Our second day of travel got off to a rather late start. Thanks to the non-functioning internet at the Sioux Falls Sheraton, the professor holed up in the cafe in Falls Park to work on his performance report, while I did my best to entertain the youngsters. There were rocks to climb and waterfalls to look at and I thought it would be a fun morning.
But it was also hot. And I had to keep three non-swimming boys from climbing in the water. And the Hen had a meltdown of epic proportions that prompted an Indian woman sitting under a tree to try and talk him off his fragile-state-ledge (read: screaming so loud every head in the vicinity turned in my direction.)
All this to say, it was late by the time we finally got in the car for our second day of driving. And we hadn’t yet agreed on a destination: Sheridan, Wyoming or Billings, Montana. Five hundred eighty seven miles? Or six hundred and sixty? Or none of the above?
An hour after we hit interstate 90, we came upon Mitchell, South Dakota. Home of ‘The Corn Palace.’ Actually, home of ‘the world’s only corn palace’ if the tagline is to be believed. I was intrigued. I’d heard it was a terrible tourist trap, but who could resist the allure of the corn palace? Not moi.
‘You know we’re stopping at the Corn Palace, right’ I informed the driver. He looked at me with slightly rolled eyes. ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Yep.’
So we veered off the interstate and drove a painfully indirect route past every.business.in.Mitchell to the Corn Palace. The Gort was unamused. ‘It’s not even made of corn,’ he sneered, before running off into the gift shop across the street. Where he gazed longingly at trinkets he believed would improve his quality of life.
Of course, anything can improve your quality of life when you’re trapped in a car with your family.
Well, anything except more family time.
‘I’m getting a coffee,’ the professor announced, pointing to the sign on a dilapidated building in the next block. It was early afternoon and we hadn’t yet had any coffee. We were desperate. Though not desperate enough to believe the ‘world’s best coffee,’ was forty paces away. But seeing as Starbucks hasn’t set up shop in Mitchell, we had no other choice.
So we passed the Corn Palace and stepped inside ‘Jitters’ where we ordered two lattes.
I have some selection criteria when it comes to patronizing coffee shops during our annual tour. (1) Don’t buy coffee anywhere that uses the word ‘expresso’. (2) If the baked goods look gross, the coffee will most likely be bad too. Conversely, if the baked goods look good, there’s a reasonable chance the coffee will be drinkable. (3) Positive sayings posted in a coffee shop does not mean the coffee will be good. (4) Iced coffee served in an insulated cup….with ice….is a bad thing.
Jitters (aka, the world’s best coffee) had bad looking baked goods and positive sayings. I knew exactly what I was getting when I sipped my iced latte….served in an insulated cup.
Having checked Mitchell off our non-existent bucket list, we got back in the car and kept driving, only to be confronted by a mess of billboards luring us to ‘Wall Drug’ and the ‘Badlands’. Since we were already hideously behind schedule and still hadn’t settled on a final destination, I decided I had to see the Badlands. And Wall Drug. .
‘I want to see the Badlands,’ I told the professor. Figuring, he’d had Mt. Rushmore, I could have the Badlands.
So we paid $10 or $15 to take a scenic loop through the Badlands en route to the sure-to-be-tourist-trap Wall Drug.
It was 95 degrees outside according to our trusty car-van. The older boys refused to get out of the car at the first scenic outlook. So we took young Percy and rolled down the windows and walked forty paces to the vista of rock formations. We looked. I photographed. And we walked back. At precisely the same time as an elderly couple peered inside our van – obviously concerned for the welfare of our heat averse boy-children.
They lingered by the van and we hustled back to avoid getting in trouble with the senior set for leaving our lazy kids in a van for four minutes.
At the next scenic outlook, we ordered all boy-children out of the van and climbed the pale rocks, together. Other than the ‘watch for rattlesnakes’ signs posted on the walkway, and the mind-numbing heat index, it was a good time: watching the oldest boys navigate the landscape while the youngest determined to keep up with them.
Only problem, when we got back in the car, I realized the ‘nearly full’ bottle of water tucked in the passenger door, was ‘mostly empty’.
‘You guys can each have one drink of water,’ I ordered. And we drove the thirty miles to Wall Drug for their much-publicized ‘free ice water’.
But not before stopping at another scenic outlook where a mass of touring senior citizens held their point and shoot cameras aloft in the direction of (what was believed to be) a bighorn sheep. The professor maintains it was actually a deer.
As we pulled into the crowded Wall Drug parking lot and watched the throngs of fellow travelers arriving and going from this dubious attraction, I wondered: what makes a tourist destination? If you put up a billboard (or thirty), sell cheap souvenirs and bad food….will they come?
In the case of Wall Drug, the answer appears to be yes. Or maybe I’m just bitter that I spent $3 on an ‘expresso’ shake that tasted suspiciously like….chocolate.
At the gas station, we made use of one of the motels’ wireless networks and bought ourselves a night at the Best Western Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming.
When we walked through our ‘enter from the outside’ door at 11.38pm, we discovered there was one bed for all five of us.
Desperate, the professor phoned the hotel desk to see if we might at least borrow one of their cribs for young Percy.
They were all out of cribs.