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West 2016: Rapid City Oddity

Day 4: August 8, 2016

When you think of a gas station and convenience store, I bet you are like me and think about a place to fill the tank, and perhaps pick up some snacks for that long drive you have ahead of you.  You know…  Diet Dr. Pepper, coffee, licorice, pretzels… something to hold you over until you get your next meal (yes, I am a bit food focused, in case you were wondering).  But I bet it isn’t often that you think of that gas station convenience store as a place to view a whole host of stuffed animals from around the world.  And I don’t mean the cute, cuddly plush stuffies – I mean a collection of taxidermy animals!

This odd Taxidermy Gas Station, as I came to call it, is located in Rapid City, South Dakota inside a Mobile gas station.  It has an actual name – The Call of the Wild Museum, but Taxidermy Gas Station has a much better ring to it, in my humble opinion…

I knew about it before our trip, having stumbled upon it while I was researching things to do on TripAdvisor. I put it on the list as an interesting potential, but wasn’t convinced that we would make it there because there were so many other things we wanted to see in the area.  In the end, we just kind of ended up at the intersection and decided to make the stop as we were heading home from our busy day at Badlands, among other places…

I have mixed feelings on big game hunting…  I am sure others have different opinions, but I don’t think that anyone should be permitted to hunt endangered animals.  I think if you are going to hunt common animals, you should be hunting it to eat it.  But regardless of your views on hunting, this place is here, an exhibit showing the ‘kills’ of a hunting family that needed a large display room.  The Taxidermy Gas Station was born…

The exhibit is free – a big room attached to the convenience store, and it contains dozens, maybe even over a hundred taxidermied specimens.  Common animals and exotics from all over the world.  Lions, an elephant, a polar bear, an alligator, a wolverine, a Canada goose, a few different species of prairie dogs…  You name it, and you can likely find it there.  Well, now that I think about it, they didn’t have a manatee – that’s a good thing.

The taxidermy on these animals is very well done, and it is morbidly interesting to walk through the room checking out all the different animals.  However, it is also sad.  I will leave you to decide for yourself…

 

Thoughts?

After the Taxidermy Gas Station, we wrapped up our drive back to Custer, South Dakota, traveling through Custer State Park after dark.  I will tell you more about this wonderful park in another post!  Winding through the park after dark was a surreal experience, especially since at one point I had to slam on the brakes to narrowly avoid hitting a large male bison, who was standing in the road, in the fog, staring directly at us…  Creepy…  My heart jumped into my throat!  But after we stopped the car, he lazily walked by the side of us, without a care in the world…


Distance for the Day:
Custer, SD – Minuteman National Historic Site – Prairie Homestead – Badlands National Park, SD – Wall Drug – Call of the Wild Museum – Custer, SD (4 hrs, 45 min, 254 miles)

Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD
Gas – $2.19 / gallon

Free Ice Water at Wall Drug!

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Is there such a thing as a trip to the Badlands without a stop at Wall Drug? This iconic store, originally a pharmacy, has become an American legend, due to the road signs that line I-90 for miles in both directions. Additionally, they give away free bumper stickers and people erect signs in far off places announcing how many miles it is to Wall Drug.  These marketing strategies have absolutely aided in their success.

Wall Drug was opened by Ted Hustead and his wife in 1931; they were looking for a small town with a Catholic church where they could establish their pharmacy business. Wall is currently in the “middle of nowhere,” and I can only imagine that it was even more remote over 85 years ago. His wife Dorothy deserves the credit for its ultimate success. Mount Rushmore had just opened, and she had the idea to offer free ice water to tourists traveling west to see it during the hot, dry summer. The idea brought lots of people in and the store took off!

The Famous Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug is basically a shopping mall where you can buy all sorts of kitschy souvenirs, including a mounted “jackalope,” which is a jackrabbit with antlers.  I have no idea how this thing ever took off, but I guess I need to remember that we have a long history of venerating mythical creatures, and why not – it is fun!  Apparently in Douglas, WY, where the first taxidermy jackalope was created in 1932, they have an “official” jackalope hunting season, which occurs for only one day.  In case you are interested in bagging your own jackalope, the season occurs each year on June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 a.m. The hunter must have an IQ greater than 50 but not over 72.  Permits are available from the Douglas, WY Chamber of Commerce.  I think that would be pretty awesome to get one!  But I digress…

Mom and I combined our visit to Wall Drug with dinner.  I had a buffalo burger, which was good, but somehow I neglected to snap a picture…  We decided to forego the ice cream for dessert, although it did look really delicious.  Instead we took a bit of time to go find the rideable Jackalope out back!  Because a trip to Wall Drug is not complete without sitting astride a 10 foot tall fiberglass Jackalope!  The stirrups were too short for this equestrienne, but I tried to make the best of it with my long remembered equitation skills.  Mom even played along and climbed up there too.

