My brother, Evan, and his fiance Erin’s wedding was last week in Milbank, South Dakota. The nearest airport to Milbank is Minneapolis, which is a four hour drive. Given all of the airport security (+1 for trains), we figured that the trip would be 12 hours each way while the drive was a little over 20 hours (or so we thought). So we decided to make a trip of it, driving out there with our dog Lola and camping along the way.

First stop was Lake Mead, down south in Nevada near Las Vegas. It was formed when Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1935. We got in just before sunset, after passing through the Mojave desert (113 deg. F!) and just south of Death Valley.

That night we didn’t do too much, focusing most of our efforts on sweating profusely and being unable to sleep. The lake is about a mile away from the campgrounds, so we didn’t head down there until the morning.

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After the lake, we headed to the Hoover Dam. It was like a time warp back to the 1930s, with very rounded architecture and gold details. I was expecting rushing water and huge turbines, but we mostly saw enormous quantities of cement and power lines.

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Next we headed to North Rim through Nevada and Utah. The scenery changed from the dry, yellow hills and trees of California into desert and then lots of rocks. Utah was yellow and brown before Arizona turned to red. North Rim was far more green than we expected. My wife and I took turns walking to Bright Angel Point to check out the canyon; national parks aren’t very dog friendly.

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We had originally been planning on camping at North Rim, but they had no campsites available (we didn’t reserve sites and tried to go to places that didn’t allow reservations), so we decided to drive until a little before dark and save a few hours of driving the next day. Arizona is a beautiful state to drive through, but it’s ridiculously hot in June and there’s a stretch between North Rim and Colorado with no camping. Pitching the tent along the road was tempting, but Lola was panting all night in Lake Mead and we were hoping to hit temperatures in the 70s before stopping. Unfortunately we failed and had to stay in a motel, but showering was nice and Lola enjoyed laying on the bed for awhile.

The next day we drove right by Four Corners, which is the cheesiest of all cheese, but we had to stop.

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The next day we headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. We hadn’t heard of it before, but it was dog friendly and kind’ve on our way. And it was awe-some. Until we were five minutes away, we thought that we had gotten the address wrong because it was all grasslands and mountains. Then you see what appears to be dust storm on the horizon, and finally you see it.

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We hiked to the second tallest dune in North America (I know, kind’ve weak, but still 750 feet). Lola had a blast digging in the sand.

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Next we headed to the Black Hills in South Dakota, which is a really wide state (8 hours to drive across it). On the way we passed through Wyoming, which is like Arizona but green. We saw lightning bugs (luciferase in the wild!) and had to rush into the tent when lightning and rain came out of nowhere. We saw a bison (apparently the same thing as an American Buffalo but kind’ve a misnomer) and stopped at Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I’ll be impressed if they finish it in my lifetime, but the face and arm are getting there.

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The next day we rolled into Milbank. The drive across South Dakota was a little mind numbing, but the addition of trees (none in Wyoming) completed the scenery progression from Arizona -> Wyoming -> South Dakota.

I’ll save photos from Milbank for another day. You can see all of the roadtrip photos here.