Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 2: Portland, WI - Badlands National Park

Early Wake Up and Waffles
We started our day at 5:30am. We had a lot of ground to cover today in order to arrive in Badlands National Park before sunset so we weren't setting up our tent in the dark.


View Stage 2: Portage, WI - Badlands National Park in a larger map

Andy started his day with waffles.

Portage, WI - How Do You Pronounce That Again?

It turns out that our arbitrarily chosen roost for the night actually has some significant history for earlier trappers and pioneers.  What is now Portage, WI (pronounced Port-Age, not the french pronunciation of the act of "portaging" a canoe) provided First Nations (here called American Indians - weird!), early explorers, a fur traders the unique geographical location to "portage" their canoe from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River.

The Fox River flows north to the St. Lawrence and the Wisconsin River flows south to the Mississippi River. There was a narrow stretch of land in which the travelers would portage their canoes. The town itself was founded in 1854. 

Today they have a canal and a locks system to join the two rivers.

Wisconsin CHEEEEEESE!

Wisconsin is known for it's cheese. Actually, that was all we knew about Wisconsin. So we really wanted to find out what all the hype was about. Turned out, finding cheese wasn't that hard.

That's right, the gas sign reads: 
Cheese, Liquor, Beer Wine, Free Wi-Fi.

Inside there was a delightful selection of cheese with samples! This cheese was amazing, so flavourful. We chose a salami cheese, and some elk meat for our lunch later that day.

Casualties of the Stinkin' Hot Heat

After stocking up on cheese and meat, we enjoyed a Second Breakfast of mini eggs - or what were mini eggs until they experienced stinkin' hot heat the previous day. We entertained ourselves by listening to Jon Stewart's America on audio book. Like good immigrants we learned some history of our new country and how the political system works - it doesn't hurt to add some humor into learning.

Colleen's only cool pants for the trip suffered horribly in the previous day's heat. As they were white, sweat stained them quite visibly and she washed them in the sink in the hotel the previous night and hung them in the window to dry. They were mostly dry by morning but were laid out to dry in the back of the car in case we ran into more heat.

Andy who got barely any sleep the previous day due to the heat was very tired and eager to ride in the cool car today.

Minnesota and The Mississippi

Fun Fact: Minnesota has more shoreline than Florida and California combined - and it doesn't even boarder an ocean. 
We crossed into Minnesota by driving over a bridge that spanned The Mississippi. This part of the Mississippi River is not nearly it's widest part.

SPAM, SPAM, SPAM
Austin, Minnesota is home of the SPAM museum. 

We filled up for gas right across the street from it. We were considering going in but you had to pay for parking and the parking attendant was grumpy and rude when we were deciding whether or not we wanted to go in. 
So we basked in it's glory from afar.

As we left Austin, MI, we quickly passed this truck.
Following it seemed terribly unsafe. We felt like we were one good bump away from the opening scene of Final Destination 2.

Lunching with The Jolly Green Giant

So The Jolly Green Giant lives in Blue Earth, Minnesota. 

Steve is channeling his inner Green Giant

We feasted on our Wisconsin cheese and elk meat while basking in his glory.

Andy's cross country would not be complete if he didn't get to try Wisconsin cheese 



Andy approves.


Enter Steve's Rant About Windmills in Minnesota

At the risk of starting a pattern (with the trains the day before): Windmills are awesome. I don't agree with all the hate about them. They're sleek, a sentinel standing there harnessing the wind for our benefit. And they are LEGION.
There were tons of them. For a couple hours, we would come over a hill, and suddenly be surrounded by the towers. Seemingly randomly placed, they'd go on as far as the eye could see. We couldn't get close enough to them to be worth pulling over to hear the noise of the blades slicing the air, but it was still really neat.


Another thing with the rolling hills (Big Sky country) was you could see things coming a long ways ahead. We saw the smoke from this giant fire for a while, but never got close enough to see what it was. Pretty high flames though (looked about 2 stories tall).



Andy continues to find head-rests in the pile of stuff around him. 


South Dakota Loves their Roadside Statues

South Dakota has rich First Nations (American Indians as they are called in the USA) history and tragedy. It is in this state that the Minneconjou Chief Big Foot tried to lead his people out of the colonial reach and met their end at the massacre at Wounded Knee. The speed limit also increased from 70 mph to 75 mph. Thanks South Dakota, though we doubt our car could have physically gone beyond that speed.

 It is also apparently the home of this giant roadside antelope head and giant hammer?

If you enlarge this photo there are also bizarre skeleton statues that we didn't notice until we looked at the photos.

Um, okay so they seem to have a thing for skeletons. 

At least the recreation of a town in the 1880s seemed to make historical sense.

Gateway to Badlands National Park

The trees disappeared not long after we entered South Dakota. 

 Most of the highway we drove along was rolling hills. The term rolling hills finally made sense.

Then in the distance parts of the land appeared to drop off with sections of spired hills.

We had found our stopping place for the night.

Oh and one more roadside attraction right before the main entrance of Badlands National Park of a prairie dog.

Badlands National Park, SD
The French explorers called them les mauvaises terres a traverser - bad lands to travel across.
 The Badlands Wall constantly retreats north as it erodes and washes into the White River Valley below. The Wall is more than 60 miles long.

Anywhere a wagon could be worked up and down the Wall was called a pass by homesteaders. Getting a team and wagon through one of the steep uneven passes was not to be undertaken lightly. The land is extremely slippery when wet.

For those visiting the Badlands by way of the prairies: The Badlands sneaks up on you. Yes, for about an hour we saw the craggly silhouette coming up ahead, but it didn't seem that tall, and the mountain range wasn't long. Then we turned off I-90 to go south into the park. After paying to enter, we meandered along the road, and suddenly the ground dropped out. All of these crazy pictures are below the level of the prairies. They seem like this secret landscape hidden below the horizon even though they were only a few miles away from I-90. If you haven't entered the Badlands before, it's surreal.

Cedar Pass Campground and Tasty Bison

After taking in the view, we drove down into the badlands to set up camp and eat.

The view from our campsite


We arrived in time to stop at the Cedar Pass restaurant and order some bison burgers.
 Andy has a taste for bison.

Then he celebrates stopping for the day here with a Badlands Happy-Time


We watched the sunset over the Badland formations  and because we were getting up at 4:30am the next morning to fit in a sunrise hike, we were in bed by 9:30pm

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