The Wall Drug Cafe – I got to stare at the ice cream counter all through dinner!

 

Me riding the Jackalope

 

Mom riding the Jackalope!

We also found a stuffed bison to pose with – she had seen better days – I imagine she’s been petted by millions over the years. And we checked out an exhibit on gold mining, where you can pan for gold for a fee, but it was closed when we were there.  The mall has a Western art museum as well that would have been cool to check out if we had more time – it is free to visit.

Me with the stuffed bison – up close and personal

In the end, we departed with full bellies but passed on purchasing the mounted jackalopes or other Wall Drug souvenirs, and got on the road towards home (Custer, SD, that is…).  We still had a fair bit of driving and one more, very odd, stop to make…

West 2016: Badlands NP Wildlife

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Do you have any idea how long I have been trying to get a decent photo of Bighorn Sheep?  I was thwarted in Colorado at Colorado National Monument, got the faintest glimpse of them at dusk on the drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park, got blurry pics of them at Pikes Peak, and then missed them again at Joshua Tree

But Badlands National Park did not disappoint!  We saw Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep for the first time that day at the Burns Basin Overlook.  There were three of them.  Two were resting on the rocks, and one was walking unhurriedly.  My mom didn’t get out of the car at first, so I had to go back and drag her out to make sure she got to see them too.  Of course, I did make sure to get some photos first.  I was so excited!

Bighorn Sheep at Burns Basin Overlook

I spotted some pretty little songbirds, but couldn’t really tell what kind they were because they were silhouetted against the blue sky.

They might be Mountain Bluebirds, but I couldn’t tell for sure…

We decided to drive down the Sage Creek Rim Road, a gravel road that is supposed to be where the bison and the bighorn sheep often hang out.  There is also a prairie dog town a few miles down the road.  We didn’t see any bison that day, but we were not disappointed because we had already done some fabulous spotting at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Yellowstone National Park was still coming up later in the trip!  Soon we happened upon a huge herd of animals grazing in the field in the distance.  At first glance, we both thought they were deer, but after watching them for a few minutes, I figured out that they were bighorn sheep!  We took some photos and continued on, because they were pretty far away.

Soon we came upon a bunch of sheep hanging out right by the road, and often, in the road!  There were a lot of babies too!  I had so much fun just watching them and taking photos.  They were stunning and so close!  They weren’t bothered by us at all.

Baby Bighorn Sheep!

Not even this guy, who was too lazy to even stand up all the way to re-position himself for better grass!

This guy… I have no words…

It was tough to pull away from the bighorns, but we headed the rest of the way to the prairie dog town.  These prairie dogs didn’t want to pose as nicely for us though…  I did get a nice shot of a Western Meadowlark though!

Prairie Dog! He was on a mission…

 

Western Meadowlark at Badlands

We did so much wildlife spotting that it was starting to get late, and we wanted to grab some dinner.  We returned the way we came, stopping for some more photos of the bighorn sheep, before heading out of the park.  Just outside, we found a lone pronghorn posing beautifully, so I got some photos of him too!

 

Is this not the cutest trio of butts ever!

 

A stately Pronghorn, just outside of the park

It was a great day for wildlife!

 

West 2016: Badlands NP Scenery

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Badlands was one of the places I was most excited about on our trip.  I love desert landscapes, and was really looking forward to seeing the spectacular colors of the eroded buttes and the prairie grasses.  Badlands National Park did not disappoint.

Mom and me with the Badlands Sign! Can you tell by my hair that it was windy?

Mom and me with the Badlands Sign! Can you tell by my hair that it was windy?

After arriving at the park, and snapping the obligatory poses with the entrance sign, my mom and I stopped at the first viewpoint – the Big Badlands Overlook.  The views here were amazing, with the buttes showing all their beautiful colors and the grass down below (pictures don’t really do it justice).  We were able to get some great photos of the scenery and enjoy our first looks at the park.  But wow, was it hot!  It was hovering between 95 and 97 degrees!  Wow!  So of course, I have a very red face in all my photos that day, from the heat!

Mom and me - Selfies overlooking the buttes

Mom and me – Selfies overlooking the buttes

 

Piddles enjoying the view of the Badlands

Piddles enjoying the view of the Badlands

We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center and had a picnic lunch outside.  The picnic tables have space-agey sun covers over them to protect you from the heat – you do have to be careful about pinning your stuff down so it doesn’t blow away though!  There was a bit of a breeze the day we were there, which of course made the heat slightly more bearable.  Then we went inside and watched the park movie and checked out the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center.  They had a great exhibit on the pre-historic animals and fossil record within the park.

