3rd December 2005
Rapid City, South Dakota

We leave fairly early as there's a lot we want to pack in today. First up is a recreation of an 1880s town just off of the highway. Sadly this turns out to be closed for the winter. After another hour or so of avoiding snowploughs we find ourselves at the turnoff for 'The Badlands National Park'. We turn off the main highway and after a few miles we come upon an unmanned barrier. Hoping that we wont get chased by an irate park ranger we glide through and down into the Badlands themselves.

The Badlands is one of those places that by logical rights should not exist. After some winding corners taken at a very slow speed because of the ice we find ourselves steering through numerous red rock outcrops dusted with snow. Deer stop grazing and peer up at us before returning to their feast. The outcrops of rock quickly turn into towers and pillars and steppes and worming our way through them is a beautiful experience.

As the car winds its way up around the cliffs and reaches the edge of the plain once more, the extent of the badlands becomes apparent. Away to our left is a vista that leaves me breathless. The towers of rock stretch off into the distance to the horizon. I park the car at one of the viewpoints and wander down to the edge. It is here I find another moment like the experience I had at Maligne Lake in Canada - a view with not one item of human influence in sight. The viewpoint is situated on the edge of a high ledge - it's about as close as a human being can come to the experience of flying - ignoring the whole aeroplane / skydiving experience of course. Magical. No wonder they named this place 'Point Pleasant'

The road winding through the Badlands may have been twisting but the road out of the Badlands leading to the town of 'Wall' is perfectly straight.

Wall is an interesting place in it's own right. The entire economy of the town has been built up around the Wall Drug store. As best I can remember the story: A young chemist and entrepreneur gave up a career elsewhere and was convinced he could make a good life for himself here. The first few years after setting up shop were hard. There was no reason for people driving by on the local highway to stop in the one horse town that was Wall. He knew he could make a good living and sell lots of items if he could just coax people in. His simple stroke of genius was to offer his patrons free glasses of iced water. Coupling together the boom years of the car industry, and the fact that this was one of the only stops on the long haul across South Dakota, people came in their droves. Before he knew what was happening there were thousands of people turning up per day. The town grew around the Wall Drug store. The store itself extended. A rather peculiar dinosaur park was built out the back for the kids. Other cafés and stores popped up to take up some of the slack. People still flock in in their droves, and the town still has a live in population of less than 500.

We stop for lunch and take in the peculiar knick-knack stores in the block. There's even a chapel if you want to pray for a good journey, and an old postbox that is still in operation.

We finish our day at the Thunderbird Inn in Rapid City, directly opposite a huge Walmart.

Chris Cottam

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