One of the longest trips I made was a road trip that I did with a friend in 2007. We drove from Ohio all the way to the Pacific Northwest. First we went to Chicago where we spent a couple days visiting friends there. We then left Chicago in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the morning rush hour and began our Western adventure in earnest. We traveled along Interstate 90, and by late afternoon we reached Mitchell, South Dakota. Mitchell's claim to fame is this building, known as the Corn Palace.
The exterior of this fanciful, Moorish-style structure is decorated with designs and murals made with corn and other grains. It was built to showcase the richness of the region's agriculture. Each year a whole new set of murals are created.
The next day we continued westward, crossing the Missouri River. We stopped in the little town of Wall, South Dakota, and visited Wall Drug, a place which has become an almost obligatory stop for tourists traveling this route. The business started as a pharmacy in the middle of nowhere. It began to attract travelers headed west by advertising free ice water. Today it has grown into a huge Western-themed department store. It is a tourist trap, but fun nevertheless.
Just a short distance from Wall, we came to the first of many national parks that we would visit on this trip... Badlands National Park. Here in the middle of the South Dakota prairies the sedimentary rock has been deeply eroded into a series of ravines, buttes and pinnacles.
From the Badlands, it was a short drive to Rapid City, the gateway to the Black Hills. We spent a couple days exploring the many sights in the Black Hills. Of course the most famous place is Mount Rushmore. On the granite face of this mountain, Danish-born sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved the faces of U.S. Presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The faces are 60 feet high. Work on the monumental undertaking was completed in 1934.
No matter how many photos you have seen of Mount Rushmore, to see this impressive place in person is amazing!
We visited a number of other places in the Black Hills, but on our second day there we were caught by a storm. We were on a narrow, twisting road when it suddenly began to hail heavily. We managed to find a spot to pull off of the road. Fortunately, we were sheltered by trees, and the hail did not damage the car. When it finally stopped, and when we got back onto the main highway, there were snow plows out clearing the hail off the road.
The sun had come out by the time we reached Deadwood, the notorious, frontier gold mining town. Today the entire town is a National Historic Landmark. We wandered around a bit, and saw the bar where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in 1876.
From the Black Hills we continued westward on Interstate 90 into the state of Wyoming. We detoured from the highway to visit the Devils Tower.
This enormous monolith of stone rises more than 1000 feet. It may have been a volcanic plug. The hard igneous rock of an ancient volcano's neck remained after the rest of the volcano had eroded away. It was declared a national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt... the first national monument in the country. Tourism to Devils Tower increased after it was featured in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It has also become a very popular site for rock climbers.
We continued along I-90, heading north into Montana, and then west across that large state. After a long day's drive, we finally reached Gardiner, Montana, located at the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. (Although most of the park is the northwestern corner of Wyoming, small portions of it are in Montana and Idaho.)
Yellowstone is our nation's oldest national park, established in 1872. We spent two full days in the park, but only scratched the surface of things to see.
Yellowstone is the caldera of an ancient volcano. Because it rests upon a magma dome, the park contains the world's largest concentration of geothermal features such as bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers.
Of course, no visit to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing the world's most famous geyser, Old Faithful.
To be continued...