Way out West

For “summer” vacation, I just finished a tour of the way out west.

Start: Novi, Mi
Destination: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Side Stops: Badlands, SD – Mt. Rushmore, SD – Crazy Horse Monument, SD – Devil’s Tower, WY

As I am wont to do on driving trips, I like to give first blush impressions of the states I’ve driven through….

Michigan: Nothing new here… Been there, done that.

Indiana: I-80 along the northern border. Seems entirely like… Michigan. Pleasant enough. Traffic moved well until the Gary, IN area… which isn’t really all that nice, despite the old song in my head (“Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana… my home sweet home… STFU Dick Van Dyke!”)

Illinois: Most of Illinois is nothing to write home about (I-80 all the way through, at least) but Chicago was… someone tell me: is Chicago mostly strip bars? I mean, there were so many ads for strip bars while driving across I-80, we were afraid that if we got out of the car, we’d be smacked in the face by strippers with barbed boobs or something and charged by a pimp. WTH? I’m a fan of free speech and all, but if I were driving with an impressionable 12 year old… I figure the kid would have pole vaulted at the next rest stop.

Iowa: Not as flat as I expected, but a whole lot of corn. Stayed in Ankeny, IA which was very… well… whatever. Great service in an Outback Steakhouse there anyways (but one of the most horribly constructed hotels I’ve ever seen…) The state seems very smart. We took I-80 W to I-35 N and then I-35 N out of state. I was completely impressed with the pure number of windmills we saw. I mean, what does Iowa have? Farm land and wind. So they’re taking full advantage of what they’ve got. We must have passed more than a thousand wind mills… maybe 4 thousand +. who knows? Seems like every county has a windmill farm.

Minnesota: We drove through MN twice. First, From I-35N to I-90 W. I passed over the Mississippi River for the first time. This was a pleasant enough trip. It was very Iowa-ish. However, we drove BACK through MN from I-94 E to MN-10 to MN-210 to MN-2… Lovely country to be certain, and very Michigan-ish in the amount of lakes. But after driving the lovely 75mph zones through SD, WY, MT and ND… it was a huge drag.

South Dakota: Holy crap is this a LONG state. It was kind of cool as we started getting more westerly that the terrain changed. Once you pass the Missouri River, it gets more mountainous and dries out. Less trees, less farms, less plains, more “west”. We stayed in Wall, SD for a night… and let me say this: Wall Drug is a ridiculous place. It’s a tourist trap, to be sure, but has a excellent marketing plan… by playing itself up so huge, you’re forced to stop there and see what the hell is going on…. however, it’s so built up by the hundreds of miles of clever marketing signs that there’s NO possible way for the place to live up to its billing. Would I go back? Maybe. It might be neater through ┬áthe eyes of a kid. But through my jaded, adult eyes? Tourist trap and an over priced (processed) Buffalo burger.

After Wall, we hit the sights: BADLANDS National Park first. To use the popular Intarweb vernacular: OMFG! You’ve seen this in numerous movies. A landscape so bizarre, its used as alien planets (or westerns… odd how those mix… Aliens vs Cowboys, anyone?). A little paranoia from all the “RATTLESNAKES WILL BITE YOU IN THE CROTCH REPEATEDLY IF YOU STEP OFF THIS TRAIL!” signs, but it’s still something to see. Lots of wildlife. Prairie Dogs, Ravens, Mule Deer, and yes, we saw a dead rattle snakes. I also saw lots of bunnies under the paths, to which I whispered “Don’t let the rattle snakes bite you in the crotch”

Mt. Rushmore was really nice. A beautiful national monument, and truly something every American should strive to see. It’s really rather big… but there’s not that much to actually do. You see it. It looks a lot like it looks on TV, or in all those movies, and then… what? Admire how big it is? Some company was doing 3D radar mapping, and I thought that was more interesting. I wanted to go over and help, but realized I’d just be a troll doing so.

Crazy Horse is… eh. As a 1/8th to 1/16th Cherokee descendant, it should have struck more chords with me. However, almost none of it is did. Knowing the Indian nation refuses help from the US government to complete the monument is… disappointing. Yes, its a massive monument to an Indian war chief who wanted to drive the white man out of the west, but… it is now the 21st century, and the white man’s money keeps the Indian nation alive. There was nothing to see, really. It’s a pile of rocks that lie in wait to the fulfillment of a dream… but if you can’t ask for help when you badly need it, your dream is for naught. Just my opinion.

Devil’s Tower is something I’ve been wanting to see since the first time I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I even have the music on my iPod, which I blasted as we drove SD-16 to SD-85. However, the weather turned on us and it started to rain. HARD. Then, when we get there, I discover I forgot to pack my rain gear… but my Dad packed an extra, which barely fit. So it pouring rain, I walked around Devil’s Tower like a yellow stuffed sausage. The tower itself is really rather impressive. You can see why it’s considered Holy to Indians: it looks like nothing else in the land. It’s unique… almost alien (surely why Speilberg picked it for the movie).

Wyoming: After touring the SD triumvate, we hit Wyoming moving fast. 75 MPH speed limits are really quite nice. Long drive? Yes, but moving fast makes the drive take less time. The initial drive through Wyoming was really something. It’s really quite barren in the eastern and central area of the state we drove through on I-90 W to WY-16… . BEAUTIFUL for a city dweller like me. Portions looked just like the default Windows XP wallpaper. But then as we got more and more westerly, the green faded to browns and the hills got flatter… the section from Emblem to Cody on WY-16 was… holy crap. It was just a long, unbroken stretch in which your sense of depth is erased because it’s so vast. I knew we were heading west, but had no idea how far away the horizon was. How far are those mountains to the north? the south? east? even west? I realized I now wholly understand the phrase “vanishing point”. I felt like a gnat about to be squashed by God, and no one was around to notice.

From Cody, we drove into Yellowstone… and that will be in its own post at a soon to be later date.

Montana/North Dakota (western half): I’d love to give you a summary of these states, but I have no recall of them. Why? Because the clouds descended upon us and we drove in fog so thick, even 40 mph cross winds couldn’t blow the fog away from us as we drove I-89N, I-90 E or I-94E. I could not see more than 25 yards in front of us driving 75MPH. Holy crap, dudes. Is that typical?

North Dakota (eastern half): I saw much more of the eastern half than the western half. We stopped in Bismarck, ND after the Fog/Rain/Snow/Wind drive from MT through ND central. NICE hotel there… HUGE WARM pool, but there were tornado warnings in the area and steam from the shower set off the fire alarms. Oops. Anyhow, ND had some curious features. Apparently, there’s a lot of dams (saw lots of signs pointing towards dams to the north) and there’s also a lot of flooded fields along I-94 E. With the massive wind that day, we were watching white caps come off of corn/wheat fields and blow waves over the freeway. Otherwise, the East side of ND looked much like the East side of SD and the West side of MN.

Driving in Summary:
Day One: Novi, MI to Ankeny, IA (M-14 to I-94 to I-80/90 to I-80 to I-35)
Day Two: Ankeny, IA to Wall, SD (by way of Badlands) (I-35 to I-90)
Day Three: Wall SD, to Cody, WY (by way of Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower) (I-90)
Day Four: Cody, WY to Yellowstone National Park, WY
Day Five: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Day Six: Yellowstone National Park to  Bismarck, ND (I-89 to I-90 to I-94)
Day Seven: Bismarck, ND to Ironwood, MI (I-94 to MN-10 to MN-210 to MN-2 to MI-2)
Day Eight: Ironwood, MI to Novi, MI (MI-2 to I-75 to I-23 to I-96)

Total Mileage – 3,976 miles

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