Travel Tales, On On! Brake(ing) ~in the~ Bad(lands)
* Break Bad * is a term with many meanings. One of them relates to adapting to a new lifestyle. One that is totally different from the one you had. Or it can mean someone who is *good*, or *follows rules & regulations * but who then adopts behaviours which deviate from that, behaviours that could be seen as *bad*. Rest assured that while we are certainly adapting to a new-to-us lifestyle (from sailboat cruising to highway driving), there were no rules broken during today’s Adventures. Other than (perhaps) braking when we shouldn’t have, or (perhaps) braking a little too often to the chagrin of anyone who might’ve been stuck behind us. And of course (perhaps) this pun of a play on words.
We’re somewhere on the road again, this time driving along an inconspicuous two lane state highway. It’s sunny and hot and dry, the skies bluer than blue and the landscape that surrounds us quite blah and nondescript. The green prairie grasses are billowing in the wind, showing no promise of what was to come.
Dave braked suddenly and hard when I yelled “Stop the Car!”, and I instantly focused my camera lens on the brown wooden “Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway” sign. “In here” I exclaimed, pointing my finger along the stretch of highway that disappeared over yonder horizon.
The Badlands Loop, or South Dakota Highway 240, is a breathtaking Journey through some intensely dramatic Lands, that were way back when (geologically speaking) the bottom of a very wet streambed. With time and extreme temperatures the streams evaporated, the winds gusted and eroded, and the lack of rainfall certainly didn’t help. The landscape spiralled out of control, emerging from the horizon dry and rugged and jagged.
Would you believe that the Badlands didn’t exist until 500,000 years ago? And with each passing day the formations are eroding and changing, growing and disappearing. Who knows what it will look like tomorrow, or if they’ll even exist 500,000 years from now?
The Visitor Centre informs us it takes about 1 hour to navigate the approx 35 miles of the Badlands Loop Road. “If you don’t brake too often” continued the Park Ranger, with a smile. Back in our MoHo, a sudden brake at the Stop Sign, a Left out of the Parking Lot, and we were on our way. What happens next was a true episode of Brake(ing) ~in the~ Bad(Lands).
We drove along the road ahead of us revealing nothing. And then, almost out of nowhere, a rock formation appeared. A little small, a little grey, a little jagged on top. We kept driving the curvy road and the rock formations exploded exponentially, bigger and bolder with each passing twist in the road.
The Lakota people named this place Mako Sica, or “Lands Bad” . The French-Canadian fur trappers travelling through here also called this place “les mauvaises terres” (bad lands). Today, in the comfort of our MoHo, we found ourselves braking every few minutes (thank Goodness there was no traffic behind us!) as we stopped at every turn and corner, scenic overlook or not, for that picture perfect Photo Op.
We spent the day getting in and out of the MoHo as we hiked the numerous trails. Driving through the passes where we were left gasping at the majestic height of rugged walls of sediment and rock that surrounded us, marvelling at the sharply eroded buttes, and mouths agape at the jaw dropping views of colourful and indescribable pinnacles and spires.
There are two designated campgrounds at the park (Cedar Pass and Sage Creek) for those interested in staying and exploring for longer periods of time (reservations recommended). We hadn’t planned for either, so no braking here! But we did stop for Lunch at the conveniently placed and well shaded picnic table, hot soup and sandwiches courtesy of MoHo’s well stocked galley cupboards.
That afternoon we just *had to* brake for some wildlife snaps, and for a scramble up some dusty hilly terrains to capture this splendid shot of our amazing LTV Unity IB.
And then just as it had all dramatically appeared out of nowhere, it all disappeared away into nothingess. We were back on the two lane state highway. It was still sunny and hot and dry. The skies were still bluer than blue and the landscape that surrounded us was once again blah and nondescript. The green prairie grasses were still billowing in the wind, except this time we knew exactly what secrets they were hiding.
Two hours later I yelled “Stop the Car” as I eagerly pointed at the brown wooden sign, and read out loud “Horse Thief Lake Campground”. Dave braked, suddenly and hard, turning left and heading towards the campground office, enquiring about any openings for the night.
Moments later we were backed into our non serviced cement pad of a lot, instantly level with no overhead branches to worry about. A hard pull up on the Emergency Brake, and we were home.
The next morning, we grinned as we grabbed our hot coffee and settled in our comfy seats, this time releasing the Brake and shifting into Drive, wondering what new Adventures waited for us over yonder horizons.
On On !!
