An RV road trip to the Badlands of South Dakota and the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Montana is a unique experience. The close encounters with wild animals, and the natural and manmade monuments, leave images in your mind that you will never forget.
For Canadian RVers, particularly Snowbirds, to see and photograph the northern parts of the United States takes time away from the amount of time you can stay in the country over the winter. Linda and I accepted this by returning to Canada and shortening our winter away.
You must keep your travel plan simple; we keep independent proof of border crossings with fuel receipts on the day of crossing the border. We have never been questioned, but it is just in case there is a problem at the border. South Dakota and Montana are worth the trouble for the experience we had in the fall.
Why Make the RV Road Trip a Camera Safari?
Seeing the animals today in an almost wild environment is a dwindling opportunity. A privilege we have today, but one that may not be around tomorrow. If you can, do it now and make a photographic record of what you have seen, just for you.
With the encroachment of humans, this animal habitat is shrinking. We saw large herds of bison, but they were no longer roaming the prairie completely free. They were in vast parks in the mountain foothills, land not yet wanted by humans. Likewise, the elusive pronghorn antelope voluntarily migrated from the plains to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for their survival.
You Don’t Need a Fancy Camera for Your RV Road Trip
Today’s mobile phones have built-in quality cameras with a reasonable zoom feature. In addition, a tripod would help reduce the shake giving you a better photograph to work with later for computer enhancement.
Driving in this wilderness, it is essential to travel with roadside assistance coverage.
The Badlands and a Town Called Interior
The Town of Interior with a population of 67, is located on what is designated as a scenic drive route. We went one step further and used the Badlands Interior Motel and Campground as our RV road trip base camp and lived there for one week. Linda and I parked our fifth wheel, luxury condo on wheels, at the dusty campground and spent a fascinating week exploring the badlands and the wildlife on foot and by truck.
Wall Drug Store
Driving west on the I90, you can’t fail to see the signposts for Walls Drug Store, South Dakota. Walls Drug Store is a must-see, if only for the curiosity factor. 100-years of providing ice drinks free to travellers.
About 40 minutes’ drive back from the campsite at the town of Interior and west on the I90, curiosity made Walls Drug Store a leisurely day out.
Today Walls Drug Store is an experience, a time capsule, that is worth lunch or even just for the ice water they willingly give you.
As you walk through the marble arches that lead you to the viewing platforms, Mount Rushmore is a bit like a pilgrimage. Mount Rushmore is one of those places you have always known of, but never expected to visit. The museum and the construction video are worth the visit. The sculptured mountain is a mind-bending image of past U.S. presidents. The four heads of state looking down on you include first President, George Washington, third President, Thomas Jefferson, twenty-sixth President, Theodore Roosevelt and sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln. Presidents were selected by the artist as men who made a difference in their time.
Exploring the Badlands requires more time than we had allowed. Within one week, we were able to see stunning scenic views of the national and state parks, the time washed, barren mountains, the high plateau grasslands and the animals that have turned to this desolated place for survival, away from mankind.
We met more bison on the move on one road than I felt was healthy. We were entertained at roadside by a prairie dog city where hundreds of these small animals appeared to be equally entertained watching humans.
Mountain goats stopped the traffic on yet another back road, while longhorn cattle made it clear that we were not welcome crossing their pasture. Wild donkeys and horses, decedents of early Spanish and goldrush explorers, roamed the hills and travelled roads at will.
The Foothills of the Rocky Mountains
In the rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountains of northwest South Dakota, Montana, and Alberta, the once plentiful pronghorn antelopes are making a comeback.
After our stay in South Dakota, we were heading for the KOA Yellowstone Park. At the gate we were told that Yellowstone Park, with its steep hills and tight corners, is not suitable for a big rig. We took the advice and went north, around Yellowstone Park via Montana, to another entrance.
We wanted to see the wild pronghorn antelope, which roamed the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. While on the I90 following the Little Bighorn River, we passed up the opportunity to visit the Little Bighorn National Monument in favour of our camera hunt for the elusive pronghorn.
Lewis and Clarke, during their 1803-1805 overland “Journey of Discovery” to the Pacific Ocean, were the first Europeans to report seeing the pronghorns and identify them as antelope. Lewis and Clarke spent days trying to shoot a pronghorn so they could send a skeleton and the hide back to Washington as examples to accompany their sketches. But, unfortunately, their slow, flintlock rifles did not match the pronghorn, the fastest animal in North America.
A few years later, the early settlers found the pronghorn to be tasty meat and, with high-powered repeating rifles, nearly hunted this distinctive animal to extinction.
However, by mid-morning, we had not seen one pronghorn; then, we heard what sounded like a gunshot.
Breakdown in the Middle of Nowhere in the Montana USE
A loud bang was followed by a rapid loss of our truck’s power. Off at the side of the road, the engine was still running but with no power. We called our roadside assistance.
“Yes,” Linda responded to the operators’ questions, “we are safely pulled over to the side of the road, and yes, we are towing our fifth wheel trailer, and yes, I know exactly where we are.” Linda read the GPS coordinates to the operator, who must have plugged them into her system.
“You are in the middle of nowhere in the Montana, U.S.A.” Was the operator’s response.
Our Canadian operator said she would get a local operator to call us back, which she did. They would send two tow vehicles, one to take the truck to the Ford dealership, the other to take the fifth wheel trailer to a campground. She would stay in touch with us until both the truck and the trailer were safely at their appropriate destinations. We were taken to Hardin KOA and the truck went to Ford in Billings.
The Big Buck Pronghorn Antelope
As I turned the engine off, there they were; a big buck pronghorn antelope rose slowly to his feet out of the long grass, only one hundred metres from where we had stopped. Our first pronghorn sighting. As we watched, a doe followed. They moved at a casual trot, blending quickly into the fall-coloured grasslands. It was a heart-pumping experience for us.
In the following two days, with the help of a rental car and guidance from the campground office, we were able to view several small groups of these fascinating animals. Unfortunately, all wandered slowly away from us or simply ignored us as they rested in the warm sun. After two days, the truck was returned to us at the campground with the carbon in the servo system fixed.
Your Guide to a Fall Opportunity on Big Game Hunting with A Camera
As you plan your travels for the upcoming RV season, you, too, can view some of the most spectacular wild animals in North America by planning an RV road trip to South Dakota and Montana.
With tourist season ending, and the animals moving about after summer heat, fall is an excellent time to visit this wild land.