I believe this was the day after Mount Rushmore. Sandy had wanted to see some Native Americans and I suggested we take a drive to Badlands National Park. The White River Visitor Center is staffed by members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Looking at the Park Map it seemed that the visitor center we wanted was on the southern part of the park. Sandy had also discovered that she had left her souvenirs from Mount Rushmore in the gift shop and wanted to go back there to see if they still had them there. She had her receipt so I figured we could go to the visitor center and then back track to Mount Rushmore.
This was the first morning that we didn’t have a tour scheduled so we didn’t have to rush to get up. We decided a break from Jimmy Dean was in order and we walked over to the Perkins Restaurant next door for breakfast.
After a leisurely meal we headed to the car and south to find the Visitor Center. It was a little confusing at first but eventually we arrived and true to the advertisement it was staffed by Native Americans.
The displays were wonderful and the staff great to talk with. They answered all of our questions. One of the staff said they were having a Pow Wow at Pine Ridge and suggested we go there next. We could see Wounded Knee at the same time as they were all in the same area. We just had to drive across the Pine Ridge Reservation.
I left Sandy to get directions and headed out to the car. I met another Native American Staffer on the way in. He stopped me and said “Snow tonight”. I laughed and said “ Oh no, I hope not!” he laughed too and just said “ Yes, snow.” Sandy and I laughed about the snow predication as we climbed into the car.
Sandy said to take a right onto a dirt road that ran right past the Visitor Center. We had learned that because the reservation is considered a sovereign nation , that they do not get federal funds to maintain roads or other infrastructure. Therefore almost all of the roads on the reservation are dirt. Still, this one seemed to be well maintained and graded so we set off at a fair clip.
As with everywhere we had been so far the scenery was just amazing and there was wildlife everywhere. This continued to amaze me because seeing wild animals out like this during the day just doesn’t happen in the northeast. Spotting a deer during the day is unusual in spite of road kill to the contrary.
Now remember it had rained hard the night before. I’d had the pleasure of driving from Mount Rushmore to Rapid City in the dark and downpour. So Sandy and I are chatting as we drive along this dirt road when all of a sudden it was mud. The car swished about a little and I made note to watch more carefully for the puddles. Most of them didn’t look like much but looks are sometimes deceiving. Sure enough, we began to hit more and more muddy patches finally hitting the biggest mud puddle of all!
I tried to swerve around it but it covered the whole road and the car just slid sideways into the middle of that mess. Water flew everywhere and our white car wasn’t white anymore. There was even mud on the sunroof. With a little fish-tailing we were able to get ourselves out and on our way again but first I had to stop to laugh. It was the funniest thing that had happened the whole trip and it really tickled my funny bone.
I don’t know how long we drove but it seemed to be forever. I pretty much figured we’d gone in the wrong direction but we’d been driving for so long that I wasn’t going to back track. Sandy said the Staffers probably saw us drive off in the wrong direction and said something like “stupid white women”. Well after that mud bath that just hit me funny again so I had another laughing fit.
Just as we were joking about being lost on the reservation forever we bumped onto pavement. We drove through a small settlement and then saw a sign for one of the main roads. As we pulled onto it, Sandy said she wanted to get out and kiss the pavement. That set off another round of giggles.
I did take a picture of the dirt road. It seems to go on forever. In additional to the road just going on and on, there’s nothing on it. There are no little villages or stores or gas stations or signs. You just drive. It must have been what the first settlers experienced when they began to cross the prairie.
I should mention too that we made it back to Mount Rushmore and Sandy went into the gift shop where she had made her purchase last night. She showed her receipt and they replaced her souvenir.
But we never did find the Pow Wow. Going to one is now on my bucket list for a return trip but we had a lot of fun driving the “Longest Dirt Road in the World”.
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