- Where We Started: Rapid City, S.D.
- Where We Ended: Sioux Falls, S.D.
- Miles Driven: 493 (16,074 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 26 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
One of our fondest memories of our 2003 trip was watching the sun set at the Badlands on Joan's birthday. So we were excited to return there on the FHMA tour, and not just because of those memories. Symbolically, we also knew this would be FHMA's last stop in what we consider "the West." Needless to say, the Badlands didn't disappoint, though it was bittersweet, since we're now closing in on the end of this journey.
We structured Friday so that we'd arrive at Badlands National Park for sunset. That gave us some time earlier in the day to explore the Rapid City area, which is loaded with interesting sites (and a lot of kitschy ones, too). The first stop, and one that's a must on a trip like this: Mount Rushmore National Monument. It's a well-established fact that I'm a presidential history buff, but I have to admit, Mount Rushmore doesn't do a whole lot for me. It's interesting and has a fascinating history. But once you've seen the monument, you're sort of done. But because we care about our readers, we made an obligatory return appearance there. We may as well have left the car running, because we were there for about 15 minutes.
From Mount Rushmore, we took a scenic ride through the Black Hills area, but encountered mostly disappointment. It was drizzling and overcast again, which didn't help. We did part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Drive, which wasn't great on a cloudy day, and then hopped onto the Needles Highway, a road that cuts through some cool rock formations and has three tunnels cut through the granite. The tunnels were cool, but coming from places like Death Valley and Yosemite, the rock formations were not all that eye-opening. We then headed to Custer State Park, where we had a wonderful visit in 2003, thanks to the wildlife wandering all over the park. The animals apparently get Fridays off, as we saw only a few deer in our drive down Wildlife Loop Road. No bison. No coyotes. No deer. The most excitement we had at Custer was when we spotted two fires and called them in, only to find out they were controlled burns.
So when we took off for the Pinnacles Entrance of Badlands National Park, we were nervous. The day had been somewhat of a bust and the weather was still iffy. But cruising along Interstate 90, we started to see blue skies in the distance. Then, a rainbow appeared. But since, depending on your heritage, rainbows can be considered either really good luck or really bad luck, we decided not to read too much into the rainbow, though it provided for a pretty sight from the dreariness of intertstate driving.
As we got closer and closer to the park, however, it was clear the rainbow had been good luck. The gray skies gave way to blue, though not so blue that there weren't clouds. This was good, since clouds at the Badlands always make for cooler photos.
We arrived at Badlands National Park about 90 minutes before sunset, and once we did, remembered why we loved it so much back in 2003.
We even got an bonus: After missing out on seeing wildlife at Custer State Park, we saw a lot of animals wandering the park.
One of the mountain goats wears what I assume is a radio collar put on him by park authorities. Either that, or it's a goat's version of an ankle bracelet and this guy was part of an insider-trading scheme.
Eventually, the sun began to set. I've never seen a place as transformed by a setting sun as the Badlands. It brings out the already rich colors of the park and creates shadows that take your breath away.
Soon after sunset, we continued our march home. Because we're behind schedule getting home, we decided to bite off a big chunk and made the four-hour drive to Sioux Falls, S.D. We decided we had to make one stop, though: the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. We caught a lot of grief for missing this on the Fred Takes America tour, so we weren't going to miss it again. But we also could not afford to stop for more than a photo op because of our tight schedule to get home. For those who don't know, the Corn Palace is an multi-purpose facility that features elaborate murals made of corn products on its outside. Built in 1892, it got its first overhaul in 1904, when Mitchell made a bid to supplant Pierre at South Dakota's state capital. This plan did not work, though the presence of Corn Palace certainly means Mitchell gets more tourists than PIerre.
With our tour of maize-based auditoriums now complete, we got back on the highway to Sioux Falls. Because of a one-hour time loss when we hit the Central Time Zone, we didn't get in until 2:15am. Needless to say, we went right to sleep.
