It's been a month to the day since we hit the road. It took about 7 days for us to get to Montana, since we took a more scenic route and visited with some family. We stopped in Reidsville, NC to visit my brother and his girlfriend, Kerry, before continuing on to Mammoth Cave National Park. The weather was testing not only our nerves, but our van. With most days in the high 90s and humidity at 95-98% we were pretty worried Bullwinkle wouldn't pull all that weight up the hills of Kentucky. It was a long drive from Reidsville. It was also our first true venture past the comforts of family. Once we crossed that border we were truly on our own. from here on out we wouldn't have anyone to 'bail us out' of a sticky situation.
Bullwinkle performed like a champ. I must say, for a 30 year old vehicle, it's pretty amazing what these engines are capable of. He carried us into Mammoth Cave, sometimes at a pretty slow pace, but we couldn't really complain. We had made it, 35mph uphill was just fine with me.
We spent a night in the campground at Mammoth Cave and later did a tour of the caverns. Highly recommended. Also, when it's about 98 degrees and 100% humidity outside, the idea of being in a cave is pretty welcoming. It was in the 50s below the surface. Cold enough for us to need jackets. A nice little natural air conditioning treat.
After the cave, we were back to traveling west. We had a long road ahead and we set our sights on the Badlands of South Dakota. The roads through Missouri were still mostly familiar sights for me, but when we finally hit South Dakota I was in awe. I had never seen grasslands before. There were new birds and plants, and I just loved the way the grasses moved in the wind. When the 'golden hour' hit, wow; A memory I will hold on to forever. I finally felt like I was in a new place. I couldn't stop smiling.
We made good time through SD on those open, flat roads. It was a relief to not feel like we were punishing the van with hills anymore. We stopped in Chamberlain county at a rest area to attempt sleep. One hour in we were hit with the most intense storm either of us had ever experienced. In an unfamiliar place, with no idea what was happening around us, we sat in the van while 70mph+ winds rocked Bullwinkle. There was rain coming in from the bottom of the sliding windows. Chase filmed some of the storm, before we decided to make a run for the rest area bathrooms. There were lots of trees coming down around us, and were fortunate to have parked in an area where large trees wouldn't really be able to fall on the van. It was a brutal display of mother natures strength. I haven't been that scared in a long time. Hours passed with strangers in the rest area bathroom. We spoke with one man traveling from Canada around the US by way of motorcycle. When we made our way back to the van, we could see the branches and trees down, but we had no idea how bad things actually had gotten.
When we woke up the morning and got on the road, these were the sights around us. Semi trucks flipped over, littering the roadways. Silos strewn across the grasslands, completely ripped apart by the winds. Billboards were merely posted sticks with debris all around them. We had been lucky. The rest area we stopped at was on a big hill. I think being at a high point may have saved us from some serious damage. It was a reminder of the strength and power of mother nature, and not to forget just how small and vulnerable we are.
We moved west. On to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The landscape had started to really change. We spent the day traveling through the park. Filming cliff swallows and spotting other birds that I had never seen. A bright blue bird landed on some of the stark white and red earth, creating a rather striking contrast.
We continued west into Wyoming. We were getting close, and also a little anxious to reach somewhat of a destination. Last minute, as the sun was setting, we decided to drive out to Devils Tower. We arrived just as a storm was rolling in and the sun setting. What a sight.
We slept at a rest area that night, and in the morning, continued on to Montana. Around noon we crossed the border. Both excited and relieved, we continued to Absarokee, where we had a bed and a shower waiting for us.
Unfortunately, many of the photos from Mammoth Cave & Absarokee were shot on color film, which I have not had the opportunity to get developed yet. I will make a post with those images at some point in the near* future. (*c-41 processing availability dependent) These are the first of the black and white 35mm and medium format I have developed on the trip.