Passing into South Dakota, the land became more rolling, which was welcome. But Vermillion and Yankton might as well be Nebraska or Iowa. They are very close to both - just a few minutes' drive, and maybe an hour's drive to Minnesota. We didn't have time to step into Iowa or Minnesota, but I would've liked to just to say I've been in those states. It was very humid in Vermillion/Yankton. How can anyone from Colorado stand humidity? Or any human, for that matter? The air smells moldy, it feels thick, it blocks the sky and steals its color, and it just oppresses. I know the benefits of wetter climates, I just don't want to live in one.
The boys managed to catch a bunch of frogs by the motel and put a bunch of them in a motel bathtub and we got rained on a very hard, male rain that first night in town. It was hard to find things for the boys to do between practices and games, including the fact that the team coaches and parents did not have the planning personality I have - they were more last-minute, seat-of-the-pants people than I am. I would've made itineraries and travel maps and directions, etc., were I in charge. I can try to go with the flow, I just like to have an idea of where the flow is going - even just a stated expectation that this is how we're going to do things - at the last minute - as opposed to just not knowing. Also, no surprise to me, but I learned I'm really not much of a social creature. I was an observer on the trip, observing people and places, interacting a bit here and there. Listening to some people talk, I couldn't figure out why they were talking most of the time. Or rather, it seemed they were talking for some psychological need that had little to nothing to do with what they were saying.
Vermillion is a college town, so they did have some fast food places but not much in the way of family entertainment we could find. One motel had a tiny miniature golf course the boys went to one day. And the town had had very nice ball fields. Unfortunately, the team lost its first two games in the tournament, but the nice thing about that was we could head home a day early. We headed north to Sioux Falls, population about 125,000 - the first "city" we'd seen in days, but it felt smaller, more like on par with Grand Island. As soon as we got a bit away from Nebraska, South Dakota abandoned cornfields for beautiful, less humid, rolling green and gold hills of hay and winter wheat and other green stuff - but not corn. The I-90 drive west was very pleasant. We crossed the Missouri, encountered no cities or traffic, but the occasional small town, many desperate or optimistic tourist traps with a million billboard signs, and many miles of road construction requiring the speed to drop 10 or 20 mph even though no labor seemed to be actually being done. But this was very pleasant driving - cruise control actually very useful and usable. We made a detour through the Badlands.
They reminded me distinctly of the paint mines out near Calhan, just bigger and not as colorful. It also reminded a bit of lands we've seen in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico (or even Colorado) - but again, not as grand or colorful. So I'm glad it is a National Park but it isn't bigger or better than what I've known or seen before. We stopped at Wall, SD for lunch and then went on to Mount Rushmore. Two great things Presidents of the US have done - Teddy and the National Parks, and Dwight and the highway system.
It was smaller than expected and really a 10-20 minute stop is all it takes (and $10 if you actually stop - but a drive-by really should be sufficient if you just want to see it). But I'm glad I've seen it so now I don't have to wonder if I'm missing anything by not seeing it. We passed through Custer and other small towns in the Black Hills that reminded me of Manitou or Cripple Creek - existing primarily for tourists. It seems much of I-90 and the Mount Rushmore exist primarily for tourism. We only skirted Rapid City, population 65,000 or so according to Wikipedia. But the area over all feels more developed than Sioux Falls, which exists kind of as an island in a sea of nothingness, while the whole area around Rapid City has a bit more going on. Custer had an alpine slide I would've liked to ride given time - it brought back memories of the one the Broadmoor used to have that I got to ride once as a kid. But the whole area felt very touristy - most of the things were kind of how we think of Seven Falls or Cave of the Winds - yes, you might want to see it once in your life, but it is overpriced and kind of made up for tourists and not as grand as someone from somewhere else might think before getting there.
