This evening I was stopped by buffalo in the middle of the highway! The highway goes through beautiful Custer State Park, a preserve to many wild animals; in fact within a span of ten minutes of my close encounter with the buffalo, I nearly hit a badger and came within a few feet of white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope! What a wonderful (and terrifying) way to enter a new state!
Thursday, October 7, 2010
On my way to The Badlands this morning, I stopped to help out a hitchhiker. Her name is Adele, and she was on her way home from Rapid City (where I stayed the night). As we drove I asked her a gazillion questions about the Native American culture and religion, and she was obliged to educate me. She lived less than an hour away, so I decided to take a little detour and and take her there. We entered the town of Kyle on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County - the second poorest county in the United States. As we got into town, Adele told me that movie star Angelina Jolie visited, and pointed to where she put up a shelter for battered women. Go Angelina! We got close to her house and I noticed the driveways were dirt, and the roads were old and broken. I saw campers and trailers with outhouses, and houses that looked condemned all boarded up, but in fact weren't condemned at all. These were homes where families lived. As we neared her house I learned that a couple "friends" of hers stabbed her uncle to death, because he refused to share his beer, and she pointed out the drug-dealer's house, where many times her 10 year-old brother returns from with blood-shot eyes. As we pulled into her driveway I asked about her dog lying outside with patches of hair missing. I discovered he has cancer.
I gave my information to Adele, and headed out of town, noticing the grade schools and colleges in the little trailers, and run-down buildings. I tried to process what I had just seen. I was reminded I should never take "little things" like indoor plumbing and growing up in a safe neighborhood for granted. These are luxuries for many people. Everything is relative. I am rich. I thanked life for running into Adele, and showing me these things. This was an experience I should carry with me.
I entered Badlands National Park and stopped at the visitor center to grab a map of the 31-mile Badlands loop. "Sculpted by 75 million years of sedimentation and erosion, 243,000 acres are crammed full of cones, ridges, buttes, gorges, gulches, pinnacles, and precipices in an eerily sparse yet breathtakingly beautiful landscape. Some formations rise more than 1,000 feet into the sky, while in other places the forces of erosion have, over thousands of years, brushed away the surface to reveal stratified mineral deposits, weaving through the ridges and ravines like nature's brushstrokes, blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. Over 11,000 years of human history pale to the ages old Paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old."
The first stop along the scenic drive is "Fossil Exhibit Trail," where I walked a quarter-mile trail with exhibits of fossil remnants. I loved the sign reading "Beware of Rattlesnakes." That always makes things interesting, lol. Following the trail is 10 overlooks (3 more if you venture off the paved main road), showcasing the brilliant formations, with names such as Bigfoot Pass, Burns Basin, and Yellow Mounds.
It was at the very last overlook that I complimented a young couple on the old-school camper they were towing. They were around my age and we got to chatting and discovered we were going to the same place - Wall Drug! They handed me their brochure to glance over on the short drive over. About 20 minutes later, Adam was taking photos of me with the scandalous life-size statues, I helped myself to their world-famous "FREE ICE WATER," and the 3 of us explored "The World's Largest Drug Store," which takes up over a block, and we checked out "The Backyard Emporium," including a 6-foot tall
Jackelope, a T-Rex, and a life-size diorama of Wild Bill Hickok's "dead man's hand."
We grabbed some dinner across the street at Cactus Cafe, where a little din-din turned into an all out laugh-fiesta. Between our uber-relaxed pot-head server, lol, the Mammoth-sized beers (I got one more ounce than Adam - ha ha Adam), my super wet place-mat, and Adam and Meghan's awesome, nothing's-taboo sense of humor, it's a dinner to be remembered. They even invited me to their town to join in the festivities of the Fall Supper, a feast of traditional Ukrainian food and polka music, celebrating the Vikings! I'm totally going to make the trip in a week (assuming my dad mails me my passport in time)!
We just happened to stop for gas in Rapid City, at "LaGrand Station," which contains a "Call of the Wild" exhibit, where the owner, boasting that he killed every one of them, has the audacity to display a variety of exotic animals, including ones on the ENDANGERED SPECIES list!!! Can you believe that?! Appalled and disgusted, we walked right past the stuffed monkey with arms outstretched, holding a hat for donations.
We set up camp for the night at beautiful Custer State Park, at the Game Lodge Campground, nestled in a valley hugged by granite mountains, and home to an abundance of wildlife, including one of the largest publicly-owned, free-roaming buffalo herds in the world. Adam talked his way into some wood from a neighbor and built us a fire, while Meghan broke out the food for smores. I love camping!!!
