Day 31 - To the Badlands
Clear and hot.
There are few road options between northern Nebraska and the Badlands of South Dakota. It's a matter of driving directly west then north or angling up into South Dakota and then west. I chose the latter. Three highways took me to Winner, South Dakota and from there it was Route 44 all the way to Badlands National Park.
Leaving very early in the morning I was able to have a few hours of cool windless riding. The highways were smooth and traffic virtually nonexistent. Then the sun came over the horizon. My shadow stretched out in front of me. Winds began to swirl. Soon a strong wind was blowing out of the north. I was buffeted about for the rest of the day.
Nebraska is about corn. South Dakota is about wheat. Precious golden bails of newly harvested wheat dot the rolling landscape. There is fencing and cattle too. Named locations, not necessarily populated, are spaced 15 to 20 miles apart.
I came to a town named Spencer, Nebraska, population 971, very large by Prairie standards. A restaurant appeared. Two pickup trucks and a tractor were parked in front. A light was on. The place is called the Iron Man Café. There is a tall stiff metal sculpture of a frontiersman outside. I pulled in. It surprised me they were open. It was the 4th of July.
Inside, a second statue nearly identical to the one outside except it was of a gun slinger stood against one wall. The four people inside acknowledged me when I came in, but didn't have anything additional to say. I asked the one worker why it was called the Iron Man and not Prairie Man or the Gunslinger. She laughed like I was the second person to ask the same question and then said she had no idea.
The Midwest and Plains have lousy coffee. It's weak. They only use non-dairy creamer. Why this is, is a mystery. You need to know this before you venture there.
My day was spent bracing against the wind and moving forward through the Sand Hills. The terrain is low and rolling. It is filled with mounds, large and small. Everything is covered in grass. There comes a point about three-quarters of the way across South Dakota when you notice some of the mounds do not have grass. There are exposed bits, light brown dirt and small round rocks. As you move on the exposed bits become larger and in time you see fully exposed mounds. The amount of grass and soil cover is very thin.
The long straight highway begins to have curves and there are some inclines. The terrain is changing. Then in the distance, in a hazy kind of way, you see a line of jagged light brown hills. Next stop, Interior, South Dakota, population 49.
Interior is a town just on the outside of the southeastern entrance to Badlands National Park. It has a store with gas pumps, a church, and the Wagon Wheel Saloon. There is a sign 50 miles back on the highway advertising the saloon. It says, "Bikers stop and have a cold beer."
Arriving in the Badlands from this direction, the tall hills suddenly and dramatically jut up into the sky. As you get closer you see the mountain's light brown layers punctuated by wider red layers. It's a place of beauty to explore.
I camped in the park near the entrance and drove the bike unloaded along all the paved roads, about 35-40 miles. I drove after I arrived, at sunset, and the next morning at sunrise. I wanted to see the landscape in different light. The light and shadow interplay are spectacular.
What you discover driving from the plain up into the hills is that there is an upper plain. The hills were not uplifted in a former geologic age, but the huge single plain had a rupture in this area. Some of it subsided and some pushed upward. The edge between the two eroded into what we see today.