Sunday, August 21, 2016

South Dakota

I think in general South Dakota takes a back seat to places like California or New York on the list of really-cool-states-everyone-should-visit, but that is big, unfortunate mistake. We traveled from one side to the other, and on I-90 alone there were so many things we would have loved see had we planned for a longer road trip.

Of the places that did make the list, some were interesting and educational, and some were silly and fun; there's a pretty good snapshot of the United States out in old South Dakota :)

This is Deadwood, and on the very enthusiastic recommendation of one of our younger brothers, we intended to stop and wander around awhile. However, the Sturgis Bike Rally was going on, and the wall-to-wall people plus motorcycles, as well as the bikini bike washes, caused one of us to make an executive decision which involved driving in one side of town and immediately out the other. Deadwood, we will explore you another time, but not in August :)

Mount Rushmore is majestic - it looks just like the pictures! ;) - and it was fascinating to read about the skill and ingenuity that went into its construction. One fun bit of trivia is that the mountain goats living at the monument aren't native to South Dakota; in 1923, Canada gave six Rocky Mountain goats to Custer State Park, but they made a break for it, traveled north to Mount Rushmore, and decided to stay. They were goats with refined taste in terms of accommodations :)

We spent an hour or two at Bear Country USA where our car was our cage :) 

We pretended to be dwarves from The Hobbit and traveled down, down, down into Rushmore Cave, 15 stories below the surface. We saw limestone stalagmites and stalactites and had sore behinds the next day because traveling down also meant climbing back up, all 400-ish steps. 
Our tour guide mentioned that different images can be found in the rock, similar to when someone goes cloud gazing. Can you find the face of the pig? :)

The Crazy Horse Memorial and the Indian Museum of North America gave us more sobering history to think and talk about. Work on the carving began in 1948 and is not anywhere close to completion; state or federal funding isn't accepted, so progress is very slow. 
This is a 1/34 scale model of the monument; once finished, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.

I put Wall Drug on the must-see list the moment we knew we would be driving through South Dakota, but even if I hadn't, it would have been difficult to ignore as we started seeing advertisements approximately 200 miles before arriving. My thunder was stolen a little bit by the combination of a large crowd (the long-reaching arm of Sturgis, maybe) and the fact that we had just started a self-imposed ban on junk so their famous donuts were off-limits. Still, I'm glad to have seen it with my own eyes.

And then there was the Corn Palace. The inside smells of caramel corn and is used for all kinds of things, like basketball tournaments and proms and industrial exhibits. The outside is decorated with...corn (13 colors of it, as well as other grains and grasses.) Each year -since 1892! - a theme has been chosen, and a new mural is designed to fit the theme. This year we have 'Rock of Ages'; an enormous Willie and Elvis fashioned out of cobs and husks is a perfect slice of Americana, don't you think? :)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Last Saturday we were zooming down I-90 on the way to South Dakota from Billings, and passed a sign for the Little Bighorn Battlefield. I hadn't done much research on things to see in Montana since we were in a hurry to get to Mount Rushmore, but the battlefield sounded interesting and we decided to stop.

Of all the things we saw between camping with the cousins and rolling into Illinois on Wednesday, this was the most meaningful to both of us.

The first part of the monument we explored was Custer National Cemetery. The interments here, around 5,000, are soldiers and sailors killed in action or veterans and their spouses that served in the Indian Wars, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam.

The monument also preserves the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn (or Custer's Last Stand) and is a memorial to those who fought in the battle: the 7th Calvary, led by Lt. Col. Custer, and the combined forces of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. 
The brochure we took from the visitors' center describes the battle as one of the last armed efforts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their ancestral way of life. We felt sad and overwhelmed by the tragedy of it, and grateful to have experienced it beyond the pages of a book; our handful of pictures and my words are not at all adequate. Please visit if you have the opportunity. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

And we're off!

Actually, we were off just over a week ago, but our days have been chock-full with traveling and sight-seeing, and I've not been able to muster an ounce of energy for anything beyond watching the Olympics in our hotel rooms each night. We're settled now in Illinois for the next few nights, though, so I'll begin catching up.

We'll start at the very beginning, a very good place to start :)

For years our cousins and their families have gone camping together at Lake Roosevelt and for some dumb reason we've never thought to invite ourselves along...until this summer, when we discovered that the first part of our road trip coincided perfectly with the second week of their camping extravaganza. 'Let us come!' we cried, and they very sweetly welcomed us with open arms.

I would like to point out here that we had not even been near a campground for three long years; Texas is not particularly conducive to this kind of outdoor activity. And so our poor collection of tents and lanterns and other camping paraphernalia sat in our 150 degree attic, gathering dust and feeling sorry for itself. We felt sorry for ourselves, too, because three years is much too long.

I would also like to point out that I love everything about camping: fingers that are sticky from S'mores, hair that smells like campfire smoke, snuggling down in sleeping bags at night, waking up to chirping birds in the morning, feet that are filthy from traipsing through the trees in flip flops, an excuse to eat Spam with wild abandon, being a little bit irresponsible about teeth brushing because there are much better things to do than hike down to the bathroom. And then, when we're able to do all of that on the shore of a lake with people we love, it kind of defies description.

This picture is one of my favorites. My husband is a teller of tales; he has a treasure trove from which to pull, mostly from when he was growing up but also from his beloved comic books, and he recounts them all with enormous amounts of delight. Not long after we arrived, he told one of his classics, and ever after, all of the little ones kept clamoring for more and more and more stories. Here they are, passing the popcorn, and listening to Uncle Scrooge and the Lost Crown of Ghengis Khan, although their very favorite was a real-life account from Jan Michael's early years which involved hijinks in a Sears bathroom. They asked for the re-telling of it so often that when it was time for us to go, they had memorized all of the crucial parts and could quote it right along with him :)

Both of us have hearts that are full to the brim because of our time together; we could not have asked for a sweeter send-off to our WA summer. Thank you, cousins! We love you!