Day 1.2: On the Road Again: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut

*tap, tap* Is this thing on?

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged  I’d actually forgotten my password!  (And yes, I know I haven’t TECHINCALLY finished blogging our last road trip which ended 13 months ago, but such is life) But we are back!  Annie and I set off this afternoon on a northward journey-destination Acadia National Park in Maine. From all accounts (and photos) it’s an absolutely breathtaking area, AND super dog-friendly, and it’s the one of the few things I regret not being able to pack into my journey last year (another biggie being Vancouver).

So we sallied forth from Reston and immediately ran smack dab into typical disastrously awful DC traffic. It took ages just to get to Maryland. Where we were greeted by this:


Not a good omen. But we persevered. Most of the drive was uneventful-typical boring Mid Atlantic highway travel. It was cool seeing the lights of NYC off in the distance though-always gives me a little jolt, and reminds me it’s been too long since my last visit.

Once we got past the city and all of its attendant hullaballoo I decided that my eyes wee growing weary, and even though we hadn’t covered quite the distance I’d hoped, it was time to make camp for the night, and with Siri’s help we found the closest pet-friendly, slightly seedy motel that was available (I do love a good slightly-seedy motel). Might be Motel Sixing, but it feels like Turks and Caicos.

I knew the place was a little rough around the edges, but I neve imagined they’d actually cater to Wildlings…


I walked into the lobby and was greeted with all manner of violence and destruction on CNN, but then the super-friendly desk clerk dude said: “There’s a pet fee, but we waived it,” and I decided to just focus on the kindness and generosity in the universe for the next nine days at least, and let the bad stuff sit on hold.

So Annie and I take a stroll around the sketchy parking lot for her evening ablutions, and she’s sniffing around a dumpster under a tree when I hear a weird voice from the shadows. I kind of ignore it, and it gets louder, and I am finally able to make out a woman squatting in a corner smoking a cigarette, and she says, “Watch out-I saw raccoons over there.” “OK, thanks.” “They attack people too…” So… that should make our stay a little more interesting…

So far I haven’t been able to recapture the magic of the Original Campervannie trip. But I do have my SheWee and my Selfie Stick, so I remain confident we can pull it off.



Day Sixty Four: Hungry Like the Wolf: South Dakota (Badlands National Park, Mitchell, DeSmet)

Events of Monday May 18th, blogged Friday October 2nd.

It’s a cold dreary day here in October and it put me back to how the weather was in South Dakota, and it seemed like the appropriate time to chip away a little more at the blog, especially if I ever want to start one for BAWOTD!

Alrighty then. When last we left Annie and I were bunkered down in Marigold trying to stay warm despite the frigid conditions in Badlands National Park. When we awoke it was, quite literally, freezing. Although the wind had died off a bit, it was still gusting with gusto. Several tents had blown over during the night.

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That one guy sat propped beside his sad little tent had actually slept in his sad little car all night. He didn’t look like he was having the best time cooking up a hearty breakfast, so I decided we would be on our way. Others were less enthusiastic.

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And understandably so, when we did stop to do some exploring the wind almost took Annie aloft!

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As we drove along under the heavy, low-slung clouds, the gray prairie grass seemed to mirror the shifting patterns as it danced in the wind and melted into the horizon. And then . . . one of the coolest things ever . . . I spotted a WOLF! He had blended near seamlessly into the grass and he slunk through as gentle as a breeze and for a moment I thought my eyes were still too blurred with sleep to see clearly. But there he was.

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What ensued was a frantic attempt to both exist in this magical moment while also fumbling and grasping for the camera because: OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMY GOD… it’s a freaking WOLF! I have to capture this because it doesn’t exist until I post it on the blog . . . and OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD whyyyyy is the camera always in selfie mode . . . relax and focus on the beauty . . .  TAKETHEPICTAKETHEPIC HURRY BEFORE HE VANISHES!

It’s a very lucky thing we were the only ones on the road. Before I knew it he had vanished over the edge, but the feeling of wildness didn’t dissipate for some time.

There were other critters of varying degrees of coolness . . .

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including my closest encounter yet with some random buffalo, which two days ago would have merited Number One on the highlight reel, but today was only a runner up.

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We stopped to walk out onto the prairie, which is an experience I’ve fantasized about ever since my girlhood obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Even though it was brutally cold, the air buzzed with the sounds of summer insects.

