After a long day of driving – emphasis on long, because holy shit, did you know that Montana is huge?! – we arrived in Rapid City a little before 9:00 this evening. We actually woke up at 3:45 in Post Falls, Idaho, and were on the road by 5:00 a.m. Barely spent any time in our motel room there, since we didn’t even get in until 11:00 the night before, but we needed a place to crash, you know? Any hope of arriving earlier was dashed when Tara got stuck at work, as usual. Such is life.
With such an early start, it was a couple of hours before we even saw daylight. And then, just as the sun began to brighten the eastern horizon, we ran into fog. Lots of it. And a temperature that hovered in the low 30s. But the scenery, as expected, was breathtaking. Lots of fall colors in the Idaho panhandle and throughout Montana. We stopped for breakfast at a Perkins in Missoula. I was perhaps a little giddier than I should have been, but Perkins reminds me of my childhood and there aren’t any back home. Eventually the fog burned off and we passed through one lovely Montana town after another. Bozeman, Butte, Livingston. All are impressive. Throw the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide into the mix, and we were practically overdosing on beauty. Our drive was mostly uneventful, until we started hearing a strange rattling sound from my car. Uh-oh. When it didn’t go away after a few miles, we decided to pull over and investigate. Turns out a plastic panel on the undercarriage that provides access to a drain plug had come loose and was dragging across the asphalt. Tara grabbed a Leatherman Tool and we ended up removing the whole thing. Our best guess is that the small deer carcass we drove over in the middle of the road back near Wallace, Idaho (yes, I’m serious) must have loosened one of the screws. It doesn’t appear to be anything major, but I’ll have to run my car to the dealership when we get back home to get that panel replaced.
Our next round of excitement occurred in Billings, when we stopped for lunch at a place called the Pickle Barrel and ordered sandwiches that, no kidding, were as big as footballs. And those were the “small” 8″ ones. I was more interested in the actual pickles we got to fish out of a barrel. Exciting stuff, lemme tell you.
Just outside of Billings the freeway drops down into a valley and the whole prairie opens up before your eyes. It really makes you understand why they call it “Big Sky Country.” I wrote about how impressed I was upon encountering this on my road trip back in 2011, and this time around was no less awe-inspiring. Actually, it was surreal to retrace my route from 2011, this time with a wife. My life is so different now!
We ran into some road construction on Highway 212, which slowed us down a bit, but at one point we pulled over to the side of the road when Tara spotted a vast field full of prairie dog mounds. We grabbed our cameras and snapped pics of the critters, who were chattering away like crazy. I know folks around here consider them varmints and pests, but dammit, I just think they’re cute AF.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, the sun sank beneath the horizon and the sky lit up like it was on fire. I’m probably overusing the word “stunning,” but really, how else do you describe this?!
By the time we crossed the South Dakota state line, it was completely dark so we were unable to take that selfie in front of the “great faces/great places” sign. But also we’d been on the road for 14 hours by then and were more than ready to reach our destination. Right around that time the full harvest moon rose bright orange over the prairie and hung low in the sky, hugging the peaks of the Black Hills as we drew nearer our destination.
And then suddenly, there it was, the lights of downtown Rapid City glowing serenely as we dropped down out of the hills into town. Tara spotted a Chili’s and it was her turn to become giddy with excitement. It’s the little things, I tell you.
We checked into our room, ordered Chinese food from Great Wall – the same place my family and I dined over 30 years ago – and had it delivered to our room, thankful that after so much time in the car we didn’t have to do any more driving.
For the night, anyway. We’ve got a full day ahead tomorrow: Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, a little hiking in the Black Hills, and then we’ll check out downtown Rapid City.