Buffalo’s tire shop doesn’t have the right size, mostly truck tires. Shop owner’s kind enough to have one of his guys move the spare to the rear (less stress, 2 wheel-drive).
Drive the 70 miles to Gillette because no tires at Buffalo. The spare is supposed to be used no more than 40 miles. I drive at a peaceful fifty-five on the freeway. Make it. Guy in the tire shop there has a Hawaiian wife. Cool. He takes care of replacing the tire himself, isolates the exposed wiring on the front right side with duck tape.
Must say people in Wyoming extremely nice, from what I’ve seen.
Finally got sunglasses at the gas station. I’m worried I may have burned some of my eyesight with all these days driving through the summer sun (had broken my previous pair ever since Las Cruces, NM).
Ever since leaving Yellowstone it has been very hot. In mid 100’s.
Devil’s Tower. Drive out of the way for about an hour for a piece of rock sticking out of the ground in the shape of a phallus. First national monument though, established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906…
I make it to Mount Rushmore in the evening. I’m exhausted and disappointed: the sun sets behind the sculpture, making it hard to photograph. Also don’t get any good shots for lack of a zoom lens.
As I overhear someone say, “it’s more about the story of how they did it.” I’m slightly uncomfortable with the patriotic show that revolves around it too, though I should’ve guessed – Mt Rushmore is a national memorial, not a national monument.
A large crowd gathers at night in the amphitheater, the national anthem is sung, some trivia, a promotional video about the monument, war vets are asked to come up to the stage.
There’s also an overzealous parking fee, operated by a private company (which I hustle my way out of more or less deliberately, because the car overheats before I reach the top of the hill.)
I am tempted to stay there till dawn for pictures but there is no convenient place to park. And I’m on a tight schedule. Despite the fatigue, I pile on a few extra miles in the night, stop by at a rest stop near the town of Wall.
I get a 25c coffee at Wall’s Drug Store in the morning, allegedly the world’s “largest drug store.” Then cruise through South Dakota’s Badlands, learn about fossils. This area, now in the dead center of the USA, was once the place of the Midway sea. Change is a continuous constant.
“You can see why they call it the badlands,” says a visitor, what are you gonna do with it?” There’s little in the way of farming or grazing land in the middle of the pointy breast-shaped badlands.
The Indians had a name for a weird pre-historic animal, a mix of a rhinoceros and horse, though it had been extinct millions of years when the Native Americans got there: the Brontotherium or “thunder beast.” How so since they had never encountered it?
They found fossils. They could guess by their size that it had been much larger than buffalo or bison, which made a lot of noise when stampeding across the plains. Thus the name thunder beast.
In addition to the power of metaphor, Indians possessed that of deduction.
I learn about Kylie, an 8-yeard old girl who unearthed an extremely rare find only ‘spitting distance’ from the park’s visitor center: a saber tooth cat skull, intact with its protruding canines.
Our fossil guy, an amateur paleontologist himself, says this with some good-hearted bitterness.
Drive all day through South Dakota. Junkyard ‘towns’, an interesting topic, but don’t stop by. Round, red-topped hills all along the way.
I made it through the Rockies!
Stop in Chamberlain, by the river, have a burger (voted by Reader’s Digest, but meager). Talk myself out of a ticket somehow, “You’ve been clocked at 82.” 82, always seems to be 82, might be the unsaid threshold police officers have. But once again, no ticket – the last encounters I’ve had with cops have gone well, as if they inwardly approved of the spirit of this kind of road trip.
Lured by brochures and the nothingness of the road, I take a break at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, its façade and inside covered with corn cob art. I interview Peggy in front who’s sitting by her doorstep.
At last I get to Sioux Falls as dusk settles in, and retrieve phone coverage. I listen to a series of eleven messages from my friend, which go from wild enthusiasm to bitter disappointment. He’s been here for the last three days, he rerouted his flight to Chicago and avoided the blizzard. He left from Chicago towards New York yesterday.
I get him on the phone, he’s understandably angry, although partly relieved to hear from me.
This is a huge blow for a few reasons:
– my friend had to spend a few days in Chicago alone and now is on the road East, somewhat pissed (and he later ran into other trouble because of this…)
– I won’t get to do this part of the road trip with him.
– I’m now even more rushed for time to make it back quickly to New York.
Adrenalined up, I continue driving down to Omaha in the night. The weather is infernal, swampy, muggy. I rinse off at rest stop near the flooding Missouri river.
Wake up in a terrible mood after short uncomfortable night, and with an added pressure on my mind. Iowa feels unpleasant, mostly because of the weather, but I don’t feel like lengthening my stay.
I briefly drive through downtown Omaha, Nebraska, then get back on the road. Visit John Wayne’s birthplace, only location of ‘interest’ that I visit in Iowa.
I stop by in nearby Des Moines, very clean and modern. I walk to the nearby sculpture park, some interesting pieces, but this mostly results in my first ticket of the whole road trip (an incredible feat!… till then) in Des Moines, especially unnerving as a matter of principle.
Drive in the night again. Pass by the Amana Colonies unknowingly, learn about them further down the road. Too bad, would have wished to see them, talk to some people there.
Rinse off at a rest stop again. Slave patchworks. These were used by escaping slaves as maps to their freedom North. How a few stitches can save someone’s life.
Eat a tenderloin burger at riverfront café in Le Claire, on Mississippi river. Saw the two big M rivers in the same day. With the last of my strength, I drive across and park in Illinois’ visitor center.
The weather is still inferno.