Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"So That's Why They Call It the Badlands!" (South Dakota, final day)

Sunday, August 2. Approximately 6:00 AM.
After finally breaking down the night before and taking a sleeping pill (sleeping with one's mother is not conducive to a good night's sleep, especially when said mother insists on sleeping on THE side of the bed that one is accustomed to), our heroine, Stephanie, spent an interesting night having hallucinations (in which she saw people who definitely were not there) and very odd dreams. She is finally sound asleep, when a merciless man insists on heartlessly awakening her. Sure she'll be groggy and partially incoherent for the next several hours, but at least her father can have the satisfaction of seeing America first before the sun gets a chance to. Her father is incapable of enjoying a vacation unless he rouses everyone at such early hours every day that they require a vacation just to recover from vacation!

Later that morning
After a gut-splittingly huge and incredibly delicious breakfast at Marlin's Roadhouse Grill (highly recommended for all travelers), young adventuress Stephanie and her not-quite-as-adventurous-as-her-though-certainly-more-adventurous-than-most-people-their-age parents set off on a quest. They seek Wall Drug, a massive tourist trap in Wall, which baits travelers with at least one hundred miles of large signs advertising its enticements. For those unfamiliar with this particular modern marvel, Wall Drug is a ginormous store selling nearly everything. It features a huge collection of interesting old photographs on many of the walls, stretches longer than a flea market, and has lots of statues of buffalo, jackalopes, etc. After a few hours, the Thompsons leave, fulfilled and slightly poorer financially (Stephanie's dog, Jasper, will be a very happy little boy when his "mommy" gets home and gives him his lovely present from South Dakota).

Following the visit to Wall Drug, the family is off to (cue appropriate musical intro) the Badlands. The name conjures in Stephanie's mind a harsh, unforgiving stark landscape of dried, parched earth with steam rising from it and lots of skulls strewn about. This image is hard to reconcile with the surrounding landscape of green prairie, but it's what the name suggests. The name misleads.

"So that's why they call it the Badlands!" Stephanie's mother exclaims as the currently-lush prairie dramatically and suddenly gives way to an almost-alien landscape of harsh cliffs rising and falling from the earth in startling triangular shapes. It is as though they have entered another world - one of silent harshness that somehow molds into unspeakable beauty. To the farmers who came west dreaming of becoming ranchers, this landscape must have seemed hostile and disappointing - certainly it would be a poor place to hope for anything, be it plant or creature, to grow. On the other hand, it seems unfair to label any place so strikingly stunning and so flawlessly colored - as though by a celestial paintbrush - "the Badlands." So many other names could do far better justice to this rose-hued panorama!

The family spends hours in awe, taking photographs and staring, at times speechless with wonder. It is as though the Badlands has them under a mystic spell. Stephanie, of course, can and must climb, ignoring the pain in her previously-injured knees. Her parents restrain her from hiking to her heart's content however. No matter. Someday, before more than two or three years have passed, our heroine will return to this transcendental painting-come-to-life. And once more, it shall hold her under its enchantment.

1 comment:

Wanda said...

Thanks for this great post...I really enjoyed your writing style! Glad to hear you had a good time, and we hope you'll visit us again!

South Dakota Office of Tourism

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"