We slept in until the alarm went off around 9:30. If Ben wanted to swim, we needed to be out of the room by 11.
So, we had the complimentary breakfast – slim pickings in South Dakota, and hit the pool. It was a really nice pool – indoors, warm, with a sauna.
Afterwards, I had to get on the internet. My online class had started the previous Tuesday, and I had not been able to connect with them as much as I’d expected. Fortunately, I hadn’t set much as actually due because students were still adding the class. I troubleshot the issues that were posted, and logged off.
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We stopped for gas before leaving. South Dakota is the place where no one from the Obama administration has ever set foot. Everyone smokes. Everyone hunts. Everyone rides a motorcycle. Most of the men have facial hair. And they buy beer by the case at 11 AM on a Monday. There was more than one person doing that at a convenience store right in the middle of town. They weren’t buying much else.
And we were off on what turned out to be our shortest driving day – under 200 miles. I had a vague plan of turning southwest after hitting Mount Rushmore, and making it to some place like Cheyenne, Wyoming, although a littler town like Torrington or Newcastle was closer and seemed more realistic. This would turn out to be too optimistic.
We went back down that street, past our motel, and straight on to the bridge over the Missouri River. It was a long, low bridge – there’s probably only barge and pleasure boat traffic on the river. I was surprised at how wide it was, and it didn’t look very shallow, just slow moving. I always kind of thought of the Missouri as a big flat creek, but it was a lot more substantial than that. Of course, it’s so heavily dammed these days that the it’s basically just a system of reservoirs in this part of the country.
On the far side, we climbed the bluff, and got back on I-90. It was very different than the previous evening, and in a little while we passed the 100th meridian. This is the unofficial borderline of the American West. And it looked like the west: distinctly drier, browner, and more open. If you’re trying to visualize this on a map, the 100th meridian is the western border of the main part of Oklahoma with Texas.
For me, it felt like going home. I tried to explain to Ben, and he told me that he had liked the gray, wetter weather of the east. Go figure. It's kind of weird that he was saying this, because it clouded up and started to drizzle not long after.
Ben had finished his book. He didn't bring enough, and I think he'd read them about 3 times. So, I offered to get him a book on my Kindle. He had no idea what to get, but I did. As a backup plan, I'd looked at books for 10 year-old boys and decided he would probably like Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief. Before we'd left I'd checked to make sure it was available on Kindle. So, click, click, and Ben had a new book. But, the drizzle and the drive were getting to him, and a bit later I heard him snoring.
An abandoned farm - we saw quite a few of these in western South Dakota.
After about 2 hours, the drizzle stopped, the clouds cleared a little, and we made it to Badlands National Park. Bob was right; you pull off the interstate and you're in the park right away.
And I was stunned. I liked Badlands as much as Bryce Canyon or Arches: it’s easily accessible from your car, not too long, and you feel safe watching your kid be a kid. It’s not as colorful as Bryce Canyon, or as unique as Arches, but it’s much more “playground-like” than either of them.
We stopped at the first viewing area, and walked out a trail into this view. The beginning of the trail was a boardwalk, with signs on the sides to beware of rattlesnakes.
Some gay, French motorcyclists took our picture.
These three are out near the tip of the fin we were on. I guess there isn’t enough greenery out at the end to make the rattlesnakes much of a problem.
Ben by a drop-off.
Ben, tempting fate.
We followed those guys through much of the park.
From the same parking area, we hiked off on a boardwalk going in another direction.
There were no rattlesnake signs in this area, so I felt a little more comfortable about Ben getting off the trail.
I think this is a roadrunner, but it’s smaller than the ones we have in Utah.
Beware of armored mud balls!
Ben liked this butte on his side of the truck.
Hiking a trail above the visitor’s center.
Looking behind from the trail, with Nebraska in the distance.
Ben was excited, and hiked ahead while I took pictures.
It wasn’t very shady, but this was a nice little wood to walk through.
We drove on for a while, and came to this next viewing area. This was the area where Ben was really able to get off the trail and play. These next 5 shots are ones I took while exploring.
Here’s 6 of Ben exploring.
Four videos of Ben having a ball.
Ben had a riot climbing in this area - there were no signs for rattlesnakes here, probably because there's nothing for them to eat right here,
Ben fails to climb a small pinnacle - not for lack of effort.
Ben sliding down from another pinnacle.
Off at a run.
Driving through Badlands was so pretty, with the contrast between the plants and barren rock..
Ben on a boardwalk looking at a fossil found here.
We drove on to another viewing area called Yellow Mounds. In the distance, Ben is climbing up the mound.
The quality of the video doesn't do this shot justice, but it was really amazing the way the wind made the grass flow back and forth in this valley.
Three shots from the parking lot.
That one there is the one Ben and I climbed.
Above are 6 shots I took from the top of the big mound closest to the parking area.
Ben hiking in the distance.
What was really amazing about this spot, and which doesn't come through well in the video, is the sound: wind blowing, grass hissing, birds chirping, and little animals scurrying everywhere.
This is looking back from the spot where I took the video. This boardwalk is long – perhaps 1000 feet. When you get out on it you feel like you’ve left civilization. You still get a sense of what they said in the 19th century that this was a sea of grass.
We drove out of Badlands, about 5:30 PM, and into a tourist trap! The 2-lane road goes into a village called Wall, but the whole village is basically Wall Drug. You don't have to stop, but it's the only game in town. Wall Drug is an old-fashioned western pharmacy that started adding attractions and more shops about 75 years ago. The whole thing now occupies an entire block. It probably is no bigger than a Wal-Mart, but it feels like it is. Surrounding it are motels, diners, parking lots, and more shops. My guess is that everyone who lives in that town works there (although I did talk to a guy in one of the shops who said he commuted from Rapid City every day.
Mary Jo said we could pick her up a cigar store indian if we saw one cheap. They were for sale, but not in my price range.
I thought this pendant tree was beautiful.
Easterners think the jackalope is mythical, but westerners know better.
When you're 10, and have cash in your pocket, the animatronic T-Rex in a store just gets a shrug of the shoulders before you bolt to shop some more.
Ben drinks a lot of sugar on an empty stomach.That blue thing he's drinking must have a lot of sugar in it. I'd just told Ben how embarrassed my friend Chuck Bechmann was in 7th grade when he saw the word tipi on the board and asked what a tippy was.
I’m not sure how long we stayed at Wall Drug – it’s a maze, and there are no clocks. We ate dinner and I had several cups of nickel coffee though. We dropped a lot of money there, and left with a lot of loot. For Ben, it was like 20 gift shops all rolled into one.
I was looking for smelly, girly stuff for Mary Jo. I tried out something, and realized it was a scent I’d always loved, and had never known the name of: you catch it in pastures, and by roadsides once in a blue moon. The scent was sweetgrass. It grows everywhere, but slowly, so you don’t notice it much. The Lakota though, use it in ceremonies. So I brought her some sweetgrass hand lotion. She liked it so much, she bought a bunch more off the internet as gifts. And, she’s bought a bunch of plants and put them around our house, and they’re amazing.
We headed out, and it was still light, but it was cloudy again. We headed for Rapid City, which is about 45 minutes west. By this time I had to think about a room for the night. The first place we stopped had 2 hotels connected by an indoor waterpark. We were so there … but they had no vacancies. Ben was ticked. I was worried that other places might be full, and the signs indicated as much. But, we didn’t end up having much trouble, and got a room at the next place.
At the desk I asked about directions to Mount Rushmore. Without prompting, they said, “if you’re going to see the night program you need to leave now”. I asked if the night program was good, and they said it was the best part. I took the room keys, and we got right back in the truck.
There were right. The drive takes about 30 minutes, and we were able to drive comfortably, park, walk normally, and be in the viewing area within a few minutes of the show starting.
On the way, I took this shot: if you don’t like the presidents that are on the mountain, I guess you can buy one of your own.
When we pulled into the parking lot we saw this. We both thought it was so cool when I got the truck: all U-Haul trucks have a state or city on them, and ours was Northwest Territories, with a picture of ice road truckers. It was unique. No one was going to have one of those, and we didn’t see one on the rest of the trip. But, there in the parking lot at Mount Rushmore, was another ice road trucker. It was the only other one we saw.
Here’s Ben at the entrance to the Visitor’s Center. It’s kind of over-the-top in a Greek temple sort of way.
This is the start of the night program at Mount Rushmore. There is an amphitheatre below us, and we are on a viewing deck at the back. It's pitch black, and you can't see the mountain when the ranger comes out and does their spiel.
This is towards the end of the program, and it was very moving. After the ranger gives their 10 minute show, they invite all the veterans on stage - and let them help - with the lowering of the flag. While this is going on, they fire up the lights on the mountain.
Here's the lights just starting to come on.
Here’s the two of us after the show.
This avenue has the flags of all 50 states, and the 6 districts, commonwealths and territories flying. And ... look at the size of the gift shop at the end! Ben got some loot there ... but it was actually probably the cheesiest gift shop on the whole trip - lots of souvenir spoons for ladies who's husbands are vets, and the like.
We drove back to the hotel. Rapid City is very tourist friendly, but not easy to get around when you don’t know the way. It was late, and the pool was closed. We’d swim in the morning again.
Our room had just a king size bed. We snuggled up and watched the remainder of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.