Boston to San Francisco via every state in between – part three: the Dakotas

By the time we reached Fargo, Olga and I were both feigning for a steak. Our vegetarianism lasted less than 24 hours… All we had eaten since morning was raw cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries, raspberries and nuts for 8 hours on the trip north.

Oh wait, I completely forgot about our first successful Roadside America detour. On the way out of Wisconsin, we stopped at a Mobil gas station to see a big huge plaster giant man. This man was originally holding a can of beer and a wheel of cheese, but was recently robbed of his beer and given a sausage : / So it goes…

Here’s a picture of Mr. Giant Man, with Olga standing on his foot for size comparison. Totally worth the detour.

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Anyway, we arrived in Fargo to a cold, rainy, sleepy town. After unloading our bags at the Hampton Inn (because we couldn’t find a soul we knew, or a soul who anyone we knew knew, to stay with) we hit the town. We got a tip from a friend of a friend who grew up in Fargo (who, by the way, said  “to be frank, there aren’t a whole lot of worthwhile sites in the state, and you can skip Bismarck altogether…) to hit up the Hotel Donaldson, which he said had live music, but ended up not having live music. Nonetheless, it was a “happenin” spot: an old restored building on Broadway that had been converted into a 16-room boutique hotel with restaurant, lounge and rooftop bar. The food was surprisingly gourmet and delicious: heirloom tomato salad, duck nuggets, meatloaf and chicken-fried steak. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience, if we forget about being stalked by an obviously mentally unstable man with long greasy hair and a baseball cap. Fargo Creeper #1.

We wanted to see more of the town so we bounced after a trio of sweet/salty dessert. Walking from one end of Broadway, the main strip, to the other and back, popping into a rowdy Irish pub and being briefly followed by Fargo Creeper #2, we ditched the scene and headed home. We agreed to return to Broadway in the AM to witness the summer street fair that we’d heard so much about.

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And sure enough, this fair was a sight to see. People from all walks of life flocked to the Fargo summer street fair. What else was there to do in North Dakota on a Saturday in the summer?? Great people watching. We stayed for a half hour then hit the road south.

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Next stop, Badlands of South Dakota. On our way though, we experienced our second successful Roadside America adventure: 1880 Town. 

1880 Town was an old western town. Duh. Buildings had been salvaged from small towns all over the west by a determined couple and reconstructed as a tourist attraction. The town was complete with a bank, jail, church, a few homes, a school, a dentist and a saloon, which had live entertainment. Fun fun!

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Onward to the Badlands, where we had planned to set up a tent and camp, and were pretty excited about it. Well that didn’t happen. Here’s why. We arrived, sleepy eyed and low energy, to awe-inspiring views as the sun began to set over the Badlands.

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After picking a plot in the camping area, #28, we began setting up our enormous tent (first time either of us had attempted tent set up). Almost immediately, Peter, a nice older fellow from a few plots down, hammer in hand, came to assist us. With 30 mile per hour winds preventing easy set up, and having to chase after various wind blown objects such as stake bags and plot reservation tickets, it took the three of us almost 45 minutes to fully set up the tent. Just as we were putting on the rain guard, Ruth, the campground supervisor came running over waving the plot reservation ticket that had blown off just prior to our arrival, and some really bad news….. The space was already rented for the evening and we had to move. By this time we were so exhausted and discouraged that we said “F it,” and drove out of the Badlands to Wall, South Dakota, found a shitty BBQ joint for dinner and a shitty hotel room for the night.

 

Rested and ready to begin again, the next morning we had breakfast at the famous Wall Drug store.

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We headed back to the Badlands and were delighted to see all kinds of wildlife: buffalo, prairie dogs and mountain goats.

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We climbed the dunes and enjoyed a scenic drive before hitting the road west towards the Black Hills National Forest. Again, we planned on camping, but again, it didn’t happen. I’ll get to why…

We drove straight to Mount Rushmore, which was buzzing with Japanese tourists, but was nonetheless exciting.

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I had always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, but never thought I’d actually make it to the middle of nowhere South Dakota. While standing, gazing up at the 4 gigantic, poised presidents, I couldn’t stop thinking of the movie Richie Rich. SUCH a good movie. 

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We hiked the presidential trail, then went in search of a longer, more wildernessy hike. I asked the information desk man who pointed us in the direction of the Blackberry trail right across the street, which would lead us to another trail that would loop us right back around to our car. Perfect. We set off. 

