Western Vacation, Part 6: Top of the world (and then in South Dakota)

We said goodbye to the rest of the family and left the YMCA camp first thing Thursday morning and started our day off with a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. (Note to self: if we ever head back this way during the summer, it might be worthwhile to think about staying at Grand Lake Lodge). The park was definitely one of those places where I wish we had more time and where I wish I was in better shape to hike because it was unbelievably beautiful and “sublime.�

We took the “lazyâ€? tour, the Trail Ridge Road, a white knuckle driving experience open only from Memorial day until the fall which crosses the mountains at over 12,000 feet. According to the Rocky Mountain National Park web site, it is the highest paved road in the United States. I guess that’s true; all I know for sure is that you are way the hell up there when you are on this thing– I mean WAY up there, way above the tree line, thick snow drifts on either side of the road kind of high up there. The road itself, which is kind of bumpy and a bit suspect in spots, is all switchbacks and sheer drops of God only knows how many feet with no shoulders and few guard rails. Annette spent much of the ride saying “height issues, height issues!â€?

But like I said, it was really beautiful. If we ever come back to Colorado, especially for a summer trip, I think one of the best places to go would be to Estes Park (which is on the eastern side of the park) or the previously mentioned Grand Lake, and one of the best things to do would be to hike around the national park. Of course, I’d need to be in much better shape and many pounds lighter (as the picture here would suggest)….

After the park (and its fine gift store where I bought a lovely snow globe), we drove along a pretty mountain stream and pretty much all downhill for about 40 miles and then started north to Rapid City, South Dakota. I have only three things to say about this six to eight hour part of our drive:

  • For some reason, I found Cheyenne, Wyoming to be about the most confusing and misleading place to exit off of the interstate ever. I saw signs that suggested a variety of lunch options right off the road at a particular exit, but none of them seemed to be there. We ended up driving through Cheyenne, much of which struck me as a dreadful place.
  • I suppose there was some beauty in the quintessential “Western Range Landâ€? scenery that is eastern Wyoming, its wide open spaces, rolling hills, grasses, and cattle. But after about 20 minutes of driving through this, I kept wondering who in the hell would voluntarily live in the middle of nowhere?
  • This is Dick Cheney country. Sorta.

Anyway, we’ve ended up in Rapid City, our staging ground for our tour of the Black Hills Friday. It promises to be a fun albeit “touristyâ€? filled day– Mount Rushmore, Reptile Gardens, some mini-golf, some caves, etc.

I’ve already found Rapid City kind of frustrating and skanky. We got to our hotel after a longer than planned drive (and it’s a nice hotel with a pool and good Internet access, though there are some people above us who seem to think that a good way to have fun is to stomp around loudly and repeatedly shower), and I went shopping for some food and beverages in our room while Annette and Will went to the pool. My most obvious shopping option was as Wal-Mart “Super-Center.� Now, I think that Wal-Mart is a very very evil corporation, and I cannot honestly remember the last time I was in one of these places. Seriously, it may be about 5 years. But like I said, with no Target or Whole Foods in site, my options where limited.

My Wal-Mart shopping experience was dominated by two thoughts. First, “wow, is this place ever tacky and just unpleasant.� Second, “holy shit, the stuff in here sure is cheap!�

Unfortunately, South Dakota is one of these stupid states where you can get beer in a grocery store but to get wine, you have to go to a liquor store. After some dicey directions, I found my way to a liquor store that had fewer wine selections than the Farmer Jack in Ann Arbor (and that’s saying something, believe me!). It was in a neighborhood of check cashing stores, pawn shops, and “casinos,� which in South Dakota seem to be seedy little operations that look from the outside a lot more like porn book stores than the kind of more glitzy casinos I’m used to in Las Vegas or even Detroit. Kind of weird, though with a seven year old in tow, I don’t think we’ll get to find out the mystery behind these South Dakota casinos.

As before, the pictures are at my flick site, at least for the time being.

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