We arrived in South Dakota excited to see a new state. We have a big sticker of the USA that comes with individual state stickers. Spend any time at an average campground and you’ll see one just like it. Most RVers have one. It’s a point of pride to peel off a new state sticker and add it to your map. It tells the world, “Hey, look at all the places we’ve been!” We admire the seasoned campers who have almost all the states filled. We’re in the double digits now ourselves.
So, with our new sticker in place, we started exploring South Dakota. We were staying at a tiny RV park called Minuteman RV campground. The name seemed odd to me. I was familiar with Revolutionary Patriots who could be ready at a minute’s notice to fight the redcoats. But we were awfully far from Lexington and Concord out here on the prairie. So, I did a little googling and as it turns out, there’s a huge nuclear arsenal hidden in plain sight in the Great Plains. Established during the Cold War and maintained for thirty years, one thousand missiles were maintained and kept constantly ready to launch. Now, the National Park Service maintains the site and silos. You can even schedule a private tour of the facility.
Our next stop was Badlands National Park. But, on the way there, we discovered Prairie Dog Ranch. This roadside attraction sells tiny bags of shelled peanuts as “prairie dog food.” Then, you basically go out to the parking lot and feed the vermin. If you know me well, you know that I have a serious phobia of rodents. I’ve been reduced to hysteria over a field mouse in my basement. I’d been nervously anticipating this part of the trip for weeks. I didn’t want to completely freak out and ruin the experience for my kids. So, I grit my teeth, threw one peanut, forced myself to take a short video and a couple of pictures. “It’s just a fat squirrel. It’s just a fat squirrel.” This was my mantra. Then, something alerted the prairie dogs to danger or something because they all started squeaking and shrieking to one another.
Nope. No. No. No. I think they could smell my fear. Was this the call to attack? Oh my God! I just knew they would all lunge into formation and run me down for my puny bag of peanuts. What was I thinking standing out there in the sun with all these glorified rats? The brochures warned us of goring bison and mauling grizzles further west. I’d be the only women eaten alive by prairie dogs. I could see the headlines now, “Scout Leader Feeds Wildlife. Results in Rabies and Untimely Death.” I know better. I should be armed. The inner redneck in me came flooding to the surface. Certainly, no one would blame me for buying a shotgun and playing a little whack-a-mole in the desert? I made a beeline to the truck. I had wanted to all-out run. But I still had a shred of dignity left and I didn’t want to knock over the toddler in pigtails happily tossing peanuts to her new furry friends. Safe back in the air conditioning I told myself I had been very brave because I didn’t cry. I also tried to block out images of prairie dogs somehow finding a way to burrow into my RV and wait for me in my bed.
Charlotte later described the cute little prairie dogs as her favorite part of South Dakota. I still remember their red eyes and fangs…even if no one else does.