[OK, we’re having so much fun and taking so many pictures that I am running up against a choice of writing or inserting pictures into my posts. So here’s the post. Check back for updates with pictures.]

Day 2 started where it ended: South Dakota, land of big stone heads.

I slept like (appropriately) like a rock, but Kelsea did not – pillowcity issues.  Which  means she stole all the best pillows last night and so it was my turn not to sleep well.

We had another amazing yesterday.  We had a fairly leisurely morning, and a passable lunch (yes, it was that leisurely a morning) at the Holiday Inn, spent going through about 30 of those little pamphlets that every mid-range hotel that caters to families has in a big “take one” stand near one of their exits.  In my quest for said pamphlets, I chatted with a woman who runs the little hotel gift shop; she has a 13-year old grandson, and gave me tips as to where to go and what to do.  Kelsea, with her new interest in Native American culture, was talking during our drive about how what we as the conquering people did to the Native Americans was one of the most heinous things our countrymen have ever done, and when I hinted at this chunk of history to the nice lady, she got rather chilly.  Note to self: When in South Dakota,do not mention how we wiped out Native Americans. Apparently, it is a touchy subject.

Brunch was a rather risqué affair, spurred by Kelsea’s comparison of excellent french fries to hot guys – I will spare you the details, but it was one of those meals where everything either of us said seemed to have some sort of hilarious double entendre.  We finally reached a shutting up point.  Then it was off to the car to say G’Day to Lee (the Garmin, in case you’ve forgotten).

After being amused by cheerleaders waving their sparkly pom-poms and screaming out a little purple Toyota Celica, Lee directed us to our first destination: the Chapel in the Hills, or Stavekirk.

Chapel in the Hills (Stavkirke)

Built in 1969, the chapel is an exact replica of an 850 year old church near Laerdal, Norway, and honors not only God but the Norwegian culture that permeates the region.  And it’s Lutheran, in case you were wondering, which always makes me think of A Prairie Home Companion.  There is no congregation.  The Chapel is used for weddings and special events.  In fact, there was a wedding about to start while we were there.  (When we arrived, we could tell something was going on, but we disagreed on whether it was a wedding or a funeral, Kelsea thinking the latter.  But I can smell a groomsman from a mile away, thanks to all those years of catering.) The bride looked lovely and they had a beautiful day for it.  We decided not to creep, even though we could have stood in the exact right spot to make faces at the entire cadre of guests.

The intricate carvings depict battles between good and evil and trace back to Viking times, incorporating some pagan beliefs, which may be why I was so comfortable there.

They even have a Leper hole, so that the lepers could worship without interacting with the rest of the congregation. Not much needed nowadays, but if you’re building an exact replica, then you have to build an exact replica.

The light that streamed in through various openings, and enhanced the serenity of the Stavekirke. It felt simple, yet complex at the same time.  A lot like religion itself, in some ways.

They play a recording every few minutes, giving you some history and details of the chapel.  Of course, just as we were getting started, my camera’s memory card filled up.  However, because I’ve forgotten memory cards in the past – and it’s no small feat to find one in the islands – I had a spare.  They come in those packages that a rabid scrabbling badger couldn’t open if his life depended on it.  Fortunately, my daughter had her trusty knife. (Wait, fortunately? My daughter? A knife?) I borrowed it and started slashing away at the packaging and at that very moment, the Voice on the recording intoned, “Weapons were forbidden inside the Chapel.”  We started giggling in a hysterically guilty manner.

A Prayer Path runs through the woods behind the Stave, so we walked along that, following the prayer stones and sometimes touching the statues along the way.

(According to this sculptor, Mary wore steel-toed boots.  Who knew?)  It led to a large rock overhang (which looked like a shaman hole to me and a perfect place for millions of spiders to Kelsea) and took a minute to be still.

Our last stop was the small museum filled with Scandinavian things and creepy mannequins.

Oh, and the gift shop really needed a goat to trim its roof.

The Stave is a non-profit and runs entirely on donations.  Should you be in the area, I encourage you to visit. And the docent ladies are charmingly helpful.

Feeling peaceful, we headed for Bear Country, stopping along the way to take pictures of giant man statues.  You should never pass up the opportunity to photograph a giant man statue.

Bear County is an interesting take on a zoo/wildlife park.  It’s a little pricey ($32 for two adults, because my 14-year-old would not lay claim to being 13, which would have saved us bucks.  That’s what happens when you have just come from a church).  But, having never been to Yellowstone, where I would hope to have a similar experience, where else could we find bears and elk practically stepping on our truck?  There are a few basic rules to Bear Country: stay in your vehicle with the windows tightly rolled up, pull off to the right to take pictures, and don’t feed the animals. (Note to others: if you are planning to visit Bear Country, wash all of your car windows first.)

I really sucked at keeping the windows rolled up, and Kelsea was constantly nattering about how I was risking my life and going to be eaten by bears, but I successfully tuned her out.  I mean, who’s the mother here anyway?  (Just kidding, I love her concern.)

