|It seems weird that after hitting ten states in two days, it does seem strange to be driving through only one today. At least we would go through a different time zone. After a brief miss-step when we had to turn back to the motel for my camera, we got on the road. We went through a brief bout of rain, but nothing like what we hit yesterday. With the wide-open skies, we watched the rain coming from far off, and even in the thickest of the rain, we could still see it clearing where we were going.
The sameness of South Dakota along I-90 is astounding. It’s flat, and very green this time of year, and the desolation continues the 400 miles or so from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. I couldn’t imagine living out here. An occasional dirt road crosses the highway and runs on out of sight. I wonder where it might go, but have no urge to follow it.
Breaking up the monotony are billboards advertising a multitude of tourist traps. The Wall Drugs ads remind me of the ones for South of the Border. There’s at least one reptile farm, and several old west towns. At Mitchell, we decided we had to see the Mitchell Corn Palace. It was an amazingly colorful structure in the middle of town, covered with corn husks. We weren’t so lucky in Murdo. We had seen signs for many restaurants, but couldn’t find a one — nothing but a dead town on a Sunday morning. There was an auto museum that claimed to have the REAL Batmobile and the REAL General Lee, but there was a wooden fence around what looked like a junkyard, so we couldn’t verify these claims. Even though we didn’t stop for any more traps, we did see some interesting sculpture. As we started, there was a huge mutant cow surrounded by smaller cow warriors. Later we came across a man leading a T-Rex skeleton.
About mid-state the interstate drops down into the Missouri River gorge. This was our last crossing going this direction. There was a welcome center on a bluff overlooking the river, so we stopped for the view and for a decent map.
We crossed into Mountain Time just after Murdo, where we failed to find food. Our stomachs said it was 11:30 and we hadn’t had breakfast. I guess it is possible to get jet lag even though you’re not in a jet if you cross enough time zones. Our next stop was to be Badlands National Park, and not knowing how long it would take or what food was available, we really wanted to find lunch, especially since we missed breakfast. The spot-in-the-road on our map just before the park was called Cactus Flats, and its sole business was a neo-Trading Post. Gas prices were ridiculous, and the only fod they had was pre-packaged microwaveables or buffalo hot dogs. We had the hot dogs.
We reached Badlands at noon. I’m sure that the park looks best in indirect light, either morning or evening. Even so, scenery was spectacular, forbidding, and somewhat alien. The eroded landscape with bands of color are very similar to the Painted Desert, except that where Badlands has bands of white and red, with a bit of yellow in one area, Painted Desert has blue, orange, red, yellow with the white. We tried to keep an eye out for wildlife, but there was none to be found in the noonday sun.
We completed the scenic drive loop and were back on the interstate by 1:00 headed toward Rapid City. We found a room, and set off to see the main attraction, Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is right where the prairie ends and the Black Hills begin. While the city itself is fine, the surrounding area has built up tourist junk that takes advantage of its main attraction. There is a presidential wax museum, statues of presidents on the city streets, and you can even get your own replica of the monument at any of hundreds of souvenier shops — with your own choice of presidents. I kept thinking about Umberto Eco’s “Travels in Hyperreality”. Eco traveled the US and was amazed at places that offer a facsimile of the real thing. The fact that the fake is sold near the real item somehow gives it value.
The road to Mount Rushmore has some of the steepest grades I’ve every seen for a major highway. We ascended into the Black hills, then dropped down into the tourist trap town of Keystone, then on to the Monument proper.
Our first impression was that it is smaller than we imagined. Supposedly the Stone Mountain carving is larger than this one, but it is situated in the middle of the mountain and lacks reference of scale, so it looks even smaller. Rushmore, on the other hand, sits in such a commanding position that it looks larger than Stone Mountain. Weird. It’s still as impressive as anything, though. As much I was interested in the carving itself, I was even more interested in the geology of the mountain. Twisted bands of granite flanked the carving, especially visible under Washington. I couldn’t see how such smooth statues could be carved from such rough rock.
After hiking the short trail and visiting the museum, Laura and I were both worn out from our day’s travels. We headed back to town and had a wonderfully relaxed dinner at a nice restaurant, then collapsed early at the hotel.