Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Woke up bright and early, pumped to tackle a hike into the Badlands! After an omelette and a quick cup o’ joe at the Lodge, Justin and I procured a gigantic bottle of water to guard us against the increasingly oppressive midday sun and set out to embark upon the Notch Trail, moderate-strenuous, 1.5 miles.

The Badlands guide recommends that anyone afraid of heights skip this trail. They also warn that it’s dangerous during and after heavy rainfall and that you should stay on the trails unless you have a compass and a topographical map because if you get lost, there’s no cell reception and you’ll probably die. But nowhere in the guide (or on the grounds for that matter) does it prohibit anyone from attempting any of the trails – it’s like the Badlands management is telling patrons that yes, it’s dangerous here, but we trust your good judgement… have a good time! This is when it really hit me that we were no longer in the whitewashed, babyproof, use-the-handrails-please Northeast… we were in the fucking Wild West. And I liked it.

Armed with this new sense of frontier-y adventure, Justin and I started the trail which was tame enough, meandering through a canyon with slightly prickly underbrush, until we came upon this…

Yes, we were meant to climb this. This straight, vertical, 3-4 story ladder. It was okay climbing up, but woo doggie was that bitch scary on the way down. Quick water break and photo op at the top and then it was time to get down to the business of hiking this crazy trail.

We ambled over loose rock, squeezed through crevices, yelled into caves to hear the echo bounce back at us. Leapt over tiny ravines and slid on our butts down tiny, craggy hills.

After we had made more than a reasonable amount of Enemy Mine references, we continued around a bend and were rewarded with the White River Valley…

My muscles ached, I was short of breath and my wildly inappropriate footwear was covered in Badlands dust; It was about this time that I realized I like hiking.

The day was quickly waning and we still had to make it to Mount Rushmore and Carhenge so we opted to drive the Badlands Loop back to I-90, stopping about 30 times along the way to sit in the grass or watch gigantic birds of prey swoop onto unsuspecting prairie chipmunks or just breathe the delicious, delicious air. Photographic highlights of these tiny detours:

The Badlands were definitely a highlight of the trip for both Justin and me, but sadly, we had to eventually leave this craggy paradise and get back onto I-90. Stopped off in Wall, to see the famous Wall Drug (that had huge billboards advertising its greatness as far away as Minnesota!), but I was utterly disenchanted. Just another tourist trap, if you ask me. Practically the only thing I liked about Wall (apart from the denim, John Deere branded beer cozies in the gift shop) was the old timey horse-tethers out front:

Quickly left Wall and headed over to Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills were totally beautiful – it was great (and familiar) to be around such thick forest after two days of flatlands! We slowly made our way through the windy roads up and over hill after hill until we came upon, arguably, one of America’s most famous landmarks. Paid the $10 for the 7-day entrance fee (honestly, what does one do at Mount Rushmore for 7 days?!) and ran up to the viewing deck to take our obligatory touristy pictures:

Twenty minutes later, we were back in the truck, gaping at the $3.80/gallon gas prices and booking it toward Nebraska. Riding high on a productive and beautiful day in South Dakota, we met the Nebraska border with high hopes.

About an hour and a half later, these hopes were dashed on the stinking, industrial pit that is western Nebraska. When people think of the boring/redundant roads and god awful livestock stenches of the midwest, I believe that they’re thinking of Nebraska. It was very hot. There were many mosquitos. And up until this point, farm smells had remained peripheral, but once we got into the heart of Nebraska, those peripheral smells leapt into the limelight with a vengeance. And to top it all off, we got a little lost trying to find stupid Carhenge, which was a sidetrip planned out of convenience to begin with! It wasn’t on the road it was supposed to have been on, so after a couple of tries and two trips through bustling downtown Alliance, we finally made it to the rural field where this kitschy tribute to Stonehenge resides.

Despite all the inconveniences we endured trying to get there, Carhenge was pretty cool – it’s an exact replica of Stonehenge, but built from spraypainted, American-made cars.

There were also a handful of other car sculptures, the following being my favorite:

I was having such a great time skipping through the fields, checking out all the sculptures that I didn’t notice the small swarm of mosquitos taking up residence around my bare legs. When I finally did notice, it was too late – those bitches were eating me alive. Justin had the same realization at about the same time and together, we ran screaming to the sanctuary of the truck to douse ourselves in bug spray and anti-ich cream.

My mood was shot and the sun was setting, so we decided to get back on the road in search of somewhere to spend the night. We knew pickins would be slim in rural Nebraska, so we set Sidney, a semi-large town that sits at the junction to I-80, as our destination city. We got to Sidney at about 9ish and there was a little sign in the window of each of the 15 or so hotels and motels exclaiming that they had NO VACANCY!

How could this be? Was Sidney such a vacation hotspot that every suitable place would be completely booked on a Tuesday? Was there a convention in town? It boggled the mind. So we dejectedly got back into the car and headed west on I-80 toward Wyoming. That’s when we realized why all the hotels were booked; Sidney is the last amenity stop for 60 miles in just about all directions. Hooray.

Running low on gas and patience, we exited at the first town that advertised a hotel… Kimball, NE. Just awful. It was about 11pm when we checked into our sketchy room. We hadn’t had dinner so we drove around the town for a little while, hoping to stumble across a Taco Bell or something, ANYTHING, but we were brutally relegated to acquire sustenance at the local Kwik-Stop. Yum, Cup-O-Noodles and a Hostess cupcake.

We ate in silence and fell asleep angry at the world, mostly just Nebraska…

Rt 240 – Badlands Loop
I-90 through South Dakota
US 16 through the Black Hills to Mount Rushmore
US 385 into Nebraska/Hell
I-80 toward Wyoming/Salvation