Arch 2 Arch: Days 8 & 9 – Badlands & Home

A strange noise woke me up in the morning. An incredibly loud hiss that I was not used to. It had rained before midnight, and everything remained wet outside. The hiss was now a roar, and as I gathered myself outside the tent I turned to see a couple of hot air balloons taking off from just outside the campground. It was still pretty dark; so dark I could only see their silhouettes. It seemed as though I was the only person awake in the whole campground, which was remarkable with the noise the balloons were making. It was a cool way to start the second-to-last day of Arch 2 Arch. Our final stretch home began with a drive to meet some new friends in the Badlands.

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DAY EIGHT

Devils Tower, Wyoming to Mitchell, South Dakota = 399 miles

STOPPED IN: Aladdin, Wyoming | Wall, South Dakota | Interior, South Dakota

VISITED: Devils Tower National Monument | Black Hills National Forest | Badlands National Park


Soon enough the rest of the gang woke up. Our inflatable mattress had deflated during the night, so we slept a little colder and more uncomfortable than we had been sleeping. We were buoyed by the fact that we’d be in a bed that night; our first in almost a week. A youth group camping not far away cooked up their breakfast and broke camp in record time. We took a more lazy approach. We took whatever heat the morning sun would provide in an effort to dry our shelters. The campground fence made for a handy clothesline. Still, it wouldn’t get dry before we left.

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Sunrise on Devils Tower

After spending the morning under the direct stare of the majestic Devils Tower, we hung a left on highway 24 instead of heading back to the interstate. This was one of our final stretches of two-lane road. It was a pretty drive that morning. The road curved and rose through the Black Hills. We passed through the small town of Hulett, which was still decorated with biker advertisements.

After 35 miles, we pulled into the Aladdin Cafe in Aladdin, Wyoming. This had been our breakfast target since the night before. The cafe is right on the highway, but if you blink, you’ll miss the entire town. Once inside, the portions were huge and we ate like kings. I almost made it through all my pancakes after being forewarned about their size (they were huge). We left stuffed. This might have been the best meal of the trip, and I’m sure Don would agree with that statement.

From Aladdin, we quickly made our way into South Dakota and found the interstate. We made great time on the way to Wall. The Black Hills were just off to the south and I was tempted to go check out Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, one of my happy places. But we had a date in Wall, so we continued on and made small talk in the car until we got there.

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Hello, South Dakota

In Wall the thing to do is check out world famous Wall Drug, so that’s where we started. While exploring the nooks and crannies of the place, we met up with NatureTechFam for a bison burger at the Wall Drug restaurant. Then we bought a bunch of stuff we probably didn’t need before departing for Badlands National Park.

Badlands NP isn’t far from Wall and it didn’t take us and NatureTechFam long to get there. The weather was excellent and the sun was out. Our first stop was at Rim Road. Here we wandered down the dirt road and took in the expansive views. Some bighorn sheep were nearby, keeping their distance. We made two or three additional stops in the park. The kids enjoyed all the climbing opportunities, while I considered how difficult a traverse of the entire park would be.

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After driving the length of the park, we made a final stop at the visitor’s center near Interior. There we talked briefly with the ranger responsible for the park’s social media accounts. And of course, we gathered a few souvenirs.

After we said goodbye to our friends, we hit the road. That moment kind of seemed like the end of Arch 2 Arch, and in a lot of ways, it was. From that point on, we’d be driving on the interstate all the way to Missouri. Future stops would only be for gas and food; probably not any roadside attractions.

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The first section of the homestretch was the 200 miles from the badlands to Mitchell, South Dakota. There, we had a couple of hotel rooms waiting. We were able to make pretty good time. Long, lonely stretches of straight road combined with an 80 m.p.h. speed limit made it go by quickly. One of the more interesting things we noticed from the highway was the Medicine Benchmark, a conspicuous highpoint that rises from the Great Plains just west of the Missouri River.

We pulled into Mitchell just before sunset. After checking into the hotel, the kids had to start some homework and the wet tent from last night needed to be spread out in the hotel room to dry. I ran next door to get some dinner from a Mexican joint. The first bed in a week did not disappoint. Tomorrow would be the last day, and in at least one sense, the longest.


DAY NINE

Mitchell, South Dakota to Jefferson City, Missouri = 588 miles

STOPPED IN: South Sioux Falls, Iowa | Rock Port, Missouri | Leawood, Kansas | Knob Knoster, Missouri


We hit the road pretty early on the last day. I would’ve left even earlier, but we decided waiting for the sun made some sense. We would get home well before sunset anyway. After grabbing some “free” waffles in the hotel lobby, we got on our way. The weather was perfect for driving – not a cloud in the sky.

Oddly enough, the mileage broke down into easy quarters: Mitchell to Sioux City, Sioux City to the Missouri border, the Missouri border to Kansas City, and Kansas City to Jefferson City.  All four of those are somewhere within a few miles of 150 miles. Of course, the timing was variable for each stretch.

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Bighorn sheep at the Badlands

Mitchell to Sioux City was the easiest leg. This was some seriously flat driving, and the speed limit remained 80 until we got close to Sioux City. So we were able to make pretty good time (around two hours). We stopped in South Sioux City for gas.

Iowa was unremarkable, other than a few memorable bad drivers. I am certain (and hopeful) that Iowa has more to offer than the I-29 corridor, because there isn’t much to look at in the Missouri River valley. Road construction around Omaha slowed us down as well – there’s just no easy way to get around Council Bluffs, Iowa. When we got to Iowa exit 10, we had completed the Arch 2 Arch loop. This is where we had crossed the Missouri River and entered Nebraska eight days ago. Our trip was way faster than Lewis and Clark’s.

Once in Missouri we stopped for lunch. Being back in our home state made home feel closer even though we were only halfway done with the day’s driving. Traffic picked up around Kansas City, but it wasn’t as bad as the prior week when we were leaving. We dropped Don off at his house and said goodbye. The kids and I were back home by 4:00 p.m., which gave them plenty of  time to get ready for school the next day.

This trip was wonderful. The company was great. The kids learned a lot about the history of the west, saw some cool wildlife, and got to know their National Parks. Even the adults learned a little, I think. If you haven’t taken a trip like this, I highly encourage it.

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Arch 2 Arch – Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 & 9

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