Well, to be honest, there isn’t a lot going on in the Northern part of the states that attracts us millenial city-slicker types. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely enjoy a good National Park every here and there and long stretches of mountainous drives have been awe inspiring and great for our Snapchat stories, but inbetween all of that are miles and miles of…nothing. We left Yellowstone and continued our trek eastward through Wyoming, momentarily staying in little towns along the way to catch some sleep, work time, and the elusive shower. We had finally reached the point in our trip where Anytime Fitnesses were few and far between and it was a very uncomfortable and smelly struggle. We had to resort to purchasing showers from truck stops and local pools, which weren’t always the nicest of places.
A week was spent nestled in a small town in eastern Wyoming awaiting the arrival of some friends (who never showed up, might I add! We won’t forget your transgressions. You know who you are). We had arrived just in time for the Fourth of July and decided to go on that romantic date that all American couples are pretty much expected to do and went to watch the local fireworks show. Let me tell you, living in a van has some serious perks, such as watching some gorgeous fireworks go off from the comfort of your bed with all the snuggly blankets and camera gear close at hand. The show itself was unlike anything either of us remembers seeing. Growing up the desert means your Fourth of July festivities suffer a little bit due to the highly flammable desert plant life and the extreme July heat. For the last sixteen years, the only aerial explosive occasions that I had experienced paled in comparison to what we got to see in Gillette. The sparkle queen in me was gushing over the enormous display as they burst in the night sky. Eli and I sat in the van, cuddled together taking pictures, pointing out our favorite fireworks, and reminescing over how at this point last year, we had just started texting each other. It was very romantic (Que the “aww”‘s from the audience).
Our last night in Gillette left us desperate for a shower as we turned down the thought of having to go to the Flying J again. We found a public pool and paid the six dollar entrance fee only to find out that it was basically a super cool mini waterpark with a high dive and waterslides and a lazy river. And thus became an impromptu date. I don’t think we were being too obnoxious but we did get a couple sideways glances from parents as we goofed around on some kiddie attractions. I guess 20-somethings attempting to play on a jungle gym is frowned upon in most circles but we also don’t care. We had fun.
Our journey continued that weekend and we finally got to see another naturally occurring result of the super volcano, Devil’s Tower. For those of you that don’t know, Devil’s Tower is 5,112 ft. tall igneous rock structure that formed about 60 million years ago. There are a lot of theories surrounding it’s formation, such as the thought that it is the reminents of an ancient volcano or that it is magma that has dried over time. As far as views go, the monument of volcanic history is something to behold. The structure is compromised entirely of geometrically satisfying hexagonal columns that formed due to stress. As the Tower formed, it expanded, causing a pressure that resulted in the cracks that created the columns as a way to relieve that stress.
The tower also has a deep spiritual significance to the eight Plains Native American tribes and started of as a spiritual site for them. It remains a sacred place for them and during the entire month of June, the national monument is closed to tourists in order to respect the customs and celebrations of these tribes who arrive here at the time to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Strolling down the trails that surround the area, you are bound to come across prayer blankets, small clay totems, and some sort of offering that is tied to the trees with colorful fabric. The fact that they re allowed to continue their religious practices around a National Monument almost makes up for the fact that the land was stolen from them in the first place. But not really.
This weekend became very social justice warrior-y for us as we began to plan our next stop, Mount Rushmore, also known as more land that was illegally stolen from Native Americans after General Custer basically spit on the Treaty of Fort Laramie. We spent the morning learning about the incident involving the Black Hills and what exactly went down all those years ago. Finding out the truth is pretty sickening, to say the least, and it’s definitely worth learning about. We also researched the Mount Rushmore sculpture itself to find out that the project leader, Gutzon Borglum, was a member of the KKK. And as if all of this wasn’t enough, the presidents that are represented were not the most savory characters. Yes, they had their good qualities, but to carve the faces of men who owned slaves and gave their okay to kill Native Americans by the thousands as well as take their land was really just a giant middle finger to the Native people.
With that being said, we decided to forgo a trip to Mount Rushmore. We had no desire to put money towards something with such an ugly past. Instead, we opted for the crazy Horse memorial, which is about ten miles past Mount Rushmore. Much like it’s presidential counterpart, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument being carved out of a mountain in the likeness of Crazy Horse, a Native American leader and hero. The project has been underway for 30+ years and is far from completion but the face is done and there is also a museum filled with history, artifacts, and performances reflecting the culture of the eight Plains tribes.
We spent a lot more time there than we intended and ended up starting our five hour drive across South Dakota late in the evening. It was the longest stretch of driving we had experienced so far. Throughout the entire trip, Eli has insisted on driving so, aside from the ten minute drive that I made to a Port of Subs in Chico, I haven’t driven a vehicle in three months…until now! I finally got behind the wheel of the van house again. Maybe the two hour stint will hold me over for the next three months.
During one of our long drives of the course of the weekend, we ended up coming across the famed Wall Drug. Over the span of road leading from Rapid City to Sioux Falls we noticed dozens of billboards, one every half mile, it seemed, trying to coerce us into stopping by to experience this small town spectacle. We stopped. We had to. Located in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota, we entered into an alternate universe filled with novelty attractions and ice cream. The western themed strip mall was filled with unique stores, all owned by the Wall Drug company, as well as singing robotic cowboys, an animatronic T-Rex, and a giant Jackalope. We wandered around and found ourself only able to muster a facial expression of complete and utter confusion. It was weirdly wonderful and nearly impossible to describe in any other way. We spent about 20 minutes exploring, grabbed some milkshakes, and continued on our journey.
At this point in time, we are making a mad dash to Chicago, where one of Eli’s coworkers resides. It is becoming very clear to us right now that it is, indeed, summertime, which means hot weather. Sleeping in the van is starting to get little uncomfortable in this weather and while we are making it work, we are eager to get to a house with air conditioning so we don’t have to wake up at six in the morning covered with sweat. Did I mention we were getting to experience humidity for the first time in who knows how long? It’s great. So, in the past week we have made our way through South Dakota, Minnesota, and now we are working away in a Wisconsin Starbucks. The week has been filled with unusual discoveries, painful truths, and uncomfortable heat but as always, we continue on our journey and everything is fine.