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After we left the park, it was a long, long, very long drive across South Dakota.

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The good news is the Speed Limit was 80mph. The bad news is some maniac thought that wasn’t quite fast enough and came within a hair’s breadth of sideswiping us, and then several other cars as he zoomed down the highway. Luckily the SDPD was hot on his trail and I saw him pulled over about 1/2 mile down the road.

Anyhoodle-we finally reached our destination- a purported “corn”acopia of kitschy old timey cool that several people had hyped up to me . . . The World’s Only Corn Palace!!!

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. . . now under construction. Womp Womp.

Most days of the year it’s an architectural marvel with marquee lights and onion domes and an ever changing array of mid-western mosaics crafted entirely out of corn and its related bits and pieces.  But I had stumbled upon it in the midst of a renovation when the onion domes were dismantled and stacked in a corner and the mosaics were in transition.

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It was still pretty cool and all, but not quite the mega blast of awesome sauce I had envisioned.

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I did get to pose with a buffalo for the second time that day though, which is nice.

The inside was in an even sadder state of disarray . . .

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But even the gloomy weather and halfassed displays couldn’t dim this dude’s enthusiasm . . .

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I followed the handy path across the street . . .

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and treated myself to some cheesetastic gift shop delights like a corn shaped pen, roadkill sausage, and an adorably corny shirt.

Mitchell itself was a cute little town, about the size of Purcellville with a real Mayberry sort of feel to it, and cool touches like this proselyting clock.

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 The weather was still cold and windy and it discouraged lingering, so we set off down the open road en route to our final destination of the day . . . DeSmet SD – the setting for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic By the Shores of Silver Lake, and Little Town on the Prairie, and my chance at last to see the places I had read about so many times.

By the time we got there, most of the official exhibits had closed down for the day, but Annie and I did get to walk the grounds of the Ingalls Homestead they moved to in 1880 which was pretty fantabulous. Also, if it was this stinking cold in mid-May, I have a whole new appreciation for the pioneers.

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I headed into town to get the lay of the land and a few provisions, quickly ascertaining that there were no non-scary indoor lodging options, so campervannie it would have to be. Did I mention it was super cold?

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Locating a campsite took a more than expected amount of research, until I randomly stumbled upon a FREE, yes, you read that correctly, TOTALLY FREE campsite at the aptly named City Park in the next town over. I parked literally across the street from a row of houses, there was no one else anywhere in sight, and the bathrooms were locked, but I had my SheWee and some cereal and even functioning internet, so we were set for the night.

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The cooler needed cleaning, the van needed organizing, and I was growing despondent about the trip nearing its end, but it was too cold to deal with any of that. Instead, Annie stole my pillow then cuddled down into the sleeping bag with me and we settled in to watch Game of Thrones on my laptop and drift off to dreamland.

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Day Sixty Three: Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing: South Dakota (Custer State Park, Wall Drug, Badlands)

Events of Sunday, May 17th, blogged Tuesday, September 15th.

It rained a bit more overnight, which was lovely to listen to tippity tapping on the roof of the van as we dozed in the early morning hours, but by the time we crawled out of bed it was sunny skies all around. And this is when I made the most egregious of errors! I neglected to fully peruse the schedule to see that there was in fact ANOTHER FREE PANCAKE BREAKFAST being offered! Amateur!

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We got a relatively early start as I was hoping the animals along the Wilderness Loop Drive would be more active closer to dawn. And, as luck would have it, we spotted a pronghorn antelope right by the side of the road, a cool looking cow, and even some buffalo enjoying their morning ablutions.

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Our intended destination was an area of Custer State Park known as French Creek, which was supposed to offer a pleasant wooded hiking trail. As we ambled along the path, we encountered a very friendly older couple who turned out to be local farmers. They regaled us with stories of how inexpensive and low key Mount Rushmore used to be –  in the not too distant past you could just drive up and enjoy a cup of coffee or simple breakfast while basking in the glory of the giant heads. All for the low, low price of free. The farmers were suitably unimpressed with the fancy new plaza and behemoth parking garages with attendant massive fees. They were also suitably unimpressed with Ted Turner, who, I came to learn, is the second biggest land owner in the country and holds claim to almost 150,000 acres in South Dakota alone. His total holdings equate to roughly three personal Rhode Islands!

