Friday, July 19, 2013

Painting the Black Hills Red in Rapid City, SD

My favorite part of our visit to South Dakota was that my mom came to visit us and celebrate my birthday. Mom and I are complete opposites in that she hates to travel, but somehow I convinced her to hop on a couple flights to Rapid City to spend my "birthweek" with me. (Birthdays are a big deal in my book, so I like to extend the celebration. I prefer my birthday bash to be like Hanukkah, involving many nights of gift-giving and latkes.) 

Not only did Mom want to check out the RV for the first time, but she also wanted to see Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Although other travelers warned us not to be blown away, we were able to appreciate the craftsmanship and history behind the carving that honors our presidents. 

Mount Rushmore is descended upon by more than three million visitors each year, and it certainly feels littered with tourists from all the over the world. Doane Robinson, a major proponent of the carving, wanted an attraction that would draw people to South Dakota. Mount Rushmore is a success based on the foot traffic alone. 

What's wonderful about the Black Hills region of South Dakota is that there are so many parks, attractions and sights to explore aside from Mount Rushmore. We also visited Crazy Horse Memorial, which is a mountain commissioned for the carving of the Lakota warrior. 

It offers an interesting contrast to Mount Rushmore, although both projects stalled at one point. The carving has been in progress since 1948, and the original sculptor's family is still driving the effort. The project is entirely donation-based and once completed, will look something like this:

Obviously, there's a long way to go. Crazy Horse will also include an educational and cultural center to honor the heritage of American Indian tribes. Spencer and I look forward to visiting the sculpture again in 20 years to see what progress has been made. 

On my birthday, Mom, Spencer and I visited Custer State Park, which provides one of the best examples of wildlife for a state park. If you can't make the journey to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, which I highly suggest you do, and have the insatiable urge to see wildlife, you will enjoy spotting bison, donkeys and birds that call the Black Hills home. 

Custer State Park is also home to the historic State Game Lodge, which served as the Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. The spectacular lodge also garnered a visit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. 

Established in 1920, the lodge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can satisfy their hunger in the stately dining room, lounge leisurely by the fireplace, or even sleep in the rooms where Presidents Coolidge and Eisenhower rested their heads. I'm sure someone must have changed the sheets by now -- unless you're into that sort of thing. 

Any trace DNA left in the room? I need to stop watching Law & Order: SVU.
Just driving around the Black Hills region, stopping and climbing out to a vista, makes you appreciate the natural beauty around you. I felt very loved and blessed to have Spencer and Mom building these memories with me.  

Our next stop was Wind Cave National Park, one of the longest cave systems in the world, known for its incredible boxwork. A distinct, almost honeycomb-like type of cave formation, boxwork in Wind Cave may be the best formed and most prevalent of all caves. 

The three of us lingered behind on the tour and turned off our flashlights, closed our eyes, and tried to imagine stumbling upon this underworld wonder for the first time. How terrifying and exhilarating! 

We were pretty exhausted after our adventures, but Spencer treated Mom and me to a Japanese steakhouse dinner, so I could enjoy teppanyaki-style food. But the best part of the feast was the cake Spencer ordered for me. It certainly made turning another year older, a lot sweeter. 

The birthday festivities may have concluded, but we still had a "birthweek" of fun! Mom and I ventured to sightsee the outstanding, the quirky and the cool. We found the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which is a quirky program. During the Cold War, with the impending threat of a Soviet attack on the U.S., the government arranged to store missiles in silos in rural parts of the country. Most of the missile complex was destroyed, but two of the missiles were deactivated and preserved as part of the National Historic Site. 

The idea behind the location of these silos and the complex is that they would be difficult to identify in the rural landscape. Spot on. Unless, Miss Cleo herself told you were they were, you would probably have no idea. 

Mom and I continued on to find something outstanding in the Black Hills and we found it: Badlands National Park. The park's landscape looks as if it's been designed to look weird, loosely based on a cartoon of another planet. 

The swirly, colored pattern in the rocks is one reminder that the Badlands have changed drastically between now and 69 million years ago when sediments of an ancient sea were deposited here. 

Ancient creatures like the saber-toothed cat, rhinoceros and horse were past inhabitants of these awesome lands. Today, the Badlands provide a home for bison, big-horned sheep and a variety of rodents. Traces of the past still live on, too, since the park houses one of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America. 

Looking back, I wish we would have spent more time in the Badlands, because it seems that there would be so much more to explore within the park. Unfortunately, our time in South Dakota was rapidly approaching its end, as well as my vacation with my mom.

All of us experienced incredible beauty, uniqueness and wonderment in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I am sure the region will be calling our names again soon for another visit. Until then, I'll be riding high on my fond memories of life in the Badlands. 

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