A cloud mountain on the flight to Minneapolis
Today was another of those days that I had planned for what seemed forever. We had been talking about going out west for a year and I had spent the better part of that year on every website I could find, looking through every travel book I could find and then getting back on the websites. Planning a vacation is kind of like an obsession with me, I get a great kick out of looking at every single thing that I can find. I'm sure it drives those around me crazy, but personally I think I've missed my calling, I'd make a great travel planner. You tell where you want to go and I'll research out the wazoo and when you decide what you want to see, I'll find you the routes to get there. That's another thing I'm sure drives everyone crazy, I already know what roads I want to take to get from point A to point B, not that there aren't detours along the way, I just like to plan.
Grey Feather before the dirt road
This makes me sound very non-spontaneous which isn't really true, I am spontaneous.....just not always at the best times.
Anyway, Kerry (my constant traveling companion) and my mom (my new traveling companion) went to Pittsburgh to stay at the Mainstay Suites the night before our flight. We were leaving Pittsburgh at 6:15 am and after thorough research, shocking I'm sure, I had discovered that paying the money to stay the night at the Mainstay and taking the free shuttle would be cheaper and less of a hassle than driving to the airport that morning and then having to pay for 24 days of parking. Mainstay lets you park for free if you stay there (see review).
We got up at 3:30am to get ready to catch the 4:30am shuttle to the airport. I didn't sleep much, not due to the room just because I never sleep well the night before a vacation starts, I dream about missing the plane and more often than not whether the monstrosity (my suitcase) is going to be over weight.
If you've read any of my previous blogs you know I am a notoriusly bad packer. Kerry had this handy dandy suitcase weigher thing which is amazing and I would highly recommend to anyone who suffers from the over packing syndrome like myself. I had decided long before we left that I was packing the monstrosity and a 19 inch carry-on and I was going to send home dirty clothes so that on the way home I could use the 19 in carry-on as..well my carryon, that way I'd only have to pay the $ 25 second bag charge once. That was the plan that didn't quite work out but I'll tell you about that later. So we get the shuttle, get checked in, I was underweight, at least the luggage was :) Got thru security quick and to the gate. While waiting to board Kerry and I had this conversation, (K) "I was going to use my Alaska luggage tag" (Me) "That's nice where did you get it?", gotta love early morning conversations, lol.
Well we finally got on the plane and waited, and waited and waited. I believe it was about an hour before they finally announced that there was a mechanical issue, I think something about the bolts on the doors to the plane being loose but I could be wrong, and they had just finished fixing them and were waiting for the ok to leave. My irritation at being late to leave was quickly replaced with my relief that I wasn't going to get sucked out of the door of the plane.
We got to Minneapolis and got to the next gate with actual time to spare. Minneapolis airport is very nice, orderly and clean but it just may be the longest airport I have ever been in, it's like a straight line that goes on for miles. At least that's what is felt like when we were walking it.
The next flight was a short jaunt to Rapid City
airport which is tiny. So tiny that we got off the plane and by the time we got down to the baggage claim area our luggage was waiting for us and everyone's was accountated for, Go Northwest!! Picked up the rental car from Alamo, who we got a super deal from, and went out to start the arduous task of loading all the bags into the car. Getting a rental car is always an excitment for me, I love to see what kind of car we would get and what color it would be etc, obviously it's the small things in life that make me happy, lol. This time around we got a dark slate gray Nissan Altima, we always name our cars for a trip ( I'm beginning to sound as if I might need to make my next trip to the looney bin), the Ireland car was Haldir, the Scotland car was Jude Law and this time we decided to call the car Gray Feather.
The car was much larger than it looks everything fit AND I could still see out the rear window. Our starting mileage for the trip was 16,469.
We left the airport to head to Wall, SD and within minutes found ourselves lost, now how does this happen you ask when I so thoroughly researched this trip? Because the road past the airport is under construction and there were no road signs to tell you what road you were one, what direction you were heading in etc. As luck would have it we picked the correct area and soon were on the road to Wall. I had never heard of Wall and then one day I was watching this show about great roadside attractions and there it was. Wall Drug was opened in 1931 and for the first 5 years the store did barely enough business to get by.
In a final attempt to get people to get off the highway and come to Wall, the owners decided to put out a sign on the highway, that advertised free ice water. Oddly enough those signs took Wall Drug from a little family owned drug store to the huge store complex it is today, still owned by members of the same family. Wall Drug is huge, there are stores upon stores selling everything from souvenirs to pottery, jewlrey, artist prints, western wear etc. There's also places to eat there, 5 cent coffee and a little courtyard outside where there are props where you can get your picture taken. They have things such as a T-rex, a bucking bronc, a mini Mount Rushmore, a stagecoach etc. Truth be told this is what I really wanted to see at Wall Drug, unfortunately the picture taking prop area was full of monsters.
Wall Drug signs
..I mean children so it was hard to get near anything without pushing which is how I could the couple pics I did ;D I also got a sweet cowboy hat there so I'd fit in rest of the trip.
After wall and the lightness of it, we headed to the Wounded Knee Museum. The museum vividly tells the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890 when up to 300 men, woman and children were killed by the US Calvary. This place was another reason why I wanted to come to Wall, SD. I've always been moved by the plight of the Native Americans and how horribly the United States Government treated them. It's funny because there are certain ethnic groups whose leaders never let anyone forget how they were treated but for whatever reason, and maybe it's because I live in PA not out west, the horrors and betrayal that the Native Americans faced seems at least in my opinion to be brushed under the carpet.
I think they need a lounder voice. I remember in school learning about slavery, learning about the holocaust but I had never even heard of Wounded Knee until I came across the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown when I was in the 9th grade. I still have it, I've read it numerous times since then and that book ignited in me a desire to learn about the Native American culture that hopefully won't be lost one day. Ok enough of my soapbox, I'll put more information about the museum in the review I'm going to do.
We left Wall around 3pm and still had a 5-6 hour drive ahead of us to Hardin, MT. I had decided that we should take rte 212 the more direct route instead of the interstate. This would be one of several "Suzi shortcuts".
The road was amazing I have to say, I swear the first 40 miles of it were perfectly straight not even a slight turn, I've never seen such a straight road in all of my life. The scenery was great that is until the massive thuderstorm hit, it was also then that I realized that Gray Feather's tires did not have much traction, lol. Anyway, the sky was all shades of colors and the clouds were huge, now I see why Montana is called the Big Sky state. I'd definitely recommend driving rte 212, just maybe not when you've been up since 3:30am, there's severe thunderstorms in the forecast and you just want to get to your hotel in Hardin, MT. Oh and another benefit of "Suzi's shortcuts" you get to drive on dirt roads, evidently 212 is under construction because the road just abruptly ends and becomes dirt.
...for miles. Needless to say when we finally got to Hardin, Gray Feather had become Brown Feather.