Sunday, September 1, 2013

Spectacular South Dakota

Sep 1, 2013

I'm writing from Missoula, Montana but you won't get to read about that until ... whenever.

I'm always a day or three behind on my blog. First, driving many hours a day leaves me very tired at the end of the day to edit photos and extract words to put down on "paper" a composed blog post. Like George Bush said about his job at the White House - "it's not easy." And, by the time I get around to it, I've forgotten where we've been on what day. Looking at the photos helps a bit. But, by George, it's not easy. Also, and this may only be a perception, I'm more tired at the end of the day than I used to be.

I left you last time while we were crossing the Mississippi River from Minnesota to South Dakota. If Minnesota was wide open with vast corn fields, western South Dakota was even more so. We had spent the night well off the Interstate in Kasson, Minnesota, a speck of a town, sixteen miles wet of Rochester, home of the famous Mayo clinic. 

Entering South Dakota just east of the state's
largest city, Sioux Falls.
Note: you can see any photo larger and clearer 
by simply clicking on it.

The next morning we stayed off the Interstate, driving west instead on U.S. Route 14. That took us through tiny towns and endless farmland as we drove 235 miles from our motel in Minnesota to South Dakota and that state's largest city, Sioux Falls. We met the kids there to give Ethan his video game charger that had been left in our car by mistake. We also stopped for lunch after visiting the falls that gave the city its name. The Big Sioux river had been diverted during the ice age, causing it to cut an impressive waterfall through red rock that was scattered all around the city's park.

The waterfall that gives SD's largest city its name: Sioux Falls.
After lunch we  continued on our way and made a quick stop in the small town of Mitchell whose only claim to fame is its Corn Palace. This building, a multi-purpose arena, community center, meeting place  has a facade that is decorated, and changed annually, entirely with corn products: cobs, husks, fibers and other grains. It's quite a site to see. Otherwise, Mitchell Shmitchell. 

Mitchell, South Dakota's famous Corn Palace, decorated
entirely with corn cobs, husks, etc.

Look closely (click the picture for a larger view). Corn cobs, husks, fibers
and other grains are used to decorate this enormous building. Changed annually.

Further west we crossed the Missouri River and staying, again off the Interstate, in South Dakota's very small and parochial city of Pierre. Even though we had driven west after crossing the river on I-90, our hotel in Pierre was on that great river as well. That's because the Missouri comes from way out west - its headwaters are in western Montana. I Googled "Missouri River" to find out that it's the longest tributary in North America running some 2,341 miles to join the Mississippi just north of St. Louis. 

Read more here about this important river that was explored by Lewis and Clark as they were looking, unsuccesfully,  for a Northwest Passage.  It's a treasure that's rich in American history.

Crossing the Missouri River . You're looking north at I-90 below.

We left Pierre and again drove along U.S. Route 14, preferring to see the non-Interstate America. All along the way we were being beckoned to stop in Wall, SD, which is the gateway to the Badlands, one of our must-sees for this trip. In Wall was the famous Wall Drug Store, which might have been a pharmacy once upon a time (founded in 1937). Now it's a hokey collection of stores that sell South Dakota shtick, western art and Dakotan tourist mementos (made in China). It wasn't worth the stop.

Wall, South Dakota's Wall Drug store. A tourist stop if you
want some SD shtick and other hokey souvenenirs. 
Biggie meets bison (stuffed).
Wall Drug was not worth the stop but it was, indeed, the door to the Badlands. Right outside of town we got on the loop road into that amazing area which is hard to describe in words. Here's the Wikipedia description:
A badlands (also badland) is/are a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. It can resemble malpaís, a terrain of volcanic rock. Canyons, ravines, gullies, hoodoos and other such geological forms are common in badlands. They are often difficult to navigate by foot. Badlands often have a spectacular color display that alternates from dark black/blue coal stria to bright clays to red scoria.
In 1935, the famous architecht Frank Lloyd Wright wrote --
"I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands... What I saw gave me indescribable sense of mysterious otherwhere." 
And Matthew Weinstein wrote -
"This is one hell of a crazy, unworldly, moon-like landscape unlike anything you can imagine." 
It took us several hours to traverse the beautiful loop road that took us around and through this breathtaking geography. The National Park Service, which has been slashed to shreds by the GOP-inspired sequester and cutbacks and their loathing of "big government,"  has done a magnificent job of preserving this spectacular region and allowing Americans an easy but gentle access to it. I cannot imagine what would be left of our precious National Parks if they were allowed to carry their extreme positions to fruition. And say thanks to that Park Ranger and the NPS. They do such great work with so little in resources.

The Beautiful and the Bad. Stacey at a viewpoint in Badlands National Park.

Other worldy Badlands. (Click for a large view).

Press PLAY ► (above)  for a short video tour of the Dakota Badlands.

After completing our Badlands tour we continued driving, out of South Dakota and into Wyoming. We stopped in Sheridan. From there we'd venture into Yellowstone, the crown jewel of the National Parks system. But that was more of an adventure than a venture. But to find out why, you'll have to stay tuned for my next post.  Until then....a bientot.  - Matt

Welcome to Wyoming - wild and wide open!

Driving toward our motel in Sheridan, Wyoming -- our first view of the Rockies. Wow!

To see the rest of today's photos just click HERE.