Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wall Drug and the Badlands

When we sat down to book this trip, we figured that after a 3 hour drive from Mitchell, it might be a nice idea to spend the night in Wall.  I read that motel rooms booked up quickly there so I was pleased to find an available room (with a good rate!) at the Best Western.  Our room was perfectly nice and after we checked in and dropped off our bags, we were ready to explore Wall Drug.

I first remember seeing Wall Drug on an episode of Road Rules, Season 1. Pretty sure their challenge was to paint the giant dinosaur that stands at the exit off the interstate.  I mentally checked it away and knew I would get there someday.  (For the record, we have both been to South of the Border in Dillon, SC but definitely preferred the small town charm of Wall Drug.)

You really can find anything you could possibly want at Wall Drug - tee shirts galore, magnets, jackalopes in all sizes, Western wear, local artist’s handiwork and of course, FREE ICE WATER.

Before doing too much exploring, we had to feed our hungry stomachs.  We stopped for a quick bite in the Wall Drug Restaurant and funny enough – spotted some fellow tourists that stayed at the same hotel as us in Mitchell!  It was nice to see semi familiar faces and we had a lovely chat with the couple who told us they were originally from Long Island!

My favorite part of Wall Drug was the Back Yard, aka home of the giant jackalope.  Of course, I climbed right up and took a picture on him.  He was surrounded by some other kitchy pals, namely Sam, the piano playing gorilla, the bucking horse and the T Rex who pops out and roars every 12 or so minutes. 

Before we headed out of Wall Drug, we stocked up on souvenirs and got our free Wall Drug bumper sticker.  And no trip would be complete without some delicious ice cream from the soda fountain.

However, I severely miscalculated the amount of time we’d need to explore Wall Drug.  I thought we’d play around for hours inside the giant store, but we actually finished up quite quickly.  But there is much more to Wall, namely, Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park is like no place we had ever seen before.  The Lakotas referred to this area as “mako sica" or "land bad” due to the lack of water, extreme temperatures and the jagged and unforgiving terrain.  It is wild to think that animals such as the big horned sheep, bison, and prairie dogs can make their home in such a seemingly inhospitable place.  For the record, we did not see any animals while we were there, but it was the afternoon and it was blazingly hot.

One creature I am glad we did not see was the rattlesnake.  We saw signs warning of us of their presence which put me on absolute high alert. While we were at one of the lookout points, I looked down and actually thought a hose was a rattlesnake and had a minor panic attack.  It was around that time that I also thought I was developing heatstroke and had to get back into the comfort of our air conditioned car.  Clearly, I was having some issues.

We drove the entire length of Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road which took about an hour or so.  At every turn, we were wowed.  It was hard not to feel so small among the vastness of the landscape. 

After a day of driving, it was time to forage for food.  One of the travel books that I read said that Wall was the kind of place that you ‘eat to survive’ in as there aren’t many restaurant options.  We’d already eaten lunch at Wall Drug and didn’t want to head back.  And while there were a few places to grab a burger, we were just exhausted and didn’t want to deal with going out to a real restaurant.  There was a Subway and a Dairy Queen in town, but we opted for a much better choice – the gas station.  Yep, our dinner that night consisted of Combos, Snickers and what we thought would be tasty frozen pizzas which turned out to be inedible.  Oh and about a gallon of fountain Coke.  We settled into our room and Netflixed a few episodes of Breaking Bad.  Walter White made the perfect roadtrip companion.

Even though Rapid City is just an hour West, I am really glad that we decided to spend a night in Wall.  Neither of us had ever stayed in a town so small and it just made us feel worlds away from the Big Apple – in a good way. 

Next stop, Rapid City and MOUNT RUSHMORE! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Long and Non-Winding Road between Mitchell and Wall

There is no way that I can make the three hour drive between Mitchell and Wall sound exciting.  COWS…yay!  Corn fields…COOL!  Nope, can’t do it.  Impossible.

During the ride, we saw lots and lots of wide open spaces which in reality, are quite breathtaking.  It would be hard to imagine this much untouched land back in New York.  Developers would have a field day with it.  

Cows and delicious hay bales scattered the plains. I particularly enjoyed when the hay bales were stacked up in pretty pyramids.

After about an hour on the road, we approached Chamberlain, SD where the Missouri River popped up seemingly out of nowhere.  I was on the phone with my mom at the time and I remember yelling about how exciting it was to actually see some water.  Once we crossed over the river, we noticed that the terrain started to change and the land was certainly getting less flat.

Fields full of sunflowers disappeared as quickly as they appeared. 

