We Reach The West!

Wow, a busy few days. Sat­ur­day we had break­fast in Michi­gan, lunch in Wis­con­sin, and din­ner in South Dako­ta. The point of the first few days of the trip was to get out West as soon as pos­si­ble, and we aver­aged 475 miles a day for those first five days. Yes­ter­day we spent the whole day in South Dako­ta, and we’ll be here all day today, too. But this is going to be a some­what lengthy post, as I catch up to this morn­ing.

When I left off Fri­day morn­ing, we were in Wells State Park in Michi­gan, our sec­ond night in the Wolver­ine State. The first night we got severe rain, and the sec­ond night we got a plague of mos­qui­toes. Appar­ent­ly, Lake Michi­gan itself is still far too cold for use by humans; we prob­a­bly spent 6 hours dri­ving along the lakeshore, and in all that time we saw only one boat. It appeared that nobody uses the lake. We didn’t see any ship­ping either. All the peo­ple we met were nice, but we want­ed to get going to the West, so at 7:30 a.m. Sat­ur­day morn­ing we were on the road, head­ed through Wis­con­sin.

In Wis­con­sin, it turned out that Green Bay had the worst stretch of road of the trip so far, by a good mar­gin: I-41 South is a mess. But we final­ly got on High­way 21 all the way to Tom­ah, and that was a pleas­ant dri­ve. We had orig­i­nal­ly planned to spend Sat­ur­day night at Great Riv­er Bluffs State Park in Min­neso­ta, on the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er, but when we got there it was only 1:30 in the after­noon. After some dis­cus­sion, we decid­ed to push on, and we spent anoth­er four hours book­ing through Min­neso­ta, and land­ed just over the bor­der in Bran­don, South Dako­ta. That was a long, hard after­noon of dri­ving, but if we had spent those four hours kick­ing back in camp in Great Riv­er Bluffs, we still would have had to dri­ve across Min­neso­ta on Sun­day.

In Bran­don we found a camp­site right off I-90 that was … umm … unique. It was Yogi Bear’s Jelly­stone Park, a “theme” camp­site with hun­dreds of kids, cos­tumed char­ac­ters from the Yogi car­toons (I’m old enough to remem­ber when they were new) and a tiny lit­tle camp­site right by the inter­state so you could lis­ten to the big rigs rolling by all night long. But it had every­thing we need­ed, since we only stayed there about 12 hours total.

We hit the high­way ear­ly again yes­ter­day, and by about noon we were in the Bad­lands Nation­al Park. The Bad­lands are one of my favorite places, and they were par­tic­u­lar­ly bad yes­ter­day. Uncle (my broth­er) John and I went there in the late ‘70s, and it hasn’t changed much since then. One minute you’re in South Dako­ta farm­land and prarie, which looks like this:

south_dakota_prarie

The next minute, the land­scape has changed so much it’s almost unbe­liev­able.

badlands

We did some hik­ing and got some pho­tos of the ter­rain, and (under instruc­tions from their moth­er) a few pho­tos of William and Alex.

boys_badlands

willy_badlands

alex_badlands

Not long after our hike, a few long­horn sheep walked up to the road and I got some great pho­tos.

bighorns

bighorn-moe

Uncle John and I also vis­it­ed the Black Hills of South Dako­ta on that trip. Unlike the Bad­lands, that area has changed enor­mous­ly since we were there. There’s an awe­some amount of com­mer­cial devel­op­ment, just the sort of thing I love to avoid. Lit­tle vil­lages like Hill City and Custer are basi­cal­ly gigan­tic out­door malls now. The self-pro­mo­tion is ugly. After I saw lit­er­al­ly sev­er­al thou­sand bill­boards all across South Dako­ta adver­tis­ing some­thing called Rep­tile Gar­dens — and some­times more than a dozen bill­boards in a 1/4 mile stretch of high­way, you couldn’t per­suade me to even slow down as we passed it. We’ll see rep­tiles in Ari­zona and New Mex­i­co lat­er on in the trip.

Today we’re at a love­ly moun­tain camp just a few miles west of Custer, SD. We’re in the West, by gum. Yippee-ki-yay! We’re fix­in’ to spend the whole day in the Black Hills, and then tomor­row we’re head­ed to Bighorn Nation­al For­est. We might vis­it Mt. Rush­more, but to be hon­est I wasn’t ter­ri­bly impressed by Rush­more when John and I saw it. Sad­ly, they still haven’t added Pres­i­dent Oba­ma. When they do that, maybe I’ll come back lol.

For the record, we are not rough­ing it in our var­i­ous camp­sites. We have three cots and a tent that’s 9′ x 12′ and tall enough for me to stand in with­out bend­ing over. Over the years I have become a mas­ter camp­site cook. Sat­ur­day night we had home­made chili with red and black beans, whole ker­nel corn and diced toma­toes; last night we had grilled pork roast with pep­per­corns and gar­lic, and but­tered lin­guine with Parme­san cheese. We’re eat­ing like kings and enjoy­ing the lux­u­ry in this pri­vate camp. It has show­ers and laun­dry (we’re ready for some laun­dry on our sixth day). They even deliv­ered fire­wood to our camp­site. You can’t get that kind of ser­vice in a five-star hotel. Hotels sim­ply will not deliv­er fire­wood to your hotel room; I have no idea why not. The only thing we didn’t have was some­one to turn down the cor­ner of our sleep­ing bags and put a lit­tle choco­late on our pil­lows, but we man­aged to sur­vive the depri­va­tion. I had a great Father’s Day and I hope all you oth­er dads did too.

We had a big thun­der­storm last night. Of course, we stayed warm and dry in our tent, but the noise made it hard to sleep. Thanks, Oba­ma.

Today the Sun came up and we’re well-rest­ed. We have a whole day to play in the Black Hills. It doesn’t get any bet­ter than this, yay!