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While the humans were chit chatting, my intrepid explorer dog had sussed out that our trail was coming to an abrupt end only about 1/4 mile from where it started.

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The rains of the previous few days had created a creek overflow and a current even my newly minted water dog wasn’t willing to power through.

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So we were soon back in the campervannie and headed out for another long day of driving . . . destination THE BADLANDS!!! (cue ominous music)

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The highway offered up its usual array of eccentricities, not the least of which was the random appearance of Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Kennedy randomly rising out of a field like some sort of bizarre Great Pumpkin Head Diet Mount Rushmore Lite aberration.

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That was cool and all, in a rando sort of way, but I was on the hunt for the Big Kahuna of shlocky roadside attractions, the granddaddy of them all . . .

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That’s right people we were headed straight for Wall Drug, the South of the Border of the West, the one of which Bill Bryson wrote: “It’s an awful place, one of the world’s worst tourist traps, but I loved it and I won’t have a word said against it.”

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For the uninitiated, here’s the backstory. Way back in 1931, a dude named Ted had just gotten his pharmacy license, and he was looking to open his own drugstore. One problem –  the only place he could afford was in a town even smaller than mine (231 people) smack dab in the middle of podunk nowheresville South Dakota. Oh, and it was the Depression, so people were flat broke. OK, maybe two problems. All may have been lost were it not for our newest BAWOTD . . . MRS TED! Mrs. Ted (aka Dorothy) came up with the brilliant idea of offering free ice water to tourists traveling by on their way to Mount Rushmore. Fairly soon business was booming, but the two were not ones to rest on their laurels. Stage Two of their brilliant marketing scheme was to erect catchy billboards up and down roads for miles around, and even into neighboring states. The billboards had clever slogans and posed curious questions, and Ted and the Mrs basically invented social media back when the information superhighway was still just an actual highway. Wall Drug went viral midcentury style! By 1981 they were giving out 20,000 cups of water a DAY, folks around the globe were erecting “X Miles to Wall Drug” signs, and the place had become a veritable theme park. Today there are myriad gift shops, restaurants, animatronic displays, a giant brontosaurus, and even a chapel.

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I treated myself to a buffalo burger and a blueberry pie but once again, just like in Graceland, there was every cheap souvenir imaginable (including socks advertising their 5 cent cups of coffee), but nary a pet accessory in sight.

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After taking our leave of Wall Drug, it was a short but unbelievably blustery drive to our final destination of the day –  Badlands National Park.

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The wind literally took my breath away.  (You can see Annie’s ears are practically in flight in that last photo) It was like a physical entity – ripping the van door out of my hand and pushing me down walkways. But it was exhilarating! If the wind hadn’t blown my mind, the views would have –  it was like no place I have ever seen before. Totally hostile, inhabitable, barren . . . and totally amazing.

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Every twist and turn of the 20 mile drive through the park revealed a stunning new rock formation, but my hands down favorite spot was this grouping of stunningly colored mounds, gleaming like jewels amongst the arid white wasteland. They’re called the yellow mounds, and the different colors represent the different types of soil laid down over hundreds of thousands of years.

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It’s hard to believe much life can survive in this treacherous place, but a variety of mammals, including this pronghorn, call it home. Centuries ago rhinos and sabre tooth cats wandered these rocks, and they now contain the country’s richest fossil beds.

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Did I mention it was REALLY FREAKING WINDY?!

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It was so miserable out that there was barely a soul to be seen anywhere, so we scofflawed the rules a bit and Annie and I took a tiny walk out onto the Door Trail. The term “trail” is used loosely on this parched, cracked moonscape – as no actual path can be maintained, you have to keep your eye out for numbered markers and scramble your way between them. You can’t get too lost as the area is so wide open, but I’d still not want to wander out very far alone. It was truly otherworldly.

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Before long it was getting dark, and the wind seemed to be picking up, if that was even possible. We headed to the campground area, and with the park dude just about to leave for the day he instructed me to have my pick of sites and then “feed the Iron Ranger” with my payment. I was stupefied to see that some mad fools were actually camping in tents! It couldn’t have been more than 50 degrees, and the wind was probably gusting to that number as well. I spotted one poor tent that had blown over and it’s occupant had been reduced to sleeping in the front seat of his tiny hatchback car. Annie staked out our spot, ears and bandanna a’flapping, we gobbled a quick meal, and Marigold gently rocked us to sleep.

