Wyoming & South Dakota

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On Sunday morning we dropped by Deadwood, another historic mining town, which now earns its living by offering gambling in its historic buildings. We didn't stay long, but long enough to visit the Nelson's Garage Car Museum, housed inside the Celebrity Inn. You have to walk past the slot machines to enter, but it is free and houses such famous vehicles as Herbie, one of James Bond's Aston Martins, a MASH jeep, and a few others. It was interesting, but only took about 10 minutes to see all exhibits! After an hour or so of wandering up and down the main street, we left Deadwood and drove on to Mount Rushmore.
There is probably no one in America who hasn't heard of Mt Rushmore, and many throughout the rest of the world. It is a strange concept to me to carve these massive sculptures out of a rock face, but it brings in about 3 million visitors a year. For American visitors I am sure it is generally a more emotive experience than for the rest of us, as you walk through an avenue of the flags of all the states towards the viewing area. These presidents are all an important part of their history and have certain significance in their lives. But despite being a foreigner, I was impressed by the 14 years of intensive labour which brought this memorial about.
We then left the Blackhills and drove toward the Badlands, spending the night in yet another KOA, just outside Interior and quite near the entrance to the Badlands National Park. The drive took us through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and also gave us our first view of the strange eroded landscape that is the Badlands. Along the way we entered a prairie dog town, indicated by earth mounds spread across the grasslands on both sides of the road. We stopped but couldn't really get close enough for photos. They were talking very loudly to each other but staying close to, or in, their burrows.
Yesterday we spent several hours driving through the Badlands National Park, and wondering at bizarre changes in the landscape. We have experienced many sights on our journey that were the result of water erosion and this was another very impressive example. We also came across another prairie dog town and this time managed to get a little closer to these funny little creatures. There are many bison in this park along with other wildlife - there are signs on every walkway to look out for rattlesnakes - but we didn't see any. However, we did see a flock of Big Horn Sheep, just as we were leaving the park.
Our next stop was in the town of Wall, made famous by the Wall Drug Store. This is simply a tourist attraction these days, but done in such a down-home manner as to be kitschy, but somehow cute.... Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the drugstore in 1931. After 5 years of barely making ends meet, supplying the needs of the small town and watching the traffic on the highway drive on by, Dorothy came up with the idea, one very hot July day, of advertising free iced water on signs on the highway. Her husband did just that and the rest, as they say, is history! The travellers came in off the highway, lured by iced water, and bought other refreshment items. Wall Drug still employs the use of highway billboard advertising, many of the signs much further afield than one would imagine being useful. They still have free iced water and also 5 cent coffee!
We then drove on to Pierre (pronounced Peer), which is the state capital of South Dakota. It is the second smallest state capital and one of only 4 which is not on an Interstate Highway. The latter is the reason we came here, as it gave us the opportunity to stay off a major highway and still head in an easterly direction. We only drove through the outskirts yesterday to get to the Farm Island State Recreation Area, where we wanted to spend the night. It is a nice campground with power to all sites and a bathroom, complete with showers (this seems to be the normal level of services in State Parks in South Dakota). It is also open all year round, although the first bathroom we came to had a 'Closed for the Season' sign up and we thought we weren't going to be able to have a shower (pit toilets are available all year round!). But the next bathroom block was still open. This is something I'm not used to thinking about, but in these northern areas where winter temperatures are consistently below freezing, the bathrooms have to be closed and the pipes emptied of water to avoid damage to the whole plumbing system! Today we will go back into Pierre and have a look around, and then continue our journey east.

Thursday, 5 October 2006, Minneapolis, MN
We drove back into Pierre Tuesday morning - and went past the Capitol. It doesn't seem to matter how small the state or state capital, the Capitol buildings are always impressive. On the way back to highway 14 we also drove by some very nice old houses in this city. The rest of the drive through South Dakota was much the same as we had already experienced - acres of farmland with small towns in between. Some of the towns were very pretty - made more so by the autumn colours everywhere.
We arrived at a town called DeSmet and realised that it was once the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the 'Little House on the Prairie' and 'Little Town on the Prairie' books, on which the television series was based. I had read these books as a child but didn't realise until now that she was writing history rather than fiction. The town of DeSmet was home to her family during one particularly bad winter and then they homesteaded nearby. She led an extremely interesting life and then at the age of sixty began to write it down. It tempts me to revisit her stories.
We left South Dakota and spent the night at a county campground just over the border in Minnesota, the state of 10000 lakes, according to their number plates.

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