LONG-HAUL ROADTRIPS were never my family’s mode. We’d drive 150 miles to Cedar Rapids or just pitch a tent in the backyard and call it a vacation. So it took some encouragement to commit to journeying as far as the Black Hills of South Dakota, an 800-mile trail of kitschbait pioneered by generations of monument hoppers in preposterously named RVs. But Witt was entirely right: getting away feels better when you get way the hell away.
As always, Sarah rose to the occasion with travel amenities like custom curtains for the Mazda. Stitched from recycled flour sacks. With toy pockets. Seriously. (Click pics for an enlarged view.)
Mitchell, SD, home of the world-famous-one-and-only-most-over-promising-destination-after-Wall-Drug Corn Palace. Here you can get the slogan “I got a gun for my wife. Good trade, huh?” emblazoned on a cap, T-shirt and/or wallet. The kids and I got new hats but I missed my chance to use the loo.
Inside the Palace: more collectable horses and unicorns than in all of RainbowLand.
The next stop (for gas) was a run-down, one-street town made to look like a ghost town so long ago that the pretense has become reality. It was here I found the carcass of a whole red winged blackbird lodged in the car’s grill.
Picnic in the Badlands before a final push to the Black Hills.
Hamming it up with Georgia O’Keefe by the tipis.
We took to the Hills our first day, hiking up an easy 3-mile loop trail and taking turns on the “packpack.”
Fellow family trippers Witt, Holly and Amado Rey Roozen Siasoco IV (with snack).
A worn old sign here says, “Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.”
Holly accompanying Jo and Rey up Lover’s Leap cliff. Among the things I learned about Witt this trip was that he’s not into heights. Or “rustic facilities.”
Jo was carried most of the way but insisted on doing these parts.
First closeup wildlife sighting.
Teaching the kids what it means to “chillax” in the vast clover field out the door of our cabin. I drew while Witt read stories.
One second you’re reading a story. Then suddenly you get topless animal impersonations.
The cabins were cush. They had daily housekeeping service and recycling pick up, quite unnecessarily.
Custer State Park animals showed total indifference to us. No Yogi Bear treatment at all.
The families split off on Day 2. We hiked the tallgrass prairie while the Siasocos went caving (Witt’s acrophobic, I’m claustro).
View from the top.
Holy hay fever.
A few bonfires and cloverfield frolicks later, we headed back east on I-90. Here we are, the sole picnickers outside Wall Drug.
A final night of camping (in Blue Mound State Park, MN) might have been a little sad and anticlimactic if not for the primo walk-in spot I chose by accident on the internet.
A disused pipestone quarry in the park.
An obstinacy (no joke) of buffalo trotted nearby our tents.
The place was thick with fireflies for hours (this was the best photo I got after dozens of attempts).
Jo’s sparkler career started cute and ended with screaming.
Rey got into it, though.
I took a hundred pictures of Jo and Rey playing together. I couldn’t help myself. Look what they’re doing now! Eating ice cream again? Take another one.