30 July 2010 - 10:02Trip, part 6

Tuesday we were scheduled for the Badlands, but first we went back to the bagel place in Rapid City. They recognized us and I joked that we were practically regulars. We had decided to go via route 44 and then into the west side of the park via Sage Creek Road rather than do the more standard I90 route. We got to Scenic, SD and were a bit confused about the roads as listed on the sign. I stopped and asked directions in one of the two or three buildings in Scenic. Turns out that this Sage Creek Road is a gravel road. John was mostly asleep and I didn’t want to drive on gravel so I decided to continue on 44 to Interior, SD on the other end of the park — but I took the wrong road and we ended up on 27, which went into an Indian reservation and to a White River visitor center at the southern end of the park. Spoke with the ranger there, who was most likely American Indian and had a cool accent. She explained where we were and said that Sage Creek Road, while gravel, was a decent road. John said he was willing to drive it, so we went back and took it. Despite having screwed up, I was glad that we had seen this even more sparse area south of the main park.

We stopped at just about every viewpoint and took some pictures, or at least looked around. It is really hard to do justice to this scenery, especially since we had ignored advice to buy a really wide angle lens before taking this trip, but we may have gotten a few good pictures. We saw some mountain goats, though at least one of them was tagged and walked up into the parking lot, so they weren’t exactly wild. Their coloring struck me – they were a light brown that matched the rocks, and their eyes were the same, or maybe reddish. We also stopped at one viewpoint that was prairie. I loved the contrast between the green, grassy, flat prairie and the brown, arid, vertial rocks and buttes.

We ended up at the fossil viewpoint/exhibit, which seemed to be the major attraction in the park, and walked around there a little bit, taking pictures. Even this section of the Badlands was far less crowded than anything we saw in Glacier or Yellowstone. It was probably around 5 or 6 by then. We considered staying ’til sundown, when the light would have been stunning, but we were both tired and wary of driving to our next stop via country roads without a map in the dark, so we decided to move on. Headed south towards Alliance, NE, home of Carhenge, which was our last stop before heading home. The iphone had no signal and we didn’t quite have a paper map of southern SD. The one we had of the Badlands had a road that said it headed to a town called Martin, and the one of Nebraska had a road coming *from* Martin, but neither of them actually showed Martin. After we started, I remembered that I had a real GPS and got it out. Interestingly, we never actually went to Martin.

The GPS sent us through the same reservation we had been to before and on a road or two that were BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) roads. At maybe 9:30 or 10 PM, when we were almost to Alliance, tired, and just wanting to be there already, we got caught on a tiny road behind some big thing that seem to be perhaps full of grain. In front of it was something even bigger that we eventually figured out was a combine. They were going maybe 10 or 15 miles/hr, and because the combine was huge we could not pass them. Eventually they got caught on a bridge and completely stopped. We stopped. Someone from behind us ran forward to see what was going on, then the trucker behind us came to talk to us. He was maybe around our age, maybe younger, with a cigarette, hauling 60 head of cattle to Scotts Bluff. He was from Minnesota and had the accent to match. He said if his cell phone had signal he would have called the cops. Even mine, which has had signal most of the trip, did not have any at that point. The person who had run forward turned out to be another trucker, a very thin woman also maybe our age. She was quite pissed at the situation and eventually went back, along with the other trucker, to try to help them get through this impass. One of the truckers told us that there is a $3600 fine for driving a combine on real roads. Eventually I think they pushed the sign that was in the way aside and got the things over the bridge, at which point it finally pulled over to let us all pass. The guy with the cattle truck followed us all the way to Alliance, then kept going to Scotts Bluff.

In the morning we went to Carhenge, which I had found in a book about travel off the interestates and we had decided we had to check out. Walked around and took some pictures. Went to the visitors center/gift shop and got some iced tea and chatted with the woman working there for a few minutes. Went back to Alliance for lunch but unfortunately it wasn’t very good at all. (This made me realize that almost everything else we ate on this trip has been fairly-to-really good.) Got on the road towards home, heading east on Rte 2. There was some construction here and there – there has been lots on this trip, and I wonder if any of it is from stimulus money. The road was listed on the AAA map as a scenic route. I think that was overstating it, but it was good enough. There were train tracks more or less parallel most of the way. We enjoyed the several trains that passed, 10 or more over the day. Eventually we hit I80, and made it to Des Moines, where we stayed on Weds night. Yesterday we drove all day and stayed in Indiana. Today we should be home, and this will be my last post.

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