We began our road trip in Chicago, IL, driving through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and finally into South Dakota. We stopped in Sioux Falls for the night and upon waking went looking for the nearest Starbucks - we got a kick out of that too! In the parking lot of Starbucks, I saw my first out of what ended up being hundreds of ads for Wall Drug. I had no idea what was in store!
I was blown away by the service in the Sioux Falls Starbucks. A individual ahead of me in line had physical challenges which confined them to a wheel chair. I watched as the Starbucks barista took the order and twice came around the counter to collect payment from the individual and to return their phone. There was no rush and it was most excellent to see. As I waited for my coffee, the same barista offered to cut the individuals' meal when they delivered the food. There was such a sense of peace and humanity in the coffee shop, that filled me with so much hope. It was a great way to begin this trip.
We glimpsed Mount Rushmore as we drove through the Black Hills, but walking up to the monument in person left an immense impact. The ability for a person to create such a sculpture without the technology that we have currently is absolutely mind blowing. I was so excited to be in Keystone and witnessing the monument in person. One more item checked off the bucket list! (I don't actually have bucket list, I just add to it when I'm doing something cool that I think should be on it afterwards!)
Overlook outside of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills
The view was amazing, little did I know what was going to be in store. As we drove into the park, the rock formations seemed to come out of thin air. They took my breath away and I had a very real and visceral reaction. I was trying to take as much of the scenery in as possible and wish I could have taken pictures, but since I was driving I'll have to settle for the memories.
Inside the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, there is an active Fossils Lab where interns work to uncover fossils found throughout the park. I learned that millions of years ago, the Badlands were under water from an ancient sea that split the now United States in half. There are many marine life fossils from long ago, as well as other swamp species such as alligators, and land species such as a saber-tooth cat. If a person finds a fossils in the park, they can make it on to the fossil wall of fame! There were a couple different people from Illinois, which made me smile.
This is a painting from an artist in residence at the Badlands National Park which depicts an ideal ecosystem with major megafauna that a person could potentially see.
We left the visitors center to head out to a fossil talk being held at a the Fossil Trail. I was a little late to the presentation because I kept getting lost in the views of the rock formations.
After having lunch, we set off for Sage Creek Campground to set up came. It was an ominous sky that let us know what was in store for later. After setting up our tents, we went out for a 1/2ish mile hike to collect water samples from the creek.
As we were finishing up the collection, we quickly headed back to camp because a thunderstorm was rolling over and we all had to wait it out in our cars. That's when I was really thrown out of my comfort zone. I found 2 ticks on my person and may have allegedly had mini freak outs in the car. I am NOT a fan of ticks and by the end of the night I had found 5 on my body. Yes - I did have on DEET. Yes - I was in full length clothing. Yes - I was wearing a hat. None the less, they found me and tried to be bosom buddies. I was not having that. For the rest of the night, I was sure more ticks were hiding out and I was constantly checking my hair for the hideaways.
And then their was rain. So much rain. It lasted the entire night through. Luckily, my tent was perfect. I had no rain inside and was quite warm in my sleeping bag! When I was finally getting up, I rolled over, opened my eyes, and took the the huge wolf spider in front of my space. I screamed something unintelligible and tried to scutter away. It took me a second to realize it was outside of my tent and I could calm down (later it found it's way inside of my tent, but luckily a brave soul got rid of it for me!) I have had an irrational fear of spiders since watching Arachnophobia as a kid. I'm still not a fan, but they do so much for the environment that I've stopped squishing them upon sight. After getting over the tick thing, and surviving through a pretty heavy storm, I began to feel empowered by the whole experience. I figured, if I could weather my most uncomfortable issues, I could handle just about anything else camping. I even started to think of the different places I wanted to go - which had never been a big draw for me.
We spent a good amount of time on the first day in the field looking for arthropods and wild flowers in the fields surrounding Sage Creek. There was a variety of insects found and it was pretty neat to see them all up close. After reflecting on the time spent, I became aware of how many things we may fail to see because we are so focused on a bigger picture. In this case, I became transfixed on the rock formations and didn't really look at all the smaller species around and they are abundant! I take it as a reminder to view all parts of a scene, idea, or challenge to not miss any of the details and create a much richer and more developed understanding.
Bison would roam through our campground. They are very interesting animals with a special temperament. I had the chance to see an irritated Bison and I'm hoping to never see an irritated Bison again :) It was quite the experience being so close to such a large species in the wild.
The bighorn sheep were fun to watch as the babies were super active. Their adaptation for camouflage with the rock is fascinating.
And then there was this. The rattlesnake was just off the parking lot and drew quite a few onlookers. I kept a zoom lens on and stayed a good distance away. This species was very camouflaged as well. On the hike to collect water samples, we came across a smaller rattlesnake in a bush - I never heard it or saw it. Safe to say, I don't think I'd last long around them and am very thankful for the people that were able to hear and see it!
Soooooo.... I started off about 100 yards away from this Bison and started to focus my camera to take a picture. I heard grunts and realized this guy was heading straight for me and was not super happy. I back peddled very quick and got behind a car. It was still walking towards me and at this point, I asked my friend what I was supposed to do?! They told me to stop talking as their had was on the car door ready to jump in. Luckily he just kept walking past and did not ram the car. We think that someone tried to take a picture of the Bison with their flash on and that upset the animal. It's with good fortune that everything worked out okay!
I've always been intrigued with geology and loved my classes in college. Unfortunately, I've lost a lot of the knowledge I used to have over time. I think that's what is great about inquiry and experiential learning - it can ignite a passion for a learner to continue to grow outside of the experience. The first stop when I was in Wall Drug was the bookstore and I came away with a couple roadside geology books that I haven't been able to put down!
The last view on our way out of Badlands National Park
We drove through South Dakota into Wyoming, eventually settling in Cheyenne for the night. I was surprised by this city and found it to be quite charming. The art, architecture, and friendly feel was nice.
As soon as we walked outside, it started to rain! Go figure. We went into a local brewery in the old train depot for food and to escape the water. The brewery was different with a self-pour design and a train station feel. Accomplice Beer Company ended up making the BEST chicken tenders I have ever had. They were breaded in corn flakes and chili, double fried. It was accompanied by a kale salad (kale, champagne vinaigrette, feta, craisins, and toasted almond slices) that I ate all of!! I don't post about food very often, but I had to give this place a shout out because it was SO GOOD and such a surprise!
Yep - that's a huge Wrangler store. It's the first brick and mortar store I've ever seen!
At one point we pulled over to take a 360 photo of the landscape. It just so happened that the site was a memorial to people fighting fires. You could still see all the burned tress for acres out into the countryside.
I hadn't seen red roads prior to this trip - I didn't even know they existed. It turns out the roads take the pigment of the rocks being used in the asphalt. I'm a big fan of the red! It seemed to stretch from South Dakota, to Wyoming and patches in Nebraska.
After Wyoming, we drove through Nebraska and Iowa back to Chicago. It was a fantastic adventure and I've taken so much from the experience!