09/14/2001: Friday Sept 14
We slept soundly in a room overlooking the big plastic bison, the interstate, and just beyond that, the Missouri river (which is called Lake Francis Case here abouts). The constant tickle of rain on the window was soothing all night. Of course, we woke to rain. The sun seemed reluctant to rise at a reasonable hour, until I remembered that we will cross a time zone today.
From south central to south western South Dakota:
Our first stop on Friday was to revisit that missed Scenic Overlook from the previous afternoon. It was raining harder this morning, and the wind was quite fierce. I had a golf umbrella, and held it to my back with the stick tucked under my arm. It was a challenge to keep it pointed toward the wind, and my camera under my jacket. I leaned back into the umbrella to keep it from sweeping me off the path. My jeans got soaked below the knees, but I didn't notice till later. The view didn't seem as impressive in the gray morning. Or maybe it was just that the adventure of arriving at the overlook overshadowed the view. I took a snapshot, anyway.
We headed west on I-90 for the rest of the morning. We stopped at one ghost town at the Okaton exit, which closed for the season!. It was basically a block long board-walked row of buildings in the middle of nowhere. I found traces of railroad tracks completely hidden in the grasses, and surmised that the town was killed by the interstate system. The railroad became secondary, and this little grain-loading and mail-stop town faded away.
As I was inspecting the rusty old rails and rotten timbers hidden in the tall, wet grass, a gray speckled bird popped out of a clump beside the rusty rail in front of me, and proceeded to give me a measured stare. It then feigned hiding from me, badly. I started to warm up my camera, when it did another stare-and-nearly-hide cycle. I was about to snap its picture, when it dove for true cover, still moving away from where I could hear the peeping chirps of its hidden young.
The air in this part of SD smelled like cinnamon. It was the oddest thing. We noticed that maize and beans had given way to heavy headed sunflowers and dark brown headed wheat (or milo, or barley?), but that doesn't seem to account for the distinctly cinnamon aroma of the stiff breeze blowing across the waving fields.
We also stopped at a reconstructed 1880's village, which was a tourist stop and movie set for such films as "Dances With Wolves". The skelatal sculpture visible from the interstate brought us to the parking lot. The entry fee was a bit too steep for us, so we just looked from outside the stockade fence.
Anyway, westward on I-90 to Wall, SD. Wall is at the edge of the Badlands. It also has a much ballyhooed Wall Drug store which made its fortune during the depression by advertising free ice water with Burma-Shave-like signs. (Long historical story omitted, follow the link.) This institution is practically a theme park. Among all the pose-with-this paraphernalia, they have a credible animatronics T-rex breaking out of a Jurassic Park style pen. A tacky tourist must-see wrapped around an interesting historical anomaly situated at in interesting geological feature.
And finally into the badlands (down SD 240 from Wall at I-90, and back up SD 44 to Rapid City, SD, again on I-90). Imagine a hybrid of the high prairie and the Arizona desert. Striking, beautiful, forbidding and enticing. The rain had stopped while we were at Wall. So the scenery was lit by a swirling steel gray sky, with occasional misty haze. We got out and stared at many of the prepared overlooks. It was cold and windy. In the Badlands, the air smelled of honey. Wildflower honey. The park rangers had noticed this, as well. Outside of the park, on our way back north, we spotted a small family of pronghorn antelope, and a flock (gaggle, cluster, brace?) of wild turkeys. We have yet to see a buffalo on the loose.
By the time we got back to the interstate, we were quite tired. So we stayed in Rapid City. This is the commercial/industrial center on which the Black Hills towns rely. No scenery.