(05/04/24 - 05/12/24)

Crossings A quick trip from California to Colorado (Denver), through Wyoming to South Dakota (Custer/Rushmore/Badlands), to North Dakota (Teddy Roosevelt NP), via Montana to Wyoming (Devils Tower), back to South Dakota (Deadwood), via Wyoming to South Dakota (Jewel Cave), through Wyoming to Nebraska (Scottsbluff - one word, seriously), back to Wyoming (Cheyenne), and finally to Colorado (Denver) to get home! Easy. Peazy.

Victimized by Hertz Hertz sets the trip’s tone by cheerfully offering “pick any car your want” out of the “Sub-compact Economy” lot for “at no cost change to you!” Excuse me? So you want us to be happy that our “Luxury Sedan” category is downgraded to a “Sub Compact Economy”, and we should be thankful that we get to pay the much higher price of a Luxury Sedan? Bless your heart, honey. Not going to happen. We beat something less crappy out of them. Things you get used to in your car. And then you drive a Jeep Cherokee!

Victimized by Tripit We are adding Tripit to the list of apps not to trust when it comes to locations. It locates our first destination, Sylvan Lake Lodge, Apple Maps trusts the position and diligently gives us directions. We blindly follow on, only to end up deep in Custer State Park, on a dirt road that is quite reminiscent of our horse trail experience years ago in Italy! Finally we find one dot of service and call the hotel. Front desk dude who barely speaks English tells us, “Yeah, keep going up.” Hm. Don’t think so! We turn around and work our way back to civilization only to realize the road to Sylvan Lake Lodge is a big ass paved road that splits right from town. Doh!

Of course Apple Maps is not totally innocent. At one point it has us exiting the interstate just a mile after entering, get on a tiny dirt road for ten miles, and then back on the interstate.

Getting lost does accidentally put us on Needles Highway, one of the highlights of the trip. The rocks, a smaller version to Pinnacles NP, dramatically hug the road and host several teeny tunnels. The Cathedral Spires hike is wimdy, beautiful and full of dogs.

Victimized by the trail Talking of hikes and rocks, while hiking the Sylvan Lake Loop trail, we reach a point in the trail where there is no visible path forward. We can see the trail on the opposite side of the lake, we look around the rocks -- we know it is a loop trail -- so how on earth do we get through the rocks? Like dummies, we go back the other direction, all the way around, only to see the tiniest, slimmest of cracks in a rock, behind another rock, around the corner, impossible to see from the opposite direction. Put some trail signs up people! We feel that belong to this season of Amazing Race where everyone is a buffoon.

Victimized by the weather One thing is for sure: the weather is not plain in The Plains! It changes from sunshine to fog, to snow, to torrential rain, to hail, to light rain, to gale-forced winds in a matter of minutes.

TL;DR: Where is it sunny? Elsewhere.

When we leave Custer heading to Badlands National Park, it is so foggy that visibility is a mere feet. Fifteen minutes later in Hall, where we stop for coffee, it is barely cloudy. When we arrive at Mount Rushmore, it is lightly raining. By the time we park and get out of the car, it is hailing (Assana’s first experience). We take our obligatory photos in heavy rain, but as we are talking to the Ranger waiting for the rain to stop, the sun comes out and the sky turns dark blue… just for a few minutes, mind you. Then more scary torrential rain as we head to Badlands. By the time we arrive the rains have turned into puffy clouds, but now we have gale-forced winds to deal with! Stop!


Victimized by the plains Two lane highways, 85MPH speed limit, and nothingness… that’s the Great Plains. We are too early in the season for the promised fluffy green fields. So it is just drab brown... We drive 1910 miles of, seriously, nothingness. Flat land on both sides of the highway as far as eye can see… or as far as the rain permits… an occasional big-rig barreling towards you going at an ungodly speed, and did we mention nothingness?

Having said that, it is the quintessential “West” with cowboys cow’ing, millions of cows cow’ing, longhorns hanging out with their ladies, also cow’ing. Occasionally you come across a teeny town, but otherwise you keep on going through nothingness. Thankfully we are good at entertaining ourselves. Furthermore, our crappy rental has CarPlay and we have Assana’s many playlists to listen to: “Paso,” “New Paso,” “Newest Paso,” and “Super New Paso.”

