Day Three – The Good, The Badlands, and The Ugly
A long day of incredible sights, ending with a Old Testament-grade thunderstorm as we pulled into our night’s campsite. But that’s getting ahead of things.
Today was about the Badlands, those crazy geological formations (with a lowercase ‘b’) all over world basically tell living things to make a detour. And yet, life, uh, finds a way. As we found ours up, down, and around the crags and pinnacles. Being varying levels of dinosaur nerds we searched for evidence of the KT boundary, but as our Badlands formed right after the extinction event (geologically speaking) it would have been right at ground level if visible at all. Which it wasn’t. Sad dino nerds. But wow is that place beautiful, looking not so much like a landscape as a matte painting with such severe contrasts of light and dark. But color too, in places, which is delightful. All nestled cozily in grasslands stretching to the horizon, as our Great Plains did before we carved it all into squares for agribusiness.
Leaving the Badlands is where we finally picked up my father’s late-1970’s motorhome trail on I-90. His route, you might recall, was the catalyst for this whole ridiculous odyssey, so intercepting the path of yore was meaningful. And we did so at Wall Drug, the crazy nearly century-old roadside pharmacy turned Americana theme park, which he loved. As my daughter put it, “This is like the inside of Grandpa’s head.” A compliment, to be sure, but neither places you want to overstay.
So we scooted west to Rapid City mostly to top off electrons. We hunted for a diner (no luck), high-fived/flipped off a few of the town’s tourist-bait roadside president statues, dropped in on a haunted (yeah, no) hotel, and got out. Rapidly, you might say.
Up in elevation from there to Deadwood. Where Wall Drug presents a faux old west townscape, Deadwood desperately tries to maintain itself as a time capsule of a real one. It was probably all over for the town when its last brothel was raided and closed in 1980, but that doesn’t keep the architecture from still being pretty amazing on a long stretch of main street. We took some old tyme photos, cleaned up an anxiety-poop from Owen (our dog) at the gunshot blanks being discharged for a showdown shoot-‘em-up re-enactment in the middle of the street, and left town alive (as Wild Bill, alas, did not).
Onward to Devils Tower, geological marvel and plot finale for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Devils Tower was one of a few early anchor destinations that I, a sci-fi geek, planned the trip around. But the skies opened up as we approached. Lightning in the Black Hills is sublime and terrifying, providing possibly the spookiest first viewing of the tower ever. (See the Instagram post for this day and prepare to enter the Upside-Down.) Hooking up a 50 amp electrical connection while rain dumped down and lighting bolts sliced up the sky was a low point. But then, I thought, at least I didn’t shit myself in terror like Owen did. Positive thinking, people!