Day two of our WEIRD family vacation was spent at Omaha’s amazing Henry Doorly Zoo – a place that definitely lived up to its reputation as being one of the world’s biggest and best! It signaled a vast improvement from our previous day and the kids seemed a lot happier which is what I was mostly concerned about. Right next to the zoo was a hamburger joint named “King Kong” that featured a loose interpretation of the “8th wonder of the world” on top of it! I really wanted to eat there (just because) but we opted to wait until we arrived in Sioux Falls for a classier dinner. Being the lone adult traveling with three teens made things rather costly come meal time, but we’d all had it with fast food. We ended up eating at a place called the Roll’n Pin Cafe’ & Grill which was the best food we’d had since the trip began.
The next day we were on our way to the Badlands National Park when I spotted what looked like a giant hamster in the distance. I soon realized it wasn’t a hamster at all but the famous “Six Ton Prairie Dog” I’d seen on Roadside America! I honestly didn’t think it would be accessible for this trip until fate brought us right to it.
We pulled into the gravel lot and the kids made a beeline for the live prairie dogs. The area was full of holes and you could walk right up to them. For any rodents requiring more privacy, there was an area fenced off that they go behind for relief. It was a huge field full of even more holes and its curious occupants peeking out. This group, however, was for more interested in treats than solitude. They also knew exactly which humans were packing the goodies and which ones weren’t. I quickly went into the shop and bought everyone a bag of unsalted peanuts at a buck a piece.
Once the crinkling sound of those brown bags began, the prairie dogs immediately started popping out of their burrows. In fact, someone a lot meaner than myself could have brought along a bat and played one vicious game of whack-a-mole (horrible example but that’s honestly what it reminded me of).
The kids had a blast and none of us had ever gotten that close to wild prairie dogs before. Of course while we might have found them cute, most of the locals had a decisively less favorable opinion. One older gentlemen I spoke with at a nearby gas station informed me that he had friends from the Midwest who fly out each year to help shoot the animals off his property. “What???” I said. “That’s terrible!” He wasn’t amused by my sympathy. “Oh really?” he snapped. “It’s no different than if I go to Chicago and kill off some of your sewer rats!” Okay, folks, I get that the “grass is greener” and all but, honestly, didn’t see that as a fair comparison (though I do believe rats get a bad rap).
Regardless, the clear winner between Omaha’s King Kong and South Dakota’s Six Ton Prairie Dog-zilla was, without question, the latter. Despite needing a fresh coat of paint, this giant rodent ruled over an army of adorable minions you could practically hand feed. Honestly it was the best dollar I ever spent!
Coming up…Day of the Jackalope!