We spent the night at a hotel in Rapid City, SD, then drove east to the Badlands National Park. As we were starting get pressed for time and were about to do our second consecutive 12-hour day in the car, we opted to take the Badlands Loop, which takes a couple of hours to drive, but gives you a lot to see in a short time. This was my first glimpse of the mythic plains stretching through the center of the country. It still feels very much like a prairie -- rolling hills and amber waves of grain (though the waves probably aren't what they used to be.)
At the entrance to the park, the prairie seems to stretch off in all directions. Off to the right, hundreds of prairie dogs cavort, stand on their hind legs, dig holes and make their squeaky little sounds. We took the first detour possible down a dirt road with sign that says "Prairie Dog Town 5 miles." As you pull up to the first curve, the prairie floor falls away to reveal the undulating moonscape of the badlands. We stopped along the way for a few pictures, then continued on until we hit Prairie Dog Town. I kept thinking this would be a great way to parody Olson's dogtown, but it's still just a funny idea in my head. Here's a clip:
After our visit with the PD's, we drove back to the other entrance to the dirt road and took the Badlands Loop. This, along with the Pacific Coast Highway, has to be one of the most beautiful roads in America. Beginning at the highest point in the Canyon, it switchbacks in long, slow curving turns through the apocalyptic wrinkles and sharpened peaks. Every hundred feet or so you find yourself at a new era in geologic time. More video:
We spent the rest of the day driving through South Dakota and Minnesota, listening to the Yankees get beat on XM Radio. In the evening, we stopped to eat at a truck stop in Minnesota somewhere, and I heard the following conversation among truckers:
"Vietnam is part of the Ancient Kingdom of Siam."
"The King of Siam was king of that whole part of the world."
"Except for Laos," interjected a 3rd from another table.
"Laos was part of the Ottoman Empire. It says so in the Bible."
Anyhow, welcome to Minnesota.