Rob and I just began at least two months of road tripping around the USA. Our first stop is Minnesota to meet up with Paul and Karen from Baker. Paul will be joining us for a week of canoeing around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).
Day 1: Seattle, WA to Superior, MT
We finally left town around noon after some last-minute errands. On I-90 east, we passed a whole military convoy with tanks and all with everyone in battle stations.
Our one time constraint was a frypan pick at GSI Outdoors in Spokane Valley by 5pm. We made it with 30 minutes to spare then continued on to MT. I was looking at the wrong directions so we ended up at a $6/night campground instead of the free one. A random local woman saw our headlamps and pulled over to see what was going on. I guess that place is used infrequently.
Day 2: Superior, MT to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, WY
We passed a sign for Testicle Festival.in Clinton MT. Rob remembered that The Stranger was there and we found ridiculous pics of festival folks under Drunk of the Week. For lunch, we made an epic Costco sample run in Bozeman. We looked up Costco just before the exit for it.
After another bout of driving, we made it to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area by 5 pm and attempted to camp in the Horseshoe Bend Campground. There were howling winds when we reached the campground, around 20-30 mph. We attempted to pitch the tent but it was collapsing in the strong winds, we didn’t think we would need to bring the mountaineering tent for summer camping!
As we tried to light the stove, the nice folks in the RV across the way took pity on us and invited us to use their microwave and join them for dinner. Turns out Charlie and Willy live nearby and had been staking out their RV spot all week for the Labor Day weekend. They also invited us to go out with them on the lake the next morning with them.
Day 3: Bighorn Canyon, WY to Devils Tower, WY
We began the day with an awesome boat ride with Willy, Charlie, their friend Bill and the camp host, Bob. They started opening beers at 10 AM because by then it is noon in New York. Unfortunately we didn’t see any animals or catch any fish, but we did finish off all the Deep Eddy lemon vodka we had.
From Bighorn Canyon, we drove over the steep Pryor mountains and through the national forestland there. We passed a number of cars parked on the roadsides near pasture gates, but didn’t see any folks. From there, we rejoined I-90 and passed through Moorcroft, home of the West TX trail museum. This was the end point where the cattle were loaded onto train cars.
Camp that night was at Devils Tower (where Close Encounter of the Third Kind was filmed). Free firewood made Rob’s night since he had fire-envy as we drove into camp. The winds started to pick up right around bed time and I was afraid the large trees overhead would fall on us.
Day 4: Devils Tower, WY to Badlands National Park, SD
We toured Devils Tower in the morning and watched a bunch of climbers going up. It was really busy, we didn’t realize there would be so many tourists in the Wyoming/South Dakota area. The Native Americans in the area are petitioning to change the name to “Beer Lodge,” which had been mistranslated as “Bad Gods” and became Devils Tower. The creation legend involves the uplift of land saving kids from a bear.
Stopped by the Prairie Dog Village. It reminded Rob of Lubbock, TX.
Continued heading east to Rapid City, SD, then south to Mt. Rushmore. We passed so many ridiculous tourist traps on the way – Independence Hall replica with Liberty Bell, Reptile world, black light mini golf, 2 level human maze, alpine slide with chair lift, Dances with Wolves set tours and more.
Mt. Rushmore was also busy as it was still Labor Day Weekend. Unfortunately we were too early for the illuminations ceremony which consists of a video about America and then the lighting of the memorial. Instead, we did the 0.5 mile (but 450 step) Presidential traverse and learned about the building process. No one died building Mt. Rushmore and the only person seriously injured jumped off a out of control tram car that was eventually stopped in time.
We made a brief road-side stop at Wall Drug: a ridiculous, but free tourist trap that got people to stop by advertising free ice water. Like Bucky’s, it had signs almost the entire way from Rapid City. We enjoyed the tacky kitschy strip mall, but failed to get our promised free ice water.
We finally made it to camp in the Sage Creek primitive Campground in Badlands National Park. It was a huge grassy field with bison nearby and coyotes howling (but hopefully less nearby).
Day 5: Badlands National Park, SD to Minneapolis, MN
We woke up at 6:30am and were out of camp by 6:50am. New record! We drove the overlook-dotted road toward the visitors centers. Overlook #2 featured a herd of Bighorn sheep blocking the road. A storm brought heavy rain partway through the drive; we tried to hike a short loop during a dry spell and ended up getting drenched. We arrived at the visitor center just in time to avoid another downpour. After seeing the amazing landscape, it’s pretty clear why folks called it “the land that is bad to cross.” The rock is really soft and erodes an inch a year so they’re always finding new fossils. After rain storms visitors often discover new ones; the park has a huge collection from a variety or prehistoric creatures. By the time we went through all the exhibits at the visitors’ center the storm had passed and the sun was out. We hiked the Window, Door and Notch trails (total of 2.5 miles) and got on the road to Minneapolis, an 8 hr drive plus a 1 hour time change.
Stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell to see the murals made with corn and other grains.
We arrived in Minneapolis around 9 pm and met up with Karen, a friend from college. For a nice change, we went out from some tasty burgers nearby. Finally, we had our first shower of the trip and also our first night on a real bed. Thanks Karen!