Tuesday, August 17, 2010

South Dakota

How is it possible that I remember so much about some trips and so little about others? It seems as though every trip has had something memorable, something that needs to be passed down through the generations. A story that would make the headlines if there was a news channel dedicated to just our family. There was no such story on our first trip to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.

But by now, you realize that I won’t leave it at that. If there is no story, I will have to create one.

In 1971, we went out west again, only this time our destination was the southwest corner of South Dakota, where yet another tourist mecca lies, the Black Hills. The Needles Highway is incredible, with its hairpin curves, fascinating rock outcroppings, and narrow road. When the highway went through the solid granite mountain, Mom would get out and film Dad driving the camper through. If we could have stuck our hands out of the camper windows, we would have been able to touch the sides of the mountain.

Custer State Park has an impressive herd of buffalo and a band of friendly burros. The Badlands area, by contrast, is stark and moody. Throughout a single day, the weather can change from warm to cold, from sunny to rainy, and with every change the rainbow colored hills go through a wide range of hues.

One of the big tourist attractions of the Black Hills is, of course, Mount Rushmore. The giant heads of four of our most adored leaders are stunning. It is so hard to believe that someone could carve that out of the side of mountain. Well, ok, that a crew of 400 could carve it still seems unreal. A little further down the road is another such carving, but sometimes it’s hard to make the comparison.

Dad was always fascinated by Crazy Horse. Mount Rushmore was a finished work when we first saw it. It was built between 1927 and 1941, for just under one million dollars, at least half of which was government funds. Work on the Crazy Horse Memorial started in 1947 and has accepted no government funds. It is being built strictly on donations and admissions to the grounds. I haven’t been able to find out any estimates on its cost, and no one knows exactly when it will be finished.

We stopped there for the first time on our way to Yellowstone in 1969. Two years later, no one could tell that any work had been done on it. We traveled through the area again in 1976, and again, I sure couldn’t see any advances. But they were there, what appeared as a small fragment from 1500 feet away amounted to several tons of rock.

The whole story of Crazy Horse is fascinating, I can see what Dad saw in it. I would recount it all here, but you can just as easily find it on the web as I can. With pictures too.

Unfortunately, on the way home, we had to stop at yet another tourist trap. Everyone stops at Wall Drug and I don’t think anyone knows why they stop. Advertising free ice water since the 1930s, the small drug store grew and grew, and now encompasses most of the downtown of the small town of Wall, population less than a thousand.

So we stopped, wandered around, looked at all the cheesy souvenirs for sale, took pictures of Pat and I on the bucking bronco, and got our free ice water.

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