It took a bit of work to find the trailhead, surprisingly, since it was so close to Mount Rushmore and we figured it would be clearly marked and busy with overflow tourists. We were the only people on the trail. Weird, but lovely.

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Two hours into the hike, we came across the trail that we were supposed to take that would loop us around to the car. It was closed for regrowth…. Shoot, what do we do? If we continued on with the main trail it would take us hours longer. We probably wouldn’t get back before sunset. Hmmmmm… Olga and I looked at each other. From countless continual hours together we’ve learned to read each other well.

“We could just follow this closed trail…”

“Okay”

Bad decision. We followed the overgrown trail for about 200 yards, lost it, then re-found it. I swear though, it was like being in the desert and seeing a mirage; I kept seeing what I thought was the trail but couldn’t be sure if it was really the trail or if I just really wanted it to be the trail so my brain was making it appear to be the trail. Make sense?

We got frighteningly lost in the woods. The sun was threatening to set, we had no cell service and we hadn’t the slightest idea where we were or which way was north. We even came to a real life situation of “Well, we can’t go over it, and we can’t go under it, and we can’t go through it. We’ve got to go around it. But which way?”

We kept our cool. One thing we knew was that at some point the trail ran parallel to the road. We kept our ears peeled for the sound of motors roaring. Thank the lord for Harley Davidsons because I’m convinced they saved us from having to spend a wide-eyed night in the woods. I had seen an On the Boarder sign as we pulled into Rapid City, the nearby town, and described to Olga how good their guacamole (made tableside) and Cadillac margaritas were. I kept thinking about those things. I wanted them both so bad right about now. We agreed to plan the rest of our evening around On the Boarder. F camping. After this, there wasn’t a chance in hell we were gonna set up that monster tent and sleep on the ground. We would get a hotel near On the Boarder and rest our brains and bones after this terrifying adventure.

We followed the sound of cars and eventually, after an hour and a half of totally bewildered bushwhacking and nearly breaking our asses on steep downhill declines, we spotted the road. A beacon of hope in the distance. But it was still so far away….. down a densely forested hill and then up another and then over another…. We finally made it. Sweet, beautiful relief.

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To reward ourselves for our victorious mountaineering (forget about the stupidity of going off trail) we drove straight to On the Boarder for that delicious table-side guac, to be washed down with salty margaritas. A terrible disappointment was in store. The guacamole, a pitiful serving brought out from the kitchen, was presented to us by the nonchalant waitress. I inquired about the table-side construction that was advertised on the menu, to which she replied “Sorry, we ran out of avocados..” I said “So then how did you make this?” “Oh, we use different avocados for the tableside guac, and we ran out of those.” So these were the shittier avocados. Great. Well, at least we’d get a good margarita. Not the case. The margaritas she brought were so sour that they literally made our mouths pucker with displeasure at every sip. Almost unbearable. Such a disappointment.

 

Zonked, we decided to look for a hotel. Olga needed Internet access for a project she was working on so we called around to ensure the cheapo rooms had wifi. Not easy to find in Rapid City, SD, apparently. At the first hotel we called, when asked if they had wifi, the receptionist said “sometimes…. in some rooms….” Okay, next. The second one said they technically had it, but it hadn’t been working so they were getting a new carrier, but it would definitely work in the reception area….. Okay, good enough. We booked it: The Imperial Hotel. Luckily Earl didn’t ask for a phone number or credit card for reservation, because when we pulled up, it was the nastiest, most dreadfully frightening motel we’d ever seen so we put the pedal to the metal and zoomed away in search for something decent. Finally we found a nice place whose receptionist answered with a resounding “yes” to the wifi question. Thank Gah. However, after checking in, changing into our PJ’s and trying to sign on to no avail, we called the front desk only to be informed that they were having issues with it, but that the connected Perkins restaurant had wifi and it was working perfectly fine. Jeeze! Doesn’t anyone feel the need to be connected in this town? Apparently not. Poor Olga finished her work sitting in the waiting area of Perkins.

 

Despite the incredible national parks and forests, we were delighted to get out of South Dakota the next morning. By way of long straight flat Nebraska, we cruised into the comparatively developed and connected state of Colorado, where we would relax for 2 nights. 

2 thoughts on “Boston to San Francisco via every state in between – part three: the Dakotas

  1. Richard Comley July 28, 2013 — 1:30 am

    Might be best post ever! You can’t make this stuff up. And you will never forget it!

  2. LOVE ready about all your adventures. No more getting lost in the woods! Scary!

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