Today, our adventure with the four Herr siblings and their parents continues. If you missed last week’s grand narrative, check out The Wild West, Part 1; you won’t be sorry.

A day’s drive to the north from Mesa Verde, we stumbled upon a tiny town just south of the grand Tetons called Jackson, WY. There wasn’t much to the place—just a normal small town, but I was particularly impressed by the arched entrances to the community park. They were fascinating, as they were constructed entirely out of antlers. The town seemed to consist mainly of a few small stores with the occasional local filtering in or out. It was quiet & quaint, the way towns are meant to be. I have since revisited this town within the last 10 years. My, how times have changed–and not for the better, in my book.

Just up the road in Yellowstone, we saw all sorts of mind-blowing (and nose-stinging) geological wonders. Mud pots, boiling springs, and geysers spewed their foul stench for everyone to bask in. Both beautiful and uncouth, the romance of geology is a difficult relationship to maintain—being equally intriguing and disgusting. We also learned that Old Faithful isn’t nearly as dedicated to us as it once was. Hurt and confused, we decided to leave the disgorging earth for more conventional sights. (It was best for all of us.) The central valley of Yellowstone offers a vast flat plain where herds of wild bison were seen from afar. Bison being bison, they pretty much go where they want and will often block traffic on the roads for the sport of it. While annoying, it does offer the opportunity to see them in close proximity. (The ones observed up close are far more…musky…than what you may expect. You have been warned.)

We even managed to spend a night in the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, pampered by all the luxuries the 1920s could offer. These luxuries included hallways seemingly large enough for two Peerless 56s to pass without touching each other or the walls. The veranda of the pale yellow grand hotel presents its guests a wonderful view of the deep blue waters of Lake Yellowstone. It also offered communal bathrooms with pedestal sinks and old toilet fixtures that made me appreciate a modern American Standard. These close bathroom quarters also allowed me to get to know fellow travelers in socially awkward ways.

The socially awkward theme continued the next day as we left the hotel and headed out to take in the Yellowstone Falls. Situated in a valley of yellow sulphur-laced stone (strange, that), the blue-white water flowing over the falls is a majestic contrast to the surrounding rock. After several minutes of drinking in the scene (and the overpowering scent of rotten egg), my sister and I decided to head back to the car. It was on this rather remote path that we encountered an elderly man cleverly releasing his own sulphur-scented toxins into the air. With each stride, he released a small, calculated parp in hopes that the scrunch of the gravel under his feet would offset the duck calls under his trousers. Sadly, it did not. Each step seemed to propel him down the path as though powered by a small, slow air compressor connected to the mouthpiece of a tuba. I began to question my theory of the sulphur rocks as the root of the rotten egg smell. Needless to say, my 13 year-old sister was less than impressed.

Mammoth Hotsprings

Our Chevy continued north into Bozeman, then turned back east through the never ending openness of Montana, where we truly learned why it is called Big Sky Country. I can’t explain the how or why of it. You simply must look up into the deep blue of Montana to appreciate it yourself.

The Dakotas offered up all the excitement that you would expect them to, and perhaps a bit more. There really is some beautiful land in those states. Mount Rushmore, for one, is absolutely worth the long drive to see. The vast size of the monument leaves an impression of fascination and respect for the workers who carved it. (However, it does seem a bit of a shame that Washington is the only one to have a partial torso.) As you leave the park and head back to toward Rapid City, remember to look for the Crazy Horse Memorial. (This attraction has the distinction of not only being much larger in size than Rushmore, but is also known as The World’s Longest Project That Will Never Be Completed.)

We followed Route 90 East and stopped at the infamous Wall Drug. Finally! The hundreds of miles of billboards and nagging eventually forced our parents to cave and gave us a brief stopover at this wonderful taste of The West. It even offered “free admission!” Once we arrived we realized that most stores extend the same courtesy. (This taste of The West was quickly taking on hints of bile.) It was a typical tourist trap, but our mother left there with a nickel cup of coffee and my brother with a cowboy hat. (He really needs to wear that thing again.)

