yellowstone 2008: day 2

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The one good thing (and only one) about having an east facing hotel room is that you will be up with the crack of dawn. Oh sure, hotels have some of the most opaque curtains known to man (lead lined I think...good for blocking radiation) but there will always be cracks around the edges or down the middle where the two halves meet (the light rays bend and meet at the focal point...don't ask, Physics Lab joke). So despite a very long drive from the day before, I find it very heard to sleep with the room naturally illuminated. No matter though, we had a big drive ahead of us again, but with the promise of fun with scheduled stops at the Badlands, Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore. We took advantage of the hotels complimentary continental breakfast (sweet buttermilk pancakes, they had biscuits and gravy...I love the midwest) and hit the road early with a good start to the day.

There was very little left to drive in Minnesota, and no sooner did we hit South Dakota when we started seeing billboards for both Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. I do recall seeing blurbs about the Corn Palace on Roadside America, and what good would a road trip be without experiencing some of the prime oddities of the west. The clincher was that there happened to be a Cabela's at the same exit. Yours truly, the decorated Eagle Scout, forgot to pack a rain coat in his fervor to hit the road the day before. I figure that would be a good location to acquire the necessary outerwear as rain/snow was in the forecast for several of the days we would be in Yellowstone. The Corn Palace was intriguing. A visitor center and convention hall that also doubles as a basketball court for the local high school. I was more surprised by how many of my friends and co-workers have both been to and admitted being at the Corn Palace. It really is a delightful roadside oddity. We spent a little time perusing the gift shop (corn related memorabilia acquired) and also found a great deal on a rain coat/wind breaker at Cabela's before hitting the road again.

Our next stop was the Badlands National Park. We opted to take the scenic drive which ends up in Wall, SD. Having only seen a limited number of pictures (perhaps a few viewmaster reels in my youth) of this park previously, I was not aware of the scope and variety of formations. We walked a trail and checked out the visitors center, along with almost every scenic viewpoint available. I would have liked more time to spend in the park, and I could easily see going back there in the future to spend a day or two in the area (there is a minuteman missile silo run by the national park service just north of there).

The Badlands scenic byway dumps you out very close to Wall, SD, home of Wall Drug. If the dozens of billboards along I-90 in South Dakota didn't get your attention, the numerous welcome signs near Wall should do it. The setting is a western town meets three ring circus. Of course we had to stop and get pictures and our obligatory authentic Stetson hats. With time running out in the day, we had even less time to spend in Wall then we had at the Badlands. We still had about 100 miles to go to get to our hotel, along with a stop a Mt. Rushmore.

I never had a burning desire to go to Mt. Rushmore, presidential history is not a strong interest of mine. All the pictures I had seen made it seem much smaller then it actually is. Winding our way through twisting and turning roads around Keystone (a bit "touristy" of a town for me) we made our way to the main visitors center. We arrived after most of the museum portions had closed for the day, but we were still able to get to the main viewing pavilion. I must say that I was impressed with scale and magnitude of the carvings. Something like that can never truly translate from photographs. We sat and enjoyed the cool evening air while taking turns with the binoculars and taking silly pictures. After a quick perusal of the gift shop (mini Mt. Rushmore puchased, now sitting on my monitor in my office), it was back on the road and a short drive to Custer for the night.

We wanted to take in a few other attractions that day, but time would just not allow for it. We stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial which was closing for the night (perhaps another year), and decided to skip Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park also. We found our hotel and a small pub/restaurant before calling it an evening after 500 miles behind us. The next day would find us in Wyoming with a much anticipated stop at Devils Tower before winding up in Cody for the evening.

Until the Day 3 recap, please enjoy these Panoramic Pics from the Badlands (a reward to those who read this blog, not those lazy people who skipped it and went right to the images gallery):