On our third and final leg of our road trip adventure, we are conquering the West! The best word I can think of to describe the West is “epic.” Not only is it literally bigger that the other parts of the country, its landscapes change more dramatically, and its natural wonders and more …wondrous.
We started our westward journey through South Dakota on totally flat ground, mostly farmland. What made driving through this flat farmland different from driving in Wisconsin was that everything was more spread out and sparse. South Dakota is in the bottom five states for population density along with North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska. Driving though South Dakota is pretty dull. With hardly a curve in the road, you drive west on 90 seeing the same scenery again and again, and the same billboard for Wall Drug over, and over, and over again.
The monotonous drive felt completely worth it once we reached the Badlands. While the rest of South Dakota we had driven through was repetitive and tedious, the striking landscape of the Badlands was totally bonkers! It felt like we could be on another planet!
On the same day, we saw both Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Though these two structures are actually quite different, I have grouped them together in my mind. For some reason, I have always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint shimmy over the presidents’ faces in North by Northwest. Or maybe it’s because as an homage to North by Northwest, in Macaulay Culkin’s 1994 chef d’oeuvre Richie Rich, there is a chase scene over the family’s own Mount Richmore, a reconstruction of Mount Rushmore with the family members’ faces. Whatever the reason is, I was a bit let down when I saw it. I realize that it is impressive and all, but it was a lot… smaller than I expected. It was still pretty cool.
While I was initially excited to see Mount Rushmore, and quickly let down by the sight of it, the opposite happened with Devil’s Tower. Maybe it was because I had just experienced a big let down that my expectations were so low. Kevin described Devil’s Tower to me, and I was not impressed. It took me all of a millisecond after seeing the tower itself to realize how wrong I was! When we walked around the tower, we saw a couple of (crazy) people climbing to the top! I think that might be the definition of badass. We camped nearby with a great view of the tower, and witnessed a beautiful thunderstorm with lightening that lit up the tower. It was epic.
Surprise! Wyoming is pretty flat too! But wait… the road curves! Are those mountains in the distance?! Wyoming was a … strange place. Devil’s Tower was amazingly beautiful, but the rest of Wyoming that we saw was either very industrial or sparse. During our travels, we often go to a coffee shop to use wi-fi for blogging, catching up with people… figuring out where we are sleeping that night… Usually we find a nice little local coffee shop with mediocre coffee, but the coffee shops (if you can call them that) that we found in Wyoming were… different. The one we ended up going to was an “espresso shop/ laundry mat/ Basque gift shop.” Weird, right? This wasn’t the exception to the rule, either! The only other coffee shops we saw were part laundromats, and occasionally just a drive through coffee place. It was strange.
After driving through South Dakota and Wyoming with the promise of mountains in the distance, Montana finally brought the promise into reality! Glacier National Park is the real deal—mountains galore! It was beautiful. Before we could really appreciate the beauty of the national park, we had to make our way through the hoards of tourists that don’t go beyond the terrible little village located a stone’s throw away from the entrance to the park. The village has ice cream parlors, kitschy souvenir shops, burger joints, and other equally appealing places to waste your money and pretend to be “out in nature.”
Even though I was kind of terrified the whole time we were at Glacier that we were going to run into a grizzly bear, I had an amazing time. We went on a great hike up to a lake created by glacier run off, which meant gorgeous, clean, and clear water. We also went swimming in an equally pristine looking (probably not as clean… due to the motorboats and whatnot) lake right next to our campsite. It was the clearest water I have ever swam in. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! We also met a really nice couple, Alyssa and Alex, who were going on an adventure of their own, moving back to Tulsa, Oklahoma from Portland. Sometimes I lose my faith in humanity but then it is restored by the kindness of strangers. Alex and Alyssa fall into the faith-restoring category.
After leaving beautiful Glacier and stopping though Whitefish, Montana (shout out to Will Erickson!) we made our way back to our beloved route 90 to make our way out to the coast. After a shaky start (due to the copious amount of caffeine consumed on empty stomachs), we made it to Idaho, and camped in a cute little campsite in Coeur d’Alene National Forest. I must admit that I always forget about Idaho when I am trying to name all 50 states. I feel bad that Idaho has been neglected in my mind, as it turned out to be quite a pleasant place! We even saw a moose… but all I managed to capture was a picture of its butt.
Well, the road out West has been good to us! I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what happens next!! Is the anticipation too much? I thought so.