October 31, 2014
The tiny bunkhouse in Hot Springs North Dakota is part of a large horse ranch. We head up to the main house to seek John, the owner's itinerary advice. A retired civil engineer, the horse ranch is John has been in love with the west since childhood. The big house has stunning enormous western style chandeliers and other amazing details hand hewn by John. There is also a tiny ghost town he's constructed. Our bunkhouse is chock-a-block with cowboy memorabilia. Even the switchplate covers have cowgirls. We wake to neighing horses, penned several feet from the cabin.
After a morning of laundry, in a Hot Springs laundromat you can buy for $217k if you're looking for a change of scene. We have the road to Mount Rushmore mostly to ourselves except for bison and wild burros. The route up to the monument is full of hairpin turns and cunningly crafted tunnels. The idea for a large monument carved out of granite in the Black Hills was conceived to draw tourists to South Dakota. It is sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln. Construction began in 1927. The original conception was that the full bodies of the four presidents be represented but in 1941 it was determined that the four heads sufficed.
November 1, 2014
After nearly a week of cheap motels on interstates we are sad to leave the cozy bunkhouse. We cruise through the sprawling Rapid City surrounded by prefab housing and long strips of chain stores. The town of Surgis is famous for a February motorcycle festival and the town is full of shops with cycle merch. A few miles away is Deadwood. The town is well preserved and westerns are still shot there but behind most of the authentic facades are casinos and this is the only tourist attraction in the state that is bustling. We cross again through Rapid City to reach Badlands National Park, which we nearly have to ourselves. Vast grasslands surrounded by eroded buttes and pinnacles extend for as far as the eye can see.
After a barrage of highway signs we make the obligatory stop at Wall Drug. There are parking lots all over the town and the dining room seats over 500 people. We are the only diners when we arrive at 4:30 on Saturday. A Yelp review aptly notes that the food is quite inferior to MacDonalds but we haven't eaten all day and want to see what all the fuss about Wall Drugs is about. Most of the stores are closed but we pick up a few kitsch souvenirs for the kids. The salesman who I presume has had a very boring day is chatty. We tell him we're from L.A. This is the first time I've ever been asked if I'm traveling in an RV.
We notice Ann's Motel which is more removed from the highway than the rest when we enter the town. It is good ratings on Trip Advisor and I call to book a room Ann tells me that she won't be back from church until 6. We kill some time walking around the town. Like in other markets we've been to I notice that there is a lousy selection of lousy produce. Two loud guys in filthy overalls buy a beer suitcase and rolling papers. There is a dinky library and giant grain silos. The Badlands are the backyards to the houses on the edge of town.
Ann returns late from church, saying that the priest went on longer than usual. Despite a huge sign in the room that there is a $200 fine for smoking we reject a room that reeks of tobacco. There is also a sign that says checkout is at 10:00 and there is a $20 fine if you're late. Himself advises me not to hold up to Ann that she was late back from church if we're running behind schedule.