Our first encounter was with a two ginormous elk and their harem.  Never have I seen such racks (on the guys).  You could practically read the mind of one of the gentlemen elk when one of the ladies appeared in a softly flattering light between two trees and he turned his lusty, savage eye upon her.

The elk dudes strolled across the road as if they owned it (which they do) heedless of cars.  I’m curious how they trained the animals to become so inured to cars; even though no one is going fast, it is still a pretty foreign object to a wild animal.

Mule Deer, which we see all the time in Colorado.  These two were headed to a party in the shed.

We next encountered wolves, but they were all sleeping. ALL of them. Bummer.

Bighorn Sheep.  One was just falling asleep in sun, like I used to do in philosophy class in college, with that head nod-jerk thing.

Mountain goats, which Kelsea could see but I couldn’t.

Buffalo in the distance.

Mountain lions all curled up snugly together in their shelter.

And then the bears.  So so so many bears.  Beautiful bears.  Playful bears.   Old bears.  Bears sunning themselves.  Bears just being bears.

It was awesome.

I kept rolling my window down to take pictures.  Once in a while, I would roll Kelsea’s down to shoot across her, but since I am a good mother, I kept her up most of the time.  This strategy worked pretty well, although twice, I was distracted and Kelsea pointed out that a bear was ambling towards my open window or was about five feet away.  No contest, window shut.

Again, it was awesome. Though we did wonder how many people had been really stupid and had gotten themselves eaten.

We wound up at the gift shop and the place where the smaller animals that no doubt would be eaten by the bears hang out.

And where the baby bear cubs play.  I wish I could have gotten better pictures because they were adorable.  These will have to suffice.

We were undecided about our next destination. Well, I was undecided, but Kelsea was very determined: she wanted to go to Sturgis to the Mustang Rally (the car, not the horse).  We looked at the map, talked about what else was on our agenda for the weekend, and decided to take the plunge. I-90/14/79 here we come.  Why do highways have to have so many numbers?

The drive was smooth – lovely rolling green/brown hills.  We saw a sign for Black Hills National Cemetery, which had been on the “maybe” list of to-dos, and since we were there, we decided to stop.

Wow.

Kelsea wondered if everyone who had ever died in South Dakota was buried there.

What a powerful place.  From what I could gather – and I haven’t done the research yet – any veteran of the armed forces can be interred here, along with spouse and children.

The stories that these stones could tell.  I felt a book coming on.

Cemeteries usually give me a vibe.  This one felt orderly – which felt appropriate to the military demeanor – and personal yet impersonal all at once.  Peaceful but incredibly strong.  A sense of contained energy.  And a heightened awareness that we were just looking at a tiny fraction of the men and women who had served to protect this country over the last 100 years.

Thanks to all of them.

Continuing on to Sturgis, I had no idea where to find the Mustang Rally.  But as soon as we got to town, we started seeing Mustangs streaming down the street.  I told Kelsea that I thought we’d missed it, but she was ecstatic just to see so many Mustangs driving down the street.  That would have been enough for her.

But we weren’t quite too late.  The Mustang Parade was just winding down, and a ton of cars were still there, parked, showing off, or doing the peel-out competition.  I was looking for a place to park, having let Kelsea just jump out with the camera before she fell out the door in her eagerness.  I only had a moment of panic when I realized I had just turned my 14-year old daughter lose in Sturgis, but we quickly reconnected.

She had fallen madly, passionately, and completely in love.  With this car.

And now she wants to move to Sturgis.

The Mustangs WERE indeed beautiful.

We talked with the owner of Kelsea’s new innamorata, who told us there was an excellent Mustang rally up in Steamboat Springs in June.  I know where we’ll be going next June.  And she’ll even be able to drive by then.  Look out.

On our way home, she was too impassioned to even speak properly.  But we did start trying to count the “Think! Why die?” signs that South Dakota puts up on the highway to indicate where someone died.  Yikes.  I think it was worse than in Montana.

We walked to dinner from the Holiday Inn.  I had a momentary disappointment when, for some reason, I was thinking about my age and realized that I had just subtracted 11 years from my actual age when I was thinking about it. I was bummed to remember how old I was!

Dinner was at the Firehouse Brewery, a restaurant in the original Rapid City fire station.  The food (gumbo for me, Caesar Salad for her) was good.  The restaurant was a little loud, kind of crowded, but entertaining, with lots of firefighter memorabilia and patches from all over the country (and the world).

As we left Johnny Lunchmeat started playing cover songs.  Awesome name.  Not bad music.  We can say we saw him before he was famous.

Our walk home took us through the park, which was fine – no drug dealers.  As we were walking beneath one of the widely spaced streetlights, it went out, shoving us into near total darkness.  This would not be remarkable, except for the same thing had happened on Wednesday when Pat and I were coming back from Parent Night at high school.  I had joked that it was Dumbledore.  But now I am not so sure.

And so, we crashed.  And now, it is a new day. And I have finally gotten the loveable lump out of bed.  So it’s off to see the big heads.