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.
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.