That’s exactly the attitude my parents took, so the beginning of our trip began with the rental of a Ford Freelancer… No wait. A Ford Freestyle.
The Freestyle, as far as I could tell, is sort of a cross between a Sport Utility Vehicle and a minivan. It’s one of those vehicles you would expect to see driving through rivers for a car commercial, while the driver was on his cell phone talking about trading stocks or getting the kids to soccer practice.
We packed the Freestyle to its maximum luggage limit, and set off for Wyoming, the “You’d Never Guess Anything Significant is Located Here” state.
For me, this drive consisted of two things: playing Mad Libs, a game where you (verb) a certain kind of word into a (noun), and having my brother ask me if I ever stopped singing.
These two things did not ever happen simultaneously to my knowledge, though.
We spent the first night in Cheyenne, Wyo., which according to a billboard, boasts a grand total of 16 Subways. We drove around a while looking for a restaurant, and for the record, only saw one.
The following day we finally landed in Cody, also in Wyoming. The town has some historic value, as it was named after the famous American West hero Wyatt Earp.
Of course I’m just kidding. (I think.)
The town was actually named after the famous William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose significance is great in American history, although I’m too lazy to find out why.
Cody is one of those towns where you have an impetuous round of the song “Buffalo Gals” stuck in your head for the entire stay. The town boasts a museum on Buffalo Bill, the Irma Hotel (named after Bill’s daughter) that now also offers a restaurant, a bunch of Western-themed stores, an endless supply of rodeos and best of all, a gun fight in the streets almost every night!
However, we weren’t incredibly interested in Cody. The only reason we were there was because it was conveniently located only an hour away from Yellowstone National Park and Gift Shop.
I usually try to remain as low-key as I can as a tourist, but I’m not kidding when I say I came away from Yellowstone with six souvenir shot glasses.
Besides the gift shops, the park was fun, too.
One of the main features of Yellowstone is the abundant free-roaming wildlife. In fact, within only minutes of entering the gates (and getting through the road construction) we were immediately greeted by a bison standing incredibly close to the road.
So we stopped, and took some pictures, and started driving again.
Then we saw two more bison, so we stopped to take some pictures, and then we started driving again.
We only did this a couple more times before the whole concept of bison being exotic had completely escaped us.
You can’t swing a dead cat in Yellowstone without hitting a bison.
The park is abundant in creatures that fall under the category Animals With Antlers. We have a great picture of an elk standing right next to our Freelancer sticking its tongue out. I mean the elk, not the vehicle.
We also spotted a black bear, a grizzly bear, and a very skittish coyote.
All this up-close wildlife was comparable to the amount of new Ford Mustangs that we saw in Wyoming. It was really incredible; I have yet to see that many Mustangs in a short amount of time as I did on this trip. In Wyoming, you can’t swing a dead bison without hitting a Mustang.
Despite all of this wildlife, we were surprised that we didn’t have any close encounters with deer.
The other major attraction in Yellowstone are the geothermal features.
Of course, there’s the classic Old Faithful, which was about as exciting as watching steam come out of the ground. There were also the bubbling mud pots, the Mammoth Hot Springs, incredibly colorful pools of water, and of course the ever-present, extremely sulfuric fumaroles. I have four words to describe these bubbling pools: “Who cut the limburger?”
I have to admit, there is something strangely intoxicating and addicting about that rotten-egg smell.
Following a couple days sifting through Yellowstone, we headed east into South Dakota, which features about as many tacky tourist traps as western Kansas.
Of course, when I say “tacky tourist traps,” I am in no way referring to Mount Rushmore. This attraction is the exception.
Like tourists do, we took a bunch of pictures, walked around a little, took some more pictures, and then visited the information center. And, I am not proud of this, I bought another souvenir shot glass.
After spending the morning with my four favorite presidents, we drove out into the Badlands of South Dakota, which then led to a stop at Wall Drug in Wall, S.D. (This is where the tacky tourist traps come in.)
According to my favorite publication, “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader,” Wall Drug actually became successful thanks to the Badlands. After buying the failing drug store in 1931, Ted Hustead was looking for a way to attract more customers.
Knowing that many of the people driving by would be coming from or heading to the hot, dry Badlands, he posted a billboard offering “free ice water.” The “Bathroom Reader” states that by the time Ted returned from putting up the billboard, 12 cars were already waiting to make good on the offer.
(For the record, billboards for Wall Drug are now scattered across the world, including outer space.)
Now Wall Drug is a shopping mall, taking up the entire block, and is filled with trinkets.
I refrained from buying a souvenir shot glass. But I did get a T-shirt.
On the way out of South Dakota, we also took a drive past the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Thankfully, we didn’t stop.
The same way the trip began, it ended with the rental vehicle. We were only a few miles out of Hillsboro to return it, when out of the trees a deer ran across the road directly in front of us. We slowed, and it stopped in the ditch, looked back, and then ran back to the other side.
It was the first up-close deer of the trip. Go figure.
UFO: According to a Yellowstone Park ranger, Old Faithful was originally advertised as going off every hour on the hour. This was just to attract tourists; the geyser has never been, nor will it ever be, that efficient. However, the advertising ploy worked and people are still crowding to see it.
Don’t ask why.