Sunday, December 7, 2014

Country Crossin' Part II: Praries, Deserts, and Presidents

Thursday 25 September 2014
We left Chicago after Gay checked over my car (I love it!! He's SUCH a DAD) and continued north through Wisconsin.

I feel like Wisconsin is one of those states that gets a bad rap for being boring or something, but it was beautiful. There's not a state I've been to that didn't have its own charm and beauty. 

Wisconsin was in full fall bloom. The trees and colors were magnificent. 

The best part of Wisconsin, for me, was actually found at a rest stop. I've always had a fascination with the American prairie. I think it's mostly because as a child, I read the "Little House" books over and over again  (side note: these books are WONDERFUL and teach so much about our country's history and the way of life on the Frontier). It breaks my heart that the prairie is gone. It must have been a sight to behold-an ocean of grass through our country's belly  I remember learning in school that the prairie grasses were over 4ft tall...that they spanned for miles and miles...that you couldn't even see a man standing amongst the tall shoots...that buffalo would blaze trails through the grasses...trails that Indians would follow on the hunt; trails that, one day, covered wagons would follow; trails that, one day, would become our roads. It's amazing and fascinating and it's gone. :( But, at this tiny rest stop in Wisconsin...there was a small plot of restored prairie and I got to stand in it and touch it and feel it and close my eyes and imagine how glorious it must have once been. 

In the prairie

We crossed out of Wisconsin and into Minnesota-a new state for me. My mom did a lot of the driving through Minnesota and she HATED it. Lol. I don't know WHY!! I thought it was beautiful and full of bucolic farmland, but my mom just wanted OUT of Minnesota. Haha!! She was on a MISSION to make it to South Dakota tonight. It was too funny and completely unjust.

My first time in Minnesota!! 

We did make a mistake in Minnesota. We didn't get gas. I fully expect to fill up at every opportunity before we were below half a tank out in the west...but in Minnesota? I had NO idea it was so desolate!! We had a tense ride for about half an hour :P It's funny to me, because my mom and I are SUCH worriers. Preston would cruise around on fumes of gas for days and not even think twice about it. 

NOTHING for miles!! 
Anyway, we were FINE, but it was a good lesson and we won't do that again!! 

Making great time, we traveled about 600 miles and stopped for the night in Mitchell, SD. Another new state for me!! Yay!!

I don't know how people traveled without the internet...I swear. Here I am talking about covered wagons and I can't even fathom not being able to reserve hotels from the road!! :P

Anyway, we found the locally owned Thunderbird Lodge that I had booked from the car. Good thing too-because it appeared to be full!! The staff was beyond friendly, but there were lots of people milling about...notably a group of rowdy men in the parking lot. 

My mom and I walked to a diner sort of place next to the hotel for dinner. It was just SO obvious that we were in South Dakota. For one, nearly everyone there seemed local and there was NO one from any sort of ethnic group that wasn't white. It was noticeably weird to me. Nonetheless, everyone was friendly. I ordered the special, which was Chicken Fried Steak. It seemed appropriate for the area :P It was also, like, $6. I don't even want to know... 

Our room was clean and cozy and we plopped into our beds after a long day of driving.

Friday 26 September 2014
We had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel this morning and hit the interstate again. 

Our goal today is to do a bit of sight seeing at Badlands National Park. 

The Badlands is an arid section of western South Dakota with a harsh geography shaped by millions of years of deposition and erosion. This area was also of importance to the Lakota Indian Tribe, who used the badlands as a hunting ground. 

Badlands National Park is an easy loop just off the interstate, that connects back to the interstate a bit further west (or east, depending on your direction). My mom and I found the turn off easily enough and she took over driving so that I could snap some pics. 

It's incredible that we were actually worried about bad weather on our trip...snow, etc., because the weather has been perfect.

The temperature in my car read 95 degrees as we drove into the park. We would later find out that this was a record setting temp. Haha!! It was a bit wind and beating sun, but I loved it. I LOVE hot weather.

We pulled in at a look out and took some photos, before traveling a little ways down the road to do a short hike. 

I gotta tell you...the signage here in this park is SERIOUS. There are ALL kinds of warnings about health conditions and how much water you'll need for a hike and how not to get lost, etc. It's basically the opposite of New Zealand ;) 

Anyway, my mom and I were a tad freaked out about the hike we were about to we decided to just do part of it. HAHA!! As it turns out, the hike was pretty easy, very well marked, and not very long. We easily made our way across the landscape to the end. We gazed out into the canyon below and returned to the car. I love the heat. It's really increasing the desert feel and giving me an understanding for how desolate it really is out here. 

We continued on to the Visitor's Center and enjoyed a nice reprieve from heat (for my mom more than me ;)). We watched a short video about the area and hit the road again. 

We stopped at one other short hike along a boardwalk, which highlighted fossil finds within the park. 

At one point on the road, there were dozens of cars stopped and we didn't see why until we were too far past where we could pull over-prairie dogs!! I was so disappointed to miss them, but we didn't turn around.

Back on the interstate, we made our way to Rapid City near the border of South Dakota/Wyoming.

Our hotel for the night is pretty nice. We relaxed for a bit and drank as much ice water as we could. 

Jumping back in the car, we headed south a bit to check out Mt. Rushmore. The drive into the Blackhills was beautiful. We went up and over the hills and arrived at Mt. Rushmore just as the sun was setting. The $11 parking fee was too steep for us cheapies, so we just clicked the camera as we drove by. We still got a great view of the monument...tho the sun was RIGHT in our eyes!! haha. It was like, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Jefferson, Washington, BLINDING sun. hehe. 


We circled back down and stopped in the little town of Keystone. We walked the little main street and checked out some of the shops. I bought Preston a little buffalo from an Indian store.

Back down into Grand Rapids we went for dinner. We decided to check out a new pizza restaurant near our hotel. The pizza place was called "Blaze" and was like a Chipotle style restaurant for pizza!! It was brilliant!! The ingredients were fresh and delicious. Such a great idea!!

We tucked in back at the hotel for the night and put on a movie..."Stuck in Love". It wasn't great :P 

Tomorrow, Wyoming!!

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