Scattered toward every wind …


Day 3: Badlands N.P., SD to Cowley, WY

There is something to be said for traveling at night … the only visible things is what is illuminated by the headlights of your car, and the cars around you. the occasional streetlight comes along and does its best to light the way … but everything outside of the road is blanketed by the darkness of night … not to take anything away from the moon and stars … all of the direct light from headlamps and streetlamps creates some interesting shadows cast from other cars and whatever may be beyond the highway. fear of the unknown is ushered in with the darkness. there is something otherworldly about the kind of darkness that prevents one from seeing his own hand in front of his face. it seems unnatural. darkness by itself can be scary and foreboding, whereas light by itself can be harsh and blinding … but where the two meet … the interplay of light and dark is beautiful.

The sun shone sharp and bright as a knife, cutting into the thin nylon of our tent. It was 6am. having few obstacles to block its gaze, the sun peered out onto the wide open landscape of the high plains. i woke up with the sun in my eyes. jeff, who had gotten up a bit earlier, saw that i was awake, “dude, you gotta look outside.”, he said with surprising enthusiasm for such an early hour.

as i unzipped the fly of the tent, i could already see where Jeff’s enthusiasm had come from. though hidden in the black of night, our surroundings had no chance to hide from the light of day. we had come into the park with these natural structures all around us, but what we could make out of them was only enough to lend a spookiness to the night … but now, with night gone, the full beauty and splendor of the Badlands was on display.

Needs no caption

Needs no caption

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after taking in all we could of our surroundings from our campsite, we packed it up, made some coffee and headed to the visitors center to get a park map and to look around. a ranger informed us that the route we were taking back towards I-90W would take us past places where bighorn sheep and bison have been known to roam. we left the visitor center and began our mystical journey through the Badlands. we had some time to take in the sites and to even hike around a bit, as our time in the car was shorter than the previous two days by about half.

not long after we started on the road, i was slowing down a little as jeff took a picture of the beauty all around us, when this douche bag in a minivan from michigan laid on his horn behind us. the speed limit in a national park is 45mph … we maybe slowed down to 35mph. after speeding up a little, the d-bag decides to pass in a no passing zone and speed off … i wasn’t immediately bothered by this guy, but the more i thought about it, the more pissed off i became. he’s in a national park … he is surrounded by so much natural wonder … if you are in such a hurry, take a different route, dumbass. i wanted to kick his teeth in. i all of a sudden turned into a UFC fighter. i don’t think i completely let on to jeff just how angry i was. i was sad and angry that this prick felt the need to beep at someone and pass them when there is so much to see all around. if this  jackass can’t appreciate the kind of beauty represented in the photos below, he shouldn’t be allowed outside.

anyway, not long after this incident, we pulled off, and decided to snap some shots of the rugged beauty around us …

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"Badasslands"

"Badasslands"

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like a gymnast ...

like a gymnast ...

badlands national park rocks!!

badlands national park rocks!!

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no words ...

no words ...

Words fail ...

Words fail ...

more ...

more ...

as promised by the ranger ...

as promised by the ranger ...

as promised ...

as promised ...

Dogs of the Prairie

Dogs of the Prairie

after driving through the northern section of the park, we turned to the north to head back towards I-90W and Wall, SD. unfortunately, the road that took us there, was an unpaved gravel road. being a worrywort, the road conditions bothered me more with each pebble that got thrown in the wheel well and rattled around. jeff insisted that everything would be fine. i tried to believe him, but was uneasy because of the remaining 1000 miles or so left in our trip. part of the road we took through the badlands was unpaved, but the speed limit was low enough to where i wasn’t bothered too much. the posted speed limit through the section of road headed north and out of the park was 50mph. my speed remained constant at 30mph … lucky for him, Douche Baggins from MI didn’t end up behind me. after about 10 miles or so, the road became paved and we entered the  interesting town of Wall, SD. i had heard from several different people that we had to check it out … after spending a fair amount of time in the Badlands and with the time being past noon, we decided we needed to skip Wall, and be on our way to WY.

once we had been through the Badlands, the beauty we saw gave both Jeff and myself a huge surge of adrenaline. the Badlands was just the beginning of the scenic part of the trip. so as we left the high plains behind us, and headed into the Rocky Mountains and its foothills, we were giddy. plus, it was a much shorter drive on Day 3.

every day to this point, i had to continually convince myself that this trip was actually happening … not even so much because of the difficulty i encountered trying to make it happen, but because of the new places and things i was seeing along the way … to think that just two days prior, i was still in MD, and here we were now, entering Wyoming. 1800 miles away.

