Wednesday, July 28, 2010

South Dakota

Bobby and I set off Friday night, driving North. The weather was perfect, it was cooling off, and we were thankful since we have no air conditioning. But, our little Toyota wagon was bartered in exchange for automotive work, it gets 35 mpg, and runs like a champ. We'll forgive it for not having air conditioning.

Wyoming looked like every stereotypical cowboy movie ever made. It was like the whole state agreed to commit to the "Wild Wild West" aesthetic.

Case in point.

As we drove further into Wyoming, the sun started to set. Everything was so wide open, mostly flat but hills here and there. We entered South Dakota well after dark, so we skipped the obligatory nerdy road trip "picture by the state sign" experience. Mostly, we wanted to "finally getting to sleep" experience. We hit our hotel around 11 p.m., and while every square inch was decorated with stuffed dead animals, it was comfortable, clean, and most importantly, didn't smell like funk. Good pick Bobby.

We stayed in Hill City, just a hop skip and a jump from Mt. Rushmore. The Black Hills were amazing, but I gave up trying to get a good picture because they turned out blurry from driving. Around every turn we kept waiting to see Mt. Rushmore. Then, suddenly we were back on open highway instead of forested curvy roads, and we were looking around, wondering where it was, when we looked back and left. We totally nearly missed Mt. Rushmore. We're awesome. This is the view from the mall entrance, apparently built recently. As a total history nerd, seeing Mt. Rushmore in person was probably more cool than it should have been to me. I'm ok with that.

This is the view when you go on the "Presidential Hike". Said "hike" is .5 miles of paved "trail". Bobby and I scoffed, and Bobby said "um, that's not a hike. That's a sidewalk". Agreed.

The faces are 60 feet high each, and you really get a good idea of how big it is up close.

View from up under Mt. Rushmore. South Dakota is *gorgeous* to me.

You could take a nature trail back to the parking lot instead of going through the mall, so we opted to avoid the crowds. We made a good choice.

Next we went just down the road to the Crazy Horse Memorial. They don't accept any government funds, which explains why they charge $10 a person for entrance. They have a really nice visitor center, museum, and areas where Native Americans sell crafts. This is what the completed memorial will look like, and you can see the actual memorial through it. I know, I'm so artistic.

The memorial, viewed from the deck of the visitors center plaza. We watched the informational video on it, and it's a fascinating story. The sculptor, Korczak, was recruited by the Lakota elders to carve the mountain, and he really threw everything he had in to it. He married a woman 18 years his junior, and they had 10 kids, 7 of which work on the mountain and with the non-profit founded around it. The head is 87 FEET HIGH. That little hole you see, which will be under his arm, will accommodate a TEN STORY building. When it's complete, it will be the largest sculpture in the world, at 641 feet long by 563 feet high. It was pretty impressive. Hearing about how Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back under a flag of truce made my blood boil, but then again pretty much any story about our holocaust of the Native Americans and terrible treatment of them is sure to set me off. I highly recommend checking this out.

After we had a truly terrible lunch at the Crazy Horse Memorial restaurant- ok, maybe not terrible, but cafeteria food- we headed into Custer to get food and water for camping. The town is pretty cute, and there was a car show going on and a parade, so it was bustling with activity.

Getting groceries. Notice anything particularly creepy about this picture? Look to the left...

The only thing that was planned on this trip was the hotel Friday night, and Crazy Horse/Mt. Rushmore Saturday morning. We decided on the trip up, after consulting National Parks literature that we borrowed, to try and camp in Custer State Park, because we could camp on a lake, go swimming, go hiking, and check out the nature preserve. Alas, all the spots were full, so we just drove through the park to check it out. This is the view from a short hike.

A pronghorn, standing still as a statue. He seriously didn't even flick his tail. I have no idea what he was looking at that was so interesting. I mean, it's pretty empty. Just sayin'.

