Take the detour, for sure: Scenic, South Dakota

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.

The old Dance Hall welcomes you to Scenic!

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.

Saloon in Scenic, South Dakota
Abandoned: the saloon in Scenic, South Dakota

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.

The Jail in Scenic, South Dakota
One of two jails in Scenic. Could customers have come straight from the saloon?

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.

Scenic front porch in Scenic SD
No one to enjoy the scenery from the front porch of the Agate Museum.

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).

Ghostly residence, Scenic SD
A residence? Well, maybe at one time.

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.”

Close-up of Saloon, Scenic SD
The Longhorn Saloon, Scenic SD

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

21 thoughts on “Take the detour, for sure: Scenic, South Dakota

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      This road trip occurred May 2019. We wouldn’t have been able to go this year because we haven’t been flying at all! But I wanted readers to know that you can still take road trips in the USA — and SD is a great place to visit.

  1. Curt Mekemson

    Whew! I was holding my breath until you found the gas station, Rusha. Doesn’t do to be stranded in a ghost town out of gas! 🙂 I like ghost towns, however, and never pass one up. I usually fill up with gas before going, however. 🙂 The Longhorn was interesting! –Curt

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You probably know the real reason I’m anxious to get to a gas station, and it has little to do with filling up with gas. These days, I have to look ahead because many of them are closed to the public!

  2. Tina Schell

    Yikes Rusha! Hope you didn’t run out of gas having gone there to get it in the first place! Loved the old structures but can you IMAGINE living there ?!?!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I can NOT imagine living there. We were grateful for the gas station and conversation with the lady in the General Store, but I was ready to pull out soon thereafter!!! An interesting place, though.

  3. Green Global Trek

    I always like these kind of well worn, weathered and textured dwellings. They have so much character and depth. I also often think of how they might be re loved once again one day …


  4. Pit

    Thanks for showing me around there. Even an abandoned settlement in the process of falling apart has its very own charm!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We thought our find was pretty cool! But then again, we like old abandoned barns, derelict houses, ghost towns, etc. Now that I think about it, we may be kinda weird! Thanks for taking a look!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We do, too! It was fun to stumble onto it unawares. And oh, what a job someone would have if they wanted to revitalize it. But I could see some type of tourist destination, if anyone would want to develop it. Thanks for cruising through Scenic with us!

  5. dawnkinster

    Wow. Lovely images of such sad failed dreams. That’s what I usually think when I see an abandoned town or home. That someone, once upon a time, had hopes for success and something happened to dash those hopes. I always wonder where the people went. Even when I’m visiting Indian ruins, like the cliff dwellers, I wonder more about where the people went and why. We have found that side trips often turn out to be the best part of our adventures.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We have a lot in common. Any time we visit a place like the cliff dwellings, we want to know why people didn’t stay. Of course, in that case, it’s usually a lack of water. I don’t know what happened in Scenic. And I don’t know if there’s any interest in making it a destination. In some ways, it’s better left to the imagination, I guess. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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