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Day 4 :: September 22, 2004: 11:26 AM

Tuesday, September 22, 2004
Day 4

Start mileage 1633 at Murdo, South Dakota a small community beside the I-90 which seems to have been founded by Murdo MacKenzie and names don’t come much more Scottish than that.

The first and main intention of this day was to visit the Badlands.

We passed a succession of wayside attractions of varying value and authenticity. The signs for the Petrified Gardens reminded us of our own Petrified Sea Gardens in Saratoga Springs, NY. Founded in the 1950, so 20 -30 more recent than PSG, the Petrified Gardens is a family run concern with petrified tree trunks, a fossil display and store. There is another Petrified Forest in the area. We did not stop as we had things to do, nor did we stop off at an even closer to the road attraction that at least had a real live camel outside: the 1880 Town, a replica frontier town that looked like something from a theme park, but as we did not visit that may be unkind.

The scenery now we could see it, was not as we expected. It looked like the Yorkshire moors without the heather and the sheep! Or the highlands of Scotland without heather, sheep or mountains. Scrubby land, undulating more than I expected, and very few trees - just short shrubs dotted around. The landscape was certainly different from just before the sun set the previous evening, after which we traveled a couple of hundred miles in total darkness (it was raining – no moon) sometimes with not one speck of a light on either side. Now we could see there were few people around…plenty of billboards though…and were steadily approaching Wall Drug, though we would not get there until after the Badlands.

We took the ...

We took the scenic route in at the most easterly entrance, passing by a wayside entrepreneur providing prairie dog food for 50cents a bag (peanuts in their shells) and a field for the same to pop up and visit and find easy food. A dozen or so of these overfed creatures and some of their more wild cousins showed up dutifully and were photographed as I fed them: I am very fond of prairie dogs so I was happy.

We got our National Parks Passes we entered. I noticed the Oglala Sioux people get in for a little less but it seems churlish they are charged at all. The pass is a good deal but I would readily pay more and have all places covered. It is a sneaky little known fact that many of the national sites do not charge entrance fees but parking fees and these are not covered…and certain more visited sites are not included at all. Knowing all this, we still got our pass and in we went.

At the first overlook we got out into the very cool drizzle and all I could say was:”It’s weird. It’s just plain weird!” Everyone has seen the photographs but that is just a part of it and there is a lot of park. Even the auto route does not cover it all and that is almost 20 miles long. And there are the parts I have never seen in photographs and they really are just plain weird.

After a while we started to discuss what surprised us. With yesterdays’ rain storms and today’s drizzle the paths were wet. The trails around the bumps and crags were soft, sticky and slippery- we were walking on mixtures of red and gray clay. The outside of the rocky protuberances have the appearance of artist’s clay either smooth where water has run down it and dissolve the top coating as they continue to erode, or cracked and dried out like school clay. The layers in the rock formations are made up of regular clays and volcanic ash crushed into softish rock. Some of the layers include fossils from the time this area was an ocean and other layers have fossils from the time this was a jungle. The layer run horizontally unlike most sedimentary rock, the kind you see along the thruway for example in NY and MA, where it dips and dives into the ground or strata get cracked and lifted higher up on a mountain: these are all quite level.

But what is really striking is how awful this must have been for pioneer families in their wagon trains coming up the lower plains and right up to these totally impassable cliffs. They found torturous ways through, lifting their equipment and each other up and over these things. As Mike said:”No wonder they call it Badlands, it must have been just plain horrible!” A local man said that on the usual 85 degree days in the area, heat is trapped in these shapes and it is over 100f…and then there would slippery, slimy days like today for them to try and get through. Unreal.

Took lots of photos of course. Ended up getting out the laptop and burning a CD because the camera card had a couple of hundred images on it. With no sun and this not being that magic hour at sunrise or sunset we hoped we would get one or two we really like, but in the end I know, that just as I have never seen a picture that captured what we saw, we are ultimately doomed to failure. What a place! And there were prairie dogs leaping around.(They have several noises. One is a high pitched whistle; another is a chuckling sound and a third a bird like chee-caw…the noise a vinyl squeaky toy makes.)

After that it to Wall Drug we went for lunch, walked the busy street of stores that have Wall Drug to thank for their existence – the original founders only died within the past decade- turning a place everyone bypassed into a must-see location. It has the largest collection of things I don’t want I have ever seen in one place but it’s still fun!

Off we went again.

We did not stop at the National Museum of Woodworking which might have been good nor the National Presidential Wax Museum which might have been just as well. Against better judgment and counsel we made the long trek out to have a very short look at the presidents carved out of the rock and it made me sad. The rock faces there are lovely and I looked like giant graffiti – part from which having seen the documentary on the sculptor which suggested he had KKK links and was a fan of Hitler it pretty much put me off him. So why is Tom Daschle reading his story in the museum in his honor?!

On the way there we had noted a local supermarket had a Tsarbucks inside. We had found a stand alone store, which, on closer examination does not open till this Friday (poor Mike!) but at least there was the one in Alberston’s and we went after seeing the presidential heads.

Then as the afternoon was getting late we decided to try and see The Devil’s Tower, ovet the border in Wyoming. It turned out to be a little farther than we remembered and we got there as the sun was setting – yes, sun! As we left Rapid City (not stopping at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame) the sky in the distance was a turquoise blue with white stratus clouds. After 30 miles we had blue skies and the sun was setting on the last day of summer (and the second day of snow in much of the Rockies!) – we saw the tower with the last light on it and then headed back to the I-90 passing literally hundreds of deer at the sides of the road. We had decided not to rush to Billings to camp tonight as the forecast was for a frost there – we enjoyed the sights of the day instead.

Still we wanted to get further along the road ready for tomorrow; we had traveled many miles but in much the same locality. We set off, ending up at Buffalo, WY at 9:30pm.
Mountain Time (no they did not mention we were crossing that border either, but Wyoming did announce we were entering its state.)

Buffalo is the smallest community in the US to have a YWCA and by showing your motel key you can use the health facilities for half-price, pool, weights, running machines etc.

Unusual sights of the day…the triple trucks, a large truck towing two trailers same size as itself. Huge wide-load houses hurtling along at 75 mph (the limit) then one pulling out and passing the other! There were 5 in a convoy, swinging and swaying along the road! We saw tumbleweed.

We realized we had passed through a whole state without ever seeing one police car, on the road or in the city: South Dakota! We only saw one in Minnesota, stopped helping a stranded trucker – unlike the constant stream of them through Wisconsin.

We saw Alva, WY, population 50 and it had a Post Office! It also had several tons of scrap metal in each and every yard…which made us realize South Dakota was far tidier than we had expected. In fact, we both really liked SD. The people were friendly, we enjoyed the drive and the sight and it was not untidy. Mike asserted he would do this drive again as it was really quite pleasant.

The trip mileage is 2108. Our son-in-law will want to know that Wyoming has cheaper gas than South Dakota, most expensive gas so far at $1.98 at best.
We passed 2000 for the trip 9miles north I-90 at Moorcraft on the 14. A sign there said not DEER crossing but GAME CROSSING but this is Wyoming not New York.


I'm looking forward to all the photos... :) I wish we had prarie dogs around here!

Hope the trip carries on well. I'm glad you've been able to update a good deal, it's nice knowing where you are so far.

Posted by: Jo at September 23, 2004 12:07 AM

Glad to know that you are bargain hunting for fuel. It is clearly a major driver of the cost of the trip and thus will likely impact your year end profit margins :) Best of luck tracking down those Starbucks!

Posted by: Edmund (aka son in law) at September 24, 2004 09:44 AM


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