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Day Sixty Two: I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Has Gone: South Dakota (Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore)

Events of Saturday May 16th, blogged Sunday August 30th.

We awoke to a golden sunshiney morning and a campground full of hustle and bustle. Children frolicked, dogs scampered about, and a general feeling of fun and frivolity was in the air. As if all this wasn’t enough to lift my spirits, I had been told the night before that as part of their weekend celebration, the park was offering a FREE (yes, FREE) pancake and sausage breakfast! Winning!

The breakfast was held at the Game Lodge, which once served as the Summer White House under President Calvin Coolidge. They came to escape the bugs and crowds of downtown DC, along with the humid air that aggravated the President’s bronchitis, and Mrs. Coolidge would sit knit on the porch while her husband was out fishing for trout (the creek had been well stocked from a local hatchery prior to his arrival to ensure a plentiful catch).

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Even Silent Cal surely never enjoyed a feast as delectable as this (warning: some hyperbole may apply).

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The wait staff were primarily senior volunteers, and it was cool to talk with them and hear their experiences about living out of their RVs and moving from park to park to work seasonal jobs in exchange for a free place to set up camp.

After breakfast (Annie wasn’t allowed in, but rest assured I did sneak her out a sausage or two) . . .

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. . . we took a drive along the scenic Wildlife Loop, so named because most of the free ranging animals that call the park their home can be spotted from this road.

It was a perfect morning, and we saw all kinds of cool critters – including pronghorn antelope and my very first buffalo!

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Some members of the local animal population were hipper than others as to how this whole scene went down. The mules had sussed out that if they actually approached the cars they were fairly likely to get a handout and an ear scratch (or two). So they went car to car like furry panhandlers.

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The miscreants were so incorrigible and relentless they basically created a traffic jam in the middle of the park.

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Surprisingly, they never approached Marigold. Perhaps they feared the wrath of the Queen Mother of all Moochers lurking within . . .

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After the drive we decided to go for an afternoon hike along a three-mile trail through the prairie. I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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There were a few uphill climbs that taxed my woefully out of shape lungs, but I loved watching the insects hop out of the tall grasses, and there was an intoxicating air of solitude and tranquility that permeated the whole place.

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The views and scenery were incredible.

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Annie was feeling so wild and free she even went paddling with no provocation!

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As we returned to the parking lot post hike we encountered two older couples who were visiting from Chevy Chase MD. They were impressed to hear of our adventures, and one said that her (younger than me) son was on a cross-country road trip as well, but was only “roughing it” in cheap hotels. Amateur! Shortly after they left, another family came up with a son who was around 18. Somehow the conversation turned to ticks. He made a creepy chuckle and said he had a story about ticks he could tell me. His family adamantly objected to him telling it. I made a hasty exit.

Fresh on the heels of those successes we decided to make another foray to Mt. Rushmore. The good news . . .

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The bad news . . . no dogs allowed. At all. Anywhere. On basically a concrete plaza with nothing to harm. Jerkfaces.

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But the whole thing was really breathtaking and inspiring in a way I hadn’t anticipated. For five bucks I rented the audio tour that had tons of cool backstory about the folks who built it, the resistance from Native Americans, the funding troubles and delays, and even some tabloid gossip. Did you know the sculptor’s mother was a sister wife? True story! Or that when the Jefferson head was dedicated in 1936, the ceremony was broadcast over the radio, and a Native American dance tribute had been planned to help smooth over some of the feathers that blasting apart this sacred mountain had ruffled. It was cut by the network for time.

I got to walk around the base and climb a small portion of the 506 steps the blasters and carvers walked up every morning on their way to work. Gave me some great new perspectives.

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It was an excellent time and it was so much more than just the kitschy photo-op I expected. But my mission was far from complete. I NEEDED a picture of Annie with the ginormous heads.

On the drive in, I had noticed a few roadside vantage points where I thought I might be able to hop out and get off a couple of quick snaps.

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Motoring along, I spotted a possible pull out spot. It was duly festooned with all the usual folderol about “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME” Blahdeblah. I pulled in, pushed the brake, peeped over my shoulder, saw the view was pretty crap, and moved on.

