We really did the right thing this trip and stayed at a single hotel for all the nights so that we didn't have to pack and unpack and really could figure out what was around and in the place we were staying. Plus, we got lucky and the beds are firm enough and being on the third floor, it's good and quiet.
Today, Jet got the choice of The Devil's Tower and the geographical center of the US or the Badlands and Wall Drug (yes, we like hitting some of the real tourist highlight). He picked the Devil's Tower. So we went north and west.
Given Alaska's placement and mass as well as Hawaii's placement, the actual center of the United States is pulled north and west of where one would expect it to be. It is different than the geographical center of the contiguous 48 states. Yes, it is out here in the middle of nowhere, SD.
And, given the intermittent nature of my connection here at the hotel, I'm only loading a few pictures at at time up to flickr.
We went out there, and it looked a whole lot like these two pics:
Lots of grass. It was clearly the Plains. Nearly all ranch land, with the very occasional house, and fifty miles between towns of 15, 50, or 100 souls. We went over 150 miles just today between this and the drive to Devil's Tower. I'm glad our Passat gets 50 mpg, easy.
It's also easy to see why South Dakota and Wyoming and this whole area is really favored by motorcycles. There isn't much traffic at all, and there are these beautiful, winding roads that are interesting to ride. Everywhere there are packs of motorcycles, and there's a big BMW motorbike convention this coming weekend. Sturgis is a pretty famous place for motorcycles, but this whole area seems just made for them, and we're seeing all kinds of bikers from the black leather, studded, and tat-laden (oh, I saw a gorgeous spiderweb centered about one guy's elbow with a dragon writhing up his whole arm) kind to the reflective rain gear types with their outfits and Hondas to a little old man with a wooden box for his little Toto-like dog in the back. The helmet laws around here are just that you have to wear a helmet if you're under 18, otherwise, it's up to you.
We went out, came back a bit through the town of Belle Fourche, where we found some lunch at the grocery store, and ate on the way west into Wyoming towards Devil's Tower. Devil's tower is a volcanic formation that happened under standstone, so when the sandstone wore away, all that was left was the magma cone at the center of the volcano. It's really pretty amazing to see.
The path all the way around the cone was 1.3 miles, and we walked the whole thing through forests of Ponderosa pine. The fire suppression had made it so that there was lots of dead wood all around and through the path. The central information station had given Jet a little book of things to check off as he found them. That really kept his interest during the rather strenuous hike, and at the end, he turned the book in for a badge and a prize as well as the bright green National Park pencil he got at the beginning to mark things off. He loved that. We did too as it gave the hike some meaning to him.
There were also lots of legends about how the Tower came to be, and nearly all the Native American myths involved bears marking the stone the way they mark trees, which is why nearly all the local names for the place actually has to do with the Bears, either their home, their tipi, or their origin place. Some include stories as to why Bear's ears are short and his tail is nothing more than a nub. There are also stories about how Buffalo raced Man around the base of the tower (though Man got help from the Birds as they both only had two legs to Buffalo's four) and they race so hard, they spat and coughed blood everywhere, which is why the ground around the base is red. Man won, which is why he got to hunt Buffalo thereafter.
We got ice cream at the foot of the mountain, and checked on stamps, but the post office at Devil's Tower was closed. I halfway wished I'd gotten all my cards done already and sent them all from there. *laughter* Well, the Badlands Post Office should be good, too.
From there we headed back to the hotel and another good dip in the rather cold pool. It certainly feels good after a long hot day out on the trail, but that first shock is always a doozy.
Dinner was at the steakhouse just up the street. Elkhorn Steakhouse is not in Google, but they offered a Buffalo BBQ short rib that was really great. John got that, and I stole some from him. I got a ribeye, medium rare, and it was juicy and perfect and huge along with a really nice, creamy potatoes au gratin. I really loved it and the service was the fastest we've gotten since we got here.
After that, we went back to the hotel, I happily did what I had to do on the computer by the lobby, and the boys tried to use Jet's XO and then the hotel's computers for Jet to play his Lego games. Lego.com has some nice games, now, that he really loves.
So... g'night after another night out on the road.