Badlands and bad attractions

badlands national parkAfter seeing the Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks, I wondered if my retinas could take in any more amazing landscapes. Not to worry, apparently we had Bighorn National Forest and Badland National Park to get through, and those blew me away. Before last summer I’d never had occasion to climb around the side of a mountain high enough that I could gaze down on all of it like an eagle. And though I’ll always love my Jersey shore and the calm I feel just listening to the Atlantic surf, I also think I’ll never tire of the euphoria of being at the top of a mountain chain. If I wasn’t such an accident-prone scaredy cat, I’d seriously think about climbing to an actual peak.

We headed out from Cody, Wyoming, after our quality time with Old Faithful and its friends, first stopping at the local Albertson’s to get a few provisions. It was there that the cashier told me that 9 people had been struck by lightning at Old Faithful just two days earlier. Egads! And nobody was talking about it when we were there, not that I walked up to the rangers and asked if there had been any bizarre accidents near the geyser lately.

The actual spewing of sulfury goodness was pretty fun to watch. Old Faithful should have a subtitle of The Big Tease, because it spews a little and stops, vapor billowing out the whole time, then some more water, back and forth until kablam! the thing is off to the races. An annoying guy who kept trying to make eye contact with me had a devil of a time trying to capture a photo of the lead-in frothing before the big release, but he kept failing because he insisted on turning off his camera between attempts at getting a shot. People, charge up your camera batteries before you attempt to take pictures for hours. Or just buy a nice, professional photo in the visitor’s center. They have plenty.

So with our educations edified about the safety hazards of Jellystone, we departed our friendly grocery store and started pushing eastward again. We’d gone a ways from the main interstate to get into the national parks, so  we were cutting our way back when we spotted a small post office. I for one love small post offices, for several reasons, including the lack of long lines and the earnestness of the service—smacking just the tiniest amount of desperation to see another human being, but mostly just free from the crushing bitterness that comes with being a public servant in a busy, crowded office. We pulled into the parking lot, which had three spaces in it, and headed inside.

A lovely transgender postmistress greeted us, and we chatted with her for a few minutes as we figured out our postage needs. It’s always hard for me in those kinds of moments not to jump up and down and do a trans dance, but truth be told, there is no ballet of the trans, as much as I’d like for there to be one. And there’s no way not to sound creepy with any such announcement, so I just bit my tongue, trying my best to look extremely happy to procure stamps. We left, wondering what it is like for her in a town with a stated population of less than 100. Were people supportive? Had she lived here her whole life? It didn’t escape us that her employment came from the federal government and not say, from the local farmer’s cooperative or some other local business. She was cheery and smart, and I figured she’d won most everybody over with her charisma, but maybe I just like thinking that. We were fairly satisfied that we’d met the GLBT community for the tiny town, if not the vast majority of it.

Maybe I’ll send her a postcard sometime and tell her how much I appreciated the experience, but probably that’s still too creepy.

Eventually we made it to a 75mph road and triumphantly made our way into South Dakota. This meant we drove through Bighorn National Forest, which looked like this:

Yeah, that was what we thought, too. We had set our compass for Mt. Rushmore, mostly because we didn’t think we could miss it while driving this close to it, but also to see what we presumed would be grandeur and awe. As opposed to shock and awe, which neither of us, frankly, would drive to experience.

Roughly 2.7 million people visited the monument last year, which means that nearly 3 million folks were disappointed in spending the $10 parking fee to see some sculptor’s ego carved into the rock. The guy was a little kooky, preparing to sculpt “famous Americans” and put them into a vault called the Hall of Records for what, some alien civilization to discover? Something that would stand the test of time after we’ve obliterated ourselves from the face of the earth? I don’t get it.

We saw the monument, and I didn’t appreciate it because it was football fields away from me, giving me to sense of its real size. The curating of the exhibits were fourth grade level and didn’t answer any of my questions about why those presidents, why that order. I much prefer the Lincoln Monument in DC, the FDR Memorial, the exhibits that allow some kind of intimacy with the work and the subject, but I grant [sic] that that’s just me.

Next up was the Corn Palace, which not one but five friends insisted we stop and see on our drive. The last time I listened to such pushiness was for taking the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, and it didn’t let me down. So naturally I presumed this would be pretty awesome in all of its kitchy-ness.

It wasn’t. While once upon a time the corn palace was completely redone every year, now only the panels on the building change, and they’re mildly interesting, but not interesting enough to warrant driving through Mitchell, the townies of which must just hate all of us tourists. It was fun enough, and I remarked that it was better than Mt. Rushmore because we didn’t have to pay for parking and we got some very tasty popcorn to boot.

Finally, we hit Sioux Falls on the east side of the state and met up with my friend Anna for lunch at the Phillips Avenue Diner. Note to everyone: fried cheese curds are an excellent bad for you snack, and I recommend them when they’re on the menu. Sioux Falls had an interesting feel to it, somewhere between Portland’s sprawl and the downtown of a small city, like Savannah. Anna showed us the actual falls, which cascade over pink quartz. I can not believe how much rock there is in the United States. Why don’t we export more rock? Where is the rock economy? Nobody is talking about rock getting us out of this recession, and we’re sitting on so much of it! We have to play to our strengths, people.

Clearly, it is time for breakfast. Pictures galore in the next post.

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Categories: driving, visiting

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6 Comments on “Badlands and bad attractions”

  1. Heckboy
    June 6, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Only you could find the transgendered postmistress (Yes mistress) in a town of 100. You my friend have LGBT superpowers. And I think that her very existence and the fact that you found her, warrants a friendly “attaboy” postcard. I cant imagine there are too may people in that podunk town who can honestly understand what she is going thru/has went thru.

    If you don’t want it to be creepy, don’t write it creepy.

    • evmaroon
      June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      And here I thought my transdar was off! I did get a chuckle at seeing one of the postcards she stamped come to Susanne’s parents house. Awww.

  2. Jen
    June 6, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    1) Agree with Heckboy (great name, btw).
    2) Looking forward to photos and suddenly feeling like a great road trip movie

    • evmaroon
      June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      Road trip movies are great!

  3. June 8, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    Well, I must say, as a native South Dakotan, the corn palace is totally rad. However, I think you have to have a serious appreciation for things that are just downright ridiculous in their kitsch appeal. Now, did you see Wall Drug?

    • evmaroon
      June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

      I’m from New Jersey, so I swear I get the kitsch. Wildwood, Asbury Park, Great Adventure, they’re all completely tacky and a lot of fun if one is in the right mindset. I just wanted to see more from the Corn Palace itself instead of a series of panels. Some of the Palaces from the 40s looked really awesome! But let me be clear: the Corn Palace was light years more fun than Mt. Rushmore, and both were dwarfed by the really amazing Badlands and Big Horn parks. And I also really liked Sioux Falls. So overall, thumbs up to South Dakota.

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