Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Out West

I’m still a little rung out from the road, and I have some professional items to take care of in the near future. But I will type up a few notes about the last week and a half. We took a driving trip, almost a classic American vacation, since the end destination was Yellowstone.

Some trips are deep, others broad. This one was broad. From beginning to end, we drove 3,686 miles in 10 days, through parts of eight states, four Indian reservations, and three national parks and one national monument. We drove on Interstates, US highways, state roads, park service roads, surface streets and a couple of gravel and dirt tracks. When we stopped driving, we spent three nights in motel beds, two in our tent in state parks, and four nights in the same tent on national forest land.

Later, I’ll provide more detail about Yellowstone, or the Badlands of South Dakota, or Wall Drug, or any of the other big destinations we visited. But for today, I’m going to pull some in-between detail from my notes. I always take notes on a trip.

Such as: At the Kwik Trip near Sparta, Wisconsin, where we bought gas for $2.32/gallon (a typical price), I saw a handwritten sign for a missing animal: “George,” a two-year-old llama, complete with phone number to call. You’d think it would be hard to lose your llama, but maybe not.

Adopt-a-road signs were common enough the whole way through. But in Martin County, Minnesota, I noted that a couple of miles had been adopted by those “Sentenced to Serve.” A court-ordered adoption?

Near mile 297 on I-90 in eastern South Dakota, there’s a sunflower farm. Nice break from the corn and soybeans, but even those sputter out the further west you go.

Just inside the SD border, also on I-90, there was a billboard stating (unofficially, I suspect) that South Dakota “doesn’t welcome animal activists.” I didn’t write it down exactly, but it also said that meat, fur, hunting and trapping were the state’s livelihood.

US 212 cuts through extreme northeastern Wyoming. According to Rand McNally, there’s nothing along that bit of road. But in fact we passed Wyoming Colony, a mining facility—“Bentonite Capital of the World,” a sign claimed. I had to look that term up later. According to Schlumberger’s Oilfield Glossary, it’s “a material composed of clay minerals, predominantly montmorillonite with minor amounts of other smectite group minerals, commonly used in drilling mud. Bentonite swells considerably when exposed to water, making it ideal for protecting formations from invasion by drilling fluids. Montmorillonite forms when basic rocks such as volcanic ash in marine basins are altered.”

I drank from the pleasantly named Kidney Spring in Hot Spring, SD--available in its gushing glory to one and all, under a specially erected gazebo next to a cliff. It didn’t seem to affect my health one way or the other.

A few miles from the Little Bighorn battlefield in Hardin, Montana, there was motel called Custer’s Last Camp. If you stay there, do you wake up surrounded by Indians?

And, in Cody, Wyoming, a sign of the times, and not a good one: a billboard featuring kids’ faces, with the following warning—METH USE. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU.



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