Wednesday, May 19, 2010

South Dakota: a winning cake.

It's a beautiful state. I wasn't thinking very much of it because it was mainly plain scenery until we came to the top of a hill and saw a lot of rolling, sharper hills appear. And a huge lake that we drove over thanks to bridge similar to what one sees going through Griffy Lake in Bloomington. But this lake was more the size of Lake Monroe. Maybe bigger. And natural, unlike Lake Monroe. The name of the surrounding town was Chamberlain, like the original drummer for The Smashing Pumpkins (Jimmy Chamberlin). These allusions mean absolutely nothing to approximately 98% of the population.

Yes, we went to sleep last night in South Dakota and we're still in South Dakota and YES it took us all day to reach mount Rushmore when it was really only about four and a half or five hours away from where we started. That's mainly the fault of the sites that popped up along the way. Before we got to Chamberlain, we stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, which is really just a big auditorium building in its downtown area that happens to be ornately covered in corn, but the town's been rebuilding it every year since the late 1800's (except for when a drought occurs, causing them to ration out their corn in ways that do not accommodate the Corn Palace). I felt the need to buy my little sister something from this place in which there was nothing to see solely because it was so ridiculous. So I bought her popcorn on a cob that can be microwaved. I think she'll find it amusing. I hope.

The second tourist trap was Al's Oasis. The outside of the building looks like a stereotypical Disney take on a town of the Wild West, but inside, it's essentially just a grocery store, Dakota gift shop, and restaurant. I bought an Al's Oasis shirt for my dad, as his name is Al and he's a big nerd that will probably like it and wear it ironically. One thing to note about Al's Oasis: it's obsessed with Mellow Yellow. We didn't have an explanation for it, but there were Mellow Yellow advertisements everywhere. In the store, there was a giant Mellow Yellow display alter that was advertising a raffle for a Mellow Yellow scooter that sat atop it. Needless to say, I entered the raffle. Also, it was extremely cheap there. Like they got a horribly large overshipment of it that they'd been trying to peddle for some time. They had a machine dispensing cans of it for $.25. Bottles costed $.79. Spreading the word of Al. Mellow Yellow be with you, go in peace.

Then we went to 1880 Town, which just kind of appeared out of nowhere and was vastly more impressive than any tourist trap we could have even hoped to find. A family had maintained a town as it was in 1880, turning it into an antique museum in the process. It was extremely creepy and reminded me of the remake of House of Wax. Right down to the chapel with figures sitting in it that played music at all times. Also, it had a Dances with Wolves mini-museum, as it was filmed in the region and they happened to get their hands on some of the props used in the film, including the table he nearly gets his leg amputated on and some crates that are seen near his outpost hut. There was also a large, well-preserved saloon that featured a stage with a player piano on it and a dummy sitting at one of the saloon tables with cards laid out in front of him. In front and to the side of the place's entrance, there was a train that looked like it was from the 60's that had been transformed into a breakfast/lunch diner. We were too late for these meals, but it looked pretty cool. A few fenced fields away from the back of the place, there was an iron statue of a T-Rex skeleton standing next to an iron statue of a man's skeleton by the highway. Needless to say, I loved it all.

Then we finally got to the Badlands. It was a magnificent place. When you enter, it doesn't take long to get to this huge ampitheater full of the white and reddish-brown sandy waves and spires that generally compose the area. We got dangerously close the edge for the sake of photographs. But they turned out well. Then we drove further into the park and followed a trail down into the ravines on foot. There were no trails. They just let people run loose through nature there. The sign said to bring water, no matter how short the hike, but we didn't, because we were sure the area posed no "real" danger. It felt like an amusement park, with the paranoia of coming across a rattlesnake at any moment in the crevices that surrounded us. Sandy spires were at times at least 10 feet taller than us as we climbed and jumped along through the area. Honestly, I don't have words to describe this environment to you because it's so alien to me and the way I think. I'm not sure that we actually have words for it. Maybe I should say "natural dry dirt obstacle course." Yes, that comes close, I think. We went as far as we could until we came to a deep ravine and saw no way of traveling down into it. I think I saw a dead body at the bottom. A white cloth over a round mound and some kind of green material under the rock it flowed under. I think the mound under the cloth was a skull, and that the cloth was a t-shirt. I'm sure of it. Because there was no way of getting down there to investigate, though, I saved the heroics/insanity for someone else. Then we noticed vultures circling in the sky far away. Then we turned around and realized we were lost. We could barely see the edge of the big mound that marked the area where we had entered these crevices, so we just started bulldozing over shelves and edges and narrow inclines and slightly damp creekbeds just trying to find the familiar. But nothing in it was familiar, because there were no distinguishing features of our surroundings. It was all just a scary, sandy planet that neither of us knew anything about. We eventually found our way back, though, and walked to a safe viewpoint that displayed the depth of the nearby ravines. I imagine that the depth was a little more than half of what the Grand Cayon will be. We noticed the first of the five or so rabbits we would see in the park. They blend in well there, as their fur actually matches the dirt. So, when they're hunched by grass, unless you're looking out for them, you'll probably just assume that they're another bit of cracked earth. Also, they're very ballsy. Deanna got about three feet from one of them before it ran away in bunny terror. Deanna doesn't want to eat you, little fellah. She just wants to entrap you and squeeze you whenever she pleases. We also ended up driving for about an hour through the park, at one point passing plains that were absolutely full of prairie dogs and their homes. I was really excited about it, and it almost made up for not seeing any wild black-footed ferrets while there. Same goes for the bighorn sheep we saw from a distance and the last remaining wild buffalo in the world that we saw from a GREAT distance. In all, we were both really glad to have gone there.

Then we went to a place called WALL DRUG that was advertised all throughout South Dakota via cryptic old-timey signs along the edge of the highway that promised a bizarre range of things. We got there just as they were beginning to close up shop for the day and were very disappointed. It felt like that part in National Lampoon's Vacation when they get to Wally World only to find that it's closed for repairs. We still, however, managed to get some cheesy photos, which makes it all worth it, I feel.

Then we raced the sun to Mount Rushmore. The sun won the race. We arrived at dusk, about an hour before the nightly lighting ceremony, and during a particularly cloudy evening in the area. We still managed to get some nice photos, though.

Then we realized that we didn't have directions written out to go from Mt. Rushmore to our hotel in Deadwood. So, I had Deanna program Deadwood into my TomTom, and the voice of Herbert, the aged pedophile, safely guided us here. Deadwood is an old frontier town where Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickocks are buried and where bros and middle aged ladies come to gamble and drink. Mount Rushmore and Deadwood are both located in the Black Hills, which is essentially a hilly thick forest. It's very dark because there are few towns/cities in the area. Dark enough that the crescent moon in the sky above the driver's side was a bit of a distraction for me at times because it was too bright. It's also very foggy out right now. I think the last drive was ideal, by my standards.

I love this place.

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