There’s nothing much to say about the last day of the trip, which is part of the reason I haven’t written it yet. First part of the day was kinda like this (skip to 0:42 for the relevant part. Also, I can’t find a way to embed onion videos into wordpress, or at least it doesn’t show when I preview)
The drive from The Badlands east to Sioux Falls, and then from there to the Mississippi was like that; Not much to see at all. As you approach the Mississippi at least there’s more forest to look at.
And driving through Wisconsin pretty much involves a lot of trees as well.
Next post: I’ve been wandering around Madison a lot.
I spent last night in Wall, South Dakota. It’s right at the entrance to The Badlands, so no need to drive all morning to get to something to see. On the suggestion of co-workers I stopped by Wall Drug. It’s basically a cowboy themed drug store/strip mall/tourist trap. It first got famous by advertising free ice water to draw in tourists. Considering the climate there, I’m not surprised it worked.
The rest of the morning and a bit of the afternoon was spent in The Badlands. It’s an area that features both sharp erosion and prairie flatlands. The part of the park I visited consists of one loop (highway 240), with only a couple of roads heading to different areas of the park. There are only a few trails; most of the stops are viewing areas where you can take pictures, with about half of them having those educational signs you get in national parks.
Starting out from the west end, you drive through prairie grassland until you get just past the entrance gate. Almost immediately the prairie ends in cliffs, with all the rock formations from erosion stretching out for a while, before ending almost as abruptly into more prairie.
I saw more wildlife here than I expected. When I first stopped to ogle at the geography, there was a herd of bighorn sheep grazing. The herd moved toward the group of people taking pictures and then sort of stopped by the side of the road. All of us ended up going back to our cars, driving up next to the herd, and taking pictures. And the animals didn’t seem to care.
I did almost the same thing with bison about half an hour later. Didn’t get as close, even in a car. Bison are big.
After much gawking at geography and animals, I dropped by the prairie homestead. It’s a restoration of what a typical homestead on the prairie looked like. It was surprising at first that this particular homestead was not settled until after 1900, but that’s when the land was opened up after the Sioux Wars.
Four hours later I stopped at the corn palace. It’s an arena where they decorate the outside with corn.
Today: One long drive to Madison.
The Black Hills are ridiculously pretty right now. I spent yesterday seeing the major sights.
The first place I went to was Deadwood, a gold mining town. I wasn’t excited by too much there. I’m not much of an Old West person. There is a pretty neat museum there, and there are reenactments of Wild Bill Hickok’s death in the same saloon where he died, but I didn’t go.
Deadwood still pays homage to its roots as a rough frontier town. No goldmining, but in order to fund historic preservation of the place gambling has been legalized again. Also mannequins of prostitutes appear along the historic main street.
I wasn’t much of an old west fan before this, and I’m not in danger of becoming one. It did make me want to play Oregon Trail again however.
Next up was the Crazy Horse monument. For a variety of reasons it left me unimpressed. Partially because the museum has very little dedicated to Crazy Horse himself.
It is impressive though.
Last was a trip through Custer State park and visiting Mount Rushmore. I ended up seeing quite a bit of wildlife up close. I had to stop for deer a few times, and caught a picture of mountain goats grazing by the side of the road.
And then there were the bison.
I happened to be in the park on the day the park rangers corral the bison and inoculate, count and whatever else they do to manage the herd. Another one of the visitors there said she’s used to cattle, and bison get a lot more angry than cows do.
The drive I took up to Mount Rushmore is really pretty. There are a couple routes to get there but I went along what’s known as Iron Mountain Road. It starts west of Custer State Park and heads east, then approaches Mount Rushmore from the south. It’s a winding mountain road with switchbacks and pigtail bridges, and there are three short one lane tunnels, two of which frame Mount Rushmore as you pass through.
Mount Rushmore is impressive, but is sort of marred by being carved into mountains on land that Lakota Indians were supposed to be granted in perpetuity.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Today, The Badlands.
Last thing I saw during daylight yesterday was an eruption of Old Faithful. I ended up eating there and driving a couple of hours to Livingston, Montana and spending the night there so I didn’t have a 5 hour drive to the Little Bighorn National Monument.
It was certainly different going from Yellowstone to waking up in the rolling bluffs in Montana.
The Little Bighorn National Monument is pretty interesting. It’s also the location of a national cemetery, with soldiers and their wives buried there. It’s not just soldiers from the Sioux War either; the latest date I saw was from a Vietnam casualty.
The visitors center is small, with only one room of exhibits. Every few hours a ranger gives a talk about the battle, and it was entertaining. It’s basically an hour long story time by a park ranger who really enjoys telling the story.
It’s a somber place. Aside from the cemetery, tombstones dot the landscape showing where the dead fell. The marker for Custer is on what’s now known as Last Stand hill, surrounded by markers of those who fell with him.
Additionally, Last Stand hill also contains the monument to all the soldiers of the 7th cavalry who fell during the battle.
There is also a monument to the fallen Native American warriors.
The two are connected by a spirit gate. As one of the displays reads, “The sprit gate to the Seventh Cavalry Monument symbolically welcomes the spirits of the Seventh Cavalry into the memorial’s circle.”
One four hour drive later, I was at Devil’s Tower. Devil’s Tower is the remanent of a volcano from ~50 million years ago. It’s cooled magma that formed a plug in the volcano. The rest of the volcano has eroded away, leaving the Tower. When I saw it for the first time driving up to it, I couldn’t help but be impressed.
When I got there, I was even more impressed that people were climbing it. Like at Old Faithful yesterday, I got there right as the sun was setting, so just about all the climbers I saw were heading down. One was just about at the very top, so I don’t think he made it down before it got dark.
Tomorrow: Black Hills, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore.
I started off a bit late, leaving Idaho Falls at about 1 pm. It turns out that packing and cleaning takes longer than I anticipated. The apartment manager did say that apartments usually aren’t that clean, so I may have overdone it. Oh well, I still left on the same day I intended, so not too bad.