Driveabout America: Part 8
As we began the last leg of our journey eastward, we saw a sign inviting us to visit Wall, South Dakota. If you have never heard of town of Wall, I will tell you a little of its history. In 1936, the small drug store in the town was like most businesses in the Great Plains, trying to survive the depression and dust bowl that devastated the area. Cars passed the small community heading west, but few stopped at the drug store in the middle of nowhere.
It was on one of these days when the wife of the drug store owner came upon the idea to offer free ice water to those passing on the highway. This simple advertising idea changed the store and the community overnight. Today, it is estimated two million people a year stop and accept the free water. Of course they also shop in the stores and businesses on the town’s Main Street. Walls Drug Store is still the main attraction.
When Mary and I stopped we wanted to find tee shirts for our great-grand kids. Along the street, Mary saw the sign she had anticipated for thousands of miles traveled, SALE, Black Hills Gold. As she shopped, I sat out front with other old guys and engaged in typical waiting husbands conversations.
Eventually Mary summoned me by saying, “I want to show you something.” I have no idea how they can fashion gold into so many different pieces of jewelry. She held up a necklace, and she asked if I liked it. Truth is it was pretty and a little different from the gold jewelry I had seen over the last three weeks. She decided to buy a Black Hills Gold necklace in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Her trip was now complete.
As we were leaving town, she wanted to stop at store to pick up some snacks for the road. It was a grocery store that sold to the town’s population of about 800. We noticed a sign in the meat market that we don’t see around here. Buffalo meat for sale. After my near disappointment in seeing buffalo in the wild, I was glad that my only view of a buffalo was not though the glass of a meat counter in Wall, South Dakota.
As we were headed towards Interstate 90, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing pass the on-ramp to the interstate. The arrow was directing us to the Badlands National Park. The further south we traveled towards the park the more the landscape made you believe the earth is truly flat. Covered by a blue sky that could be compared to a blue bowl covering the earth. No trees or houses or even power poles marked the land. We traveled along this flat landscape until we saw sign that welcomed us to the Badlands National Park. At that point, it looked like it should be named Flatlands National Park. In the distance to the east a single buffalo stood grazing on the vast grasslands. He was alone in thousands of acres and enjoying the green grass of the Dakotas. It was an image that reminded me of the land and the difficult times the buffalo have experienced. South Dakota is both magnificent in its natural beauty, but also it can be unforgiving for those who live off the land.
We drove on for a while until the grassland suddenly fell away into the Badlands. We pulled to a location where we could look out on an eroded landscape that could be mistaken for the moons surface. It was evident why the first settlers must have thought the dramatic change in landscape could only be described as the badlands. The land was once covered with volcanic ash. Over eons of time, wind, rain and winter snows eroded the softer ash leaving the scarred landscape. Bands of muted colors in the hills increased the dramatic appearance of the land. At one point, I saw a young man far out on a narrow ridge of land taking pictures.
I thought him to be foolish to venture so far from the safety of the viewing area. As I took his picture, I realized how small he was in the vast landscape created by Mother Nature.
At every turn during our drive through the park, we viewed an ever-changing land. With each turn, the colors of the earth seemed to change their patterns of banded colors. At one point, we came across and area where Mountain goats were foraging for food in what seemed an inhospitable land. As the adults grazed unaffected by our presence, three young goats played along the steep cliffs with no sense of danger. As harsh as the landscape is, it is also the home to a variety animals and birds. It was nesting time in a land with few trees. The many Red Winged Black Birds of the badlands build their nests in scrub brush close to the ground. The bird’s stark black feathers with red on their wings was sharp contrast to the muted earth colors of the Badlands.
After leaving the Badlands, we set the GPS for our last destination on our trip, Le Claire, Iowa. If you are wondering what is there, I would ask if you have ever watched the show, American Pickers. Le Claire is the show’s home town. Located along the Mississippi River the town boasts it is home to Wild Bill Hickok and the Antique Archeologist store. As we entered the town I reminded Mary that just a few days back we were in Deadwood, South Dakota where Wild Bill came to untimely end.
The American Pickers store has some of the items you may have seen Mike and Frank pick while on the road. You can purchase some of those things, but mainly it is a store where you can purchase tee shirts, ball hats or coffee cup souvenirs. It is enjoyable to see the store locations you may have seen on television. If you are ever in Le Claire, Iowa take the time to stop and visit the historic town and shops along the river.
The time had come to set the GPS for home. Even the lady’s voice inside the device seemed to be happy to be heading east. I hope you have enjoyed hearing of Mary and my adventures out west. We took lots of pictures, visited with some old friends and met some new ones. Our pictures captured the majestic beauty of the places we visited, but they can’t match being there. We very much enjoyed South Dakota and someday we may return to see the many things we did not have the time to visit.
One last thing, do you remember the small white stone Mary found in Lander, Wyoming? We are beginning to make plans to see the New England states with their fall colors. There is a point that is as far as you can travel north to the tip of Maine. We believe it would be a good place to leave a small rock that has so far traveled 2000 miles across America. Thanks for joining us on our Driveabout America as we traveled Through the Lens.