Monday, July 20, 2009

Awoke at a comfortable and completely reasonable 8 am to a deliciously free breakfast of biscuits and gravy, Belgian waffles, grits, yogurt, juice and tea – an absolutely superb spread, especially for a Super 8. Swiped a couple of bananas for the road and headed to the front desk to check out, where we received our first “who are these loud-mouthed brown children; shouldn’t they be cleaning the bathrooms or making me a pie” look of the trip. Of course, we brushed that aside; you can’t have thin skin when you’re as loud/brown as my brother and I.

Anyhoo, we got on the road and were making great time northward until we hit yet another multi-mile stretch of road construction! “Road Work Next 26 Miles”… Ugh, I thought and said, and slowed my pace to keep within the legal limits. There were giant orange cones and barrels to either side of me, which made me feel just a tad claustrophobic considering the size of my vehicle, but I managed to keep it together. Things were going smoothly; I only had 10 or so more miles of road work left and that’s when I saw it. A huge blackbird swooping dangerously close to my windshield. It got closer and closer, I had absolutely no room to swerve and stopping was not an option.

BAM! I hit the bird.

Shaken, I had to continue to the end of the roadwork until I was able to pull off onto a shoulder and check the damage, which I imagined would involve feathers and possibly brains. But, much to my surprise, that giant bird didn’t even make a dent! Whew. The rest of Iowa was uneventful.

Minnesota was pleasant enough. We were making super time, so Justin picked a town off of I-90 for us to visit and came up with Blue Earth, mostly because of the town’s touristy claim to fame – a 60 ft statue of the Jolly Green Giant. We pulled off the interstate and were greeted with “The Giant Museum”, so named for its plethora of information on all things Green Giant related, not as an ironic nod to its diminutive size. The elderly folks running the museum were super friendly (even commented upon the whiteness of my teeth), regaling us with country stories and tales of the Green Giant. Got some fun touristy pictures of the Giant and then it was time to bid farewell to our new Minnesotan friends and head on over to South Dakota.

I-90 across South Dakota is a very boring stretch of road. While the countryside was occasionally pretty (I can definitely appreciate a golden wheat field and livestock grazing by a mirror-still lake) and we got a great radio station (oh, hi John Fogerty), that doesn’t negate the fact that you’re just driving straight for 200+ miles. Thank God for that terrifying, tornado-laden storm that hit us somewhere around Kimball.

The sky turned dark green, the cows seemed to disappear. The wind was so strong that instead of flowing downstream like usual, the Missouri River was flowing from bank to bank. One particularly strong gust got us good –  our stupid box truck actually tilted over to one side. My brother, iron-willed as he is, was able to keep it together well enough to safely navigate us through that awful storm. After the storm had passed, we sat at a gas station where Justin smoked and texted his way back into sanity.

Once that was over, the remaining 60 miles or so to the Badlands were a cakewalk and passed without incident. Finally, we reached the turn off toward Interior, the tiny town that straddles the Badlands and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where we were staying for the night. That’s when we caught our first glimpse of what we had journeyed all this way to see…

It’s like the moon, but on Earth. Wound our way through the main thoroughfare of the Badlands, stopped off at the Lodge/Visitor’s Center for a delicious buffalo taco served on Indian frybread (yum to the max) and a cold beer and made it to our motel just in time to catch the sunset…

Did a little stargazing and got to sleep at a reasonable hour… hiking tomorrow!

US-218 through Iowa
I-35 up into Minnesota
I-90 through Minnesota and South Dakota
Rt 377 into the Badlands