Cowboys cow'ing

Victimized by the Parks The parks we are visiting are diverse and make up for the long distances between them. There’s Mount Rushmore: the noses are really big, and the heads are a lot smaller than Assana thought. Devils Tower (not Devil’s Tower): a bizarre formation sticking out of the earth which looks different from each angle. Badlands is cooky with its formations; hard to imagine that these formations are just mud with a high rate of erosion. Teddy Roosevelt is a dud park, especially the South Unit which is the dud section of the dud park… so dud squared. But the North Unit has the really unusual Cannonball concretions: super round rocks without any explanation. Wind Cave is closed during tourist season — I mean, why not — but Jewel Cave makes up for it. The formations are really pretty and it does deliver on jewels!

Messing up the fire danger sign

Victimized by Wall Drug Dan knows of a “Wall Drug.” A drugstore in the town of Wall, we think. He has never been there, but experienced their billboards on his cross-country trip 30 years ago. Now, as we drive the interstate towards Badlands, Assana notices the billboards. One every few hundred feet for miles. Wall Drug has free ice water, bison burger, 6’ tall rabbits, Badlands maps, historic photos, Digging for gold, $0.05 coffee homemade ice cream a shooting range, etc. You name it. We are super excited to visit since we are spending the night in Wall. Well, Wall Drug is nothing but a wall of disappointment. Nothing like the quaint hardware store Assana has imagined… but a gigantic tourist-trap full of tourist-trap crap. The only redeeming thing about Wall is the Frontier Cabins: our cabin is small, but clean with crisp pressed sheets, fluffy thick towels, good wifi, and a nice view. And best of all, it doesn't blow away over night during the crazy windstorm. Ironically, the cabins were the accomodations we were most anxious about. They turn out to be the best stay of the trip.

Wall Drug: so much promise, so much disappointment

Victimized by the early season Traveling during shoulder-season… it is good news and bad news. Good news is that there’s no one around. Bad news is that there is no one around, including the hotel and restaurant staff! We are hit by “it’s my first week” crowd pretty much everywhere. In Custer, the dude who has no idea where he is, tells us to keep going into the wilderness. The chef — also his first dinner service — serves us some cold consumé that appears to be an attempt at French onion soup, and tries to pass it on as fondue. We have to explain that what he served is a) not edible, and b) none of the above.

One would hope that being so early in the seasons means at least the hotels are well stocked. Nooooope. Our first and second choice of wine is not available. We settle for the third. But then we have to teach our server how to use a corkscrew.

Victimized by "THE FOUNDATION" In Medora, the Tongan front desk gal who is on her first day of work asks us if we want to pay with cash. Another dude points us to the restaurant, but doesn’t tell us it is actually closed. We are told the staff is trained, but not on a computer.

Talking of Medora… where is this place?!?! We are shocked at the $50,000,000 endowment this teeny town in bum f*ck nowhere in North Dakota has. But why? Everyone talks about “The foundation.” So creepy. No other explanation than a democratic satanic scientologists dude from Hollywood with $50M to spare. To their credit, they have done a nice job with the town: it is clean, the few streets it has are well maintained, all underground utilities, etc. But WHY??

Victimized by Fort Laramie As though we haven’t had enough of weirdo stuff, on our way to Cheyanne we make a detour into Nebraska to go to Scotts Bluff: two words for the National Monument, but one word for the town: Scottsbluff. The bluffs are underwhelming, and we get an unsolicited 30 minute lecture on Fort Laramie by a Fort Laramie geek Ranger.

And if the trip couldn’t get weirder, our room in the worst hotel of the trip tops it: crappy bed linen (probably the originals in this history hotel), a step up into the bathroom, wash basin across the room from the bathroom, and best of all, a full-sized refrigerator right in the middle of the room. WTF.

The only good part of the stay is the explanation of why the elevator is 3’ x 3’: in olden days, when the hotel was actually just a stop in route to the west, the cowboys would sneak their horses up to their rooms so they could be together. How adorbale is that?

We spend our last day in Denver’s Botanic Gardens (which happens to be having their annual free weekend & plant sale, so it is a zoo!), and a few hours in the first class lounge.

8 days, 1910 miles, 6 states, 5 parks. And it’s a wrap for us… at least for a while.

More wimdy!

References & Links