Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse Memorial


The only thing bad about our time in Badlands National Park was that we didn’t have more of it. Yeah, I know. Cliché as hell, but true. Of course we stopped, but they were quick stops as we were mostly just driving the scenic route through the grasslands into the Black Hills.

More like, Beautiful-lands!

More like, Beautiful-lands!

It was here that I started picturing myself in one of those old Western movies I used to shelve when I worked at a video store. All I needed was a horse, a cowboy hat, and a six shooter! There was also an unbelievable sense of freedom I got as the breeze blew and I thought about what it must have been like to traverse that ground before its roads and National Park status.

But I was travelling by automobile on a maintained road and we had to press on if we were going to come close to sticking to our itinerary.

Outside the Mount Rushmore entrance. This guy!

Outside the Mount Rushmore entrance.
This guy!

It was Salem who helped keep us on schedule most of the time. Stops had to be planned carefully because we obviously weren’t going to leave him in a hot car (or leave the car and air conditioner running), but there were a lot of “No Pets Beyond This Point” signs pretty much everywhere we went. (No complaints, here. The reasons for the rule are also often posted and they make good sense.) This is why Joe and I had to see Mount Rushmore—as well as many other attractions along the way—in turns.

16_Mt Rushmore

My turn!

Washington’s head as we drive past on our way to Crazy Horse Memorial

Washington’s head as we drove past on our way to Crazy Horse Memorial

Again, I wish we’d had more time at the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial. Since Joe and I were doing things in turns, I didn’t get much time in at the welcome/information center. Therefore, I am certainly not enough of an expert to speak on it in any real way, but you can read more about it here.

18_Crazy Horse Memorial

It’s a magnificent project and I hope I get to see it finished someday.

We’d packed a lot into one day and still had a bit of a drive before stopping in Greybull, Wyoming for the night.

The next day, Yellowstone.

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The Prairie, the Mississippi River, and the Awesomeness that is South Dakota

Though we were leaving the warm embrace of our friends’ hospitality and getting back on the road, my spirits were high on that Indiana morning. My adventurous side, enabled by a good night’s sleep, had completely taken over.

Wind farm off of I-65 in Indiana

Wind farm off of I-65 in Indiana

If anything at all gave me anxiety that day, it was just how flat the prairie really is. After living my whole life in the shadow of mountains (or, at least, really high hills), I felt a bit like a sitting duck—even at 85 mph—driving across the flat expanse, like if some sky deity really wanted to blast my ass with a lightning bolt, well, I’d be an easier target, now. Silly, I know, but I need my mountains and it was going to be a while before we’d make it to the Black Hills.

This is not how they told me traveling with a cat would be! Thankfully.

This is not how they told me traveling with a cat would be! Thankfully.

Much to my disbelief, Salem was probably the most relaxed one in the car. When he wasn’t making friends with toll booth operators who were astounded at how well-behaved he was for being a cat harnessed in a car, he was curled up between us on the center console, fast asleep.

Having lived my life “east of the Mississippi,” crossing the mighty river was an undeniable checkpoint in our journey, which we made on I-90 crossing from Wisconsin to Minnesota. I almost missed it. I don’t know why I expected the river that far north to look like the pictures from Louisiana, but I did. My bad. Anyway, I offer you a very blurry picture of the Mighty Mississippi River from the road.

No really, my bad. Well done, Mississippi River!

No really, my bad. Well done, Mississippi River!

Meet our travel buddy, Dakota O’Hare.

Meet our travel buddy, Dakota O’Hare.

Travel weary, we stopped for the night in Worthington, Minnesota. I went to sleep wondering if, now that I was truly “Out West,” would I be like the people I knew who took an “Out West” vacation and came back obsessed with cowboys and western artifacts.

South Dakota had me thinking I just might.

First of all, how can you argue with a place that has this kind of awesomeness hanging about?

08_Cow Cult

Ignore the bug guts on the windshield.

Exactly. You can’t. I think that was our biggest WTF moment on the trip, but it turns out that South Dakota is full of awesome stuff. I mean, we knew about Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, but we had no idea about things like the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Sadly, we didn’t have time to go in, but just check out these murals on the outside!

Too cool. For real.

Too cool. For real.

We did not visit Wall Drug, which my bank account ended up being okay with. I knew there was no way I’d get out of there without buying a ton of stuff I didn’t need. See, my adventurous side came with her annoying little buddy, the impulse buy. The buddy who says, “When am I ever gonna be back this way again?” to rationalize stupid purchases at tourist traps when I’m supposed to be on a tight budget. Yeah. We skipped Wall Drug.

Instead, we had bison burgers at a much smaller pit stop and prepared to drive into a place I was very excited to see, Badlands National Park.

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