We didn't set an alarm and I allowed everyone to wake up on their own. Personally I awoke around 6 AM and laid in bed waiting for the others to arise. When that didn't happen by 8:30 AM I got up and started to "accidentally" make some noise. The one bathroom of the hotel room made for slow going and we weren't on the road till a little after 9 AM. Ana did a quick check for breakfast spots in the vicinity and chose a place with a familiar name.
Her nickname in college and beyond (in Romania anyway) was "Rosie" so a café with a matching name seemed like an obvious spot. From there we made our plans for the day with me recounting the various potential stops I had documented. Although much of the trip was condensed because of Covid this leg remained mostly unchanged. Even with that I had more options than we realistically had time for especially with the lazy start,
From there we rolled in for some gas and hit I-90 opting to pass the 1880 Cowboy town as it looked even more run down than it was a decade ago. That left the Porter Sculpture Park as our first real tourist destination of the day. The same quirky guy was there in a barn without air conditioning surrounded by his various newspaper articles and awards. On our last visit it was a voluntary donation to tour the field of metal sculptures but today we found a menu board with fees. They weren't too bad though and we gladly paid and made our way around to enjoy the quirky art and poems. He had added to his collection most notably with a large Trojan-esque horse. Visiting us at several points around the park were were Wester Kingfisher birds who had full nests and were on high alert swooping down on anyone foolish enough to get close.
Roughly another half hour down the road we stopped in Mitchell, SD to visit "The Worlds Only Corn Palace" (because why would there ever be a second one?) Apparently they were celebrating their 100th year (although the first one dated back to 1892 (don't ask me about the math on that one). The building was decorated inside and out with murals using 15 different specifies of corn and every part of the plant from the kernels to the stalk. It was surprisingly busy which is likely an argument for the success of highway signage for which there was plenty. A couple of caches and some quick lunch at Arby's then we were back on the road slowly creeping towards Rapid City one tourist trap at a time.
We visited a tiny chapel at a roadside rest area and a statue of a man walking a dinosaur skeleton. Both of which were on our last visit to SD 9 years ago. What was new was the towering Dignity: Earth & Sky statue on a hill high above the Missouri River. It was remarkably well designed but I kept thinking, "this thing must get hit my lighting all the time". We were only here briefly but I loved it for its message and its wonderful design.
A few more hours in and we stopped to feed some prairie dogs with Phaedra proving yet again she is the animal whisper. We all tried to feed them with various levels of success but only she got them to come right up and eat it out of her hand. Following that a couple miles to the south was the entrance to the Badlands National Park. Although this was only the second day this may turn out to be the highlight of the trip. The natural beauty and stark differences in the landscape till this point was remarkable.
Walking around the various pull offs it felt like you had stepped onto an alien world. We recently visited where some old Star Trek episodes had been filmed but this seemed more in keeping with a visit for an away party than any other place I think I've been to. The sweltering heat (90+ weather) took its toll on us and we used up all of our remaining water having to restock at the expensive gift shop.
There were other visitors but as this was a weekday (Thursday) and hot we didn't have a lot of competition at first. In fact Phaedra and I took a hike for one Earthcache and didn't see another living soul the entire time. By the time we got to the end of the road however the sun was starting to set and a lot more visitors were present. This could be because it was closer to Wall, SD and Rapid City, SD. Several of these newcomers had high powered cameras presumably to capture the natural beauty matched with the setting sun. Unfortunately for them cloud cover blocked most of the latter.
I think the animals were smart enough to avoid the heat (smarter than us anyway) because they didn't really arrive until late in the day. Then we began to see black-tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, antelope and bighorn sheep. You could tell where they were as half a dozen cars would be pulled over near a cliff and sure enough you'd see a herd of cameras pointed at them when you arrived.
Following our visit to the Badlands we made our way North back to I-80 and stopped into Wall, SD, On our way out we had been subject to a barrage of advertisements for Wall Drugs. When I took the older kids on this trip years ago we fell for this tourist trap and not wanting to rob Bridget and Ana of the "experience" I drove there today. Sadly (?) it had just closed so we opted for the next best thing, dinner. We walked the main drag and saw what was open at this hour opting for the Badlands Saloon & Grille. They were quite busy but the service was great and we all left feeling full and satisfied. I highly recommend the fried pickles, best I've had anywhere!
I messaged Brady to let him know we'd be in his neck of the woods and to see if he wanted to connect over the next couple of days. While I was browsing for hotels he asked/told us to come stay with him. This was the original plan for this part of the trip however since we had dealt with Covid and he said he'd been having health issues Ana and I decided to switch to hotels. In his matter of fact way he told me that if were well enough to travel that he had no concerns and had enough beds for everyone so we should take him up on it. Brady is a helluva guy with insider knowledge of the area and it's hard to pass up a free place to crash so we said yes.
We drove through the night seeing a storm roll in as we went. Ana checked the weather map and Brady warned me that 100 mph straight-line winds were reported. We didn't face many issues till we were about 10 minutes out and then the skies opened and the rain began to pour. I felt the wind on the van and saw signs shaking like flimsy paper in the hands of an excited 5 year old. By the time we got to his front door we were being poured on and he ushered us in. We grabbed the bare minimum luggage and made a mad dash for his door. Brady and his daughter Mia greeted us and showed us the lay of the land. Brady kept saying to make ourselves home and you could tell he was excited to have guests.
We assigned rooms and moved into our allot spots. Alexander checked the front door one more time and saw that the rain was gone and the wind had nearly subsided. A similar weather event welcomed us in 2012 but in that instance we were in tents. Tired after a long day of adventuring we all crashed to be better prepared for the next days events.