The Badlands National Park was our next stop. It is a difficult park to explain because the scenery did not blow my little mind. Rather, it left a deep impression on me as to what the pioneers would have faced as they attempted to cross the northern prairies. One day you’re oxing along on vast grasslands and suddenly you are faced with this rock formation that stretches as far as the eye can see. Deep, narrow valleys that offer no path for a wagon to navigate would leave the teams with no choice but to go around it, adding days to the journey. Ample food supplies instantly became inadequate. Morale was lowered. People turned back. While beautiful, it wasn’t the scenery alone that made me appreciate the Badlands; it is what that scenery represented in terms of lost dreams and lost lands.

Eastward we plodded, hoping to find entertainment in something—anything in central South Dakota. We were not kept waiting long. We stopped at a rest stop so that our parents could use a pay phone to make lodging arrangements for the night. It was hot and dry, so we children stayed in the shade of the Caprice with the doors opened. After only a minute or so, a lifted Jeep CJ-5 came rolling in and parked a few spaces away from our car. He didn’t really park the thing as much as drive it up onto the curb and throw it into park, the CB whips living up to their name. It was a sight to behold. A Jeep with huge tires, its suspension fully articulated, on this perfectly flat piece of asphalt. The driver was dressed in a red flannel shirt with sleeves smartly cut off, and he carried this theme to his jeans, which somehow managed to cover his rump. His sunglasses hid the empty gaze of his eyes, which were also shaded by his cowboy hat. No 10-gallon for this man, he instead opted for the style that had the sides rolled up tightly and the front and rear pulled down, giving his headpiece the stately profile of a crushed empanada. He swung his legs out of the Jeep and jumped back down to earth then spent the next several minutes fiddling with the tube socks that must have bunched up at the bottom of his cowboy boots. This whole scene was accompanied by the soundtrack of “Custer’s Last Stand” blaring out of the Jeep speakers. Looking for sarcastic inspiration, I turned to my sister. I can only assume she was overwhelmed at the sight and didn’t know where to begin her lambasting of his character–a cynical overload. All she could mutter was “Oh, that’s nice.” And it was. Oh, it was.

It was an early start the next morning, as we had a bit of driving to do before we reached our big attraction for the day: The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. This part-time theater/part-time sports arena has its exterior completely decorated with corn in a different pattern every year. Wonderful mosaics also adorn the walls of this cultural hotspot of Mitchell proper. Once we arrived, we were invited to walk around the outside and take in the beautiful scenes of the area that were depicted in various shades of yellow and brown maize. It took us a good 10 minutes, so if you stop by Mitchell it is best to plan your day accordingly. To the best of my knowledge, it is still the world’s only corn palace.

Teton Flowers

We continued to head Back East and inevitably returned home a few days later. It was a long and glorious trip, yet home still felt….like home. Each day on the trip seemed to enlighten our minds in a new way. We were young, and we were learning. Learning about the land and people along the way and learning about ourselves at the same time. I learned that the world is a very large place that begs to be discovered. I had seen so much in those four weeks without ever leaving our borders or encountering a language barrier. (Though the molasses-slow cadence of Dakota natives proved difficult.) It made me wonder how many world travelers actually know their home country. It planted the seeds of adventure and discovery within me. I was given a taste of The Journey and I wanted more.

During those weeks spent in the close confines of the Chevy we became a family far tighter than we were before. This is what happens when sibling knees touch. We had to endure each other, since we had no choice. There would be no DVD players to distract us from the scenery or each other. No iPods to keep our minds numb. Instead, creativity ruled the day. We learned each other’s strengths and limitations. Ever the domesticated jackals, the older two siblings took this opportunity to exploit the weaknesses of the younger ones. It is their nature. (For the record, the entertainment offered by “interstate” games pale in comparison to what a mouthful of chewed Ritz shown to your brother can do.) No doubt about it–our parents knew what they were doing.


And so ends our grand saga with the Herrs . . . and perhaps with Jansen himself. I have yet to hear that he has another guest post ready, but I would certainly like him to continue being our Friday guest. If you feel the same, please leave a comment about the post and about Jansen’s witty and car-infused commentary on life. (Hint – if you can drop in an astute observation that includes torque, he might be especially impressed.

Jansen’s Previous Posts
My First Rant

The Dull Drone

My Beard, Explained

Of Love and Loss

A Call to Harms

The Wild West, Part 1