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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 18: Last Exits in South Dakota

Tiny Church!

You say your congregation is dwindling? You haven’t seen a really shrunken church.

Another long day lay ahead — 520 miles of driving, over 370 of that in South Dakota alone. If you’re patient and don’t sleep the whole distance through, points of interest and oddity poke through the panoramas.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.

2008 was by far our least favorite road trip to date, and still holds the ignominious title as of 2018. Our next vacation had to be better. Step one was plain enough: we looked at Anne’s brainstorming list of future road trips and chose the one that screamed “dream vacation”. That’s what led to our long, long drive out to the farthest reaches of South Dakota and beyond. At nine days it was the longest we’ve ever taken. The farthest point of 1,180 miles made it the longest drive of our lives. It would be the farthest west we’d ever been up to that time. It was also our first vacation using exclusively digital cameras to record the experience, leaving behind the 35mm film of our childhoods forever. They weren’t expensive cameras for their kind, certainly not the most advanced as of 2009, but we did what we could with the resources and the amateur skill sets available to us.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Black Hills last call!

Last call for the Black Hills, our favorite photogenic running gag of the week.

DAY SEVEN: Thursday, June 18th.

After one last Rapid City free hotel breakfast, we bade farewell and spent the next several hours trying to exit the long, long state of South Dakota. On our way in, every mile had been a unique sight to behold. Now that we were turned around and pointed in the direction of home, those thirty dozen miles of I-90 weren’t half as endearing.

Black Hills!

On extremely rare occasions I’ll find a photo like this and think to myself, “WE took that?”

We tried to make the best of it. Every few dozen miles, another roadside attraction would pop up along I-90 and entertain us for a few seconds.

Off Exit 170: not far down the road from Murdo and its trainwreck of a diner, we saw a skeleton man walking a skeleton dinosaur, perhaps on a jaunty skeleton walk for some skeleton snacks or to make dinosaur skeleton “presents”.

I-90 dinosaur!

All told, this pic — which I took myself with the optical zoom cranked up while nearly maintaining a steady 75 mph — looks like a tepid, live-action reboot of Wacky Races.

Exit 260: for gas we stopped at Al’s Oasis, a Wall Drug wannabe in the town of Oacoma. It’s a combination gas station, grocery, and bottom-of-the-barrel souvenir shop that had its own share of billboards along the interstate, still outnumbered 10-to-1 by the Wall Drug signs. It was so lacking in competitive character and kitsch, we didn’t take a single photo there. That’s the worst possible insult we can sling at an attempted tourist trap.

Missouri River again!

Between Exits 260 and 265: once again, the Missouri River.

At mile marker 301, a rest stop has its own cute li’l unmanned church in the back, as seen in our lead photo. We understand the door was kept unlocked at all times. Benches seated up to eight people. A Bible lay up front for reference, reading, or delivering your own impromptu sermons. Stacks of tracts were anyone’s for the taking. The honor system for His glory.

Tiny Church inside!

No services offered, unless you count whenever two or more are gathered in His name.

Several hours later, we were still in South Dakota well past lunchtime and had no idea what to eat. Sioux Falls seemed appropriately located for a halfway-point break, but we kept passing the exits because nothing jumped out at us. One of the sights looked like it might do exactly that, but it showed us mercy and stayed put.

bull and hammer!

Exit 374: a 60-foot bull’s-head statue marks the territory of a metal sculptor who was trying to educate, not creep us out. We think.

After much debating and prolonged starvation martyring, we finally surrendered in Beresford, right before crossing into Iowa. Apropos of too much of our South Dakota journey, lunch was at a Burger King attached to a Gas Station and closet-sized Casino.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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