I was sipping margarita when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray!
Yesterday was tough, a much longer day than expected. A late start, detours and bad weather denied us our chance to see the Badlands in all their glory yesterday, and today we had another huge effort behind the wheel to see Mount Rushmore and the surrounding area in South Dakota. To add the Badlands back in we set the alarm at 4:30am, quickly showered and raced out of our opportunistically priced last minute hotel. The Badlands are an hour and a half in the opposite direction of the stony-faced carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. A three-hour addition to what my notes already showed to be seven and a half hours behind the wheel (before stops to look around). To make it even more of a challenge I had to meet some clients in Denver that night for dinner.
Fire up the Quattro
Yes, I know that’s a line for an Audi. It just seems appropriate. I’d left the Porsche right outside the hotel foyer main entrance in the drop off area when we arrived past midnight given we were leaving early. 5am early. It was already light and there were very few people around. Driving up through the America’s Midwest yesterday delivered beautiful scenery and as we hit the I-90 to Rapid City it started to increase in drama as the landscape changed, helped by the early evening sun. It was dark before we reached Rapid City so this morning was a big reveal of huge, straight roads with good visibility miles into the distance ahead. The needle on the dial right of the rev counter was sitting in a place it has likely never seen before – that road felt like a gift from God and wasn’t wasted.
Arriving so early meant no one else was there. While others were ordering eggs over easy we explored without seeing another soul. Travelling through it on a supersized go-cart circuit. It is the spectacular views people come here for though and they really are just that. Totally worth it.
Parked on top of one of the many overlooks a guy with an RV (caravan to us Englishmen) came over and started talking. A serial Porsche 911 owner from California who relayed his story of being spotted at close to 150 by the Highway Patrol some years back: “I said to myself, Tommy you can do this, you gotta go”. Tommy then ended up stuck behind two trucks and in cuffs shortly after. Glad I met Tommy as I hate porridge.
Badlands are home to a lot of wildlife. Mostly prairie dogs. They are everywhere. The ones near the shop on the way into the National Park selling ‘unsalted dog food’ are fat little creatures who seem happy for you to get up close. The ones further out will take a finger as a souvenir if you manage to get within a few feet. The whole area is covered with bison, antelopes and deer if you look for them, for me the highlight was still the little rodents who love unsalted snacks.
Less than 100 miles west is Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. We’d planned to go via helicopter to see this iconic place but in a dream a few nights before I crashed in one and climbed out of the wreckage with the pilot’s torso detached from the lower half of his body. In the back of my tired mind I couldn’t shake thoughts of it being prophetic. We drove past and stopped off at all the view points instead, spending less than 30 minutes taking in this world-famous landmark with our own eyes. Bucket list ticked and onwards. My guess is I’ll watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest again when I return home yelling “Look, its Mount Rushmore, I’ve been there”.
One hour and 30 minutes from the moon-like Badlands, here we were deep in a very different mountain landscape with trees everywhere. I’d found the Needles Highway one lunchtime at work earlier in the year when I seemed to be spending every spare minute zooming into roads on Google Maps. It sits inside the Custer State Park, you pay the $20 entrance fee and drive the Alpine style road through the granite needles and rock formations, sometimes literally where in the 1920’s they needed to blow holes through the rock face. Hood tunnel and the Needles Eye Tunnel look barely wide enough at 8 feet by 12 feet tall. As mesmerising as this place is I was still focused enough to perform a cry of “TUNNEL” entering these holes as is written in the Noisy Sports Car Owners Code of Conduct.
The race to Denver
Being late has thus far been a theme, and this morning’s decision to retrace part of the previous day was setting us up to continue it. Except we couldn’t be late. The branding business I work for in London, thinkerdoer, does a small amount of work in the USA and a couple of months before leaving on this road trip we were commissioned to do some work for a new company and it made sense to meet given one of the founders lived in Boulder, Colorado and another just a couple of States away in Fargo, North Dakota. A third flying in from Atlanta, Georgia. We had to be there.
Luckily the roads once out of Custer, Highways 385, 18 and 85 were fast, open and not busy with traffic. Good progress was made while looking out at endless open spaces and natural beauty. It was almost like we’d gained an extra hour as we powered south with the windows down, flicking between six and fourth to pass anything in our way.
A beautiful empty place. Cutting through it on Highway 85 there is grassland in every direction as far as you can see. No rest areas, no gas stations, no fast food outlets. Nothing. So much so I was worried we were about to run out of fuel and was relieved when we finally found some. Brimming the tank to past full the car soon after started to smell of the petrol and ethanol mix used out here. Now not only were we hot again as we headed south, we were breathing in fumes. Great.
Parking the car in a public lot on Wazee Street in Denver we exited the car, checked into the Nativ and ran back out again like an extended Chinese fire drill and over to the rooftop of Los Chingones in Downtown RiNo with a MacBook and some brand workshop books. We weren’t all that late, maybe 20-minutes. If I had to do every brand workshop like this over tacos and margaritas there would be no complaints from me.