A short distance down the road I spotted another pullout. “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME EVER IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE UPON PUNISHMENT BY HANGING”  or some such. I pulled in, depressed the brake, saw cop lights in my rearview, and pulled out. He followed me. With his lights going WOOP WOOP WOOP.

I stopped at the NEXT little pull out, and he parked and began to slowly approach Marigold-pressing his nose up against the back window and giving a close appraisal of all he surveyed. Once he finally made his way to the front and I handed him my documentation he demanded: “Who’s in the back?!” I told him no one was, that it was just Annie and I (and she was up front). Then he announced that the paperwork I had provided him wasn’t enough and he needed to see my rental agreement. Which, of course, was buried somewhere way in the back of the van and necessitated crawling over my unmade bed and digging through mounds of laundry and other treasures in an awkward crouch position while he tapped his pen. At long last the proper documentation was located. And then he asked me to get out and come with him to his car?! What the hell! In all my years of traffic stops (and they’ve been plentiful) I’ve NEVER had a cop make me get out of the car before. And I told him that. To which he responded: “There’s a first time for everything!”

So I go back to his car, and Annie hangs out the driver’s side of Marigold, BARKBARKing to raise the dead, totally displeased by the appearance of the po po. I spend the next THIRTY minutes in the cop car while he grills me about my whole adventure, questions why I keep saying “We” when I assured him there was no one else traveling with me, and then really amps up into overdrive when he notices that, while the VIN number on the van matches with the license plate on the van, it doesn’t match the one on my paperwork. I try to explain the utter ineptitude of the rental dude, but he has HQ do a thorough run down on all of it. Including running my driver’s license number, which initially returned with some “confusing information.”

Cop: “Do you go by any aliases?”

Me: “Errr… I was married briefly about ten years ago.”

Cop: “Could he have a restraining order against you?”


Finally all was resolved, and we were allowed to continue on with only a warning. Did he think I was smuggling immigrants or kidnapping small children and decided to take a quick detour to see the giant heads?? We will never know.

With that excitement behind us, we headed back to Custer State Park and grabbed some food and souvenirs at the general store. These guys are regulars there:

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Happy travelings to all . . .

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And to all a good night.

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Day Sixty One: The Fog Comes In on Little Cat Feet: Wyoming, South Dakota (Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore)

Events of Friday, May 15th, blogged Saturday July 22nd

Annie and I awoke to an astonishing site! The gargantuan Tower that was clearly visible from our campsite just the night before . . .

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What diabolical sorcery, what wicked intent, what fresh hell could this be?!

Oh, it was just the fog.

The mystery solved and the damp chill oppressively pervading the campsite, we quickly determined that the best course of action was to snuggle back into our sleeping bag and have a lazy morning. (We excel at those.)

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Eventually we rallied and made our way back to the Tower proper so that I could peruse the gift shop which had been closed the previous evening. It was rainy and foggy and a busload of Japanese tourists had just flooded the parking lot and I knew the serenity I had encountered there only hours before would have vanished.Timing, they say, really is everything.

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On the way out of the monument site we stopped to visit this super cool World Peace Sculpture entitled Wind Circle.  When viewed from the appropriate angle a circle of smoke, as though blown from a peace pipe, rises into the air to encircle the Tower within its protection. The artwork was created by internationally renowned Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto who has also placed works of art at several culturally significant areas of the world, including the Vatican and the Bodhi Tree in India. As an additional gesture of coming together, the pieces of granite at the base were brought in from the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial.

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Turning 180 degrees from my view of the Wind Circle I came face to furry face with yet another prairie dog town. The fog and drizzle made the cuties even more difficult to photograph than before, but they sure did have a lot to say.

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At last the time had come to saddle up and make our way Eastward Ho with the sky pressed down close upon us. Patches of fog drifted in and out. Pockets of rain passed around us. The day was gray and bleak.

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But there was beauty in the bleak. The Black Hills scenery looked like a rumpled green quilt stretched out before us.

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And Wyoming has interesting things scattered along its medians . . . like airplanes launching into the sky . . .

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And random teepees . . .

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You can see behind the sign that the Black Hills really do look black.

My first stop in South Dakota was an odd little art gallery that I had stumbled upon while researching my trip online.

