Days nine through seventeen are greener, and continue here:
My main task in Minneapolis before getting Anzie is a general favorite: buying camping survival food. I was feeling really good and thrifty at the Wedge Co-Op's fill your own water jug station until the man next to me practically choked on my lack of knowledge over the container's BPA levels. We probably won't talk again. I finished just in time to pick up Anzie from her flight. We jumped and hugged and jumped- it had been just over a year since we saw each other last- and then started on our way to Walker's Point, South Dakota. Our original Minnesota camping plans had been foiled since the state essentially shut down. The Trucker's Lounge above provided a celebratory meal of corn nuts, cheese curds, Twin Bing and machine fresh cappuccino. Good thing there were leftovers, since when we arrived at our campsite it was too dark and damp to make dinner. The park ranger that soon visited us felt the oncoming lightning/hailstorm might dampen our spirits and destroy our tent, but Anzie and I agreed to ride it out. We were brave girls sitting with our books, eating popcorn, drinking boxed wine, and pretending not to fear. A little tent slapping was unsettling, but it wasn't until the front of the tent hit down and almost suffocated us, the sides began to collapse, and the stakes were lifted out of the ground that we scrambled to grab what was most important (me: sleeping bag, Anzie: sleeping bag, library book, wine), as I fumbled for the zipper. We leaped out, running for the minivan while the tent flew away behind us. While the rest of our night seemed rough, hanging out in the shower stall and trying to sleep in the car while the 3 hour storm pressed on, our neighbors had it worse. They got electrocuted.
The park rangers came over after the storm to help us retrieve our tent, which survived with only a little rip in the rainfly! After some time spent painstakingly removing all the popcorn bits from the inside of the soaked tent, repacking the car and making a fire to cook breakfast, we found refuge in the great walls of the world's only Corn Palace. From there, South Dakota only became more striking. Spotting the Badlands was exciting, but nothing compared to entering the Star Wars world they encompass. The extreme displays of the power of erosion are beautiful and unreal. After climbing some of the ridges, we made our first real camping meal , and then visited the amphitheater to learn more about the universe. The guide and his enviable laser pointer taught about the history of constellations, seen through the eyes of Greeks, Native Americans, and displaced Floridians such as himself. There were telescopes to view the contours of the moon. If you don't mind fighting a boy scout for a seat, I recommend sneaking a drink in and spending your night this way as well.
Today's winding drive through the grasslands was perfect for visiting prairie dogs, spotting bighorn sheep, and seeing some green again. When a buffalo emerged he was serious and massive and solitary and owned the landscape. We are very puny. Right outside the Badlands is a little town with a posted population of 67, named Interior. Interior houses the county jail seen above, a convenience store selling Indian Fry Bread, and a saloon with a bartender who will make you pizza just like you made for after school friends when you were 11. There will be one other customer. In other words, you'll have a great time.
Since Anzie is even more crazy about park rangers than I am, she learned about wildlife while I walked some of the ridge. From there we pressed on, amazed how the Badlands seem to suddenly disappear and bright wildflowers take over. We were also on our way to experience what schoolchildren all over the country dream of while they try to remember why it's important- Mount Rushmore. First though, another childhood dream had to be chased down- that of a whole dozen donuts to yourself. Wall Drug advertisements can be spotted for hundreds of miles through the state, luring poor, tired souls with promises of 5 cent coffee. Souls such as myself. I couldn't wait to get to Wall Drug. We stopped the day before just as they were closing, but returned the next morning for the coffee and day old donuts bag. This was one of our smartest purchases. Leaving Wall Drug the misty day seemed pretty sad for seeing National Monuments, but Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse are visible regardless of the weather. Or so I thought! Despite the view, I am going to tell people's kids I've been there. We ended the night in a cabin in Thermopolis, a town built around their sulphur hot springs. It was the only night not in a tent and the last time we would shower, so that felt great. Since nothing was open by the time we were hungry, we ended up at a typically avoided establishment where we did the obscene act of asking if "Um, could we get that supersized?". For the record, they don't do that anymore.