Some of the spires towering above the prairie grasses

Some of the spires towering above the prairie grasses

After the Visitor’s Center, we headed out to see more of the park.  We stopped at lots of the viewpoints and I did some short hikes.  I hiked up the hill at the Saddle Pass trail head while my mom waited at the car, doing some sketching and journaling.  It was a short but very steep uphill climb to some great views, made much more challenging by the fact that the terrain was loose scree, so I slid back down a little bit at several points.  I didn’t end up going all the way up the hill, but I managed to get high enough to enjoy the scenery, and for the car to look like a little dot in the distance below.

The view from near the top of Saddle Pass - our car a speck in the distance

The view from near the top of Saddle Pass – our car a speck in the distance

Mom and I also walked the 1/2 mile Fossil Walk.  It is a flat boardwalk trail that has interpretive plaques showing the types of fossils that have been found in the park.  It was neat seeing what is buried underneath the layers here, and getting a close up view of the colors in the landscape.  Fossils found here include dogs, alligators, rhinoceroses, and ammonites.  There were lots of kids climbing on the buttes here – they had a lot of energy for such a hot day!

Me on the Fossil Walk

Me on the Fossil Walk

The Yellow Mounds Overlook and the Pinnacles Overlook were fairly self-explanatory.  Although they did promise rattlesnakes, and the only one we saw all day was one that was dead and flat in the road (sorry I didn’t get a photo…).

The Yellow Mounds at Badlands - yellow indeed!

The Yellow Mounds at Badlands – yellow indeed!

 

They promised! But Badlands did not deliver

They promised! But Badlands did not deliver…

As sad as it was though that we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, we did see plenty of wildlife at Badlands – I’ll be posting about them next!

 

Badlands National Park History

Badlands National Park is a picture of contrasts.  While seemingly a harsh desolate environment made up of eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles, it also contains the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.  A prairie that teams with life.

Badlands began as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929 when it was authorized by Herbert Hoover, although it wasn’t established until January 25, 1939 (Franklin Roosevelt was President by then).  It was re-designated as a National Park on November 10, 1978.  The park protects 242,756 acres of land, of which 64,144 is designated wilderness.  The park had 966,263 visitors in 2016 – my mom and I were two of them!!

A stunning badlands view...

A stunning badlands view…

The park boundaries are brimming with fossils; it actually contains the richest deposits of Oligocene mammals known.  It sort of boggles the mind to imagine mammals roaming around on this land 33 million years ago, but there they were.  The fossil remains in the park include camels, three-toed horses, oreodonts, antelope-like animals, rhinoceroses, deer-like mammals, rabbits, beavers, creodonts, land turtles, rodents and birds.  There are also a fair number of marine animals in the fossil record here, including ammonites, nautiloids, fish, marine reptiles, and turtles.

Badlands has known human habitation for approximately 11,000 years.  The paleo-Indians, although little studied, are the inhabitants who arrived after crossing the ice bridge from Eurasia in the late Pleistocene period (“i” before “e” except after “c”, or in Pleistocene, apparently…).  Stone tools, including projectile points, have been found in the area, as well as charcoal from ancient campfires.  Later came the Arikara, and then the Lakota, who used the elevation of the Badlands Wall to scout for herds for hunting, as well as approaching enemies.

At the end of the 19th century, homesteaders and gold miners moved into the nearby area, and the U.S. government forced the tribes onto reservations, including one called the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Many of the Oglala Sioux in the area fought the orders to move to reservations, and instead chose to defy the order, following the prophet Wovoka.  From this movement, the Ghost Dance was born.  The Sioux believed that the Ghost Dance would restore their land and force the white settlers and government agents to leave, and that the Ghost Shirts that they wore would be impervious to bullets.  Well…  This didn’t end up panning out, and sadly the ghost dancers, being pursued by government troops in 1890, ended up seeking refuge on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Gunfire erupted as the soldiers were attempting to disarm the group – as the story goes a deaf man named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, since he had paid a lot for it.  On December 29, 1890, what became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre killed over 300 Native Americans and 30 soldiers.  It was the last big clash between Plains Indians and U.S. troops in the series of clashes that became known as the Indian Wars.  The Pine Ridge Reservation now contains the Stronghold Unit and the Pine Creek Unit of Badlands National Park within its boundaries.  Although the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre is not within the boundaries of the park, it is nearby and open to the public.

Badlands has lots to do – there are hikes of all levels, from a 0.25 mile flat traverse over a raised boardwalk to a 10 mile back-country hike.  The trails range from easy to strenous, but you do need to plan accordingly for extreme temperatures and weather (both in summer and winter).  You can back-country camp, cycle on the roads (paved, dirt or gravel), and there is a night sky program.  Wildlife viewing is also popular at the park, with prairie dogs, bison, deer, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, badgers, coyotes, bobcats, and black-footed ferrets being just some of the species found in the park.  67 species of birds are known to nest within the park and over 200 species have been documented there.  There are also reptiles, amphibians and butterflies present there.