Then we headed into Wyoming - still a very very empty state, least populated in the nation. The scenery changed from rolling hills to brush, with the sagey stuff we know and love but not the yucca. We drove 80 miles between any services or even towns. Places qualified as towns by some strange system - like Lost Springs, population 1 - yet having a bar. Several miles of nothing, then Shawnee, town of four buildings - two abandoned. We drove half the north-south breadth of the state before encountering a real town, Wheatland, population 3600 and the first place that had anything with a name you could recognize - like a fast food restaurant or chain motel. Well, I forgot Lusk, the first town from Newcastle by the SD border for 80 miles that we passed. It had about 1200 people and felt right out of another time. It had a main street that reminded me of places like Silverton or Fairplay, but not in the mountains obviously - so maybe like Rocky Ford - except Rocky Ford is closer to other places like Rocky Ford, where Lusk is more isolated. Even the one grocery store for a 100 miles was mom-and-pop - the only thing with a "name brand" we saw as we passed through the town was a True Value hardware store - but also named after the owner like True Value's are - Davis's True Value, or whatever. I didn't grow up in a small isolated town so they feel strange to me. And those really isolated ones make me think of the vulnerability of humanity that can be disguised and forgotten in cities because you can get something, almost anything you want, somewhere within a short drive - even though that could all change in an instant.
An hour or so from Wheatland into Cheyenne and then the scenery changed again to much more populated and it was time to turn off the cruise control the rest of the way home. The whole corridor from Cheyenne to home just has so many more people and buildings and traffic - it feels completely different.
Seeing the night skyline of Denver was almost shocking to the senses after such an endless expanse of tiny places, fields, open space. It made me think that the urban sprawl we grow more accustomed to every year as it gets bigger here is wholly unnatural and rare. And mostly unsustainable. There is something natural about cities - people do come together, but they are not meant to be everywhere and cannot survive everywhere and so cities have to balanced against isolation and open space. Empty road belongs and everyone should see it. Someday all may return to it.
The road trip also helps remind one of what matters or what doesn't. Because you notice what you miss and what you don't miss. You remember you don't need most of the material things and habits of time and behavior you have back home but not with you on the trip - and could be just fine with a lot less.
I learned I don't like dirty motels where you can see stains on your bedding. But I do like driving through scenery I haven't yet seen - particularly the West, or open spaces. And I realized that although I want to see the places I haven't seen, no place feels like home. I reinforced my general discord with the humidity and pointlessness (except for feeding the country) of Nebraska. I did, however, like the rolling hills of mid-SD and even its Black Hills kind of like Black Forest or Palmer Lake. I could survive there. Wyoming actually felt too empty to me to want to stay there, too lacking in diversity and culture. I mean, if you are in the empty expanse of Navajo Country that I love, there is still a soul to it, a diversity, a root. What makes us feel rooted? People - family - yes, but also seems to be something else - something about the very land and air themselves.
One thing I was disappointed about SD - we could be just minutes from a reservation but all to see was a sea of white people, if any people. I see a problem there. If people are living right next to each other but not mixing, something wrong is going on, something unequal - at least it seems so to me. I could see that people might choose not to want to mix in that world of whites which seems so artificial - the million billboard signs for Wall Drugs and 1880 town and other things to take your money for pointless trinkets. But I don't think that's the full picture of what's going on there. Another thing I didn't like - most corner stores, gas stations, etc., have 'casinos' in them - slot machines as far as I could tell. Not glitzy and shiny like the Reno Airport, but dirty, depressing machines. Either way, a sign of sickness. And an oddity - super unleaded gas was cheaper than regular unleaded by a dime. Here's why, according to the 'net:
The 'Super Unleaded' gas sold at South Dakota stations contains 10% ethanol. Regular unleaded does not contain any ethanol. The super unleaded has a higher octane level, but since ethanol has a lower tax rate and is government subsidized, the price is lower. Even though you get a slightly lower gas mileage with the ethanol blend...it supports the local farm economy!
I would like to go on other road trips someday if I can afford it. I would like to drive up into Montana and over Idaho into Washington, down into Oregon and maybe back through Utah or Nevada. I would love to go back to Four Corners - one my favorite places in the world - and wander around there more, as well. I'd like to take my brother's kids to see Yellowstone.