But here we are, safe and sound and WARM, in Buffalo, WY, in a lovely KOA park. This campground was just the thing we needed: great shower, great laundry, chaises on our patio, and helpful, delightful folks in the office. They set us up with our computer with WiFi access, let us use their phone, and when not engaged in the above, we slept and ate, slept and ate, and sunbathed.
We left Buffalo, WY, at 5:30 in the morning, and you might ask why so early. Well, now it can be told. We had been having an electrical problem—the old vets in RVing call it the Shakedown Cruise, i.e. the first trip in a new RV, and they have that right. The electrical problem was manifesting itself in 1) no hot water and 2) a piercing siren-like series of beeps starting at about 9 pm and lasting all night the first night until Allie went outside and pulled the plug—another meaning from the one we know about. As you know, when you hook up an RV you hook up to water, waste disposal and electricity, and once he pulled the plug the beeps stopped. Good thing, since it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. The next two nights we pulled it earlier and set about trying to find someone to fix it. These were the days in Yellowstone (cold, isolated, no services) so we were stuck with our problem. When we were able to get a call out via a pay phone and a pocket full of quarters (remember those?), the wonderful RV AAA lady told him to go to Rapid City, SD, where there was a good mechanic for RVs. We had a 10 am appointment. Thus, our 5:30 am start. Yes, the mechanic explained everything to Allie and told him to have the problem adjusted at the RV place where we bought the Sabel and until then told him how to deal with it. So now we have hot water and we are pretty sure no beeps.
From Rapid City we went to Mt. Rushmore, which we really enjoyed. Picture the sculptors hanging onto that mountain and producing such a wondrous carving! We were sorry to see that all the towns surrounding it, particularly Keystone, have commercialized the Rushmore experience. Honky-tonk, like Revere Beach (Bostonians) or maybe Coney Island (New Yorkers) and so sad. But Rushmore itself was inspiring and we had lunch at the restaurant that appeared in the movie North by Northwest with Cary Grant, and we can’t remember who the actress was. Another lookup. Lunch made up for breakfast, which was a gas stop at a truck stop complete with burritos, quesadillas, and every manner of McMuffin. Sodium heaven, but when you’re hungry…
Wyoming was gorgeous—green everywhere, on the fields, the foothills, the National Forests and the mountain ranges. South Dakota started at Spearfish with a view of the Black Hills National Forest—also very beautiful.
The road to Wall Drug (more about Wall Drug later) and the Badlands took us through gorgeous highways, surrounded by the Black Hills. Thick forest, red-rocked hills, small homes tucked into the mountainside, acres of ranches filled with cattle, and a beautiful day of 50 degrees with strong sunshine after a cold night of about 40.
Now, Wall Drug. Founded in 1931 by Dorothy and Ted Hunstead, a young couple with children, it sat idle for about four years. Cars went by but no one stopped. Then Dorothy came up with an idea. She told her husband that the travellers going by were tired, and most of all, thirsty. She encouraged him to put signs up on the road (like Burma Shave for those of you who can remember those) telling travellers that Wall Drug had free ice water for them and would also fill their jugs. It worked and people began coming to Wall Drug. Over the years, they extended their idea with signs all over the country (where allowed) and even some in Europe. Wall Drug is now world famous with up to 20,000 people stopping and shopping on a good summer day. They also serve 5,000 free glasses of ice water every day.
We were sure that such hype could only be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. It was wonderful. We travelled from room to room, shopping for necessities and for fun, and ended up at the Cafe where we had a wonderful burger and a wonderful chicken sandwich. The homemade blueberry pie was really homemade. Population of Wall: 831 and we think they all work at the Drugstore.
Then to the Badlands, from which Wall gets its name. A rock wall surrounds the park, and each lookout gave us different views of a landscape that looks more like a movie set than the real thing: mounds of rock, turrets, spires, buttes, pinnacles, valleys and gullies. Lush green prairie sat beside the rock outcroppings, which added beige, lime, orange, and pink.
A word about the Prairie Home. It’s an original home from 1909. Built on the 160 acres the government was offering through the Homestead Act, it was built of cottonwood beams and sod. The tiny rooms with rock floors must have been pretty cold in the South Dakota winters, but they had plenty of wood to burn. They dug a cave into the mountain to keep their food cold and in which to weather a storm if needed. They may have been colder than we were in our RV in Yellowstone.
The Sabel III now has its own name. Our original Sabels I and II were the boats we had when the kids were young (and we were also young). Susan-Albert-Bill-Evelyn-Lerman—that’s where the name came from. We went from a 24-footer to a 36-footer and had a 42-footer on order when it dawned on us that the kids really wanted to stay home with their friends. So we cancelled the big one. We’re now back to a 24-footer on wheels, which really does feel very much like the boat.
