.Dateline: MITCHELL, S.D. (Yeah, I'd never heard of it, either.)
Did you know that half of South Dakota is on Mountain Time, and the other half is in Central? I didn't, until I crossed a county line and suddenly the hope that I'd get to Sioux City by 10 p.m. turned into an 11 p.m. ETA. Just like that.
So yeah, I stopped about an hour's drive before that, and still ended up getting the late-night rate at Econolodge. Go me!
Anyhoo, continuing where we left off yesterday:
Blah blah blah Yellowstone was awesome. But we knew it'd be. It was also very touristy, which we also knew it would be. But that was kind of nice because I didn't feel so bad about being tired out and just wanting to do the easy hikes -- there were a lot of them, and in most cases I was the most-fit person walking along them. (By the way: I think I was the only person my age without small children at the park. Besides Dan, who apparently was also there biking around like a crazy person, but we ended up just missing each other between Mammoth and Canyon. Freaky. Sorry we didn't meet up, Dan!)
I got up early yesterday (Sunday) morning in the hopes of sprinting over as much territory as possible, in the hopes that I could catch at least Mount Rushmore before having to crash somewhere in Rapid City. No such luck: as I mentioned yesterday, Yellowstone is FRICKIN' HUGE, and I miscalculated which hub would lead me to the eastern exit, meaning that instead of one hour to leave it took almost two. (Yeah.) Instead of being a good planner, and picking a direct route to the Interstate, I went via a two-lane road through the middle of nowhere wilderness.
Which ended up being the best thing ever. I drove through the Bighorn Mountain Range, which was beautiful, and realized that pretty much my favorite type of driving is the kind that takes you on backwoods two-lane roads going around mountain curves at 45 miles per hour.
Wyoming is a gorgeous state. It's no wonder people choose to live there, even if it's out in the middle of nowhere. You've got lush forests, geothermal happenings, great rolling plains, rocky mountains, steep ravines, and Devil's Tower (which I did make a point to detour out to, see picture below). I can totally see why people would be willing to have to shop at Wal-Mart for this kind of life.
South Dakota has also been amazing, in some of the same ways (rolling plains, mountains), and a lot of different ones (mostly to do with erosion or carving into large chunks of mountain). I left my motel early this morning to head into the Black Hills for Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park. I ended up doing a drive-by of Rushmore -- I thought it was ridiculous to pay $11 to go into a parking lot to ooh and aah at a thing you can see from the frickin' road. I don't care how elaborate the visitor's center exhibits were, not worth it in my book. So instead I took a few pictures from some pulloffs, and then took the scenic route to Wind Cave.
By the way, do both things in the final phrase of that last sentence: go to Wind Cave, and take the scenic route (US-16A through Black Hills National Forest). Wind Cave was great, even though they only offer one of their five tours during the off-season. I'll have to go back during a summer and take one of the others. It's really unlike any other cave around -- it's not a very wet cave at all, so there are almost no stalagmites or stalactites. Just miles of boxwork and branchings and meanderings that we can only imagine. The tour was nine bucks, and that was an infinitely better deal than the $11 to park at Rushmore.
As for the drive: WOW. If you love driving and are a confident driver, I can't emphasize enough how much fun this road was. Hairpin turns, pigtail bridges, narrow tunnels cut right into the granite cliff of the mountain that you're speeding atop ... there was a moment where I was going through one of those tunnels, and Mount Rushmore was perfectly framed in front of me by the stone.
So do yourself a favor: drive this drive if you're ever in that part of the country and have a car and can handle this kind of thing. Don't take backseat drivers or passengers that get carsick. It won't be nearly as fun.
Back to the Interstate (which would have been a lovely drive if I hadn't already been spoiled by the Black Hills) I made it to Wall Drug on the recommendation of Todd and Craig back in SF - tons of fun, really tourist-trappy and kitschy - which delayed my venture into the Badlands by a good hour. Which was fine, because it meant I showed up there about an hour or two before sunset, right when the park is at one of its most beautiful.
The Badlands tends to get a pass by a lot of travelers, I think - it's a little out of the way, too far from the rest of South Dakota's well-known offerings to be truly feasible in the same day. I tried, but all I was able to do was the main Loop Road and a lot of viewpoints. The landscape is .... well, beautiful. That seems to be a theme in this entry, but there's something breathtaking about such a forbidding, colorful landscape. It just appears suddenly in the prairie, and then it just takes over everything. The taste I got this evening really makes me wish I had more time. I'd considered getting a campsite (and spent 60 miles of Interstate driving regretting not doing so), but remembered that I do like taking showers, and want to get as much Omaha time as possible given my being behind schedule on this here trip.
Tonight marks the final night of the first leg of my trip -- the alone and naturey part. The taste of nature I got in the last seven days just blows my mind, and makes me hungry for a lot more. (I'm glad now I got the $80 annual National Parks pass -- it got me into Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Devil's Tower and the Badlands. $50 worth of entry fees, and it's good for more through the end of next September. I'm going to do my best to get a few more parks in so that it pays for itself.)
As for the alone time: well, I'm unsure about whether I'm happy it's ending or not. There have been a lot of times I wished I had someone in the car with me, because life is best shared, I've always thought. Also, having to take your own picture all the time SUCKS. But I've also had a lot of thinking and purging time in this aloneness. I'm not sure I'm ready for that to be over. We'll see.