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The Termesphere Gallery hosts the wok of American artist Dick Termes who paints incredibly detailed visions on spheres using a unique six-point perspective he created. Their style was inspired by his desire to paint the total picture. Termespheres are typically hung by small chains and rotated with electric ceiling motors so that as they turn, the complete world is revealed.  Although the image is painted on the outside of the convex sphere, the vantage point continuously changes. The rotation may also appear to reverse direction, giving the sensation that the viewer is inside the painting viewing the concave surface of the inside of the rotating sphere. They were amazing, and I even got to meet the artist!

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Unfortunately they were all well out of my price range, so we continued easing on down the road. It was getting to be well past lunchtime when I heeded the irresistible siren song of Cowboy Bagels! What could be better?

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Only Cowboy Bagels was OUT OF BAGELS!!! Granted they did have a few Chocolate Chip or some similar monstrosity left, but real cowboys don’t eat Chocolate Chip bagels! You cowboy up with an Everything or an Onion, but NOT a Chocolate Chip, or even worse, Cinnamon! Even the Day Old bin was a bust. It was a bitter pill to swallow and I left there hungry and disgruntled and even more concerned about the fog that seemed to grow more ominous the closer we got to our destination . . .

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And what was our destination you ask? Anything fog unfriendly by any chance??

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ONLY MOUNT FREAKING RUSHMORE!!! No, nothing at all there that might require a strong sight line to truly appreciate. Nothing at all! And it’s not like it was ELEVEN DOLLARS to get in and my handy dandy National Park All Access pass was worth bupkiss becauase they called it a parking fee rather than an entrance fee. (Oh wait, actually it was exactly like that!) But I’m sure it will all be worth it to bask in the majestic glory of the giant faces looming over me right? Right?

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WTF is this Mount Rushmore? I’ve been robbed! (On the upside, I got a great vantage point and no lines in the gift shop.) The fog was so dense, I kid you not, when I first got there I took selfies of myself FACING THE WRONG WAY! I went in the Visitors Center and said: “It’s to the left correct?” No, no, it’s to the right. It was cold and clammy and I was basically alone on a concrete plaza staring at nothing. Not only that, I couldn’t even bring Annie out to share in the joy as there was a NO DOGS sign about every three feet. Never mind the fact that there was absolutely nothing a dog could harm there.

My spirits as dampened as my coat, I headed back down to the surrounding town of Keystone to have a look around.

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There was a mixture of stores selling authentic Native American handicrafts alongside cheesy souvenir shops. It took all my fortitude to pass up the $53 plastic horse enrobed in what, judging by the placard, I could only assume was a “Trail of Snow Glitter Tears”.

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The rain fell harder, so it seemed prudent to set about finding a place to stay for the night. Luckily, my targeted destination was only about 45 minutes away, which meant that, weather permitting, I could take another stab at the Disappearing Presidents tomorrow. We set our course for Custer State Park, traveling down the twisty turny super scenic Iron Mountain Road.

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Which even took us through some tight squeezes blasted out of the mountains . . .

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We pulled into the park late in the day, dejected and discouraged and not looking forward to making camp in the pouring rain. But all was not lost. By pure happenstance we had arrived on a Fee Free Weekend so didn’t have to pay a cent to enter! The one slightly weird thing was that there was absolutely no way to secure a camping spot in person. The ONLY way to do so was by phoning someone in a call center off property who would then tell me what sites were available when I could clearly see for myself as I was parked right next to them. We found a decent spot next to a (now raging torrent) stream, made quick work of heating up dinner, and then burrowed deep into our bed to listen to the rain on the roof.

Day Sixty (Part Two): Misty Water Colored Memories: Wyoming (Devil’s Tower)

Continuing events of Thursday May 14th, blogged Tuesday July 21st

As I mentioned in the last entry, I wanted to save writing about my evening hike around the base of the tower for a later time. So, with that being said, we now resume our story already in progress. . .

Devil’s Tower really had an effect on me, in a way I can’t quite describe. I mentioned it was sacred to the Plains Indians, and the different tribes invented varying legends to account for this otherworldly rock formation. As one of the more common tales tells it, a group of young maidens had gone out to play when they were spotted by a pack of giant bears who began to chase them. The girls ran and rand and finally collapsed atop a large rock, praying to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise up toward the heavens so that the bears could not reach them. As the bears struggled in vain to climb the steep tower, they left deep claw marks all along the sides. At last, the maidens were able to escape into the sky where they transformed into the constellation Pleiades. (Interestingly, I heard a different origin story for Pleiades at Death Valley-but that one was about a bunch of stupid dudes who disobeyed their parents, so I like the BAWOTD version better 🙂 )

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I arrived at the Tower at my favorite time of day, the gloaming, when the light is low and soft and there seems to be a magical quality to the air. There was a hint of flowers on the breeze and it smelled like spring. Unfortunately, Annie was once again denied the pleasure of accompanying me, but in this instance I’ll go along with it as the Tower and surrounding woods is still considered a sacred space by several Native American tribes. In fact, as you traverse the paths you can see small colorful prayer bags tied to some of the trees encircling the base.

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It’s difficult to capture in pictures, but every angle presented a new viewpoint, and in some lights, the greenish gold moss coating the stone seemed to glow from within.

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As I was rounding the back side, and marveling at the quiet (there was not a soul to be seen), and admiring the huge boulder-like chunks at the base that had fallen off of the Tower over time, out of nowhere a deer bounded out from amid the rubble and came to a stop no more than five feet from me. She looked me straight in the eye, unwavering, holding my gaze for a good thirty seconds and showing no fear at all. Again, I can’t properly put it into words, but I was left with the feeling that something very poweful had transpired.

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As I rounded another side, suddenly the trees enclosing me opened up and I was treated to breathtakingly expansive views of the surrounding countryside.

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Now I may have been alone on the trail, but I wasn’t alone at the Tower – there were actually a handful of climbers scaling the 1,300 foot edifice (see the tiny red speck in photo below). Devil’s Tower was first climbed in 1893 by a pair of local ranchers who drove wooden pegs into the rock face to form a ladder. Some of the pegs remain today and can be viewed through a little telescopey thing. In 1941 a dude named George Hopkins lost a bet and was forced to parachute onto the top of the tower as a publicity stunt. He had planned to have a rope dropped down to use for his descent, but . . . ooopsie . . . it missed the tower and so he was stuck up there for six days exposed to the cold, rain, and 50mph winds before he could be rescued. Do I need to start a DADOTD feature?

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As you can imagine, the native Indians didn’t take to kindly to their spiritual site being clambered all over by every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a rope. Many of the leaders objected to this practice, deeming it a desecration. In response, the kindly old white dudes of the federal government instituted a VOLUNTARY climbing ban for the month of June when many tribal ceremonies are held at the Tower. Of course some dumbasses do it anyway. Because . . . reasons.

I hated to leave the Tower as it really enchanted me, but the sun was setting and the wind was picking up, and it was time to head back to the toasty confines of Marigold and the puppy snuggles to be found within. Annie seemed to have made a complete recovery, and her BARKBARK was back to full effect. We feasted on beans over the camp stove and had just settled our heads for a long spring’s nap when a heavy rain began to fall and thunder rumbles and lightning flashes moved toward us from the distance. Annie has never been a fan of the kaboomies, so she quickly got into the sleeping bag with me and cuddled up close. Thanks to the migraine that the dropping barometer heralded for me, we both spent a rather fitful night.

Day Sixty: Glide On the Peace Train: Montana, Wyoming (Little Big Horn, Devil’s Tower)

Events of Thursday May 14th, blogged Thursday July 9th

Sooo . . . hey there! Bet you thought I forgot all about this little blog. If you don’t know me, you think maybe we met an untimely fate in the creepy campground, or that Corpse Belly really did prove fatal to Annie and I was too bereft to carry on. If you do know me, you know that the truth which is out there is that things got busy and life got in the way. But I really want to finish the final days of my amazing journey (which I am already nostalgic for). So – with the caveat that memories are dimming and I am relying on my paper journal and photos for much of this – let’s journey west once more to the wide open spaces of Montana.

The morning dawned chilly and overcast, which was actually going to be fitting for the rather somber itinerary I had planned for the day. The campground failed me yet again when not one but TWO soda machines proved to be empty and non-functioning. And there’s nothing that makes me crosser than a bait and switch with my Diet Coke, ESPECIALLY first thing in the morning!