I have been excited about visiting this park for a long time, and I was finally going to be able to visit!  Posts coming soon!

 

 

Pool Time

I was going through some photos I had transferred from my old phone to my computer, and came across this gem from my trip to San Diego last April.  The special effects in the photo are due entirely to the fact that my old phone was haunted.  Yep, my old phone camera was extremely simple, and had no reverse color special feature that I could ever find.  Yet it would randomly take photos like this, which I actually thought turned out very cool…

san-diego-pool-time

Would you swim in water that color?

It also made me think that I am in dire need of a vacation.  Someplace warm, where I can sun myself by the pool.  Soon…

At least it is the weekend!

West 2016: Missiles and Sod…

Day 4: August 8, 2016

We began our day with a trip to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Philip, South Dakota. It was on the way to Badlands National Park, which was our ultimate destination for the day.

We didn’t actually tour the Launch Control Center, as that is a few miles down the road and we didn’t have time with our busy agenda for the day.  There are a limited number of spaces on tours each day, for a small per person fee.  The Launch Control Center was active between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, when most of the nuclear missiles were deactivated.  The United States during the peak of the Cold War had about 1,000 active nuclear missiles, and each control center controlled 10 missiles.  So, you can do the math – this was not the only control center.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Even without going on the tour though, the Visitor’s Center was well worth the stop. Exhibits covered the length of the history of nuclear armament, from the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, the tense periods with Cuba and Russia, and the eventual agreements to move toward disarming nuclear weapons around the world. Several years ago, I toured the Titan Missile Site in Sahuarita, AZ, near Tucson, so I was able to translate that experience without seeing this silo site.

When I toured the Titan site in AZ, I was amazed by the technology that existed in the construction of the silo. On my tour there, a volunteer was asked to try to open a blast door that weighed several tons. It was so well balanced and constructed that it moved very easily on its bearings.

The Minuteman Missile Visitor’s Center had a piece of the Berlin Wall that visitors could touch.

Mom, with a piece of the Berlin Wall

Mom, with a piece of the Berlin Wall

They also had a genuine missile silo toilet – a historic toilet for my collection! You know I had to get a photo of that!  Sadly it was damaged (probably by other historic toilet photo collectors) so I didn’t get to pose properly for the photo.  This one will have to do…

 

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on...

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on…

After the Minuteman site, we went just down the road to the Prairie Homestead – a South Dakota State Historic Site. There were two draws to the site – the first was the sod house, built in 1909 by the Ed Brown family. The home also had a later wooden addition; another home that was moved from its original location, and which doubled the size of the original house. It would be difficult to live in sod, which had bugs who would move through it and drop into the home (yuck), as well as the fact that sod walls make for a damp environment and tend to sag over time.

The Brown family sod house - the sod portion on the left was built in 1909

The Brown family sod house – the sod portion on the left was built in 1909

 

The bedroom in the sod house, showing the sod walls.

The bedroom in the sod house, showing the sod walls.

There were also several outbuildings on the site, including an outhouse, but I’m not sure if the outhouse was original or reconstructed. That didn’t stop me from getting photos of the historic toilet and its perpetual guest. There is a root cellar, and an old well.  The barn has animals, including chickens and goats, which I’m sure would keep the kids busy and entertained if for some crazy reason they got bored watching the more famous four legged residents.

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead's double outhouse...

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead’s double outhouse…

The other big draw of the Prairie Homestead is that they have white prairie dogs! Staff indicated that these prairie dogs are a separate species, but they aren’t.  They are actually leucistic black-tailed prairie dogs, meaning they don’t have the pigment in their skin, but do have pigmented eyes, so they aren’t albino.  Many species of animals have leucistic individuals, including other mammals (white lions and tigers), reptiles and birds.  These prairie dogs were certainly lighter in color than others that we saw during our trip, and they didn’t have the typical black-tipped tail of other members of their species. The fact that these prairie dogs interbred among themselves causes the genetic mutation to continue.

These guys are so cute!

These guys are so cute!

I loved watching them, and took lots of photos of them popping out of their burrows.  They are so adorably cute!

Which way do we look?

Which way do we look?

 

A White Prairie Dog (otherwise known as a leucistic Black-tailed Prairie Dog)

A White Prairie Dog (otherwise known as a leucistic Black-tailed Prairie Dog)

These white prairie dogs were moved to the site in partnership with the Oglala Sioux tribe, but if you aren’t interested in seeing the sod house, you can see the white prairie dogs for free just down the road from the gas station.

Look! Three of them in one photo - triple the cuteness!

Look! Three of them in one photo – triple the cuteness!

By the time we left the Prairie Homestead it was lunchtime, but we had so much left to do in our day!