May 11, 2015 Our day started fairly early with an 8:30 start. We got breakfast at the hotel, and we stuffed sandwich supplies into to-go containers. We hit the road about 9:30 a.m., headed toward the Badlands.
Looking up into a tipi at a rest stop in South Dakota
I drove the first half hour in an attempt to get us through Des Moines' traffic. Much to our surprise, Des Moines has little to no traffic. I let Haley take over outside of the city, and she got her first serious driving experience in a standard underway.
The states began to blur together for me. Once we arrived in South Dakota, I drove for Haley. I began listening to Julia & Julia, a book popularized by the movie starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.
We went to the Corn Palace, a destination recommended by my midwester-raised mother and aunt. It was under some serious construction, so it wasn't that pretty. So we went to the shop across from it in part to hide from the cold, but also for postcards and in my case, a jacket. (Karen had convinced me in the 90 degree day two days before that I should leave my jacket with Haley's parents. I was overwhelmingly hot, and completely agreed. Who needs jackets? I do. Now I most certainly do.)
We met a man who is called Popcorn. I'm not sure if this nickname comes from his love of popcorn or if he makes the best popcorn or that he sells it or that he shells corn. I can't be sure, seeing as I didn't ask him, but he was fascinating. He was quite kind to us, eager to show us his hand crank that he uses to shell the corn that used to be on the Corn Palace. He then sends it to Albuquerque for it to be made into jewelry by the Native Americans.
He talked with us about his passion for stage performance and clowning around - literally! He dresses up as a clown, bringing smiles to peoples faces all around South Dakota. We left after our pleasant conversation, carrying on to the Badlands.
I must confess... I've been quite excited to drive this trip. This stems from my compatriots just learning stick shift and my newfound love of audiobooks. They put Haley and Karen to sleep, which is calming for me. Not that I don't like them awake, but I tend to worry about the temperature or the conversation when they're awake. When they're asleep, I assume that they're comfortable and they wouldn't mind this audio book. I had been driving for a few hours and I stopped a couple times, thinking that if they woke up, I'd let them take over for me. I guess the audiobook had done wonders-- they were passed out. The winds made driving a little more challenging than I thought they would. I had been warned of their power, but it was another thing to hear them slamming against your car.
We arrived in the Badlands at 7:30 pm. I chuckled as we neared the park. There was so much snow, and Karen, our Californian, hates snow. She was in for a rude awakening, literally.
But when she did, we were so close to the Badlands that the scenery was stunning. We drove to our hotel and excitedly headed back into the park. We wanted to grab some pictures of Roxanne, the MINI Cooper, with the Badlands behind her. In a way, she has become our own little mascot.
While we were photographing her, we met a couple and their two dogs. They were from Ohio, and they were enjoying retirement at the National Parks. Bob offered us help in identifying an animal we met along the way, a Bighorn Sheep that we misidentified as a Mountain Goat. To be honest, I haven't really looked into the identification of midwest species, and it was helpful. Now, hopefully, we won't look so foolish in Yellowstone.
We ventured back into the Badlands National Park, eager to experience the park. It was close to dusk, so we were catching the sunset at a beautiful time. The rocks were jutting out of the ground and getting lit up by the golden rays. It was electric to experience.
I sometimes forget how rejuvenating nature is for me. I love living in the concrete jungles. I thrived in Paris' beautiful grey streets and have loved Pittsburgh's skyscrapers. But the rejuvenation I've felt in large nature areas is unlike any feeling that cities can give. The German language has a word for this, in a sense.
Val-dien-sum-kite, spelled phonetically since I don't actually know how it's spelled seeing as it has only ever been spoken to me, explains an experience of one-ness with nature, a rejuvenation of the soul, a peace that is only found in nature. It is similar to a religious experience, but it is based in nature.
I have been surrounded by both trees and by skyscrapers, and I still don't know which environment I prefer more. I love both, and that is a troublesome situation to be in. Since this trip involves a heavy dosage of cities AND nature, maybe I'll figure out a little more which way I am leaning toward... Between Yosemite, LA, Yellowstone, San Francisco (which I've been told many times is the perfect city for me), the Badlands, Denver, etc, I should figure it out a little more. Right?
After our exploration of the park, we traveled to the local food place. Interior, SD has about 70 residents, so the food options are a little limited. But boy, are we glad that we found this place.
We pulled into a parking lot for a place with a large 'BAR' sign above it. We saw a little dog in one of the three cars in front of the bar, and after a couple photographs, a woman greeted us, handed us the dog, and asked us to bring him in when we were done with him. She went back inside, and there we were, snapping pictures of a little Zeus. We went inside, in which the bartender recited a menu of burgers and pizza. We excitedly ordered burgers and upon encouragement, we got some alcohol.
I was reminded of my professor, April Friges, who gave us some unconventional advice. She was presenting her graduate school thesis to us and discussing her method to interviewing individuals'. She spent years photographing this small town, but her initial attempts at being accepting was difficult. She said that it helped to go to the bar and just meet them. She recommended it for our documentary projects. Naturally, we are not supposed to get overserved and become intoxicated, but it is one of the most comfortable meeting places.
And she was right. We were able to talk with the three individuals for a few hours with great ease.
Greg, the proprietor of the bar, cooked some hamburgers for us. When we were able to talk to him, he was eager to share his brother's success as a photographer, and his own witty banter with us. He joked that he bought a bar; his brother bought a camera. And he doesn't know who gets to have more fun, but it's quite the contest. (His brother's work can be seen by searching Pixel River on Facebook!) When Greg gave us the burgers, he counted them off in "his language" and then gestured to one of the guests, Mitch. Greg cited the language as Indian and Mitch smiled kindly. Any language sounds like mumbled nonsense when you first hear it. Just a simple 1, 2, 3, and I was fascinated.
Mitch told us that he's a guide, who shows around the hunters when they come up to the region. He showed us some of the more impressive kills, including a buck with a massive rack which had been shot by a 67 year old Californian woman. Mitch, or Dimitri as is his given name, told us a little about his work as a bull fighter. He used to do it nearly every weekend, but age and injury got him out. Judging by his scars, that was probably a really, really great idea.
Clover was the dog's owner, and she offered some great insight into Interior's culture. I thought I came from a small town, but Interior has about 68 people, by Clover's understanding. Woah. She joked that she's flashed about half of them at one point or another, and seemed to take particular pleasure at the ever-increasing uncomfortability of the FedEx guy whenever he had to deliver her packages. "It only takes once," she joked. She told us that she left when she was younger. She had hated so much about the town, but when she was gone, she realized that those had become her favorite things about the town. She cited an old Indian saying, "You always return to the place where your umbilical cord is buried."
If only we weren't so exhausted, I'm sure we would've stayed even longer, but as it was.. We left at 12:30 am, saying goodbye to our new friends and begrudgingly giving back the dog.
I was continuously surprised at how kind the South Dakotaians were to us. I was told to expect southern hospitality in Nashville, and while we met some amazing people (especially our hosts), we got sassed in lines, scoff at in gas stations, and cut off by very bad drivers. It was an odd city.
But South Dakota was filled (well... loosely scattered) with some of the most kind humans we've met thus far. Everyone from our new found friends at the bar to our hotel operator to the national park staff have been so warm and welcoming.
Keep on following the Wandering Three (pictured here with our shadows)! Soon, we take on Yellowstone National Park!