Of all the days when I would really like to sleep in I had to be in a motel that kicks out people at 10. I just about made it, said goodbyes to the motel keeper and answered the last Mac questions. I headed to Wall, good old Wall, just next to the Badlands. Initially the route was thru scenic Wyoming, where in the town of Aladdin I ran into the Tipple. I had no idea what a tipple was until I saw it. English as a fifth language I guess. Being fascinated by ruins like every real photographer, I of course had to get out, and promptly got stuck in mud. Not just any mud. The good kind, that won't let go, that's stuck to you forever. Yuck. Well, it's a rental and it's not my problem that they don't have floor mats.
Just before the border to South Dakota I ran into some native fauna, a few horny cows happily chilling on a pasture that could not be any greener. It doesn't suck to be a cow here, with such grass! The cows reminded me of the Scottish hairy cows, which were almost as horny. Overall, the whole scenery around here struck me very Scottish - wet, green, some trees, some cattle, not much else. I remembered the words of my geography teacher in high school, Mr. Manz (aka Das Manz), who was telling us about the Badlands and the whole region around it - not really much that one can grow here.
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Once I got onto I-90 East, which resembled a construction site pretty much the whole way, I was periodically reminded of Wall. More and more often, it would be mentioned on billboards. Once I got past Rapid City (which resembled a GIANT construction site, I mean, as far as the eye could see there was a major digging and leveling and building site), and the intersection to Mt Rushmore, the Wall Drug billboards kept popping up with disturbing regularity. When I was about 20 miles from Wall, I swear not a half mile passed without a Wall Drug billboard. What do the call this sort of marketing, where you just get bitch slapped with it so that you can't miss it?
Well it for sure works. Remember, this is off-season. There's nobody anywhere. National parks are empty, motels and restaurants aren't open yet. However, you can't get parking in Wall. I kid you not. The whole infamous block of Wall Drug - which has more parking than all of San Francisco - is full of cars, and finding a parking spot borders on a miracle. Because of my recently good karma I did find a spot and made myself on the way to look for "our bar" and what else Wall Drug had to offer.
Wall Drug is basically a big tourist trap, but unlike other tourist traps this one has definitely charm. Yes, you can buy trinkets wherever you look. But they also have an unspeakable variety of restaurants, an old photo exhibit, "weird stuff", and I kid you not, even a chapel. A friggin' chapel! On the other end of the spectrum they have a 6 foot rabbit with antlers and even a T-Rex which roars every 12 minutes and scares everyone insane. I find this place absolutely hilarious and can imagine that kids would love it, and not just because kids would like anything in the middle of nowhere on I-90.
I gave in to the pressure and bought a Wall Drug shirt, mainly because nobody will ever know what the hell that means, except for a few insiders of course. Then I set out to find the bar where seven years ago Essan and I went in the evening, to get a drink, and where she was served the virgin variety of what she ordered. What can I say, the Asian multiplication factor definitely works with her, and not always in ways she likes. The bar was soon found, I squatted in a booth (one off from where we sat, as that one was already occupied) and ordered a Buffalo Burger. Good stuff, I mean it's beef just bigger, right?
Now it was time to find lodging. The local Motel 6 as usual fits the bill, and even comes with HiFi, I mean WiFi. The bubbly but incredibly scatter minded front desk lady assigned me into a room big enough that could house a whole tribe. I just had a look at the room, got gas (10.7 gallons for 343 miles) at the same gas station where we sought shelter years ago during what was to be the worst storm of my life up to then (only to be surpassed by what I just went thru a couple of days ago), and went to the Badlands.
The weather was the usual blah, mainly blue skies with a little bit of cloud but no contrast to be had, so I spent the next few hours taking some snapshots with my P&S and trying to figure out where to set up for sunset. The whole place didn't change a bit in the past seven years, not that I expected it to: the pronghorns were still here, at the exact same spot even, and tourists were still catching the exact same pictures of their butts. The only thing different from last time was that there was simply no Aztek to be found. Oh well, can't have everything, and let's be honest, I don't blame people for not wanting to be seen in what very well may be the ugliest car ever built. Granted, it's GM so it was bound not to win any design awards, but this car was in a class of its own...
Having completed the loop I went a bit on the Sage Creek Rim dirt road. There I passed a GMC Suburban truck, circa 1980, with Colorado plates. Nothing unusual with that, other than a Corolla passing a Suburban on a dirt road. When the truck finally arrived at an overlook where I had been standing for a few minutes already, the most spectacular sight of the whole trip was about to unravel. Forget lightning hitting the Devils Tower - that apparently happens every day. People started getting out of the truck. And they kept coming. And more. And more. I didn't want to stare because I am told it's impolite, but trust me you would have stared, too. And they kept coming. I double checked with my GPS if I had somehow teleported to the Mexican border, but no, I was still much closer to Canada than anything else. Once the exodus was complete I tried to count the people. They were at an awkward angle, so three counts came in at 16 or 17 people. Seventeen. It could have been a whole Native American tribe for all I know. Seventeen, in a Suburban. Now listen all you people who think that you need a fat ass SUV just because periodically you need to get your one kid and one dog to the playground: THIS is some optimized transportation! It still may not get the best gas mileage overall, not to mention meeting safety standards or even seat belt laws of probably any state, but per person this mode of transport beats the crap of a Prius.
With that, it was time to descend back into the valley and wait for the sunset. Or not: heavy clouds were coming in, and it started to rain. Not quite pour like last time, but definitely wet. I decided it was time to go to the guest center to download the pictures and to write these lines. And who would have thought, just as I was downloading (both cards simultaneously because I can), what pulls up? Ok, stay seated; I was not about to win the jackpot and spot an Aztek, but the 2nd best thing, the Buick Rendezvous, which is the slightly rounder and by far less ugly version of the Aztek; but still. And just as I could not believe my luck, ANOTHER one pulls right up. There must be something about the Badlands that attracts these...
Soon it became obvious that there would be no sunset nor thunderstorm but rather simple rain, so I packed up and headed back to Wall. I made a small detour as I saw a thunderstorm in the distance, but all I managed to capture was a few cows on the road and pasture. Oh well, beef I guess.
Arriving at close to 21h, Wall was pretty much deserted; plenty of parking available. Remarkably there was no eatery open, the classic bar aside, and when I peeked in it looked very much like your typical bar in a small town in the evening, so I decided to pass. I miss Essan in order to make the experience perfect :)