Our third day of travel was what I always think about (poetically) when someone mentions a road trip. Scenic overlooks, random, yet memorable, passenger car diners on the side of the highway for lunch, great weather.
We went from gas light to gas light on day 3 in one stretch and where there was no gas station on our google maps for a good 12 more miles as the car was running on fumes with a sick Aaron, hungry kids, and very full bladders – there was this one, out of nowhere. Like a mirage, it appeared without warning or signage or welcome. It was just there, off I90.
That’s what Day 3 felt like. Small miracle after small miracle. Time stopped.
We took our time to enjoy the trip. Stopping at the Badlands, Wall Drug, and finally ending up at Center Lake campground in Custer State Park.
Wall Drug was everything it promised to be, cheesy. Touristy. A must see at least once in your life and a place to spend your souvenir cash. I did a similar trip with my parents the summer between 9th and 10th grade out west, so I had been to Wall Drug before (I had even been to the Yogi Bear campground from the night before as well). It was odd to be in the same places, take the same photos as I did 18 years ago. Everything has changed, absolutely everything from my first memories to now – not one thing is the same. Except it was all eerily unchanged. Same chipped paint statues to sit next to, same stores and salt water taffy, same smells.
This alley was my first sight of Wall Drug this time (we went in the back way) and it felt so incredibly right. Something I had never seen before. It made so much sense to me to see the guts first this time. To see what is supposed to be hidden, this isn’t what the billboards promised for the last 300 miles. And it’s what I saw first. Pallets. Blue barrels lined up against a brown wall. And then we went inside.
And nothing had changed.
Except everything was different.
That night we arrived at Custer State Park looking for a campsite. Center Lake was where we landed and the kids quickly took off to explore. There were rocks to climb, lakes to visit, a campground to inspect. Water to discover and friends to make.
Center Lake is where this trip became our family trip – and not a walk down memory lane.
It rained like the world was ending that night. Thunder so loud I would sit straight up. Heart beating wildly, curled in a ball between lightning strikes and praying like crazy to see the morning light just one more time. We stayed dry, and you guys – I keep saying this because our camper has so many holes. Just so many. Patches, but holes. And we stayed dry that night (and every other night). The kids slept through it and somewhere in the middle of the night I stopped waking up to every gong of nightmarish thunder. With every crack of the skies above me, separated from the elements only by vinyl fabric and a couple blankets.
And we woke up on day 4 to birds chirping, fires crackling, and the kids already playing.