Michael and Sarah's Great Cross-Country Adventure

This is a blog about our 6-week trip driving across the USA. We set off on March 18, 2008.

Friday, May 2, 2008

the real Midwest

I'm not sure if I'll say everything in this entry, or do it a bit at a time. We had several days without internet access, and then the trip was nearing the end and we just lost the drive to write. But I'm going to try to finish out the blog, since I think it's a nice record.

We drove from Wyoming into South Dakota. On the way we made a last-minute decision to visit the Devil's Tower, which is this big rock that juts out of the land in the total middle of nowhere. It really is quite impressive, and very bizarre. The rock isn't smooth, it looks like it is formed from columns of rock. It's quite large and very flat on top. We walked around it on a path. Mike thought it was much cooler than me, but both of us had kind of had enough when we were on the far side of it and as far from the parking lot as possible. I have to admit that the highlight for me was the prairie dogs that have built a city just inside the entrance to the park. They are so cute!

We drove into South Dakota and down to Mt. Rushmore. The hills around there, called the Black Hills, are oddly reminiscent of the monument, so at every turn you think you might see it. It seems like the sculpture was made to reflect the rocks around it, although I guess probably not. It's pretty impressive, but also kind of lame because it's surrounded by this horrible parking lot whose entrance looks like a toll booth on the highway. We parked on the side and hiked in the back, which you're not supposed to do but I would recommend (park in the lot for the "Washington profile view"!).

On the way there we also stopped to see the Crazy Horse monument, which is supposed to be bigger and better than Mt. Rushmore but is barely begun. I guess it's good that the Native Americans are being more ambitious and asserting themselves, but if your monument isn't complete, it just isn't as cool.

Then we drove down to the Badlands. I'm not sure what I expected there, and it's a really tough thing to explain. We went because our friends Sarah and Eric really liked it, but they had trouble explaining it too. It's rock formations, but in a really unique way, and with tons of colors from the minerals in the rocks, and right there at the edge of the prairie - there would be prairie grass right up to the edge, and then it would drop off in this ravine and a network of ravines and canyons ringed by peaks. It was a lot like Cappadoccia in Turkey, except maybe cooler. The thing is, my family flew all the way to Turkey, but it would never occur to my parents to say "kids, this year we're going for vacation to South Dakota!" It really made me think about all the natural beauty in this country.

We stayed that night in Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug. I won't bother to explain what Wall Drug is, but it was worth a stop, especially in that land of nothingness. South Dakota is just miles and miles of prairie, which looks natural and kind of cool and doesn't seem to be used for anything. We mostly drove I-90 because it's the only road, and there were lots of exits straight onto dirt roads. It's a strange state.

The next day we drove into Nebraska, on the misguided assumption that there would be something more interesting there. Nebraska got both of our prize for most boring state. It's just grass, not even cool prairie grass, with some cows, and no interesting towns. There is no redeeming quality.

But we took our time because we decided to stop in Omaha to meet some of my mother's cousins. These are the children of my grandmother's favorite sister, but the their family and my mom's never really met. Four of the 8 siblings live in Omaha, and we met two. One of them, Marilyn, said she came to my house when I was little, but I don't remember. The other, Jim, has never met my mom. Jim's wife Nathalie made us dinner, and we stayed at their house. I have to admit to some apprehension ahead of time, but we had a good time and it was never awkward. It was a taste of America that we might not have had otherwise. These are real Midwesterners, Jim is an NRA member. They both voted for Bush both times. But their daughter is very liberal and is married to an African American from Alaska of all places. It was all a bit strange and random but nice at the same time.

The next day we had our next random encounter, with Mike's mom's roommate from college in Iowa. Jane and her husband Roger also cooked us dinner and gave us a flavor of the Midwest. But I have to say, I will no longer lump the entire Midwest in together. Nebraska is what I've been picturing all my life. Iowa was comparatively quite pretty and even interesting. There are green rolling hills and the population density was far above anything we'd passed through since Portland. Coming the route that we did, it felt positively Eastern.

We stopped in Madison County to see a bridge, which just looked like New England except people seemed to think it had a special significance because of the book and had graffitied the cheesiest romantic crap all over the inside. We also stopped in a series of little villages that are populated by direct descendants of the original German immigrants. Mike said there was something distinctly German about them, but I didn't really see it beyond the fact that they claim to still speak the language.

I'll leave it there for now, and will continue the journey as I'm up to it.

With love from Hopkinton,



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