From Rapid City, SD, with love

One of the things people who’d gone cross country before told us when we asked for advice was that “South Dakota goes on forever!” or “You’ll get bored of South Dakota.” You know, stuff like that. So when J and I left Minneapolis last night, prepared to start driving, stop somewhere overnight, and then continue driving across South Dakota today, we were ready for some serious driving. Listening to talk radio and podcasts, and taking frequent breaks at rest stops.

But instead of being totally bored, we’ve been pretty pumped.

First, we knew Minneapolis/St. Paul would be the last major urban area for a while and we’d both been thinking about this part of the trip – the part we’re on now – as the part where we really would be getting somewhere unfamiliar. Heading west, into the unknown.

We were walking around Minneapolis yesterday, having one of those sort of tense couple of hours you inevitably end up having on any vacation. Where you feel like you’ve got to find the coolest and best spots to hang out or else you’re not really “experiencing” the place, both of us walking around trying to make a decision about where we should eat lunch but basically feeling kind of tired and cranky and ready to give up.

That's when J said that he was excited to get out of the cities, because cities were all the same.

My first response, of course, because of my mood, was to get mad. “But I love cities,” I said. “You know I love cities and you know they’re not all the same.” J went on to explain he hadn’t really meant that, that what he meant was that he was sick of looking for parking places and paying a lot of money for everything and trying to navigate crowded neighborhoods, and that he was excited to get out into the more unpopulated part of our country.

I frowned and sulked, until we figured out what we were doing in Minneapolis and actually had a great afternoon before getting back on the road, but the thing is, I get what he means.

I didn’t get it until we started driving across the South Dakota plains today, however.

People were right. South Dakota is big, and vast and there is a lot of kitsch. There is Wall Drug, for instance. You’re assaulted with signs advertising this mega-store the minute you enter the state. There are numerous “authentic 1880 towns” and doll museums and prairie dog-related amusements.

Now, we didn’t explore any of the towns in the middle of the state because we were anxious to cross it and make our way to the Badlands before dark, so I can’t say much about what the residents across South Dakota are really up to, but I can say that this state was a big departure from what we’ve been seeing so far, and that's what made driving across South Dakota so great.

There are pheasants here – like, everywhere – and the moment I saw one darting across the interstate today, like some kind of wild chicken, I called out loudly to J and he kept on the lookout for the rest of the ride.

There are also tumbleweeds here. Tumbleweeds! Can you believe it? People from the west coast, maybe they don’t care about tumbleweeds, don’t think they’re cool, or noteworthy. People like me and J, though? To us, tumbleweeds are undeniable proof that we’re in the untamed west. I mean, tumbleweeds blowing across the road, one after the other, just like some western film. Are you kidding me? We are SERIOUSLY on an adventure.

After lunch at this tiny restaurant-connected-to-a-general-store called Casey‚Äôs Caf?©, we made our way out to the Badlands. A lot of what we‚Äôd read and heard about this strange area described it as an ‚Äúeerie‚Äù place and we weren‚Äôt sure what to expect. Then, suddenly, after hours of farmland, there we were...these strange, dusty rock formations rising up out of the ground.



Finally, after a long day of absorbing all the beauty and mystery of the Badlands and the Black Hills we stopped for the night in Rapid City where the streets were full of interesting and fun people who all looked like they biked, hiked and went skiing every day, and maybe owned stock in North Face gear. We had a beer at the Firehouse Brewing Company. We watched the locals and toasted to our day driving across a big state through the gusty winds and scarily named national parks. Maybe one day we'll even visit North Dakota. I mean...maybe.