particularly strenuous battle keeping my leg from falling off the "edge of the bed" and figured I might as well get up anyway. It was only 30 minutes before my alarm so no use in trying to shut my eyes again. The sunrise was poised for approximately 5:28am so around 5:15am I bundled up and headed outside to claim my spot. Adam joined me shortly thereafter and we watched the sunrise at our incredible campsite at Buffalo Gap National Grassland. It was truly spectacular and I'll admit worth the early morning wake-up call.

Just after 6am we left our spot and headed back into town to one of our favorite local tourist destinations you've already heard about – Wall Drug. When we arrived the night before it was only about an hour before closing so we were kind of rushed through the experience and didn’t get to see and appreciate everything Wall Drug has to offer. Plus Adam wanted to get his hands on this renowned $.5 coffee – although I’ll tell you right now we sprung for the $1.12 to-go coffee - we can confirm however that they’re poured from the same batch so really you’re just paying for the Styrofoam cup. By the way, yes, it tastes like $.5 coffee. If you catch my drift...

I’m so glad we went back to Wall Drug and especially glad that we went for the coffee and donuts. While it was not the greatest coffee nor donut I’ve had in my life, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had and to me that’s what matters. We parked ourselves in the parking lot about thirty minutes before Wall Drug even opened, freshened up, took Coco outside, and then got out and walked up right as it was opening. Turns out great minds think alike and the entire town (all 800 residents it seems!) had the same idea! There was a huge line already formed right at 8am as the doors opened. Thankfully the majority of people were there for the sit down breakfast option which was a much longer long so we were able to bypass dozens of people and hop into the coffee and donuts line. We didn’t bypass the dining room experience however which really made our morning. Hopefully the pictures will do it justice since my words are having a hard time doing such but it’s like stepping back in time to the 19th/early 20th century. The whole room has this traditional Americana feel with beautiful Native American and Western art collaged around you covering every square inch of the walls. Wall Drug has that old timey, small town USA Western vibe throughout without feeling like an ancient artifact if that makes any sense. There’s a way of making “historical” things feel relevant and nostalgic without being old and dusty and somehow they’ve managed to do just that. I mean clearly by the size of the crowd.

After our second trip around Wall Drug we walked around the adjacent stores in the town, including the Badlands Harley Davidson store where I picked up a t-shirt to add to my Harley Davidson collection. It was only about 9am by this time – which was crazy considering all we'd accomplished – but we headed to our next destination which was the actual Badlands National Park. I’ve heard the 40 mile loop through the park is just spectacular so we drove approximately 10 minutes from Wall Drug and began the loop.

Badlands reminds me a lot of the Grand Canyon. The burnt oranges and reds throughout the park, the dry desolate vibes and heat seeping into your pores, dozens of travelers, families and the like spectating upon one of nature’s most beautiful gifts. Even though it was early in the morning it was quite busy already so we stopped off at a few of the viewpoints to get a better look but it was particularly warm and humid on that day and Coco was panting pretty heavily already so we took our time winding through the Badlands Loop, enjoying most of the view from our air conditioned van.

Speaking of heat, I noticed that it was supposed to jump up to 100+ over the next 3-5 days in the Badlands area which is where we were planning on camping and knowing how much we’ve already struggled in destinations whose temps have climbed above 85, we made the decision to leave the area. Not to mention the fact we spent just about all of Friday seeing everything we wanted to see and then some in South Dakota so our South Dakota time felt very well spent and we were ready for the next. From there we drove about 3.5 hours to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where we decided to stop for dinner. Since it had cooled down a bit and it felt like a lot of car time, I thought it would be nice to grab dinner and head to a local park and eat. Well imagine our surprise when the park we stumbled upon, Falls Park in Downtown Sioux Falls, happened to be hosting a free country music concert that night. What are the odds?!

The Levitt Shell at Sioux Falls was the stage area and it was an absolutely spectacular venue. It’s obviously a modern area although I was surprised based on the surrounding lofts and newer apartments that the majority of the crowd at the concert was probably 60+. Nevertheless we heard local singer Danica Michaels and local band Wild Earp – both incredible performances for these two non-country music liking folk. That was one of the happiest accidents I think we’ve had on this trip thus far. It was such a wonderful evening.

We left around 8pm, loaded up on gas and made the decision to keep on pushing through to our next destination, Minneapolis, versus setting up camp in Sioux Falls for the night and then waking up to drive to MN in the morning. It wasn’t horrible, it was only about another 4 hours or so but I really don’t like driving in the dark in this big ole van especially after Adam had his initial accident late at night in the van. Nevertheless, we managed to make it safely to MN and pulled in right around 1am but of course the Walmart we planned on posting up at overnight had signs everywhere saying “no overnight parking,” so we were back to the drawing board in a strange city at 1am in the morning. We ended up finding a campground and slid ourselves into an open space. It looks like a very nice establishment and a huge campground at that but we’ll have to wake up early and head out of here, reorienting ourselves toward tomorrow’s destination – the Mall of America!

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