- While we were at Mount Rushmore, we saw a woman scanning the horizon with a hand-held telescope. Now, there are places where this device must come in handy. But at Mount Rushmore? Joan and I were debating which one of us was going to walk up and tell her, "It's those four huge heads right over there. You can't miss them." Joan suggested maybe she was a dermatologist checking the presidents' pores.
- While we were at Custer State Park, Joan mentioned the picture she really wants is one of a bird standing on the back of a larger animal. This seemed like an odd statement, since we hadn't seen that particular sight yet on the trip. Amazingly, an hour later, we saw a bird perched on the back of a cow alongside the highway. I turned around and pulled up in front of this scene, but the car scared away the bird. So we pulled a U-turn, and as we were coming back, saw the bird had returned to the cow's back. So Joan suggested I stop about 50 feet away so that she could tiptoe up and get the shot. So I stopped, and made sure the dogs were otherwise occupied. And I turned off the car radio. And Joan very quietly got out of the car. And, for reasons I will never understand, went and slammed the door. Bye-bye, birdie. Joan walked around the car, looked up and said, "Where did the bird go?" I informed her that it was gone, and that maybe, just maybe, the sound of a car door slamming might have had something to do with it. So, in the end, Joan did not get her shot, and I found out why Joan did not pursue a career in surveillance.
- One day after I ran over a prairie dog at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I sadly added a bunny to the body count. This ill-fated rabbit ran out onto I-90 during our late-night drive to Sioux Falls. I'm hoping this is the end of the carnage. Somewhere in the animal community, there are wanted posters of me.
- On Friday night, Joan was on the phone with Baymont, trying to find us a place in Sioux Falls. She was at her negotiating best, going down her standard list of questions, i.e. is there a AAA rate, is there a Costco rate, is there a recession rate, etc. Finally, after completing this lightning round, the Baymont guy asked a simple question. "What rate am I competing against?" Joan -- who's used to doing the asking on these calls -- thought about it, then gave a simple, perfect answer: "You're not competing against anyone. I'm just trying to beat you down." Mission accomplished, as Joan was able to get the rate down from $99 to $79. It takes real skill to give away your plan to beat someone down, and then still manage to do it.
- We haven't seen many speed traps on this trip. I learned in 2003 to always abide by the speed limit when rolling through small towns, as the sudden drop from 55mph to 25mph makes it far too easy to get a speeding ticket. But I haven't seen many cops in hiding in these towns on this trip. But as we were cruising through Amidon, N.D. on Thursday, I did spot a cop car alongside U.S.-85. But it was obvious, even from a distance, that the car had been there for some time. For years, in fact. It was an old police car, placed right on the edge of town, designed to scare you into slowing down. And Amidon had once pulled out all the stops; this car also had an mannequin in the driver's seat. But it's been there so long now that it is listing to the point of almost being face down on the passenger seat. Let's just say that if Amidon is serious about this charade, it's going to need to need a new car and a new mannequin. The police car was so old it looked like something Buford T. Justice drove in one of the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies. Here's a site, from 2002, that shows pictures of the car and the mannequin.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "The Chain," by Fleetwood Mac. One of the best songs that's turned up on the random play, this tune -- along with "Go Your Own Way" -- makes me crank up the volume on the iPod every time it comes on. This tune is off of "Rumours," the best album Fleetwood Mac has ever made, and in my view, one of the best albums of the 1970s. There isn't a bad song on the album, and a handful of classics. The mini-jam at the end of "The Chain" is also terrific.
- Here's the Day 8 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Bloody Christmas," by Jerry Goldsmith (from "L.A. Confidential").
- Last Song of the Day: "Bounce," by System of a Down.
