Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Great American West

Wow! The landscape sure changes fast when you get across the Mississippi river. We have been heading west along I-90 for the last week and we got to experience South Dakota for the first time. It's like a barren land full of billboards for the first 3/4 of the state. Then, with less than 100 miles to go, you are inundated with sights and attractions. If I ever land a job with the South Dakota department of tourism I am going to coin the slogan, "Your adventure west begins in South Dakota."
Minnesota's largest candy store. They specialize in candy, jigsaw puzzles, smoked meats, soda pop, farm fresh produce and bacon. 
Our adventure west began with a trip to Badlands National Park. We made it to the Badlands around lunch and had a picnic followed by a hike. We do a lot of hiking but we have never seen trails like this before. They have numbered posts hammered into the rocks and you just make your way from one post to the next. Eventually, the posts stop and you are on your own. I wouldn't suggest wandering off after that point without a compass and topographical map. Even before the trail markers ended I found myself getting disoriented. Despite the warnings, intimidating landscape and the name of the park, lots of hikers get lost and need rescuing here.
Sammy + Bench
This is a trail?!?!

We left the park in the mid afternoon and treated ourselves to some fun and snacks at the iconic roadside attraction known as Wall Drug. This place started as a Drug store in the early 1900s and was on the brink of failure. The town of Wall was referred to as a god forsaken place with no hope. One day, the owners of the store had the brilliant idea to offer FREE ICE WATER to all of the passing motorists. They put billboards along the road and BAM! business exploded. Today they still offer free ice water and they have coffee for 5 cents a cup. They also have an arcade, splash pad, old west town, two restaurants, ice cream shop and you can get just about anything you need from their 20+ retail departments. The town of Wall is no longer a god forsaken place. In fact, Wall Drug put this place on the map. Oh, and they DOMINATE the billboard advertising game along I-90. You can't NOT stop after reading their ads all day.
After Jessica took this picture, we had a conversation in the car that ended in her googling 'jackalopes' to see if they were real. 
The minute you cross the state line you will see these billboards. I really started to appreciate the artist's work after looking at these all day. 

On the drive into our campground we stopped and saw Mt. Rushmore. My wife and I have mixed feelings about this place. On the one hand, this place isn't just presidential faces. It is the face of the american road trip. On the other hand, it also represents the audacity of our culture. The american government stole that land from the Sioux and then turned the hills into a trophy. I know I sound like buzz kill right now but I just can't pretend that supporting this place is an innocent act of the curious traveler. Still, we are guilty. We paid the $11 and checked it off our bucket lists. You can see the monuments from two different spots along the road if you want to save money and avoid supporting this place.
It was getting late and we still had to set-up camp so we had to rush-more. 

We got camp set-up just as the sun was setting. We took up residence at the Sylvan Lake campground in Custer State Park for 4 nights and we made the most of our short stay. In the mornings I headed to town for work and to get some maintenance done on the car and Jessica did school time with the boys. In the afternoons we did hiking, swimming and exploring. The Black Hills are right up our alley and I hope to make it back there someday.
These are the fellas who worked on my car. The other guy was just a local, hanging out. I like chatting with locals. 
Despite the FREEZING cold water, the boys really enjoyed themselves. 
Jessica swam out to this rock and had some alone time. 
A video of us climbing to the summit of Harney Peak. 

We said goodbye to South Dakota and drove 300 miles to Sheridan, WY to resupply. We spent two nights at a KOA right off the expressway. Jessica gets depressed when we stay at such places but it brings me comfort to plug into the grid. Sheridan has a really cool downtown area that I visited twice. Once to sit at a coffee shop and work and another time to take the family out for Mexican food. Both places kicked ass.
They got a new five and dime downtown Sheridan. 

We have the GPS set for Bozeman, MT. This will put us just north of Yellowstone's north entrance. It is also a fork in the road for us. We can head south to Yellowstone, north to Glacier, west to Olympic or any combination of the three. Which route we choose will depend on when the parks start shutting down and the weather. I am also going to be paying close attention to the difficulty of the routes. Steep grades and sharp curves can be difficult while towing. They also cause our gas mileage to plummet. Whatever we decide to do, one thing is certain, we are a long way from home.


  1. I'm I the only person who is following this blog? Anyway they are missing out. You should make a book report on your adventure blog. Maybe it will be a family catagory for Quizzo.lol

  2. HA! According to google, 136 people have read this today. You're just the only one who leaves nice comments.