We were most excited about seeing buffalo, but unfortunately, despite all the warning signs referencing them, despite the buffalo image on our little park pass, and despite it being a fine summer day, we saw no trace of them. Until this guy. We were on a very tiny two lane National Parks road, and he was walking right alongside it. He was pretty rad.

In our reading of the borrowed National Parks mags, we stumbled upon a reference to Wind Cave National Park. After there was no room at the inn in Custer State Park, I called them up to see if, perchance, there was room for us. There was! Here's an idea of the road conditions on the way there.

Our campsite. I've camped in the woods, and on rivers, but camping on the prairie was so peaceful and beautiful. This campsite was also downright luxurious- super clean flush toilets a hike up the hill, water pumps, gravel tent pad, picnic table, fire pit, and 6 pieces of free firewood. Lots of space between camp sites, and no one was on either side of us or across the little dirt road from us. You can't beat it for $6 a person.

We brought red beans and rice and wheat crackers for dinner, and Bobby cooked it over the little camp stove. I watched, and waited patiently to eat. Thanks babe.

Little tent on the prairie.

A nice fire, the beginnings of a full moon, and a chance to see the stars. We practiced our swing dancing a bit, talked a lot, and went to bed early. It was cool without being cold, and I could hear pronghorn rustling in the grass near our tent. I slept like a rock. But, since we were sleeping on the gravel pad, I woke up very much feeling like I also slept on rocks. Such is camping. It's worth it.

The next morning we woke up, broke down camp, and headed in for the first tour of the day of Wind Cave at 8:40 a.m. This is the natural entrance to the cave when it was discovered. Yes, that little black hole in the bottom left was it. And some brave spelunker crawled in it. No thanks. It gets its name because wind blows out of it, or it sucks in wind. Lakota legend talks about a cave from whence the wind, the buffalo, and the people came. There were little prayer cloths tied in the trees around the entrance.

One of the very few open areas in the cave. Don't let this fool you, it was pretty tight as we traveled underground. There are 134 miles of cave, making it the 4th longest in the world. And they're always crawling around in it. The ranger talked about getting lost, going down random holes, it kind of creeped me out.

Speaking of being creeped out- our ranger turned out the lights while we were down there, and talked about "true darkness" and the importance of taking extra lights. Then, in this last open room, he mentioned we were TWENTY STORIES underground. Ok, I was ready to be out on the prairie after that :)This is a terrible picture because right after it my camera died.

We got lunch at a trashy diner in Hot Springs, and then checked out the Mammoth Site- also super cool. It's the largest site of Mammoth fossils in North America, and they built a visitor's center around the open pit where they are still working and discovering new fossils.

We set out for home around 1 p.m., tired, dirty, and hot. The drive up was gorgeous, but man the drive back was brutal. We went back the way we came, and let's just say we didn't miss anything by driving up in the dark the first time :) After a much needed shower, we headed out for Indian food. Great weekend, and great to come home.


  1. Glad you finally saw a buffalo. I trust you quickly shot it and then carried 200 of the 2000 pounds back to your wagon.

  2. Ha - Toyota wagon as opposed to chuck wagon. I dig it.

    You're right, that Jiffy Pop on the left is totally creepy.

    I thought that pronghorn on the prairie was actually a dog before I enlarged the picture and read your description. I was like, WTF is a golden retriever doing out there?

    I always wonder about such spelunkers who initially go into holes in the ground. I also wonder about folks who tried fruits and vegetables for the first time. "Hey! I pulled up this root and there was an orange cone attached to it. The rabbits like it, let's try it, too!"

    You are slowly, but surely, changing my mind about camping. : )

  3. Arielle- Of course! It's the American way:)

    Mandy- I seriously think spelunkers have to be wired so that they have no fear of the unknown. I was getting uncomfortable and there was a paved trailed going through the cave, with lights, and handrails going down the stairs, and by the end of it I was like "getmeoutgetmeoutgetmeout!"

    I'm glad I'm slowly changing your mind- camping is awesome! It helps when it's not a million degrees outside. Turner Falls is in OK and they have cabins and such, you should check it out, maybe get a group together.