“Roughing It” In The Badlands

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, June 21, 2011 was originally posted on June 25, 2011.

PART 4 (DAY 6): Cheryl woke up in the passenger seat after a nap, only to see a peculiar billboard going by: a funny cartoony illustration of a hot dog wearing a sombrero, mascot of a place called “Señor Wiener.” On the billboard he said, “You know you want me.”  Soon afterwards, we saw a billboard inviting motorists to see the Rare Rhinos of Africa.

“Where are we?” she wondered, as if she still dreaming.

I had been to South Dakota before — we passed through it during that tornado chasing tour I did a few years back — and remembered that the state is full of roadside attractions and tourist traps.  South Dakota is after all a hub of Americana:  Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and the annual Sturgis rally where biker dudes let loose their leather en masse.  Add to that a few other minor attractions with inflated importance — like the kitschy emporium Wall Drug, with billboards counting down the miles until you get there — and you collectively have South Dakota’s motto: “Great Faces, Great Places.”

“A lot of RVs here,” I noticed — more than any state we’d driven through thus far.  We had finally arrived away from the cities if the east and Midwest to a place where Americans of the heartland come to vacation in big Winnebagos.  We would however, rough it by camping in a tent and sleeping bags, and cooking with my little camp stove.  We had everything we needed to cook meals for two — it all came in an all-in-one camp kitchen set I bought, complete with a little kitchen sink — except for food.

“I figure there’s gotta be a Target or a Walmart somewhere around here,” I said, as we drove towards Sioux Falls, SD, the largest city on the way to our proposed campsite that evening in Badlands National Park.

“I guess there’s no Whole Foods,” Cheryl said, being a supporter of the whole food movement of local, organic and natural foods.  Despite Sioux Falls having most chain stores like Petco, Barnes & Noble, and of course Starbucks, we didn’t see any markets targeting the socially- and health-conscious foodie crowd, and settled on the big food aisles of WalMart.

MY LAST CAMPING EXPERIENCE was while trekking in Patagonia, when John McClain (not of Die Hard fame) and I had to be concerned with bulkiness and weight of food because we would carry it on our backs for five days of roughing it.  This was in my head when I went straight for canned and processed packet foods, much to Cheryl’s chagrin.  “Don’t let me look at the back of this,” she said, avoiding the ingredient lists of things you can’t pronounce that end in suffixes -in and -tose.

“Should we get this one, or this one?” she asked me, trying to decide which of the two Tuna Helper packages were less evil.

“I don’t care,” I said.  “We’re camping.

Eventually we compromised on a box of whole wheat pasta, olive oil, cans of tuna and chicken, spices, and some canned vegetables — although we put some of those back and substituted them for fresh vegetables and fruits, and a bag of spinach that wouldn’t necessarily weigh more but take up more room.  “I feel a lot better we had fresh vegetables now,” Cheryl said.  In the end, we had a whole bunch of groceries — way too much to pack on our backs — but Cheryl reminded me that we weren’t exactly going to be roughing it like I did in Chile, but go “car camping” and could always leave stuff in the car.

When we arrived at the Cedar Park Campground within Badlands National Park in central South Dakota at sunset, I realized that despite our bags of groceries, we were definitely the ones “roughing it” compared to the others; most other “campers” simply drove their RVs to the parking spot of an empty campsite, left the campsite alone, plugged their RV into an electrical hook-up, and stayed inside.

Really, Americans? I thought.  Really?  I used to think that the whole American RV culture was cool, but it looked to me that it was really just the mark of lazy or spoiled Americans who can’t fathom the thought of leaving their comfort zone for a night and truly embraced the outdoors.  One RV we noticed even had a big satellite dish on it, presumably for satellite TV.

“And I thought we were souped up,” I said, referring to all the gadgets we had plugged into the car’s lighter/power outlet.

Cheryl agreed with the ridiculousness.  “Why don’t they just stay in a motel or something?”

Our non-electrical camp was humble, with a two-person tent filled with sleeping pads and sleeping bags, propped next to a picnic table with a wind shelter to keep the breeze from blowing out the fire from the camp stove I set up — just like I did in Patagonia.  Cooking at the stove — with the knife-equipped Spork I got everyone for Christmas in Torres del Paine — brought me back to a happy place.  “I like this,” I said.  “I like this a lot.”

“I’d like it with a shower,” Cheryl said.  Most campgrounds in the national parks were shower-equipped, but this particular one had delays on its construction — not that the people in the fancy RVs cared.  Cheryl would deal with it though — at least there were toilets — and embraced it.  (She was not much of a camper before all this.)

“I could do this,” she told me over dinner.  That night I made a yummy penne with olives, olive oil, spinach, tuna, and spices, which we washed down with the six-pack of beers we got from a truck stop on the way.  Two friendly and curious on-lookers stopped by to say hello and to ask where we were from in Massachusetts, because of Cheryl’s license plate.  It was always a mouthful when answering the question, “Where are you guys from?” because New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Caliornia were all part of the answer.  One of them invited us to the program that the park rangers put on every night.