The Thermopolis State Bath House is free, and uncrowded. There are warnings not to spend more than half an hour soaking, but you probably will not want to since that bath is very hot. As we were leaving, two people came in who were crossing the country horseback, and needed the soak even more than we did. Thermopolis is also home to a swinging bridge, seen above. I wanted a much better picture for today, but got too excited over the scenery that next ensued. The drive from Thermopolis to the Grand Tetons was windy and mountainous and green and much more alive than the drive of the previous few days. We took our car over dusty Mormon Row and I wanted to roll out of the car and be left behind in one of the log cabins, forever and ever. As my life is not taking that turn just yet, comfort was found in our campsite.
Today was spent hiking around Jenny Lake. We walked past the lake, through swarming mosquitos, and past the rushing river where hikers were coming from the other direction. The conversation went like this: "Girls, here's the deal. There's a bear and her cub up ahead, so we're leaving. It's up to you what you want to do." We turned around. After walking more and then laying by the river eating seitan jerky we headed back, spotting this moose and her calf. Afterwards Jackson beckoned, because how can you be in Wyoming and not hang out in Jackson? We did what tourists do and tried different beers at Snake River Brewery, which you can get in taste-test size, just like an ice cream shop! Inspired, we next went to the ice cream shop, which sold all organic ice cream and guns.
This morning began with herds of buffalo grazing and crossing the meadow. It was more than we deserved for waking up early. After being thus humbled, it was time to have tea with the Cunninghams. This was a disappointing encounter since they died in the early part of the last century, but we did admire what they had accomplished. It was the scene of our only picture together this trip. Since the Cunninghams eventually left their harsh, isolated life as ranchers to move to Idaho, we followed them. On the drive from Wyoming to Idaho on Route 26, there's a town called Atomic City, old home of the Experimental Breeder Reactor, and a nearby restaurant called Pickles Place where I had mashed potatoes. For those of you who imagine Idaho to be flat and boring, it's worth going there to see both how right and how wrong you really are. We ended the day in Bonneville Hot Springs, Idaho, where it was comforting to be surrounded by trees again. Driving through the park there were signs of a jamboree pointing down a dusty little path. The jamboree was hosted by IBS...International Bible Students? Hmm....nope. Idaho Bow Hunters. This jamboree replaces string instruments with bows and arrows, and people stare real slow while you bounce by on a one way road with your out of town license plates. There was no time to make friends since we had a camp to set up. They let us out and we spent the night by a blazing fire listening to Orson Welles on Old Time Radio.
Remember we were at Bonneville Hot Springs, so after grilling the rest of the donuts for breakfast we went to soak. It's better to look at the pictures than hear my description, and it's worth accidentally burning a couple of toes for the experience of going there. From the springs we finally drove to and entered Oregon! Anzie's husband Nathaniel, his friend Jesse, and their two dogs were already at Smith Rock, above, so it was a reunion.
Even though there was plenty of whiskey going around the night before, everyone was up early to rock climb. Everyone except for Anzie, Nathaniel and myself. In the meantime, I fooled around with a slack rope set over sharp rocks, but only because a girl was holding my hand. By the time the rockclimbers came back I was ready to give it a try, so they were generous and helped out. We went to Smith Rock's version of a bunny slope, which in reality was the biggest mountain any of you have ever seen in your whole lives, and I was happy to clean the route since it gave me an excuse to stop and hang onto metal. Anzie had climbed before and reached the top quick. In the meantime, people were climbing the 400 foot spire Monkey Face and walking the high line there, so hats off to them. If you are ever in the Smith Rock area, go to Tumalo Feed Company because whether you care about steak or not you will be truly happy there. We left that part of Oregon behind for the last stretch home to Portland, where you can find us now, above! There's a little more to say and a lot more to do, so come visit sometime.
Thanks Anz for coming along so I could stop talking to myself, and for all the pictures a little phone can't capture!