The Big Trip Out West
Though I haven’t even been home for more than a month, I’ve been pretty busy. Almost immediately after coming home, my family and Julia set out on a great adventure west. We wanted to see some of our nation’s most beautiful parks during the Centennial of the National Parks Service. Our goal was to visit the Badlands, the Corn Palace, Custer’s State Park, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, Redwoods State Park, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Sequoias, Moab, Canyonlands, Arches, the world’s best cinnamon roll at Glen Haven, and Trail Ridge Road. But even the perfect plan can have its bumps and amazing surprises. Come along on the journey, as I’ll be posting each day (and roughly each park) throughout the next few months.
Heading Out On Our Journey
Our plan was to leave home around lunchtime to give us a head start on our journey. Instead, we left at 9:45 pm. That’s right: pm. My parents decided to take turns driving to keep us on schedule for our hotels along the way. Taking I-64, we headed to St. Louis, MI before grabbing I-70 to Kansas City. From there, we picked up I-435 and I-29N into Nebraska. In the early morning, we pulled off on exit 32 and headed toward a small town called Plattsmouth. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but we had found a listing for an amazing “mom and pop” diner along the way. As a rule of thumb, we never eat chain food on our trips.
It was 44° and sunny when we had passed over the Plattsmouth toll bridge. At around 7:15 am, we pulled into Mom’s Cafe.
Now, I’m a vegetarian. Usually, this is not a piece of information I give people. Usually, it is not an issue. On this trip, however, it was sometimes impossible for me to find vegetarian food. However, Mom’s Cafe not only had amazing vegetarian options but was able to work with you on any item you wanted. Hence, I was the proud owner of an awesome veggie skillet:
Next to my skillet is mom’s cinnamon roll french toast with bananas and pecans. Julia and Dad both tried the Philly Steak skillets. And Zach… Well, he had the chicken fried steak, hashbrowns, two eggs, and a cup of chili for breakfast.
While we were told to take the scenic roads, there wasn’t very much to see in Nebraska. Mostly corn. Mostly flat roads. It looked a lot like northern Indiana, to be honest, so we got back on the interstate to make up some time.
The Corn Palace
At around 2 pm, we arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace. Massive murals are erected on the outside of this building every year. But unlike paint murals, these are done with corn cobs.
Engineers slice the corn cobs in half and nail them to the boards. Once in place, they weather wind, sun, and hungry birds. At least six varieties of corn were used to make this year’s murals which featured “Great Rockers.”
There’s a fantastic free museum inside that depicts the different themes of the Corn Palace throughout the years, the fate of the Palace during times of war and famine, and the artists who were in charge of designing these themed murals with a limited palate and difficult materials.
After our excursion at the Corn Palace, we hopped onto I-90 and headed toward the Badlands National Park. While we struggled to make up time all day, we still managed to arrive for the sunset over the jagged cliffs.
In this half-light, every fissure came to life, and you could see why the settlers called this area the “bad land.” I couldn’t imaging trying to shimmy a wagon or even a horse up one of those cliff faces.
Unfortunately, we had to rush pretty quickly through the pull-offs as we tried to beat the sun. Our first stop was at the Big Badlands Overlook to get a full scope from the top. Then our group took in the Cliff Shelf and photographed some big-horned sheep.
This park made a great first impression. When I read “The Badlands,” I didn’t think that it would amount to much. “Sure, it’s a national park,” I thought, “but can it really be that beautiful? Maybe they’re just protecting it for oil?” And then I set my eyes on it. Like a miniature Grand Canyon but eerie in its desert cloak, you could almost believe that you were on a different planet.
In the freezing twilight, Julia and I also chose to run the short fossil loop, imagining that the area was once covered in massive dinosaur skeletons.
That evening, we curled up at Rapid City, SD and grabbed some food at Marco’s Pizza. The gang picked out Hawaiian and Meat Lover pizzas, while I opted for a salad. It felt so good to finally get to stretch our legs (go for a run, in my case), take a shower, and spend the night in a real bed. There is definitely a certain type of person that enjoys camping in a car, but I don’t think I’m one of them.
Stay tuned for the rest of our trip as it is updated biweekly for the next few months.
And be kind to one another,