- Best Songs: "Blue Sky," by the Allman Brothers; "Bohemian Rhapsody," by Queen; "Bolero," by Maurice Ravel; "Bones," by Radiohead; "Born in the '50s," by The Police; "Born in the U.S.A.," by Bruce Springsteen; "Born to Run," by Bruce Springsteen; "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," by Green Day.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," by Mary Prankster; "Bodysnatchers," by Radiohead; "Bois de Boulogne," by Tangerine Dream; "Bomber Bash," by Ry Cooder; "Bones," by Mickey Hart; "Bop Scotch," by Stereolab; "The Bottle's Talking Now," by Mary Prankster.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Boogie Nights," by Heatwave; "Both Sides Now," by Judy Collins.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Bobby Jean," by Bruce Springsteen; "Boris the Spider," by The Who.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Bombs Away," by The Police; "Boogie With Stu," by Led Zeppelin.
- Late-night drives through unfamiliar areas can be brutal. We've made two in the past week, as we try and cover the ground we need to in order to complete our quest to hit all 48 states. On both drives -- from the Columbia River Gorge to Boise, Idaho, and from the Badlands to Sioux Falls, S.D., I've really needed a boost toward the end of the rides, and both times, I got it via great driving songs on the iPod. On the drive to Boise, I was hurting as we approached the Idaho border, which still left us 50 miles away. Then, I heard the opening notes of The Who's "Baba O'Riley." By the time the song ended five minutes later, I was good to go. I needed another pick-me-up on the ride to Sioux Falls, and got it in the form of "Born to Run," which is one of the all-time great driving songs. It's the song that got me into Springsteen when I saw him perform it live at Giants Stadium in 1985. The "1, 2, 3, 4... Highways jammed with broken heroes..." part of the song is, to me, one of the most memorable parts of any song in rock and roll history.
- Lunch: Firehouse Brewing Company, Rapid City, S.D.: Set in an old firehouse, this brew pub had a nice feel, though the life-size mannequins of firemen was an odd touch, since I know what firemen look like. I brought my laptop in to try and finish our Theodore Roosevelt post, but the excruciatingly slow speed of restaurant's wireless connection put a quick end to any hope. In what is a pretty rare occurrence, Joan and I ordered the same meal: we started with New England clam chowder and then went for corned beef sandwiches. The only difference: Joan got sauteed onions on hers. The soups were good; the corned beef sandwiches good but not amazing. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). The corned beef sandwiches came with fries, ending any chance of even a 1.5 rating. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). I kind of wanted to ding them for having an absolutely terrible Web site, but in the end, I decided we didn't choose the place based on its Web site, but on strong reviews off tripadvisor.com. This won't go down as one of our most memorable meals, but it wasn't bad.
- Dinner: Cactus Cafe, Wall, S.D.: We tried to go to the famous Wall Drug, but it closes at 5:30pm during the area's offseason. So we headed across the street to the Cactus Cafe, the site of one if 2003's odder eating experiences. It was there than Joan ordered a BLT, only to have it show up without bacon. We eventually decided the "B" stood for "bread." We were just as surprised as anyone that we ended up back at this place, but it was the only restaurant still open in town and we were starving. When the two of us arrived, it brought the restaurant's total clientele to, well, two. There were two young women still on duty, and while nice, they were not good ambassadors for Wall, which they called boring more than once. Our first few minutes there lowered our expectations so much, we were actually pleasantly surprised by what was, truthfully, mediocre food. There's something to be said for lowering expectations (some of us have made a career of it). I got a French dip with fries, and Joan -- who noted that the BLT was no longer on the menu -- went for a chef's salad. We both started with the clam chowder, which was just OK. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
- Baymont Inn & Suites, Sioux Falls, S.D.: Not even the crabbiness that comes with arriving at 2:15am could get in the way of what was a triumphant return to the Baymont chain. Our room was huge, comfortable and -- unlike the La Quinta in Rapid City the night before -- the wireless worked and the Baymont staff chose to be strict constructionalists on the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. Hotel rating: 5 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale). Not a single complaint. We still ♥ Baymont.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO