It’s a lot of pressure being a guest blogger, but I am lucky to get to travel with my cousins Robin & Bob for a week of their great American road trip! I have not seen them since February when they stayed at my house on their very first night on the road. When I got down to baggage claim in Rapid City, South Dakota, they were walking through the doors. They look great, have not put on an ounce from eating all of those great meals they show us on the blog, and seem so happy! Even though I have read every word of the blog I had so many questions & they have so many experiences to share. Bob’s sister Linda & I frequently agree that we are very happily jealous of this amazing adventure and everything they have seen & done. We are all learning US history & they are having the time of their lives. From their packing to their planning, the whole thing is very impressive, and I am so happy to be a part of it!
We just remembered that 7 years ago Robin, Bob & I saw the movie “The Bucket List” together & while back then it seemed a bit gruesome to think about, this trip is crossing off one place to visit on MY list, Mount Rushmore, and that is why I’ve traveled to South Dakota in case anyone is wondering!
But little did I realize until I got Robin’s itinerary how much more this trip would be. Our first day was a little too windy & cold for Mount Rushmore so we headed to Badlands National Park. It is hard to describe the majestic beauty of the colorful rock formations formed by layers of sediment which started forming 65 million years ago when ancient volcanoes laid down ash, rivers repeatedly flooded the region depositing sediment, & layers of matter with bodies & bones of now extinct animals are preserved as fossils. Wind & the rushing waters of rivers gouged & carved cliffs, spires & rock formations. It is so wide open, you can see for miles with no sign of civilization. Robin, Bob & I all noticed that the sky seems bigger here! You can see it with no obstructions when you turn 360 degrees. You feel very connected to nature, but also very small in the scheme of things.
Robin mentioned Wall Drug in the previous blog, so I must tell you about it. Driving to Wall which is just at the end of the Badlands scenic loop, there are signs every mile or so advertising free ice water & 5 cent coffee at Wall Drug. In fact, for hundreds of miles along the I 80 corridor, East and West, you will see Wall Drug billboards. Why? Well, in 1931 a young pharmacist bought the drug store & brought his family to Wall for religious reasons. Though many cars passed by on the road, very few stopped. They were literally in the middle of nowhere with Mount Rushmore just starting to be built about 2 hours away. Almost ready to give up on the business during a very hot summer, the pharmacist’s wife thought of putting signs along the road for free ice water. People came in droves for the free ice water & while there bought ice cream cones. Business has been great ever since. We had lunch there. It looks like a little one street western town, in the middle of nowhere!
Day 2 in South Dakota was full of adventures. First we must break into song:
Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play
…… Home, home on the range!
Today we were roving the range and actually saw buffalo up close on the side of the road, deer crossing right in front of our car, and baby bears playing with each other. Driving through Bear Country USA Park we also saw arctic wolves, elk, bison, bobcats & very large bears just wandering around while we drove through the park.
Then we were off to Mount Rushmore. The idea was to make a huge sculpture in the mountains to bring visitors to South Dakota. At first the plan was to have Native American heroes faces on the mountain, but the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wanted to celebrate the first 150 years of the great experiment in democracy that is the United States of America by carving the faces & upper torsos of four presidents. They started in 1927 and for 14 years 400 workers blasted the mountain with dynamite & drilled & sculpted the heads of Georgia Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt & Abraham Lincoln onto the side of Mount Rushmore. Gutzon died in 1941 & never finished the planned upper bodies. But what you see today is truly awe inspiring. We even went back at Sunset to see it at night when they light it for 30 minutes. We loved it. We highly suggest it for everyone’s bucket list!
Our next stop was the Wind Cave National Park. Robin & Bob must be into caves – this is the 5th cave tour of their trip!! Wind Cave is the 6th longest cave in the world with 140 miles of known underground passages. It got its name from a small hole found in rock that had wind blowing out of it. This became the first entrance to the cave. Since it is off season only one short tour was given and representative of who travels this time of year it was mostly seniors, Bob & Robin probably the youngest except for a family with 2 young boys & one couple with a screaming baby!
Our next stop was enthusiastically added to our itinerary by Bob, and he was glad that Robin & I enjoyed it too! Mammoth Site is the largest dig where the bones are left as they are found and a building was built around them. This was the final resting place for 62 large Columbian and Woolly mammoths that became trapped after sliding into a spring fed sinkhole about 26,000 years ago. There is also an exhibit hall of full size mammoth replicas. It was so interesting & educational.
We then passed by & took pictures of the unfinished sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse. This was supposed to be the Native American equivalent to Mount Rushmore, but private funds are still being raised to complete him on horseback.
Then we headed back to Mount Rushmore for a hike to see the monument up close, and then after sunset lit up.
We earned our dinner and decided to stay with the local flavor and eat at Powder House, a restaurant where “game” kabobs were the most popular appetizer! I have stopped eating red meat but had to join the adventure and had a little trouble with my pieces of buffalo, elk, and venison!! Robin & Bob are more adventurous & really enjoyed them all, the venison best. They thought they all tasted like very lean steak. For our main courses I had chicken, Robin had steak, and Bob had a pork chop. We realized that we had eaten 6 different meats from 6 different animals- chicken, cow, pig, buffalo, elk & deer- so we aptly refer to this as our “6 animal dinner”!!!!!!!
On day 3 we drove from Rapid City, SD to Sheridan, Wyoming where the battles at Little Big Horn took place, but after doing research we found interesting places to stop along the way. Our first stop was Deadwood, South Dakota where many famous & infamous characters from the Wild West hung out and gambled. Gold discovered in the Black Hills brought many people to the American frontier in the 1870’s, Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane to name a few. We found the Days of ’76 Museum where we learned so much about Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, saw Indian artifacts, hundreds of guns, and an impressive exhibit of 19th century wagons & horse drawn carriages. Nothing close to as comfy as the Range Rover even though Robin & Bob tried one out!
After lunch in Sundance, Wyoming- not Utah! – we went to Devil’s Tower National Monument. It is a huge monolith which is 867 feet tall. I can’t even begin describe it well in words so I refer to the pictures we took. There are multiple theories on how it came to be, the most believed geological story is that 50 million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it & cooled underground. As it cooled it fractured into columns. As water eroded the softer sedimentary rock Devils Tower was exposed. We hiked 1.3 miles around the base and witnessed 5 climbers scaling the vertical columns. It was hard for us to comprehend what we saw-but 5,000 climbers come here every year from around the world to climb this massive tower.
Leaving the monument we had about a 2 1/2 hour drive to Sheridan. Robin & Bob are true sports fans, and after tuning in their satellite radio to listen to the SF Giants game, Bears game and 49ers game, they also kept tabs on Robin’s fantasy league that she belongs to with some female employees of the Raiders called The Real Raiderettes! Robin is doing well, of course!!
As we drove into Sheridan & waited while a very long, possibly 100 car freight train very slowly passed our crossing, we then got to our wonderful B & B that Robin found for us. The proprietors really made us feel like they were taking care of us- we were even welcomed with a sign!!
Even though I have 4 more days to go, I am signing off as guest blogger. I now realize the huge amount of time & effort these blogs require, but this is Robin & Bob’s written record of this great adventure and they don’t want to forget anything! And we are all more knowledgable and bonded to them by their sharing this with us.
Thank you guys! Looking forward to Little Big Horn, Estes Park Colorado, and your return visit to Southern California in December!!
(Bob’s older 1st cousin who remembers feeding him in his high chair! Our dad’s were brother’s.)