So as you know by now if you actually read this page, I’ve been driving around the country like a nut for the last week or so. Here, briefly, are some of my thoughts about various things.
Wow, what an incredibly boring state.
I went to two of the larger instances of roadside silliness in this country, both located in South Dakota.
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is a world-famous example of people with too much time on their hands. In this instance, people take that time and decorate the outside of an arena with corn. Lots and lots of corn. It’s almost too silly to describe, but it’s quite amusing
The other example is Wall Drug, a set of shops in the shit town of Wall, South Dakota that are ridiculously heavily advertised…even though almost 90% of their billboards were taken down about 10 years ago. I hate to think of how bad that was.
The consequence is that you absolutely must stop to see this fool thing, because after driving through hundreds of miles of nothing, the idea of seeing something, anything, is like ice water to someone who’s been trapped in the desert.
Ice water, by the way, is one of the items advertised on the billboards.
Most people think of the Badlands as a Bruce Springsteen song. Little do they know, it’s also the name of a National Park in South Dakota.
It’s actually quite beautiful, in a sort of stark way. I had never really heard about it until a couple weeks before I left for my trip, but I decided to go because, what the hell, I’ve never been to South Dakota, let’s take a look!
The whole park is this eerie mixture of white and red cliffs and canyons, and it’s all carved out by this one teensy river that you can barely see. It gives you an idea of how unbelievably long this all must have taken.
It’s a bit hard to describe other than that, but I got a bunch of good pictures, which I’ll post once my computer is up, running, and unfucked.
Rushmore is quite cool, if you ignore the political ramifications of a bunch of dead conquering white guys looking forever onto the stolen Indian lands of the Black Hills.
However, the museums and such there make it quite easy to do so, with dozens of exhibits and a poorly-made film about the carving and impetus of the massive sculpture.
There’s also the sculptor’s studio, whth a massive 1/8 scale model of what it was originally supposed to look like (with much more of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln’s bodies…it appears Teddy Roosevelt was doomed to remain a floating head).
Once you get up to it, it’s really very cool, especially because you can see from the pile of rubble just how much of this mountain has been moved to create the sculpture. Again, pictures to come.
Crazy Horse Monument
This is going to be cool when it’s finished, which at the rate they’re going will be about fifty years after I’m dead.
This is intended to be a sculpture of Crazy Horse making his famous statement “My lands are where my dead lay buried,” seated atop a horse with his hair flowing in the wind. The sculpture will eventually be taller than the Washington Monument.
I say eventually, because it’s been going for 55 years, and the only part that’s completely finished is Crazy Horse’s face. They’re working on the horse’s head now, but that’s not expected to be finished for some time.
One of the reasons the work has gone so slow is that the sculptor (and now his family, since he died almost 15 years ago) refuses to take government money, on the grounds that he doesn’t think people who don’t want it should pay for it.
I see his point, but they’ve turned down over $10 million in funding several times, funds that would make the work proceed significantly faster, and help lead to the sculptor’s dream of eventually starting a university for North American tribes at the base.
Anyway, the scuplture will be great when it’s finished, and I’ll post some pictures that give an idea of the scale of this massive thing.
I always imagined that the way Devil’s tower got its name was from explorers of the west coming over a ridge, seeing this massive thing sticking straight up in the middle of nowhere, and going, “What the devil is that?”
That really is one of your questions: What the fuck is this thing, and how did it end up in Wyoming? The answer to the first question is that it’s some sort of volcanic something or other (I couldn’t follow most of the explanations).
If you’ve seen either Close Encounters of the Third Kind the original season of Road Rules, you’ve seen how weird and incongruent it is with the rest of the landscape around it. What the pictures don’t tell you is how big the damn thing is.
You do realize it’s immense from pictures, but until you’re walking the mile trail around the base and straining to look up to the top, you’ve got no real idea.
I’m sure you also get a good idea from climbing it, as many crazy fuckers were doing the afternoon I was there. I know a few of you are climbers, I’ll post a picture where you can just make out the tiny little dots of the climbers on it.
The site of Custer’s last stand is basically a glorified history exhibit. Which to me was interesting, because I’m a big giant nerd.
Apparently Harley owners are also big giant nerds, because the parking lot of the national monument was filled with bikes, apparently with people on their way to the 100th anniversary party Harley is hosting this week in Milwaukee.
God help Milwaukee’s ears.
Anyway, there was some interesting stuff, and one of the park rangers gave a somewhat rambling but pretty good talk about the battle, but this was really nerd central and I advise you to read one of the 5,000 (literally) books on the subject if you want to know more.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most remarkably beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s also one of the most remarkably foul-smelling.
One thing you don’t realize until you get there is that most of the geysers, boiling mud pools, and assorted other geological oddities that make yellowstone interesting are powered by sulfur. Superheated sulfur, of course, smells like rotten eggs.
Consequently, large swaths of Yellowstone just reek. There are a lot of places where it doesn’t of course, but a trip I made to see mud pools was cut significantly short because I just couldn’t take the smell.
Fortunately, Old Faithful doesn’t reek, nor do 90% of the assorted geysers that they have there. Old Faithful is actually significantly less reliable than advertised, and I waited about 90 minutes for the damn thing to go off.
Lake Yellowstone and the river are both very beautiful, and sometime when I have more time and money, I’ll come back and spend some more time here hiking and fishing and boating and such.
I took about a zillion pictures of Yellowstone, I’ll put some of the bettter ones up.
Teton Park is basically a small stretch of National Park south of Yellowstone and directly east of the Grand Teton mountain range.
Minor digression: The West is full of mountains, and in addition to the major range names (Rockies, Sierra Nevadas), almost every little tiny group of mountains is named. The Tetons and the Sawtooths are some of the more famous ranges because they just shoot right out of the ground to form spectacularly pointy vistas.
Like most of the stuff I’m writing about, pictures do far more justice to Teton Park than words. Grand Teton is the highest point in Wyoming (and possibly the lower 48, but I’m not sure), and from a certain angle, looks kind of like the Matterhorn.
Craters of the Moon
I didn’t actually stop here and I didn’t take any pictures of it, but I went a few years ago, and I just felt the need to write about it, because it’s so profoundly weird.
Craters of the Moon National Monument is a stretch of about 30 or 40 miles in Idaho between Arco and the I.N.E.E.L. (one of the biggest centers of nuclear research and plutonium production in the world).
The name is a bit of a misnomer, but the look of the place is most certainly out of this world. Basically, it’s this enormous plain of lava flows that just eats up a good chunk of southeastern Idaho.
I can’t even describe how weird it is to see this huge flow of lava that you wouldn’t expect anywhere outside of Hawaii. Now this is all dormant stuff, so far as geologists can tell. As I recall they think this flow occured 10,000 years ago.
It’s really one of those things you’ve gotta see to believe, and if I ever manage to drag any of you out here to my dad’s place, I’ll show you.
This concludes the initial driving around like a fucking maniac part of the trip. I’ve still got several days worth of it to go, but this part so far has been really, really fun.