Remembering the road, Day 4

Day 4

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Our journey advanced today as we crossed the Missouri River. We left behind what was simply beautiful farmland and have entered what I’m now calling the “wow” phase of our trip.

Just before crossing the Missouri, however, we stopped off at the South Dakota Hall of Fame. I think one of the pleasures of South Dakota is that you can see all of the main attractions without having to leave I-90. South Dakotans flock to I-90 like bugs to light; at least, when it comes to setting up a tourist attraction. There are more billboards in South Dakota than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and most of them are for Wall Drug. More on that in a bit.

The Hall of Fame isn’t anything spectacular, but there are lots of saddles and photos. Plenty of people know that Tom Brokaw is from South Dakota (inducted in 1991), but did you know that Mary Hart is also a South Dakotan at heart (or is it Hart?)? How about Bob Barker? Another interesting fact: No fewer than five Hall of Fame inductees are nicknamed “Bud.”

We then got some gas and some beef jerky and thus fully prepared for the South Dakota experience, we crossed the Missouri. Again, the landscape was beautiful, dotted with cattle and abandoned houses. We pit-stopped at 1800 Town, featuring vintage saloons, lots of artifacts, and remnants from the movie “Dances With Wolves,” and gosh darn it, a real-life old fashioned outhouse! I’m glad we got the 70-cent AAA discount. Oh, and I posed with my new hero, Sly or Spud or Stud or something. He’s a rodeo guy… apparently quite famous. He’s dead, so I actually just posed with a mannequin bearing his likeness.

From there, it was a short hop to the Badlands National Park, our first of many “wows” of the day. The place is spectacular. It’s looks partly like moonscape, partly bombing range, and completely amazing. High jutting rocks, steep grassy crevasses, green mesas, and white cliffs. We drove and climbed through the park, stopping frequently to take in different views and peer around various rock formations.

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Deep into the park, the road gives way to gravel and right then we spotted bison and prairie dogs, each surveying the landscape in their own way. There must have been a hundred prairie dogs scatted around the grassland, many of them perched on their haunches. When we’d get too close (within 8 or 9 feet), they’d start chirping and barking, telling us to stay away and warning their brethren to take cover. For some bizarre reason, Cynthia attached Mexican accents to their personalities culturally sensitive, no doubt.

The bison, on the other hand, watched from a distance. Or rather, we watched them from a distance, until we came upon a section of grassland that was fenced in and they happened to be lounging nearby. They are big and beautiful. Oh, and they taste good too. I’ve been eating buffalo burgers for several days now and though I’m getting sick of them, they really are tasty.

We ended the afternoon succumbing to the 300 or so Wall Drug signs and visiting the sprawling store that offers everything from hemorrhoidal cream to Stetson hats and everything in between and beyond. Apparently, Wall Drug started out as a little drug store. Then they posted a sign offering free water. People stopped in droves. They’ve since expanded to include everything the Western Man needs… and even some items for the little lady and the kiddies… and every relative within mailing distance. If it was anywhere else, it’d be tacky, but thanks in part to the incredibly friendly teenagers who work there, it somehow seemed charming. Prices were reasonable, water was free, and most importantly, it was cool inside.

We’re spending tonight in Interior, South Dakota, population, 67. Well, that was according to the 1990 census. Since then, the town has seen a 17 percent spike and now stands at 77, not including us. We’ll be re-entering the park for a starlight tour later this evening and then it’s to a friend’s house to crash until we speed along to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse in the morning.

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Reliving America… 2000 Road Trip, Day 3

Day 3

Resuming the next morning, we headed to Madison for a late breakfast. We enjoyed briefly exploring Madison and taking in the “Cleveland Diner” tucked away under the shadow of the capital building.

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Back on the road, we bypassed the “Cheese, Gifts and Liquor” store, much to my regret. Wisconsin’s terrain was interesting… beautiful rolling hills of tilled crops, giving away towards the western edge to heavy pine timber. We pulled into a small town on the western edge and enjoyed some frozen custard (an 80-cent cone was more than enough for both of us). The cheese and meat store next to it was, however, closed.

Upon crossing the Mississippi River, we climbed into Minnesota and sped along mostly flat farmland. One interesting (to me) note about Minnesota is how few billboards there were. In fact, I’m not sure there were any. This really hit home upon entering South Dakota, where billboards are as common as cattle, or seem to be at any rate.

Minnesota flew past, thanks largely to a lack of traffic and a 70 MPH speed limit. This was even truer in South Dakota where the land is flat, the roads are straight, and the posted speed limit is 75. That does cause a problem for prairie dogs, though. As we sped along the highway, a prairie dog scampered across the road headed for my right front wheel. I swerved slightly and managed to somehow straddle the pup and somehow miss him. From my rear view mirror, I saw him finish his heart-stopping journey in the median strip.

I had really been looking forward to Tea Steak House in Tea, South Dakota, the only Roadfood destination in S.D. Sadly for us, being Sunday, it was closed. We settled for something we hoped to avoid… fast food in Souix Falls. However, it was, at least, only a regional chain: Taco John’s. Still, it was terrible.

Eastern South Dakota’s landscape is mostly flat with more farmland. Except, instead of corn, there is cattle. Cattle and billboards. The two most common billboards are for Wall Drug (I lost count after 50 of them) and Corn Palace… a building made from corn (more or less). More than 20 billboards tout this majestic palace, and it’s worth visiting. During the winter, Corn Palace is home the high school basketball team, graduation ceremonies, and other civic events. In the summer, it is filled with a gigantic gift shop.

At least 2,000 people visit Corn Palace each day, and since the town it is in as only 13,000 residents, each week more people file in to see this building than the number of people who live there.

DSCF0029Most astonishing of all, the teenagers who work there didn’t seem at all sullen about it. I was in awe.

I said Eastern S.D. is mostly flat, but every once in a while an amazing grassy gorge or outcropping of rocks upsets the smooth terrain. The effect is quite beautiful. I expect this to be more obvious when we reach the Badlands and Black Hills tomorrow. Equally mesmerizing are the weather patterns one can watch develop. A thunderstorm several miles to our north played out as the sun set. Lightning and rain showed themselves broadside without ever nearing us. It was beautiful. I secretly hoped a tornado would spin together so I could get a picture. I guess it’s just as well that didn’t happen.

Well, we’re in for another night.

Josh and Cynthia (mileage: 24,437)

Day 2
Day 1