Thursday, July 29, 2010

Badlands and Bozeman

We are finally in the West--the real honest-to-god west. We left Elmwood and its UFOs and drove South and West, stopping in Northfield, MN (home of Carleton College) for some lunch and to see why everyone we know who went to Carleton raves about it so fanatically. We ran into a current Field School student on the street in Northfield and realized just how small this country is. I take that back: this country is enormous.

We drove to Sioux Falls, SD and stayed in one of our nicest hotels yet (surprisingly enough). The SpringHill Suites by Marriot, located in the parking lot of a shopping center, was bright and cheerful and modern and lacked many of the design horrors that plague American hotels, which I dare say I am becoming quite an expert on. It was nice to curl up on a moderately comfy couch and watch The West Wing. From Sioux Falls we drove almost the length of South Dakota (which is a pretty long state) to Badlands National Park. Rebecca has been to Badlands before, and I think I have been as well, perhaps on an RV trip with my father when I was younger. We did make one unscheduled stop along the way at The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, a great hokey monument to King Corn.

The badlands is one of those places that resists language. It seems to me like what the moon or Mars must look like--alien, ancient, worn. The wind is brutal and persistent, and throws grasshoppers (thousands of them) up in the air in an almost constant stream. The front of our car is coated in a veneer of grasshopper entrails and legs and heads. I went for a bike ride, and I don't think I have ever ridden so slowly with such difficulty. At times I had to stand up and hammer just to stay upright. I had wind burn when I got back to the lodge where we're staying.

We drove to Wall, SD to have dinner and to visit Wall Drug, mostly because we had seen signs for it for some 300 miles across SD. We bought a few postcards, took some touristy pictures, then drove back to the moon.

We hiked up to the top of a pass to watch the sunset and take some pictures. Later we went to see the night sky program (hoping we'd learn a thing or two about the stars), only to discover that the program was actually about Native American dance rituals and was conducted by a very awkward (and extremely Caucasian) park ranger. We left early and sat out in a field behind our cabin watching the sky.

We woke up early the next day (helped a little by the time jump to mountain time) and then blasted across 600 miles of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana to Bozeman, where we're gearing up for four nights in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The 600 miles we drove yesterday represents about one fourth the distance from DC to Eugene as the crow flies, and it's a little more than 10% of the 5,000 miles we've drive so far.

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