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Thanks to all who have served our country.  You are not forgotten.

Black Hills National Cemetery, Sturgis, South Dakota.

Quote of the day: “Have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of blood spilt, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of noble men and women lost in battle so that we as individuals might have a say in governing our country?  Honor the lives sacrificed for your freedoms.”  —  Richelle E. Goodrich

Daily gratitudes:
A snuggly weekend
MKL
Bunny tracks
Beach calendars
Kelsea’s music

Photo title: Remembrance and Respect

Black Hills National Cemetery, Sturgis, South Dakota.

Quote of the day: “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”  —  Jose Narosky

Daily gratitudes:
Freedom
Honor
Devotion
Soft pillows
Soft earth

Photo title: Light of My Life

Rapid City, South Dakota.

Quote of the day: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  —  Theodore Roosevelt

Daily gratitudes:
The white dog playing with the coyote on my way home yesterday.
This morning’s light.
Changing leaves.
Pink grapefruit.
Renewed determination.

Picking up en route from Mount Rushmore…

After a bunch more “Think or Die” signs, we reached Crazy Horse or, more properly, the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Our first experience at the monument was a faux pas in which we saw a white Suburban with 20 kid icons on the back windshield.

We exclaimed loudly that it must be the Duggars, then realized that the matriarch was sitting in the passenger seat with her window down, right next to our squawking selves. We hastily passed by, trying to deflect her icy stare, which we could feel even through her sunglasses.

Neither of us had much background information on the Memorial – Kelsea wasn’t even sure if Crazy Horse was a man, a place, or an event. So we watched the informative video, encouraged by the docents at the Center. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, was so cool, and his family carries on the legacy of being so cool. We love that they accept no government monies for the project, which explains why it is taking so long. Korczak started working on it in 1948 and it’s far from finished, whereas Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete.  We’d like to donate dynamite to the cause. We like the idea of being part of blowing something up.  I know that sounds wrong.  But hey.

Korczak’s attitude towards the government reminded me of Jim Bishop of Bishop’s Castle in Colorado, but it was clear that Korczak, unlike Bishop, did accumulate some wealth and possessions in the course of his project.  The part of his “house” that was open felt a lot like a European castle.

You can’t get close to Crazy Horse unless you pay extra to take a van tour, which we didn’t, but the renderings that are used for the actual sculpture are beautiful.

There’s a nice little museum in which I had a minor spiritual journey with a Native American dress.

We got to take home a rock that had been blasted out of the mountain to form the monument.

The spot has its own post office and zip code.

There were some random pieces that seemed unrelated – like Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe.

Korczak’s studio was really cool.  It had the feel of a place that would be ultra-creepy at night.

There was also a hall with Native Americans selling various wares.  Somehow, we both had a problem with that. It felt like we, as white folks, were saying, “Hey guys, let’s massacre you and steal your lands, but we’ll build a monument to you to say we’re sorry and throw in a couple of folding tables so you can eke out a living on our terms.” There is no possible reparation.

We didn’t stay here too long. The vibe felt kind of empty, hollow, not right. But at least they’re making an effort.

So we left and immersed ourselves in one of the most cluttered places ever – Doyle’s Antiques and Stuff, where we were greeted by a goiter-laden donkey.

This place had unbelievable amounts of Stuff (as advertised) crammed in every corner.

and another owner reminiscent of Jim Bishop, based on the random signage.

I barely resisted the giant rooster.  I would have loved to drive back to Colorado with that sitting in the back of the truck. In fact, I loved it so much, I may have to go back for it. Perfect for the front yard. Can’t you just see him peeking over the fence?

I also barely resisted the FREE stuffed pheasant whose head had been eaten by God knows what. We have Kelsea to thank for that tasteful veto, as she was thoroughly opposed to it continuing to molt in the truck for the remainder of the trip.

We did pick up an antique apothecary bottle (free) and a vintage first-aid kit for my not-soon-enough-to-be EMT.

