Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks

I’m on the 10th day of my 6-wk Swing Around the USA, which I should probably rename “Zoom Around the USA.” On travel days, I’m driving between 215 and 297 miles a day, not counting the first leg from Pasadena to Zion, which was 433 miles. I’m paying between $2.77 and $3.59/gal for gas depending on how remote I am. I thought I would boondock more, but so far I’ve had only one free night. The free view over the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was amazing, but I wasn’t very comfortable with the isolation. Feeling less brave, I look first for state park campgrounds, which are gorgeous and inexpensive ($12 to $24 so far), then RV Parks ($33 to $45). I’ve only had to dump my tanks once. I prefer my own coffee to anything I can buy out and eat lots of fruit and granola for breakfast. In order to eat plenty of veggies, I cook most of my dinners. Cooking and eating outdoors is a nice thing to do at the end of a day of driving and sightseeing.

Yesterday I started with Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. It offers two highlights: The “Park” itself is a calming, preserved prairie complete with buffalo and prairie dogs.

Under the park, like a subway maze, is one of the world’s most complicated and extensive natural caves. The native Americans thought it was the Source, where buffalo came from. 436 miles have been explored so far by daring people who like crawling through dark, tiny spaces. In the 1800s, all they had were candles to guide them in, and string to lead them out. It’s thought only 20% of the network has been seen so far.

Though I overcame my fear of heights to drive the 12000-foot-high trail over Rocky Mountain NP, my even worse claustrophobia and the excuse not to leave Annie in the car too long (there was an hour wait for the Cave tour and the tour itself takes an hour) led me to the 20-minute movie in the visitor center auditorium.

To get from Wind Cave NP to Badlands NP, also in South Dakota, I wiggled through the pine-covered Black Hills in Custer State Park.

Like every National Park I have seen so far, Badlands offers sights you can’t see anywhere else in the world. The 45-mile drive through the canyons of its white mountains kept me saying “WOW”.

At the end of the drive is a campground but off limits to rigs over 18 feet. Ramsey is 20.5 feet. However, not much farther down the road is a tourist spot I’m glad I didn’t miss. The little town of Wall has two RV Resorts. The reviews on the app AllStays, which I frequently use to find places to park, praised Sleepy Hollow RV Resort, which is where we are now.

It’s very nice and friendly, and only a short walk away from the real highlight of this town, Walls Drugs, a super touristy mall of shops offering everything from cowboy boots to ice cream to BBQ beef sandwiches to silver decorate rifles.

I now have two days to get to St. Paul, Minnesota. My National Parks map says that Pipestone National Monument is about halfway.

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