August was a whirlwind of a month as far as travel was concerned. I traveled down to Asheville, NC for a cousin’s wedding, passing through VA and TN along the way. Two weeks later, my family headed up to Martha’s Vineyard, MA to visit and vacation with my aunt and uncle, passing through DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI, along the way. Since leaving MD on the 20th, we had passed through PA, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD. So, in all, over a three week span, that’s 17 states … 18 counting WY … and, like i said earlier, a whole hell of a lot more to see still.

After driving through the biker town of Sturgis, SD, WY came quickly. Not much changed in the way of scenery. hills, occasional rocky outcropping, very few trees … but we were headed toward the Rocky Mountains, and we expected drastic changes …

Wyoming

Wyoming

passed signs for sundance … and began seeing signs for grand teton national park and yellowstone national park … the excitement in the car grew with the sight of these signs.

a lot of coal mining going on in WY … i have a feeling that a lot of pressure is being felt with all of this talk of alternative energy sources being explored … a lot of jobs are in coal …

i guess now is a good a time as any to mention (read:complain about) the ridiculous amount of road work encountered on I-90W … all through SD and WY 90 was down to one lane with the lines of cones stretching for miles and miles seemingly without reason. at times traffic from 90E would merge toward the westbound lane and create a two lane, two way highway with a speed limit of 65mph. such a situation can wreak havoc on the nerves of drivers as the chance of a high speed, head-on collision is exponentially increased. with the thoughts of a deadly collision hanging in the air, we drove miles and miles with cones seperating the eastbound and westbound traffic … when the lanes split apart, the cones remained, blocking off the left lane, and sometimes the right lane. every few miles or more, roadwork vehicles could be seen, but rarely ever was any work actually being done. so … it seemed useless to have the cones stretch for miles and miles and miles. it was a major point of frustration … the thing is, 65mph (really 70) is definitely not slow, and the stretches with one lane never really caused any sort of traffic congestion. an understanding of the roadwork in this part of the country is imparted to the drivers when you begin to see signs, accompanied by red and white arms to block the road, mentioning interstate closures. roadwork in this part of the country is not a year round job … the snows in the fall, winter, and spring make it virtually impossible to work. the snow falls furiously once the temperatures drop … therefore the workers work long days (12-15 hours) from April to September. that helps explain the reason for the cones staying up at all times during working months, but doesn’t take away the frustration.

our time on 90W would soon be over for the day, though … we stopped in Gilette, WY, fueled up and switched positions, with Jeff jumping behind the wheel to soon tackle a part of the trip that was both terrifying and amazing. while stopped, Jeff put in a call to his co-worker, Shawna (forgive me if that is spelled incorrectly) to get her parents phone number. her parents, Mike and Carol, were generous enough to open their home to two relative strangers. once we had the phone number, we left Gilette and pushed westward …

west of Gilette

west of Gilette

WY Sky

WY Sky

the rockies came into view, though under a thick haze. as we got closer, the view became clearer. we exited 90W at Rt. 14. the drive on 14 up to Cowley was supposed to be the best and most fun stretch of driving of the day because it was to offer some mountain climbs and “twisties”. with my car being a manual transmission, we were supposedly at an advantage for this type of driving, as we were able to freely downshift into lower gears for the descent, rather than rely on the brakes. we started our climb …

Climb

Climb

the ears starting popping as we gained altitude quickly. after a series of steep grade straightaways and hairpin turns, there was a scenic overlook …

scenic lookout

scenic lookout

Me, looking very approachable ...

Me, looking very approachable ...

Jeff, looking like he wants to and can rip my head off

Jeff, looking like he wants to and can rip my head off

we continued our climb …

up a mountain behind an RV ...

up a mountain behind an RV ...

more mountain views ...

more mountain views ...