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Annie seemed a bit brighter, so we headed down to road to the Little Bighorn Battlefield – the site of Custer’s infamous Last Stand. For those who don’t know, in an earlier treaty the Plains Indians had been pushed out of the majority of their original hunting grounds (they were a fairly nomadic people) and forced to live on reservations in the Black Hills. Not long after that agreement, the US government found gold in them thar hills and decided the land was far too valuable to waste on the native inhabitants. So, as per usual, they tried to weasel out of the treaty, but the Indians were already fed up with being shuffled around, and had smoked a peace pipe on this treaty and everything, so they were NOT having it.  General Armstrong Custer and the US Cavalry launched an attack on an Indian encampment here and were resoundingly defeated. Fun Fact: The Indians refer to it as The Battle of Greasy Grass.

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As soon as we pulled in I could feel the weight of history in the air and a somber feeling surrounding me and the sense that something important and sad had happened here. Dogs weren’t allowed, but Annie was still feeling sluggish, so she slept in the van while I took the narrated driving tour through the battlegrounds. It was haunting and still.

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The rolling hills stretched for miles, and the prairie grass rustled in the wind, and it was easy to picture the Indian camps and the approaching mounted cavalry. Little Bighorn was important for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it was the first (and probably only) major battle that the Indians actually won. One of the speculated reasons for this was that for the first time, rather than just engaging with the braves in the armed war parties, the Cavalry actually took the battle into the Indian home camps; attacking the women, elders, and children. To see their families being massacred spurred the Indian warriors on to fight as they had never fought before. Also, Custer had broken a sworn promise to never kill another Cheyenne, and that just ain’t cool.

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Spoiler Alert: Custer and his men are vastly outnumbered, they make some tactical mistakes, and they lose the battle. That large monument above marks “Last Stand Hill” where he and the majority of his men fell and were buried in a mass grave. It didn’t seem right to do the usual wacky selfie face here. This is my mournful and respectful selfie face.

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In classic American fashion, even though the (now dead) white guy lost, they still named the park after him. The site was originally known as Custer Battlefield National Monument, and wasn’t rechristened as Little Bighorn (after the river which runs through it and which the Indians were camped beside) until NINETEEN NINETY ONE! The bill that allowed the name change also authorized the creation of the Indian Memorial pictured above to honor the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who sacrificed their lives here as well. It wasn’t until 1999 that red granite markers began to be added alongside the white ones to denote the spots where specific native warriors fell.

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I did think it was kind of cool that the dead horses got their own marker, even if they did get it before the Indians who actually won the battle got theirs.

The words on the side of the Visitor Center reflect the message of peaceful resolution that the monument hopes to impart.

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Soon enough it was time to leave and get back out on the open highway. But not without a quick stop at a nearby Trading Post filled with equal parts gorgeous native made items and ticky-tacky touristy shlock.


And it wasn’t too long until . . . WYOMING WE ARE IN YOU!

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Way in the distance you can see the Black Hills . . .

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The highway through Wyoming was gorgeous, and empty, and not all that different from Montana.

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And there were yet more glimpses of old Western towns and curious signage . . .

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At last we saw our destination, looming up out of the distance . . .

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Devil’s Tower – perhaps more familiar to you as the creepy rock formation from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but a landmark that held great significance to the Plains Indians who knew it as Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge. It rises almost 1,300 feet into the sky and became the FIRST National Monument back in 1906.

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This was where we would be camping for the night, so I decided to drive into the campground and secure our spot straight away. The first thing you pass when you enter the Monument grounds is “Prairie Dog Town.” Acres and acres of holes with cute little gophers popping up and down all day long like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. I hurried Annie through this part.

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Once we found our campsite, we discovered another furry fella had taken up residence . . . there were literally cows roaming around our picnic table! I guess the monument grounds abut someone’s grazing land, and the cattle occasionally take liberties.

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Once Old Bessie wandered off, we got out and Annie started making herself at home, complete with her first Wyoming Woogle

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This campground was lovely, and super laid back (they were GIVING AWAY firewood) and you could even SEE the tower from our spot!

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I met a lovely older couple who was parked in the next space over and who were traveling in an old conversion van they had made themselves. We took turns comparing notes, and they were quite impressed with Marigold, while I was quite envious of their working refrigerator!

As it was still relatively early, I did end up hiking around the Tower, but that was a pretty special experience that I think I will save for the next post, to give you something to look forward too . . .

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