But perhaps the most unexpected thing we saw was a crop duster fly over a farm.  “IS THAT A PLANE??  WHAT IS THAT??”  Yep, that’s as thrilling as it gets.

The one thing we looked forward to along the way was driving into Mountain Time.  Sure we’d flown into different time zones before but I felt like driving into a new time zone would be a magical and unforgettable experience.  Spoiler: it was not.  In fact, trying to get a picture of the sign was so stressful, that I ended up snapping pictures of some of the most random signs leading up to the actual sign. 

Not the sign...
Still not the sign...
Side note: I had this delusion that I would get out of the car at the Mountain Time sign and Dan would snap a picture of me adjusting my watch.  But yeah, that didn't happen because we were along a major interstate and we decided that it was not worth dying for the sake of this photo.  (I was also disappointed that my iPhone didn't automatically update the time on my phone after we crossed into the new time zone.)

As we got closer to Wall, signs popped up for the Ranch Store of the Badlands.  While we hadn't made any plans to stop along the way, once we learned that we'd be able to feed prairie dogs here, we were sold.  Dan and I both bought little bags of peanuts and headed to the field to feed said prairie dogs.  Now, I know that these little rascals carry the plague so I made sure to keep my distance.  But they were really adorable.  And WELL FED.

Before heading to our hotel, we made one more quick stop to the Prairie Homestead.  But it was hot out (theme here?) and we didn't feel like paying admission, so we just snapped some pictures of the sod house from outside the gate.  I didn't even notice that there were so many white prairie dogs in the photo of the root cellar!

Next stop: our hotel followed by the famous Wall Drug.  Because YOLO.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crossing into South Dakota

Waking up in Omaha knowing that we would soon find ourselves in South Dakota felt like Christmas morning to me.  I know, I know…random, huh?  But there was always something about the state that drew me in.  It could have been from reading the Little House on the Prairie books as a kid.  Who knows?  But I was excited!

The drive north was pretty boring and the only city I remember seeing between Omaha and Sioux Falls, SD was Sioux City, IA.  And the only reason this city sticks out in my mind was because of a plane crash that happened there years and years ago.  (Side note: air disasters are my other morbid obsession.  Ask Dan about the time I thought it was a good idea to watch an episode of Air Disaster during a JetBlue flight.)   

Passing Sioux City meant that the border was not too far ahead, so I had my camera ready to capture the welcome sign.

Taken from a moving car - mad skillz.
We both went wild when we crossed into South Dakota (ok, maybe me more so than Dan) but quickly realized that there wasn’t so much going on right by the border.  We drove past a lot of corn fields on our way to Sioux Falls and in Yankton, we saw our first sign for Wall Drug!

We were meeting a friend of mine for lunch in Sioux Falls and she thought that Falls Park would be a perfect meeting spot.  And it was.  How picturesque!  It was also around this time that Dan started coming around to the idea that South Dakota was a pretty cool place to be.  Now, I remind you that we were in the middle of a heat wave so our time at the Falls was limited. We hopped back in the car and stopped at The 18th Amendment for a really tasty lunch.

I had researched to see if there were any points of interest on the drive to Mitchell and bookmarked the Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose.  The park was visible from the interstate and it did sound like a fun place to see, but again, heat wave.   We sadly drove right by.

My biggest moment of regret on this trip: if I could re-do my itinerary, I would have booked a room in Sioux Falls, the biggest city in the state.  But I was so blinded by the idea of seeing the Corn Palace that I felt that we NEEDED to stay in Mitchell.  Weirdly enough, the hotel we stayed at in Mitchell was the most expensive hotel ($129 per night) we stayed in this entire trip and frankly, I do not think that the price fit the whole Mitchell experience.

You can SEE how hot it was from the haze in this photo.
Despite the fact that there was a concert that night at the Corn Palace, the staff let us in to see the interior. Not sure what I was expecting but it was basically a concert venue.  The exterior was really cool as it is decorated each year with new artwork – all made out of corn.  

After leaving the Corn Palace, we headed to a gift shop across the street and bought a weirdly ridiculous amount of souvenirs. We then consulted a map and thought it would be interesting to find the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  We drove around a bit but GPS never actually took us to the village. Fail.

Food choices were pretty limited in Mitchell and my allergies acted up so badly that we had to hit up the local Walmart twice for Benadryl & Claritan.  Our night in Mitchell consisted of Taco Bell (believe it or not, my first time there) and the VMAs.  Nothing was going to stop me from the NSYNC reunion.  NOTHING.

All in all, Mitchell was a cute place, but I still regret not booking a room in Sioux Falls.  Live and learn.  Next stop, Wall, SD.