The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery, even when they have to take a detour.
― Sir James Jeans
With an extra day in South Dakota, we reveled in the delight of taking a second look at The Badlands. We didn’t plan a detour. But then again, we never do. Sometimes when we travel, we just sort of look out at the landscape, see something that might be interesting, and then veer off, usually on a road less taken, to see what we can see.
Since our gas gauge dictated a stop, we saw a sign directing us to Scenic Gas Station. Now, the name alone should have given us pause. It wasn’t a scenic gas station at all. It was THE Scenic, South Dakota gas station in an abandoned (well, almost) town — straight out of Hollywood, or so it appeared.
Building after abandoned building lured us beyond the gas station and into the town proper — Scenic, South Dakota — a town with “gen-u-wine” Wild West decay. As much of a real life Ghost Town as we’ll ever see.
We searched for a store, the only store, that had a sign of life and talked to the lady who gave us the skinny. (See photo above.) Scenic, she said, had once been a thriving little town, built in the midst of great scenery (thus the name). It was, and still is, a town with a dance hall, saloon, two jails, art gallery, and an agate museum, only they’re abandoned. Empty. Ghostly. Creepy. But I dare you to stop looking.
According to “South Dakota town for sale: $800,000” by CBS News (August 1, 2011), Scenic was a thriving little town at one time, but, after seeing better days, was for sale: asking price $800,000. The town belonged to Twila Merrill, a rodeo legend, who kept buying up buildings one at a time. In 2011, Merrill hoped to turn the tired little town with nine residents over to a new owner, if only she could find a buyer.
And so it was, that the Philippines-based church, Iglesia ni Cristo, bought Scenic at the price of $799,000. Later, a few church members moved in.
If you go to Scenic today, you’ll find living, breathing people in the U. S. Post Office, the General Store, and the gas station, a working business that’s not really all that scenic, but it’s there and it’s serviceable, which is totally important if you’re in a Ghost Town running on empty.
So, would we recommend a detour to Scenic, South Dakota?
Absolutely. It was just the side trip we needed — no national monuments, no marble markers, and almost no tourists (unless you count the 700 or so cars that come through each day).
Scenic is one of those places that when you get home, you tell your kids, “You won’t believe what we saw in South Dakota. (Eye-rolling at the suggestion.) Wait. You’ve gotta see these pictures! Really, you do.”
To get to Scenic, follow SD 44 east out of Rapid City. And afterwards, treat yourself to another visit to The Badlands. You’ll love it even more the second time around.
May all your drives be scenic ones,
Rusha & Bert