Day 1: Road Trip to Devils Tower
April 26, 2017
Minneapolis to Devils Tower, Wyoming
Lakewinds Co-op in Minnetonka for snacks and hot breakfast. Tried to stop in Sioux Falls but the Co-op didn't have any good road trip food.
We took a detour through the South Dakota Badlands National Park, the Hwy 240 loop for $20 (for the park entrance fee) which was 100% worth it.
Stopped in Rapid City for dinner food and more snacks at the Co-op, where a lady told us that South Dakota is the only place you can find these rainbow gemstones called 'fairburn', and encouraged us to go gem hunting. We were determined to make it to Devils Tower before nightfall, so we pushed on and left the fairburn for another adventure.
Once at Devils Tower we paid an honest $15 to the iron ranger for a tent site. Because it's the off-season, there are only a total of about 10 giant campers here, otherwise not a soul. The merry-go-round in the playground from my childhood is still here, as is the pool I almost broke my back on during my first (and only) backflip attempt to date.
It's surprisingly chilly at Devils Tower, and will be a good night for Alex testing his 35-degree Sea To Summit bag, making sure it's warm enough for the cooler temperatures that we'll see on trail. Leaving Minneapolis we got an earlier start than we had hoped for (yay!). Weather was cold and rainy through Minnesota and into South Dakota, and traffic was resultantly atrocious. It lent us an opportunity to head off the beaten path and drive side roads until we could hop back on Hwy 169. We passed a mysterious giant yellow barn that was unlabelled, so I used my internet detective skills to uncover the barn's secret identity—the 'World's Largest Candy Store'. Doubtful, but the kind of roadside attraction that stay-in-the-state tourists bring their kids on sleepy summer weekends.
The rain stopped and the clouds seemed to part as just as we entered the Badlands National Park. It's Al's first encounter with the South Dakota Badlands, and he absolutely loves it. The Badlands delayed our ETA by an hour because we stopped at every viewpoint to get out of the car and look around.
I thought about something my neighbor Carey said to me before we left on this epic adventure. He told me to document my adventure for myself. Not for anyone else. That made it a lot easier to take photos. I stopped worrying about how a picture would look on Instagram, and instead what it would help me remember. I also realized I should look at something beautiful, take a mental snapshot of how I want to remember it first, and then try to capture it in a photograph. This is new for me—I usually start with trying to find something that looks good in my viewfinder.
Once we passed Rapid City, the black hills were upon us and a sudden, ominously thick cloud of fog descended. I've never seen fog like this. It was instantaneous. It blocked out the sun, and visibility dropped to less than 30 feet. Bad timing for the fog to drop in, as we started winding through narrow, hilly roads—the kind of roads that instill a renewed appreciation for wide shoulders. Our pace slowed to a crawl and my spirits dropped with the known certainty that Alex wouldn't get to experience watching the monolithic Devils Tower rise up over the hills. As if the universe were responding to my disappointment, we crested the hills and the sun shone so bright that it cut the fog like a knife and nearly blinded us! The thick trails of fog slithered off the road and Devils Tower appeared just in time for the brilliant colors of sunset to glow behind the volcanic core.