What do petrified wood, badlands, missiles, and presidents have in common?

What do they have in common? Those are the remaining things we conquered while in Rapid City, South Dakota.

First up, on June 30, we made it back to the Badlands National Park. We got up early and arrived at the entrance station at 7am where we were greeted by about a dozen bison, posing around the entrance. We then began the 30 mile auto tour along highway 240. It was absolutely beautiful. The park consists of 244,000 acres of spectacular landscapes, prairie grasses, wildlife, fossils, and more. It took about 2 hours to take in that 30 mile trip. Yes, the landscapes were beautiful, but we also saw the bison, bighorn sheep, and eagles.

Geology lesson time. Yay! So the bottom most layer is a dark grey shale called the Pierre Shale. It formed between 69 and 75 million years ago when a shallow sea covered the area. The sea sediment created a black mud which eventually hardened into shale. The next oldest layer is the Yellow Mounds. During the uplifting which created the Black Hills, the water drained out and the black mud was exposed to air. When it started eroding, it turned yellow. The next layer is a light grey, called the Chadron Formation. It came into being between 34-37 million years ago and it was created from a river flood plain (instead of salty seawater). There are alligator fossils in this layer.  The fourth layer is a tannish brown with some red layers. This is the Brule Formation, formed from open savannah type of environment about 30-34 million years ago. Also present are some sandstone channels which show the courses of ancient rivers. Above that is the Rockyford Ash layer which is a volcanic layer. The final layer, called the Sharps Formation, is from about 28-30 million years ago. The Sharps and Brule Formations forms the craggy, rugged sharp peaks found here.

Of course, after all that depositing of layers, we had to have some uplifting and erosion to get them to the current state. Your geology lesson is now complete. You may return your seats and trays to their upright position…

We arrived at the visitor center around 10 am which meant there were fewer people present. It made for a much better experience than the first day we visited and were literally elbow to elbow with folks. On display were some fossilized mammals found in the area.  Of course we oohed and aahed our way through it all. And for your oohing and aahing enjoyment we will be posting the pictures from our Badlands visit separately. There are so many and we wanted everyone to have the chance to oogle them outside this post.

On the way home, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. We couldn’t take the tour of the missile control center, so we didn’t stay long. This was the first national park dedicated to the history of the Cold War. There were some interesting displays about the nuclear ramp-up and eventual reduction.  We will come back again when we can get on one of the tours. (during the summer, you have to make reservations 3 months ahead).


Then on July 2nd, we stopped at a little private museum call the Petrified Forest of the Black Hills. It is a small place that is also a campground and lodge resort. They opened in 1929 and made their own museum exhibits. There is a short film (looks like it was made in the 90’s) and some homemade dioramas and scaled models of the area. Then you go out and take a hike where they have petrified wood specimens.


Finally, on July 3rd, we drove to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was another short visit for us, we had been here before in 1993 on a camping trip. This trip was mainly to get the stamp in my Passport To Your National Parks book.


This, my friends, completed our stay in Rapid City, South Dakota. It is a wonderful place to explore. There were several more places we wanted to visit, but we only booked a 12 day stay here. Too much to do, too little time. When we come back in the future we will definitely visit the Jewel Cave National Monument, The Mammoth Site and the Wild Horse Sanctuary.

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