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the climb gradually grew steeper and that, of course, was when the roadwork started … we had to deal, once again, with gravel roads, only this time, we were climbing up a mountain.

steeper climb, still behind the RV ...

steeper climb, still behind the RV ...

once we got to the top, the pictures become more scarce … this is because somehow on one of our shortest days on the road, i got really claustrophobic and irritable. (i guess the 75mph speed limits will do that to you when we are slowed down to a snail-like 50mph and slower … that and being behind an RV). Jeff insisted that i put the camera down and take a breather, of sorts. it was weird how i turned this way. i guess with nearly 30 hours of driving and riding in two and half days under my belt, it was finally catching up with me a bit. i suppose it was bound to happen. the near miraculous part is that my irritability did not lead to any sort of animosity between Jeff and myself. smooth sailing … i picked the camera back up and shot this …

perhaps my favorite picture that i took on the trip ...

perhaps my favorite picture that i took on the trip ...

at the top of the climb Rt. 14 split, with our route taking us on 14A. This was a section of road that Shawna had told Jeff about … the descent down the mountain into the valley where Cowley is situated. once we started our initial descent, the views were amazing, and enough to take my mind off of the fact that guard rail didn’t exist along every mile of road going down … pulled over and got these shots through a fence …

through the fence ...

through the fence ...

between links ...

between links ...

the ride down was deathly terrifying at times, but devastatingly beautiful every second. downshifting took pressure off the brakes, but hearing the car rev up above 6000rpm while going 40mph+ in first gear on a 12% down grade was hard for me to listen to without getting nervous about my car’s breaking point. everything had gone swimmingly up to this point, and part of me was still waiting for my car to go up in flames … jeff was quite adept behind the wheel as we made our way down the mountain and into the valley.

ignore the bug smudge on the windshield

ignore the bug smudge on the windshield

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earth and sky

earth and sky

i don’t know that i played up just how exhilarating and scary the descent was … jeff himself mentioned to me the next day how nervous and anxious the descent made him … but it was a blast, i think we both really enjoyed the route that Shawna had directed us on …

leaving the mountains behind ... for now ...

leaving the mountains behind ... for now ...

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approaching Bighorn Lake

approaching Bighorn Lake

we crossed Bighorn Lake, which is a former river that has dried up in most areas, but has somehow held on to some water to form a long, narrow lake … more on this later …

once we crossed the lake, we drove through Lovell, and finally into Cowley … Jeff remembered directions to Mike and Carol’s house based on the landmarks that Shawna had given him over the phone … we pulled up outside what we believed to be the house. across from a cemetery, the first right turn once you enter Cowley. as we were stopped outside, a SUV pulled up along side us. here we are, two grungy looking dudes, driving in a little VW gti, MD tags, in a land full of pickup truck driving cowboys … we must have stuck out … the SUV rolled its window down and the woman in the passenger seat asked, “are you Jeff?” … we had found Mike and Carol … or, more accurately, they had found us. they invited us to park in their driveway. Jeff and I got out of the car, stretched our tired, tight legs and walked over to Mike and Carol to meet our hosts. they greeted us warmly, like old friends, only really knowing of us, namely Jeff, from their daughter Shawna, whom Jeff works with in Baltimore. we were invited in and given beer almost immediately. this is a part of the trip where i’d really like Jeff to chime in on his experience, because hearing how amazing Mike and Carol were to us from just me, won’t do their hospitality and love shown to us justice. we drank our beer while Mike and Carol talked to us and prepared dinner. I sat and took it all in as Jeff and our gracious hosts shared stories about Shawna and her dog. As dinner neared completion we were invited to sit outside on the back patio with our beers. Mike tended to the grill as Carol slowly filled the table with fruit, cheese, corn, and vegetables, soon after, Mike pulled the main course off the grill and set out 6 enormous grilled T-bone steaks. we ate and talked and laughed and just had a lovely and amazing time. we helped clear the table and clean up a bit. Mike and Carol then offered to take us down to the Bighorn Lake and Canyon … they offered to drive and we all piled in their car and were on our way. sadly, Jeff and I didn’t think to bring our camera or cell phones … this is sad because the Bighorn Canyon is one of the coolest, most ruggedly beautiful things i have ever seen in person. a 1200′ drop down to the still, smooth as glass lake … please take the time to check out Bighorn Canyon National Rec area online, or better yet, go visit. on the way out of the park, after driving around for a while and hearing about the wild horses that inhabit the area, with night falling quickly, we spot some off to the side of the road. the majestic stallions and mares grazing on the delicate grasses in the cool, arid night air … we drove back to the house, feeling satisfied … looking forward to sleeping in a real bed for the first time in several days. It had been a good day … Night fell over Cowley, WY. Day 3 was over.

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