Bismarck, ND to Hill City, SD

This is one of our longer driving days, so we had to put some effort into ‘time management’, even though we’re on vacation. Mostly this consisted of trying to be at the hotel’s restaurant when it opened at 700. We almost made it.

After breakfast, we went looking for the riverfront trails. The directions we got from Bob the shuttle van driver were a bit vague, but you can’t really miss the Missouri River. We ended up doing the right walk in the direction opposite to what we had planned. Bismarck’s trail is more studded with historic sites and large artworks than Grand Forks’.

Steamboat Park was my favorite, but the ‘keelboat’ was also cool. Walkers, joggers,cyclists and a skateboarder all enjoyed the tarmac path. In contrast to our hilly hometown, where the cyclists tend to be iron-man types in spandex and aerodynamic helmets, the riders here were casual, and traveled at a more relaxed pace.

We were able to start our day’s drive at around 0930, which is as good as I dared hope. We wanted to see the badlands again, so we did not take the most direct route. Instead we let Dingbat take us east to travel south along the east side of the river on US83, which looked like this:

moments after we took this picture, we actually saw a couple who had stopped their car to photograph themselves standing by one of the hay bales. Must have been from a big city. We found ourselves in Pierre at lunchtime, so we had a picnic in the State Capitol Park by the river.

Made it to the badlands loop (a half-hour detour off the Interstate) by mid-afternoon and on impulse, stopped to check out the helicopter rides just before the park gate. We decided to splurge, and ponied up for a 15-20 minute jaunt in a Robinson R-44. Compared to this flimsy contraption, the King Airs I fly for a living are built like Sherman Tanks. Like all helicopters, there’s a lot of window and not much airframe. Also, the front doors had been removed, so the sensation was pretty close to sitting on a lawn chair suspended from weather balloons. Should I have mentioned that the badlands are hot in July? For hot, read bumpy. On the plus side, rattlesnakes can’t fly.

Mario must have been using the natural horizon – he gave us a lovely flight. We both enjoyed it immensely, even though Caroline is afraid of heights. (She sat in the back, which is enclosed by doors) I recommend this tour. Prices start at $49/head and go up to $199 for the longest flight. Ours was in between.

We then drove through the park and took short strolls at several of the scenic trails to give the rattlesnakes a fair chance. The winding roads are a big hit with bikers; we saw scores of them. It looked like thirsty work, riding in that dry heat. I’m guessing many of them were looking forward to a beer or six.

After the badlands, we motored to Rapid City for dinner before driving the last half hour to Hill City and our hotel.

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