Heading West on the Open Mike Tour: From the Parched Plains to the Bone Dry Badlands

 Heading West on the Open Mike Tour: From the Parched Plains to the Bone Dry Badlands

As we continue the Open Mike RV Tour for the Family Motor Coach Association, we awoke Sunday to a cool drizzle in Sioux Falls after a long Saturday drive through Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota before crossing into South Dakota well after dark.

We ended Sunday night 400 miles further west in a very remote KOA in the Badlands, where the Monday temperature is expected to be 101 degrees.

If there is a central theme to what we have discovered so far, it's the drought.

Heading West on the Open Mike Tour: From the Parched Plains to the Bone Dry Badlands 2
Sioux Falls is a trickle of its normal self

The plains are dry. Desperately dry. Crops are stunted and water starved. Rivers and streams are drying up fast, The trickle of rain we experienced in Sioux Falls was like a cruel joke… too little, too late.

Newspapers and TV are covering the drought non-stop out here. In the last month in southeast South Dakota barely any rain has fallen. Besides the hard hit crops crops, which will cause a rise on food prices, the drought will be felt at the gas pump. Corn makes ethanol out here, and ethanol fuels cars. Ethanol plants have already seen a 15% reduction. Do the math.

Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of about 153,000. Located on the banks of the Big Sioux River, the city is situated on the prairie of the Great Plains at the junction of Interstate 90 and Interstate 29.

Naturally, it is the waterfalls that give the city its distinctiveness and, the falls of the Big Sioux River, a tributary of the Missouri, normally do not disappoint, tumbling about 100 feet in a series of steps. It seems strange to see a waterfall here, in the midst of the plains, where the terrain is pancake flat in all directions for miles around. But there it is, surrounded by a nice 123 acre park that gives plenty of close up access.

Heading West on the Open Mike Tour: From the Parched Plains to the Bone Dry Badlands 3
The Badlands

And yet, because of the drought, it does disappoint. The water level is so low you can walk from bank to bank on the exposed stones just downstream from the biggest of the falls. People scramble and play on rocks that normally are underwater.

The city has an amazing network of more than 50 parks and greenways that are spread throughout the area. If it wasn't for water sprinklers, the greenways would be as brown as the rest of the drought-banked land.

We were interviewed early this morning by Breanna Fuss, a reporter for KDLT, the local NBC Station. Here's her story. There's a link to the video there.

Heading West on the Open Mike Tour: From the Parched Plains to the Bone Dry Badlands 4After touring Sioux Falls and hitting a local Bed, bath and Beyond and  picking up a two inch topper for the mattress in our Roadtrek, we headed west yet again.

In Mitchell, we stopped at the Corn Palace, a huge downtown building with murals and flourishes all made of corn. On the way there, we passed tens of thousands of acres of corn, tasseled in the unrelenting heat and dryness, but with few ears. The corn should be six to eight feet high. Its just three and four feet in most of the fields we passed.

We arrived in the Badlands at sunset. Our campground is located right along the White River, which gets ts name from the silky grey clay and sand that run soff the Badlands. The White River is down three feet. A creek that runs behind out spot is bone dry, a ribbon of dust.

I'm out of cellphone service out here. Verizon pretty much dropped off ten miles back when we pulled of I-90. There is WiFi at this KOA, but, like all campground WiFi, it slows down during peak times when everyone is online.

We walked around just after dark. The night sky is clear and the stars take your breath away. This is our third KOA on this trip. I'm really impressed with what I've seen at all of them so far. Spotless bathrooms, sharp, attentive and very friendly workers and…after 10 PM… quiet. There's a pool, exercise area, miniature golf, even breakfast and dinner is available.

We went to sleep to the gentle sounds of a hoot owl somewhere along the dried up creek bed behind our Roadtrek.

I like that.

Twice during the night, we awoke to the noise of coyotes. Again, I like that.

The campground is surrounded by the Badlands. The nearest town is Interior, a crossroads of a place, up the blacktop four or five miles.

We'll be here two days. I plan a Badlands Bike ride Monday morning before it gets too hot. Then some hiking and photo-taking as we explore this harsh but beautiful landscape. But except for email on the computer which Ill get to evenings and early mornings, I'm pretty much unplugged for a couple of days.

I like that.


Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • It’s sad to hear about sioux falls in the drought but yet its cool to be able to find the beauty that lies within it if. You guys seem to be having an awesome time. Keep up the good reports.

  • In your next report can you let us know how the “topper” worked for your mattress and your wife’s back?

    Living in Oklahoma i am saddened to see how the drought has affected us. I can only imagine how the drought has affected the area you’re in. That’s too bad.

    Thanks again for the report. How is your gas mileage on this trip? Just curious…

  • “I like it” – That’s Jennifer’s assessment after the first night’s sleep on the mattress topper we picked up in Sioux Falls, following the suggestions of many of our readers. Me? I think it’s pretty soft and fluffy, very comfortable but I am clueless as to how I can store it unless we leave the bed made all the time… and that means I’ll have to do most of my writing and video editing outside on the picnic tables. But, as I said before and we all know… if Momma ain’t happy….well, y’all know the rest.
    As for mileage, I’ve averaged about 20.8 so far. We’ve driven about 1,300 miles to the Badlands, where I am writing this post.

  • Don’t miss the ICBM command center tour. The early 70’s technology is impressive and brings back many memories. You will not find a microprocessor anywhere.

  • Mike,

    That’s great to hear about the topping and the gas mileage. As for storing it.. We rolled ours up like a sleeping bag. My Dad took some yarn (okay string) after he rolled it really tight and stored it under the seat (now remember this was a van not what you are driving:). It didn’t take up that much space and it laid out perfectly each time we unrolled it.

    Looking forward to reading your next post! Travel safe!

  • Thanks for the updates Mike. We drove thru the Badlands in Sept 2010. Breath taking. We spent a couple of nights in Theo. Roosevelt NP, which was beautiful. Regarding your topper, we modified a table in a TT that we had. We replaced our table with 2 boards cut in half (or any size you want). The back half we left in place, and when we needed a table, we rolled the topper with sheets and blanket to the back. The front portion we set up as a table. Not sure if doable in your RT, its just an idea you might be able to work with. It makes a smaller table for use, but it worked great on rainy days to have a place to eat, etc.

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