The rain holds off just long enough to hitch up Cas and get on the road. By Rapid City, SD the gray sky is teasing me with sprinkles and a blustery wind is blowing from the north. The temperature is dropping, and I eye the Black Hills in my rearview mirror. It’s not so hard now to imagine that tomorrow they’ll have a blanket of snow. This is what camping in spring and fall is like, you never really know what you’re going to get for weather.
I head east on I90 for warmer temps at a lower elevation. I have somewhere in mind, but the rain has made getting there a dicey proposition. At the town of Wall I stop at Buffalo Gap Visitor Center. Like National Forests, sometimes National Grasslands allow free dispersed camping and Buffalo Gap is one such place. I speak to the ranger on duty and ask about the state of the road I’m thinking of camping down. Like many public land access roads it’s dirt, and when I read the description on Campendium several reviewers remarked on how it becomes rutted and inaccessible after a good rain – and last night it rained pretty good.
The lady doesn’t know about that road specifically, but says Sage Creek Rim road out to the primitive campground in nearby Badlands National Park is still open, so it may be okay.
It’s a problem I’ve been faced with several times since I started boondocking: risk the potentially bad road, or play it safe and pay for camping in town? “I’ll take Option 3 Alex, scout out the road and then decide.”
Of course, this method only works when there’s some safe place you can park your rig nearby. I’m in luck, and there’s a wide spot along 240 where I can pull over to look.
On 240 south of Wall and just north of the Pinnacles entrance to Badlands National Park, on the east side of the road is an array of cell towers with a dirt access road out to them. This road doesn’t show up on Google Maps and I’m not even sure what it’s called (no signs), but the towers make it easy to find. The road is literally a single track through prairie.
I walk all the way down it. Farther in are old deep ruts that would be impassable for my rig, but others have taken to driving beside the ruts creating a new road, and this is in good shape. The ground is damp, but not saturated. I’ll be able to make it and not create new ruts that would hamper others.
And on that note, I’d like to make a quick public service announcement: Even if your rig is capable of making it down a muddy wet road, please think of others who only have 2WD or are lower clearance. If you create deep ruts getting to or from a camping spot you hinder others ability to enjoy these areas. Waiting until the road has dried out some (even just a few hours after a rainfall makes a huge difference) keeps these camping areas in better shape so that they can be enjoyed by all. Thank you! Okay, now where were we…
Buffalo Gap National Grassland surrounds Badlands National Park, and this little access road has fantastic badlands views. Once past the towers, you can turn left or right to follow along the rim of a cliff with badlands stretched out below. There are four other RVs present when I arrive (I find out later that I know three of them – it really is a small world!) but in my opinion the best spot is still open and I’m quick to take Bertha and Cas up to claim it.
Shortly after I get unhitched the promised rain arrives. It rains the next two days, a cold biting rain accompanied by wind (but hey, no snow!). I enjoy my magnificent 180 degree view (my spot is on something of a peninsula jutting out from the edge) but the weather prohibits outdoor exploration. On the evening of the third day, a minute before sunset, a break appears in the clouds and the sun shines through. What a sight for sore eyes!
The wind never really lets up on the rim, but the rain becomes less frequent after that. I’m able to get out and explore around camp…
…And try my luck at capturing how pretty this place is.
It’s hard, the views are so expansive that pictures don’t do them justice. This spot makes my top five list for scenic boondocking for sure.
I get a lot of work done. Inspiration to write and edit videos comes easily with this kind of view out the window.
I also do a lot of reading when the afternoon storms blow through, forcing me to put my solar away. Have you ever read a book about the area you were visiting while you were there? It’s a neat way to learn. I picked up Stone Song, a novel of the life of Crazy Horse a couple months ago and have been waiting to start it until I got into South Dakota. It’s good, and being here on the plains I feel like if I strain my ears just a little, I can hear the echoes of 1876 in the rolling of the thunder – this region has a turbulent history.