Doug and Laurel Go West

Day 2: Monday, 6/30/2003

9:45 AM
Odometer: 570.3 miles
On the road, between Oakaton and Belvidere

The Corn Palace was in the middle of their annual refacing, so it was more like the Brick Building. That was quite the disappointment.

A few days ago, I took a long walk in my sandals. The walk hurt my feet and back. So this trip, I took my tennis shoes, so I could walk in Comfort. Comfort. I wanted to get in the tent… had to mess with my shoelaces. I wanted to get out of the tent… more shoelaces. Shoelaces, shoelaces, shoelaces. Feh.

Doug’s camping tip #2: Bring sneakers and sandals with you.

We just passed a sign urging us to go to Yech.

When I last made this trip, at one point I got a little rubber monkey, about four inches tall. As I played with him I realized he was the result of a scientific experiment, and had human intelligence, even though he had the playfulness and general mindset of an ape. When I got home, he soon joined my GI Joes as a valued member of the team. (These were the 12 inch GI Joes, so he was non threatening to them. The newer, tiny dolls would have quaked in fear.) He was my constant companion for our trip. His name was Oogala Boogala.

On a whim, Laurel and I are going to the petrified gardens. After 100 signs for them, one said, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Petrified gardens!” Surprise? They kind of spoiled that for the last few miles. I was sold by the sign that said, “[A] rainbow from atoms!” Laurel saw it too, and said happily, “Science!” I love Laurel. Kadoka here we come.

[later] We loved the petrified forest. You can make up your own comment about organic matter that sits all day getting stoned; it’s been too long a day for me to think of one. There was a “forest” outside filled with specimens of petrified wood, some labeled (“Note the impression of a snail shell, 30 million years old”) and some not. (“Hey, Laurel, look at this big-ass log! It’s rock! How cool is that?”) Some of the labels were scientific (“The black lines you see are manganese”) and some were for the kidlings, (“This one looks like an alligator!”) You could touch anything you wanted.

There was a big sign that gave a timeline, starting about billions of years ago, going through the Cretaceous, Jurassic, Loquacious, Logarithmic eras, and pointing out how each era related to the petrified wood. I turned to Laurel, wanting to make a sardonic comment about how surprised I was that this sign was permitted by the loonies who have finally admitted that the Earth revolves around the sun, but hold the line at it being 6000 years old. So I turned to her but my view rested upon a second big sign, also giving a timeline, this time starting at Earth’s creation in 4000 BC going through the flood (where all the wood petrified in a mere 40 days due to the mineral content of the water) through the year that Jesus died and was reborn (“29 AD: Jesus dies for you and is reborn”) to modern times.

Do I go to churches and insist that they put up a statement of Newton’s Laws of Physics next to the cross? Or Asimov’s laws of robotics? Or Robert’s Rules of Order? What the fuck?

Inside, there was a really cool museum with ancient fossils, polished and unpolished samples of petrified woods, and gorgeous polished corporalite (which seemed less gorgeous when Laurel pointed out it was fossilized dinosaur poop). There was a A____ that had markings all around the shell that looked like a spiraling Escher drawing. The corporalite was marked as ___ million years old, and I wanted to go to the front desk and complain. “The sign outside says the Earth is 6000 years old! How can this Cretacious crap, this Triassic turd, this Jurassic giblet be older? As an American I have the right to make geologists flatter my preconceptions and put my Sunday-school expertise on the same level of their decades of research. I demand you put down revised dates for the ages of all these dinosaurs, and an illustration of how Moses rode them in his quest to find an area of the Middle East without oil.”

Look, I believe in a diverse society. Christian or Jew, Hin-don’t or Hindu, Allah or Valhalla, you are welcome at my table. You can believe the earth is flat, hollow, 6000 years old or Xenu infested, you can still be a nice person. One of my best friends even believes that the Matrix was a better movie than Dark City. It takes all kinds. BUT just as you should keep your crosses out of your neighbor’s temple, and just as you don’t need to put your shrine to Odin in Mecca, and just as your Jennifer Connelly poster from Dark City has no place in a room full of Neoheads stroking it to Carrie Ann Moss as Trinity, so should the Creationists stay the hell away from geology sites. And if they do want to see the colorful caves and crystal caverns and polished petrified pleosaur pies, then they should take Count Olaf’s advice and “Be quiet, the grownups are talking.”

11:35 AM: How can you not go to Wall Drug? I have more sales resistance than most, but the Wall Drug ads have charm. Sometimes a beggar will follow you around, being humble, witty, charming, and very persistent. You are annoyed, but he is so humble, witty and charming… and he clearly knows you two are playing a game, and you know he knows, and finally you smile and give him a dollar and you both know he’s won but he is gracious about it. Wall Drug is like that.

I’d been as a kid, and I loved it. I got the Joke – all that set up for a stupid drugstore/gift-shop/restaurant. But they had a wonderful backyard which had things to climb on and pose near, and space to run around. It looked like any store’s backyard, only cooler. I couldn’t wait to see it again.

There is a sign right outside of Wall Drug: “Beware of solicitors.” Like they have a right to talk!

What is Wall Drug now? The same Joke, but poorly executed. It was too built up to be funny (“We came for that? Jolly good; quite the jest”) but it was not nice enough to be worth stopping for. The backyard was decorated in “do not touch” and “do not climb” signs. Lots of things to get your picture with, but no longer a haven for unsupervised hooliganism. My Wall Drug was there, I think, but I don’t feel like taking their advice and going to to find it.