Friday, October 8, 2010
I awoke to good news, as I learned that Adam and Meghan had decided to stay an extra night. We took our time getting ready for the day, and admired the beauty of the land - including the buffalo grazing at our camp! Meghan made pancakes and Adam secured us a spot for another night. We took Iron Mountain Road to Rushmore, "A road they said couldn't be built. But Peter Norbeck didn't listen. He patiently mapped out a route - on foot and horseback - that captured the splendor of these ancient mountains. Today, Iron Mountain Road is part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, featuring three granite tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore perfectly in the distance," and as we stopped to take in the views, we spotted some chopped wood that would serve great for the nightly fire =)
"For the generation that saw it born, Mount Rushmore was a symbol of American optimism after the triumph of WWII. For many who grew up in the 50's and 60's, it became a symbol of the family road trip. And for American Indians of any generation, it's a complicated symbol of broken treaties and loss. Though America hailed the great achievement of Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, it came as a slap in the face to South Dakota's Lakota people, to whom Paha Sapa (The Black Hills) was a sacred place that figured prominently in their creation stories. An 1868 treaty deeded the land to the Sioux "in perpetuity," but their ownership lasted only 6 years. When gold was discovered in the area, the U.S. government reclaimed the land. In 1876, when the government ordered all the Lakota bands onto reservations, the great chiefs Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Gall organized a resistance that eventually destroyed the Seventh Calvary in General George Custer's Last Stand at the Little Bighorn. But the Sioux's victory was short-lived. In less than two years Crazy Horse was dead (he was killed while resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska, a place I'll visit later), and their fate was sealed."
"In 1939, as the faces of the residents were emerging from the granite, the Sioux began planing their own memorial inviting Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve the image of Crazy Horse into another Black Hills mountain, 17 miles southwest of Rushmore. Work finally began in 1947 on Ziolkowski's grand vision: Unlike the sculptures at Rushmore, which are carved onto just one side of a peak, Crazy Horse would be sculpted into the round, the great chief sitting astride on a horse, arm outstretched. The memorial would also be massive, measuring 563 feet high and 641 feet long, utterly dwarfing Rushmore. (His arm alone is longer than a football field.) Such a thing takes time and effort. Following his death in 1982, Ziolkowski's family has carried on with the work (his wife and 7 of their 10 children). Today, with several million tons of rock blasted away from the mountain, Crazy Horse's head, arm, and the top of his horse's head are in various states of completion. A final completion date is impossible to predict, but, as the project's motto says, "Never forget your dreams."
When we got back to camp we were dazzled by a golden glow of light, suddenly casting itself on the camp. We looked up and admired the most brilliant sunset of orange and pink. We snapped some photos before it faded, and Adam made a big fire, and him and Meghan cooked up a spectacular fish dinner. Canadians know how to camp! We spent the next few hours enjoying great food, conversation, and new-found friendship =)
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Adam kindly provided me a bowl of cereal, as him and Meghan began packing up for their long drive back to Manitoba. All set with directions to their place, and excited to see them in a week for the Fall Supper, I wished my new friends safe travels back.
After getting all packed and reorganized myself, I drove the 18-mile Wildlife Loop, which passes through grasslands and rolling hills, where I saw pronghorn antelope, bison young and old, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, AND got up close and personal with some very friendly donkeys - the most wonderful animal encounter I've had yet!
Next I took to Needles Highway, a 14-mile Black Hills scenic route on Highway 87, winding its way through hairpin and narrow granite tunnels. "The name 'Needles' comes from the slender granite peaks that charactize the area." I took in amazing views of the Cathedral Spires, a series of pinnacles resembling church spires, and the Needles Eye, a granite formation which mimics the eye of a needle. I even spotted a Bighorn Sheep, straddling the side of a distant mountain!
It was around 7pm when I arrived at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City to observe the 24th Annual Black Hills Pow Wow, "Celebrating Unity and Reconciliation." A Pow Wow as it's known today, is a celebration in which Native Americans come together to celebrate their heritage in music, dance, and prayer, in multi-colored costumes of feathers and beadwork (or metal cones if you're a jingle dancer). In addition to the powwow, spectators have the opportunity to enjoy a fine arts show, style show, scholarship pageant, wellness symposium for youth, and tournaments for hand games, softball, golf, and archery. It's not uncommon for the Pow Wows to run behind, and tonight was no exception. It was running hours behind, and last night for example, it ended at 1am (scheduled to end at 11pm), but it didn't seem to bother anyone. Everyone was in celebration-mode!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Today I visited Deadwood. "Established during the 1876 gold rush, Deadwood was a magnet for get rich-quick prospectors and the kind of businesses where they could lose those riches quick: bars, brothels, dance halls and gambling houses. The latter is what brought James Butler aka "Wild Bill" Hickok to town. He was famous as a quick-draw artist, stagecoach driver, and scout for George Custer. August 2, 1876, little more than a month after he arrived in Deadwood, Hickok was shot in the back as he played poker in saloon No. 10. The cards that fell from his hands - pairs of aces and eights - have been known ever since as the "dead man's hand. Located in the rugged Back Hills the town today looks much as it did in the 1880's, owing to preservation and gambling initiatives. Today, scores of gaming establishments line streets, and block after block of restored Victorian buildings have earned the town a place on the National Register of Historic Places."
I stopped into the Visitor Center for a map of the walking tour of the historic town, the visitor center being historic in its own right, as being the old railroad station. I walked up and down the streets, admiring the homes, the old mill, Saloon No. 10, and grabbed lunch at Diamond Lil's. Diamond Lil's is a bar & grill in the Midnight Star Casino, owned by movie star Kevin Costner. I ate my nachos and examined the walls of authentic costumes, props and memorabilia from his movies, such as Robin Hood, Waterworld, and Dances with Wolves.
After I had consumed nearly every chip on the enormous platter, I walked it off at Mount Moriah Cemetary, the resting place of Wild Bill and "Calamity Jane." Best known for her claim to being Bill's lover, she got her wish in her last dying request of being buried in the plot next to him.
Well, it was a memorable last night in SD; I saw a car in flames and a dinosaur on my way back to Rapid City! :/