The day dawned grey, the clouds gathered, and the rain poured as we began our trip home to Maine. We’re doing shorter trips because we learned that 500-mile days were too exhausting. So we arrived at Mitchell, SD, in time for a shopping trip to Walmart and lunch at Subway.
The trip was straight I-90 for 250 miles. What could I write about? My dear Mother used to say, “Anyone can play with good cards.” So here I am with no national parks, but still a wonderful country to explore. Sure enough, we found a Lewis and Clark exposition at a traveller’s rest stop and people wearing bison hats, so they looked like buffalo heads. We even took pictures, but everything was too dark, so my words will have to do. The road itself was miles and miles of prairie, very green, with water stations, ranches, cattle, and rain.
As there wasn’t much to see, I began musing about life on an RV. What do you gain and what do you lose? Of course you gain mobility, freedom to go anywhere you wish, wonder at a world we’ve not seen before, convenience of having your own bed, bathroom, fridge, stove, heat, AC, etc. And what do you lose? Well, the first thing you lose is your sense of privacy. Nothing is sacred, but when you’ve been living with someone for 65 years, very close to 66 in a few weeks, you didn’t have too much privacy left anyhow. You lose the need for stuff. You’re living with 2 juice glasses, four mugs, four small plates, four large plates (which we haven’t used), and four pieces each of the silverware we are accustomed to. There’s no room for more, but even if there were room, you don’t need more or even want it. Simple is good. Simpler is better. You lose the need for big meals. Soup and a salad, and maybe some bread to go with it—it’s plenty and it’s nutritious. We seem to snack a lot, and our Keurig is the absolute best for a quick coffee or tea. So the losses become plusses and life on a RV becomes fun. It’s two grownups playing house.
When we spotted that big-old-shaggy bull grazing on the side of the road, we stopped, waited, and were rewarded with an up-close and personal look at the huge animal as he sauntered across the street right in front of us. We were awed by his size and majesty.
At one time over 60 million bison roamed North America, but by the early 1880s there were only about 1,000 left. When Teddy Roosevelt learned of this he rushed to North Dakota—to save them, you’re thinking… No, Teddy the hunter wanted to be sure he got his before they were extinct.
When city slicker Teddy arrived in North Dakota, dressed in a fringed buckskin jacket and a raccoon cap, the locals thought this rich New Yorker wouldn’t last three days in the extreme climate. But they were wrong. Teddy loved “the strenuous life” so much that before he returned home several weeks later, he left $14,000 to start a ranch, buy some cattle and build a cabin.
But tragedy struck Theodore Roosevelt’s world and he returned to the badlands under much different circumstances. On February 12, 1884, Teddy received good news that his wife and love of his life, Alice, had given birth to their first child. Moments later he received another telegram summoning him home. He quickly left the New York legislature in Albany and arrived home to find his mother dying and his wife very ill. On February 14, 1884, Teddy Roosevelt’s mother died of typhoid and just hours later, his wife succumbed to a rare kidney disease which had been masked by the pregnancy. He lost the two most important people in his life in the same house on the same tragic St. Valentine’s day.
Grief-stricken, Teddy Roosevelt returned to the North Dakota Badlands, the country that he loved, the place where he found solace in the climatic extremes and difficult way of life. He grieved for months but the affection he felt for this solitary environment and the beauty of the wilderness helped him heal. The two years he spent in communion with nature changed his outlook forever, and when he returned to New York and politics, his legacy had already been defined.
When Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th president of the United States, he knew he had to do something to prevent the destruction of the vast natural resources of our country. He put aside 230 million acres of land that have become today’s National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments and Game Reserves. With this action, Theodore Roosevelt became the greatest conservationist in Presidential History and the man that Manny and I, and millions of people from all over the world, have to thank for giving us such beautiful places to visit and protecting them.
When we ended the music odyssey phase of our journey in Chicago, I was concerned about our focus on National Parks for the next months on the road. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the fact that I didn’t have to worry about schedules and calendars, or which musician was playing where and when. But I’ll admit, I thought focusing on National Parks would be boring. Yes, I said it. Bah-bah-boring.
Perhaps it was the excitement of seeing that first bison or having a prairie dog pop his head out of his tunnel and pose for us, or feeling like a cowboy ready to lasso one of the long-horned steer, but now we can’t wait to explore the beauty that this country has to offer.