Our last excursion on this busy day was Custer State Park. Even with all the literature, we never did figure out why the park was named after Custer, as it didn’t look like he had much of a positive influence in this area.  But then I suppose that’s a matter of perspective – he was clearly influential in some way, so maybe the positive doesn’t matter.

We took Needles Highway into the park. I couldn’t really figure out why it was called Needles Highway until we got to the tunnels. It’s called Needles Highway because going through some of those tunnels is like threading a needle. We shrieked the entire way through one – and we have it on video. I’m amazed that anything larger than my truck could make it.

Needles Highway is edged by the distinctive rock spires of the Black Hills.  It is also full of idiot drivers who park blocking the roadways so they can get out to see the spires from 20 feet closer, thus causing fuming road rage in certain other drivers who shall not be named publicly.

Craving calm (or tequila, but calm was my first choice), we pulled off the road at a LEGITIMATE parking spot a bit further along, and went for a climb. We each found our individual rocks for peace and sat separately for a while, doing some soul-level housecleaning. It was quiet and beautiful and I released some things into the ancient richness of the Black Hills. I hope they can float with more ease now, and find their perfect drift in the universe wherever the current leads.

Kelsea leapt from rock to rock like a winged mountain goat. I watched her silently, my stomach leaping into my mouth each time she went airborne. As we headed back to the truck, she found a boulder stack she wanted to free climb. She’s a good climber, having spent some time at the climbing gym, and so I didn’t stop her, but as a mother, all my thoughts were, ‘Oh God, what if she falls and breaks her head open like Piggy in Lord of the Flies?’ Of course, she didn’t.

Needles Highway runs into the Wildlife Loop Road, which (as you might imagine) loops around the Park. It’s a great road and took us through a variety of changing terrains of equally matched beauty.

We hadn’t been on the loop for five minutes before we saw a buffalo nomming grass on the side of the road. Then we encountered some anti-social antelope, and another small bison herd in the distance.

Kelsea can tend towards carsickness, so she distracted herself by taking pictures of her shoe.

I did the same, though I was stopped at the time.

And then we came upon the donkeys. I suspect that the park has planted the donkey herds to guarantee any passing tourist an up-close and personal wildlife experience.

Because there was no avoiding the donkeys.

Totally social, tame, hand-feedable, another visitor gave us peanuts to feed them.

The babies were adorable.

And each donkey dutifully checked out each car to see who had the best treats. I love donkeys and haven’t had such interactions with them in, well, ever.  But I han’t been around baby donkeys since Anegada. And a little further down the road was ANOTHER herd, with the littlest baby just getting his legs. They caused a donkey traffic jam.

And one decided to give me a close-in hello.

A few mule deer sightings, and we were back on the road to Rapid City, marvelling at the cool softness of the air and the diversity of the landscape we’d seen today.

We were both starving and went to Botticelli’s Restaurant, which smelled amazing, but was understaffed. Our wait was 45 minutes and I thought Kelsea was going to eat me. She did eat the paper from her straw before her food came. And the food was good, particularly the chicken piccata, but probably not worth the painful wait.

And so Day 3 came to a close.  We have a couple of stops on Day 4, and then we are homeward bound.

Day 3 started too early for Kelsea, but what are mothers for if not to wake their children in some annoying manner?

We partook of the too-expensive breakfast buffet at the Inn, and left loaded for bear (oh wait, that was Day 2). Well, we left, at any rate, excited because today was the day we got to see it: Mount Rushmore, aka, the Big Heads.  Goats were dining on tightrope walkways in the air at Old McDonald’s Farm (we didn’t stop). En route, we decided that if we ever own a Jersey cow, her name will have to be Snooki.

Kelsea was keeping track of the disturbing death marker signs with little tick marks (just FYI, in this one day, we counted 27) as we headed through the Black Hills, unsure of what to expect from Mount Rushmore. Some of our acquaintances had said “Oh, they’re smaller than you think.” Others had said it wasn’t worth it, especially not with the crowds. Well, our first peek at the peak was pretty cool regardless of those misguided expectations.