We walked to the campground’s amphitheater for a slide show presentation by Ranger Rick who did a lecture about the land and the American Indian Lakota tribes who lived nearby — he even did a little native song and dance by himself, which was kind of funny because he was this short, stocky Tweedle-Dee of a guy.  The lecture was about an hour and it was okay, but mostly I was impressed with the big night sky, with every star visible above the dim lights coming from the RV windows.  Most people turned in early — it felt like we were sneaking out “after curfew” just going to the bathroom around 10:30 — but we spent the rest of the night playing Scrabble with our headlamps.  It was a pleasant evening of roughing it — sans electricity.

BEING IN THE BADLANDS WASN’T JUST ABOUT CAMPING; the Badlands is a geological marvel protected by the National Park Service, with its expanse of granite peaks and crevasses that blanket the landscape.  Cheryl and I saw most parts of this interesting land — a area of paleontological interest with its plethora of fossil skeletons — via the several outlooks along the scenic drive that goes through the park.  We followed the scenic loop, stopping at most overlooks for a photo here and there — being mindful of rattlesnakes, of course — to just marvel at the landscape amongst the biker groups, the RVs, and other cars.  I realized it wasn’t exclusively American tourists when I overheard French, Spanish and Italian — I suppose people in other countries are interested in America’s outdoors the way I’ve been with enthralled with their countryside’s nature overseas.  All in all, the Badlands was our nice introduction to the National Park System (annual membership $80/yr per car) and our time in the American outdoors part of our road trip—even though after a night without electricity, I realized a little hypocrisy on my part because of my dependency on it.

“The fuse isn’t blown,” I said, inspecting the fuse box under the steering wheel of Cheryl’s Honda Civic, after our campmade breakfast of oatmeal and coffee.  We were baffled at why the power outlet wasn’t working, but figured it might have something to do with the fact that I plugged in that 1-to-3 adapter — one of those with a DC/AC power inverter for my laptop, plus we plugged other things in the other two slots. 

“I knew something would happen,” Cheryl reiterated.

I figured the culprit was merely a fuse blown — something easily fixable with the spare fuses supplied under hood — but after going through the manual and swapping out fuses by process of elimination, we still had no power.  A Google search revealed that if a fuse isn’t blown, it could loose connection somewhere behind the unit.  Perhaps merely the weight of the 1-to-3 adapter was the culprit, instead of it being a power issue.

“Fuck it, we’ll have to rough it.” 

It was proposed that we’d just continue the trip the old school way, without GPS devices, cell phones, or mobile hot spots.  But I was still determined to get it up and running — not for any dependency on gadgets used on a road trip, but because I had a project due in a couple of weeks that I needed to work on in the car, and “not having electricity” seemed to be a lame excuse.

“It’s gotta be a connection,” said Cheryl, an engineering school grad.  “It’s always a connection.”

“That’s why I’m road tripping with an engineer!” I said to Cheryl, as we drove out of the Badlands and to the town of Wall, SD.  I remembered from the tornado tour that it was a fairly populated town because of the Wall Drug mini mall of a tourist trap there — a funny place with buffalo chili cheese dogs, “Free Ice Water!”, kitschy souvenir stores, camping supplies, benches with different life-sized statues, a backyard full of larger-than-life statues, a makeshift mine for kids to pan for gold under direction of two animatronic raccoons,  and of course, an actual drug store (it’s primary purpose when Wall was a boom town in the frontier days).  Driving through Wall, it wasn’t too hard to find an auto parts store with a full-time mechanic — an American Indian guy who deduced that the power outlet was in fact drawing power, but the grounding cable got dislodged in the back; it had fallen somewhere deep behind the dashboard cover.  There was no time to fiddle with all that (it wasn’t a Honda dealership) and instead he simply installed and mounted a second power adapter near the fuse box, and connected it to an unused slot in the fuse box.  In an hour we were back in business, at least a third of the way, since I promised not to use the 1-to-3 adapter anymore.  I guess in my world, only using electricity for one device at a time is “roughing it,” but I’d deal with it.

Next entry: Inside The Sculptor’s Studio

Previous entry: 1 out of 10,000

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Comments for “"Roughing It" In The Badlands”

  • Greetings!  We’re in the N.I.Z. in Yellowstone… for at least three days… off to catch a rodeo in town, which is how I’m connected briefly right now.  Enjoy this entry… I’m behind 2 days but am taking notes.

    I’ll get back to speed when I can; however I have a project due that might take priority (at least we have that new lighter now)

    NEXT ENTRY: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/25  at  05:24 AM

  • I’ll have to say that Badlands is pretty Bad Ass.

    Nice shots.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/25  at  03:58 PM

  • How many watts is your inverter? you need at least 350 watts to run 2 laptops.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/26  at  11:32 PM

  • JANICE: That would have been great info to know last week. hmmm

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/27  at  07:37 PM

  • Don’t Forget To Like The Global Trip on Facebook….

    Get instant updates when new posts are up and get mobile upload pictures from time to time…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/27  at  07:59 PM

  • Now I want to go camping!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  11:41 PM

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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: From Sea to Shining Sea," which chronicled a two-and-a-half-week road trip across the U.S.A., from New York to San Francisco, visiting several American national parks and monuments along the way.

Next entry:
Inside The Sculptor’s Studio

Previous entry:
1 out of 10,000


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