[later] From Wall Drug we went to the badlands, which were every bit as spectacular as I remember them. You can’t help but think the word America when you see them. At the front gate Laurel and I paid $50 for a pass that gives both of us admission to all national parks in the United States for the next 12 months.

I couldn’t help but get mentally pissy though. Those wacky libertarians; do they really think that the Badlands would be improved if there were a McDonalds somewhere, and billboards galore? Thank God for our national parks, and thank God for the liberals who fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt to found them. The Conservatives railed against the Federal Government being all “Big”, the proto-libertarians wailed about how everything should be privately owned, and Laurel and I just picnicked in the Badlands with nary a billboard in sight.

My God, it is a gorgeous area.

A little boy walked up to us and said, “I have something secret, wanna see it?” We said “yes” and he showed us a piece of string. Laurel forbade me from going up to him, saying the same thing, and dropping my pants. Later, he came up to us and asked, “Wanna see me fight with my brother?” It turned out he was referring to a light-saber battle, and he and his brother dueled on a little bridge.

[later] Sitting Bull’s Crystal Cavern

I’ve been to four or five cave tours, two of them as an adult, and never had a bad time. I don’t like warm weather, and caves are always cool. And interesting. The people surrounding you tend to be well-behaved and also having a good time. I think I’m going to start going out of my way to visit more caves.

Crystal Cavern starts with a 162 step descent using steps that are often very narrow, as is the passage. Laurel and I were in the middle of the pack of 25 people. As we descended, there were times when the line of us stopped and our guide pointed out a feature of the cave. The people in back of Laurel and I couldn’t see, and the people way in back couldn’t hear. There was something that could be done, and I could do it, but I was afraid. I didn’t want people to think I was grandstanding, or trying to steal focus from the tour guide. That’s a lie. I didn’t care that much what people thought; I cared what Laurel thought.

I told her my idea, and asked if she would think less of me, and she said no. And when I was on the step that the guide had been, I restated it all for the people behind me. “They call this marking the US map, you can see Florida here and Texas here, these lines are manganese and this formation is called a water dome.” They thanked me.

The little girl behind me started to get scared because of all the steps. I told her if she slipped she should just land on me because I’m soft. She and her mom smiled. Later, when she got afraid again, I said, “look. I’m a middle aged fat guy. I’m like a wall. I promise you I am not going to let you fall down the stairs. You won’t get past me.” She laughed at that and expressed no more fear. Ho. Ho. Ho. I’m witty like John Candy.

Anyway, once we got to the bottom of the stairs, everyone could see and hear the Tour Guide. It was quite the cave. I’ve noticed every cave has at least one thing that they brag about. This one had the largest dog-box-crystal in the world. When we got to it, she pointed out that we used to be tied with a cave in Texas, but after the flood of ’72, our cave filled up with water and when it emptied eventually our dog-box—crystal was larger than theirs. Without thinking, I did the Simpson’s “ha ha” and everyone laughed heartily. Fine, I stole focus, but I honestly didn’t mean to.

At one point, Laurel, myself, and the couple next to us came up with a question: What is holding the cave up? We didn’t ask, because we were afraid of the answer. I also didn’t ask her how the layers of different materials all formed in 6000 years, while the figures she was citing were much larger, I didn’t answer, I’m sure it had to do with Noah’s flood.

The crystals were magnificent, as were the rest of the structures and formations, and we made it up the 162 stairs intact. There were plenty of places to leave the stairway and rest, and everyone in the tour got out in good spirits. I had to wait in line to tip the guide, which was nice.

Laurel agreed to go to another cave tomorrow morning.

[later] Crossing the Black Hills: Highway, highway, exit, and suddenly I was in love. They gray rock rose high, there were mountains, and we were driving at them. I asked Laurel, fifteen minutes before I was too floored by the scenery to speak, “has it really been less than 36 hours?” Yes, I really do talk like that sometimes, fuck you. “It seems like so much more,” she replied and I drove on. As the crow flies, it was about ten to fifteen miles to our campground, but the drive was three hours. There was this little matter of a hill.

Forward and back, U, S, W, j . Every bend was completely beautiful. Single lane bridges with signs, “Please honk horn.”

“Laurel, I just remembered what we forgot to do before we left.”

“Get the horn repaired?”


At one point we stopped to walk around on a plateau, and there between the trees was Mount Rushmore. Two radicals, a liberal, and the epitome of a powerful Federal Government, preserved in stone. Built with government money, accessible by roads built by Franklin Roosevelt’s W.P.A. under the New Deal, and here it was, the sculpture that was now a major force for South Dakota’s economic Good. Sorry about the politicking – I’ll try to be good from now on.

We took Needles Highway, passing rock formations so amazing the car seemed to pull over on its own accord. Except for one time when it pulled over because it was behind a very wide trailer which made us stop while it tried to squeeze through a narrow tunnel it had no business attempting. Traffic backed up. So did I, because I wanted the fools to have room to back out of the tunnel and turn around. There was no way. They crept. They crept. Deeper and deeper inside. Two impatient muscle-motorcyclists drove around the line of cars to see what the hold up was, probably blaming Laurel and I since we were at the head of the line. They saw the trailer, now a metaphorical Winnie The Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s hole, almost completely blocking the setting sun and they shook their heads in disbelief.

It is too late to make the long story short. They trailer got through with literally one or two inches to spare, we got through easily, we played on the rocks, we talked to Iowans, and got our tent up in our campsite, safe and secure. Day 2 is finally at an end.

Day 3: Tuesday, 7/1/2003:

Day 2 was not at an end. The dream was over but the nightmare had just begun…

Click here to go to the next day!