Day 1- Pictures to come...
7:00 AM always comes so early when you actually sleep through the night before. A feat which on its own seems nowhere near impressive except for the fact that I can not remember the last night that I have continued through to morning without waking. Just proves the length at which this rarely occurs. However, this morning I wake to the sound of Jane opening the door to my slumber, quietly fulfilling a request to rustle me out of the sheets before she begins her daily ER grind. Now the hard part....I have to wake up Angie. I am hoping her enthusiasm for our impending trip will over shadow her want and need for sleep that she so desperately desires. I am in luck this morning! Although her excitement does not quite match my own; I know that as we begin down the road and Minnesota is left by nothing more than a glance in the rearview mirror her belief at the greatness of this trip will begin to grow as well.
8:30 AM- We have begun on journey finally down MN 23. Forty-five minutes later we arrive out our first spot. Pipestone National Monument. Now it has always struck me oddly that National Monuments always seem to resemble more of National Parks than just a stone figure pointing towards battle mounted upon a horse. A symbol from my childhood that I always associate with a monument. There is always land attached to these national monuments in vast quantities yet the only thing they seem to be lacking is a distinct place to pitch a tent. As we enter the visitors center and peruse the displays inside we come to a man sanding a bright piece of red stone. As he continues to fashion the stone as we look on he name of the monument finally becomes clear to me. For the man is sanding out the inside of what will soon become a smoking pipe. I swivel my head to the left at the gift shop that sits just beyond and I suddenly realize that Pipestone is the mecca for Native American smoking devices. The plains indians have migrated to this site for two millennia to harvest the precious pipestone(catlinite) to use in building their "peace" pipes and ceremonial pipes. Pipes that they still make, use and sell today. It leads me still to think further. Considering tobacco was not a staple of these native populations . Being that it was commercialized by the colonists of early America. What exactly were these Native Americans smoking? It must have been something very good or very important for so many to travel so far and risk their lives to attain. Pipestone is still revered as a holy place among many native tribes and a place where they still migrate and harvest stone to this day.
As we entered South Dakota country on our way to the Badlands I was needless to say enthralled by their favorite form of advertising media. The 30 ft billboard. I wish I could say that these massive structures of wood and metal just seemingly dotted the landscape but if I were to say that I would be a liar. Trust me there is now no way possible that I could ever forget The Corn Palace, Wall Drug or the Reptile Gardens. I was reminded of them every thirty yards altogether they formed the perfect monstrosity of advertising genius. I say this because they roped us in...all three fo them. I don't know if it was the constant barrage of billboards or just pure curiosity of what may possibly lay inside either way we were determined to find out.
We arrived in the Badlands in the late afternoon on Tuesday in reasonably fashionable time. Although I had seen mountains before I was not ready for the incredible striations that the badlands had to offer us. The deep rosy reds, earthy tans and pearl whites all in unmistakably separate layers piling on top of each other to create breath taking sights in every direction. We paused at a few lookouts along the way before setting off to make camp at a KOA on the the south side of the park. Although the campground set a few miles outside of the park, it was a good introduction to the week that lay out before us. The campground offered much more in the way of modern conveniences than I knew we would find in other places. Showers, wireless internet and friendly staff all can be fairly uncommon in my personal experience. We set-up campsite one in a wonderfully stoney lot with stiff dry grass, which only perplexed me as to how dry that area became in the stifling summer heat if it already looked so withered in the early season. After setting up camp we again hopped into our packed up home and went for a drive down the badlands loop in search of the elusive black footed ferret!
Prairie Dogs, prairie dogs and more prairie dogs it seemed as if these little rodents streamed on for miles. Their holed burrows could be seen in every direction as well as the little guys themselves scurrying from hole to hole with their young in tow. Some even so bold as to sit on the roadside watching the passing traffic acting as intrigued by their visitors as the tourists were with them. However, signs warned us every 200 yards not to approach the pet looking creatures as the "prairie dogs would bite and are infected with the plague" Now I am still not aware what kind of awful plague these adorable little creatures creatures were carrying but in my experience the cuter they are they more deadly they can be. After an hour drive through the park we made our way back to the camp ground disappointed in our lack of ferret finding but we we quickly took solace in the prospect of a glowing campfire and some much needed dinner.