Sunday, August 8, 2010

Washington to Washington, part deux

(continued from part one)

In late July, a high school friend and I set out for a drive from one Washington to another. Other than make it to Seattle by July 31, we had no agenda other than to stop at as many National Park Service sites – historical or otherwise – as possible. Here’s what happened…

Day 4:  Chamberlain, SD to Gillette, WY, via Badlands NP and Mt. Rushmore.  And Wall.

I have a soft spot in my heart for jackalopes.
Bellies full of hotel continental breakfasts and having decided to name my co-pilot's next child "Chamberlain" (not sure if the baby daddy is aware of this), the co-pilot and I set out for Wall Drug.  Yes, we actually put Wall Drug on our list of places to go, even before the first billboard in Worthington, MN.  Enough people exclaimed, "YOU HAVE TO GO TO WALL DRUG!" when I told them my route that I couldn't disappoint.  So, we drove past the Badlands to Wall for our free cup of water and other kitsch, which in my case means jackalopes.   Wall Drug, for the uninitiated is a mall of a tourist trap.  It's brilliant, actually.  A druggist and his wife purchased the pharmacy on the edge of the Badlands during the Great Depression.  Suffice to say, business was bad.  Then the druggist got the bright idea of posting signs that said, "Free Ice Water at Wall Drug!" or something to that effect, for miles up and down the highway.  Sure enough, all these parched motorists that would have otherwise driven right by the small town of Wall flooded in for ice water and probably bought stuff, too.  A tourist trap is born!

From there, we doubled back about 20 miles to the eastern entrance of the Badlands by Interior, SD.  First stop, some missile silo national monument, whose propaganda hasn't been updated since the Cold War.  Remember, the co-pilot and I are avid when it comes to collecting National Parks Passport Stamps.  I tried to watch the 80s-era video, which really should have been a filmstrip to have the best effect.  The co-pilot immediately walked out after stamping her passport.  So that was that.  Next stop:  the Badlands!
Yup, the Badlands are still a big pile o' dirt.
It was as I had remembered it from 30 years ago:  full of dirt.  This time, the co-pilot and I took the Badlands loop road, but instead of looping back on to the interstate like everyone else, we drove on nearly every unpaved Indian road in the area, to get to the second Visitor Center.  Of course, those roads aren't marked, so that was sort of challenging.  A white van followed us the entire way, which is notable because it turned out that the passengers were a church youth group from Baltimore.  Then we fell into another tourist trap:  Indian tacos.  Whatever.  It makes no sense that they were being sold in South Dakota, you know, home of the massive Mexican migration.  So here I was expecting warm fry bread goodness, and this thing was cooled fry bread with canned beans and store-bought salsa.  Sigh.
Indian tacos....tourist trap?
We took another unpaved Indian road towards Mt. Rushmore.  Then the strangest thing happened.  We crossed a busy state road, and the other side - I swear - was lush and full of evergreens.  I have no idea what happened, but it was a dramatic fauna change.

The town immediately outside Mt. Rushmore (Keystone) is utterly cheesy.  But the co-pilot was awed by the monument when we rounded a corner and there it was!  By the time we left the Badlands and arrived at Mt. Rushmore, it was nearly 7.  Nearly 7 is bad news in National Passports Stamp collector jargon because how many visitor centers are open after 7?  Well, Mt. Rushmore's is.  Yay!
"I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me."
From there, it was off to Gillette, WY, a 2.5 hour drive, most of it on lonely state roads, with small towns interspersed.  It was a long day – we didn't pull into Gillette until after 10pm.


Day 5:  Gillette, WY to Cody, WY, via Bighorn National Forest.

After the über long day the day before, the last thing I wanted was another long day. We set out again on the interstate before turning onto US-14 towards Yellowstone in Sheridan. I think we drove really close to windmills, too, although it seems weird to me now that I type this up that there would be windmills in Wyoming. Maybe I'm mixing it up with another state (we saw several trucks transporting windmill blades on Day 1, although if you ask me, I will tell you that I think the government is building something in the middle of the country).

Also, every single sign on the interstate for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park said that US-16 was the most scenic and safe route. This was confusing to us because the two roads reconnect a few hours outside of Cody.  US-16 may have been the safest route, but it must be something if it's more scenic than US-14.

The treat of the day was stopping in Dayton, WY, right before the Bighorn Mountains. We had lunch (although I ordered a whopping breakfast) at the Branding Iron Restaurant. The town was also celebrating Dayton Days and we had arrived just in time for the water fight, a fundraiser for the local fire department. Now, the co-pilot and I, for some reason, thought that the water fight was a water balloon fight.  Oh, were we wrong...
video
I guess drought isn't an issue, huh? So, that's a pony keg on a pulley, on a wire that's strung up between two telephone poles. Two teams of three wield a fire hose and use the spray to get the keg to the pole farthest from them. The Dayton water fight was pretty hard core and a full spectator sport. There were brackets of competitors (although I'm not sure if teams were actually seeded), a megaphone, bleachers, party tents, and a beer cart.

From there, it was a drive up into our first set of big mountains, the Bighorns.  And then a part of the road was under summer construction, unpaved, and re-routed.  After having driven 40 miles on dirt roads a day earlier, this was nothing.  Then, it was a stop at Shell Falls in the Bighorn National Forest.  This drive is, simply, gorgeous; I'd love to head back here and camp.
Shell Falls, Bighorn National Forest
From Shell, WY, it's a relatively quick jaunt into Cody, and we arrived well before nightfall and well in time for the nightly rodeo.  Yee haw.  We stayed at the Mayor's Inn B&B, just blocks away from the main (Sheridan) street, grabbed a coffee at the Rawhide Coffee Co., and then headed for el rodeo.  After a late night pizza, it was time to turn in.
Cody Rodeo!
To be continued...