If you’re in North Dakota and looking for something fun to do (and chances are if you’re in North Dakota, you DEFINITELY will be), then make sure to stop by the Space Alien Grill and Bar! It was the tail end of our family road trip and we were joined by my eldest son, Alex, who is stationed in Minot. He’d spend the last two nights of our vacation with us in Bismarck as I planned that Saturday; our only full day together. North Dakota is the least visited state in the US and, since it’s 90% farmland, I can understand why. Another interesting tidbit – if North Dakota ever seceded from the United States, it would be the country with the third most nuclear weapons. Amid all the nukes and cows lies Bismarck, an oasis of sorts with a small zoo, museum, and all the usual stores and chains (including my favorite coffee place, Caribou, which is now extinct from the Midwest) most of us take for granted. Imagine my happiness when I not only discovered this novelty restaurant but that it was right down the street from our hotel!
I admit that my love of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind inspired this year’s summer road trip. The Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming had played a pivotal role in the film and, after touring all the great UFO hot-spots in the Southwest last year with the other Dave, seemed like the next logical place to go. This amazing geologic feature is considered sacred to Native Americans and is also this country’s very first National Monument with no short thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt. Despite its history, I don’t think I’m alone when I site Close Encounters as my first introduction to it.
I was seven years old back when the film was released and, at that time, much more enthralled with another 1977 blockbuster, STAR WARS. My only connection to the film was via a “bendy” alien figure my Grandma bought me (Grandma always understood my interests better than my idiot parents did).
While driving through South Dakota, en route to the Badlands National Park, I was reminded of the road trip I’d taken with the other David last year when we encountered THE THING in Arizona. Once we passed the Dakota line, we were inundated with signs advertising their own region’s tourist trap, the Wall Drug Store. This Great Plains “oasis” promised just about everything including a T-Rex, a five cent cup of coffee, homemade donuts, a splash park, and “free ice water.” The advertisements were unnecessary for me since I’d already made up my mind I was going to stop there weeks before the trip began. A co-worker of mine had taken a similar family vacation to the Dakotas last year and told me all about it. “Dave, you have to go there!” she said. “There’s lots to do and they have the best ice cream!” I feigned interest until she added, “Oh…and they have a giant Jackalope!”
Well…why didn’t she just say that in the first place? Of COURSE I’d be stopping at the Wall Drug Store come hell or high (free) ice water!
Day two of our WEIRD family vacation was spent at Omaha’s amazing Henry Doorly Zoo – a place that definitely lived up to its reputation as being one of the world’s biggest and best! It signaled a vast improvement from our previous day and the kids seemed a lot happier which is what I was mostly concerned about. Right next to the zoo was a hamburger joint named “King Kong” that featured a loose interpretation of the “8th wonder of the world” on top of it! I really wanted to eat there (just because) but we opted to wait until we arrived in Sioux Falls for a classier dinner. Being the lone adult traveling with three teens made things rather costly come meal time, but we’d all had it with fast food. We ended up eating at a place called the Roll’n Pin Cafe’ & Grill which was the best food we’d had since the trip began.
Since we Daves met up in Pennsylvania last March, and then again for his birthday in New England in May, there were no epic road trips planned for us together this year. I did have several potential ones in mind for 2017 before retooling one a bit to do with my kids instead. It involved us driving through South Dakota, going as far west as the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Since my eldest son, Alex, is stationed at a military base in North Dakota, we’d also make a point to go and visit him as well. Ever since my marriage crumbled about five years ago and we Daves decided to incorporate a few Ohio zoos in addition to a Horrorhound Weekend, road trips have become rather sacred to me. It’s an opportunity to escape the mundane acts of real life and remind ourselves that there’s a big, beautuful world out there. The kids had never gone on a big road trip before and certainly not one designed by me. So hop on in the passenger seat, folks, and let’s relive this WEIRD solo Dave adventure together…
After a busy day of running around Erie, Pennsylvania us Terror Daves had one more stop to make before settling in at the Tinseltown Movie Theater to catch a screening of Skull Island. Obviously we don’t need any warm-ups when it comes to seeing giant monsters but, thanks to one of Erie’s creative locals, that’s exactly what we got! Dick Schaefer managed to turn trash into treasure by converting old broken vehicles into giant bugs and there was no way Dave wasn’t going to figure out a way to add that to my already busy pre-birthday weekend itinerary.