Parking was only a minor challenge, probably because I made it so by debating if the EXIT signs on the structures REALLY meant exit, or if that was just a suggestion. The level-headed one told me not to be an ass – they say exit because they mean exit (and remember the “Road Closed” signs?)  Much to our delight, many, many (many) Mustangs were still in evidence, making a long weekend out of the Sturgis Mustang Rally.  Each got a “hey-ay” shout out from us.

I never knew I had a childhood dream of seeing Mount Rushmore until I fulfilled it by actually seeing it. It’s fabulous and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The Big Heads ARE big, plenty big, the perfect size, in fact.

The monument is laid out well, clean, accommodating, everything a monument should be. Even the soda machine in the ladies room maintained the theme.

The background museum is worth a stop, and I now regret not having stayed for the video, because we both have some unanswered questions. The museum had details on the sculptor, the heads, the presidents, and the area, as well as some cool giant photos.

The Avenue of Flags was a fitting entryway to the full-on views of the monument.

At the end of the Avenue of Flags, you come upon an amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the heads. It’s the prime viewing spot, if you are unable to walk any farther. We walked to the bottom of the amphitheatre (no one else seemed to do that) but declined to get up on the stage.

The Presidential Trail winds through the forest, a wooden walkway to give you a closer look at the Big Heads.

There was one little viewing hole. We stood in line for it, not knowing what we were standing in line for and double checking to be sure that people ahead of us in line were actually coming out, and it was not some sort of bizarre Big Head feeding tube.  Standing in line for an unknown reason made us feel slightly stupid, but we did it anyway.

Being us, we had numerous absurd observations about the Big Heads:

Kelsea: “George looks like he has a little something right there.” (Pointing to the left of his nose)
Me: “It looks like Thomas is leaning in, trying to tell him about it.”  (Thomas looked like he was kind of creeping on George.)

We cracked ourselves up with remarks about how rock-hard and sculpted they were.

Kelsea didn’t know that Teddy was wearing pince-nez. Teddy looked a little mad. We decided he felt kind of squooshed and didn’t like it.

Abe was kind of off by himself – not so snuggled up. We speculated that he was being treated as some kind of outcast.

Everyone had some spidery cracks through their faces.

We kept trying to get photos in which trees were sticking up presidential nostrils, but failed, and settled on the classic, “Add YOUR big head to Mount Rushmore” shots.

The trail took us to the sculptor’s studio, in which we discovered that the original idea for the whole thing showed much more torso and hands.  In the current version, only Abe seems to have lapels.

The studio exhibit also reveals the existence of the secret cave. Not a secret if you tell everyone about it, eh?

If you were unaware, the sculptor who was behind Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish polygamist immigrants.

Borglum most wisely thought that the Big Heads needed some explanation, and that said explanation needed to be WITH the Big Heads. So, he put a brief US history, and explanation of the Big Heads, carved on tablets, in a titanium box in a cave that is behind (or perhaps inside) Abe’s head. There were pictures of people doing the dedication.  But of course, the cave is off-limits to visitors and there is no marked or visible trail to it. Kelsea appropriately scoffed at my idea that they covered the trail with dirt.

The concept of the secret cave spurred much discussion between us, and seeing it is now on Kelsea’s list of life goals (which sounds a lot better than Bucket List when you’re 14).

Our dialogue ran along the lines of this:

Her: How do we know what he wrote on those tablets? What if he made up a whole bunch of stuff?
Me: We just have to trust him.
Her: What about now? Do they update what’s in there?
Me: I doubt it.
Her: Then won’t it seem like the world just ended when the history did?
Me: I’m sure there will be more records on earth than just that one.
Her: Who’s going to read it?
Me: I don’t know…aliens?
Her: How do we know they’ll be able to read English?
Me: They’re aliens. They’re smart enough to get here, they’ll be smart enough to figure it out.
Her: And why do we send up things like DVDs on space missions? Why do we possibly imagine that aliens have DVD players?
Me: Good, yet unanswerable question.
Her: What if aliens never find this place? Then the whole titanium box thing is pointless. So I should be able to see it.
Me: Well, maybe the survivors of the future destruction from the nuclear holocaust will find it.
Her: If there’s a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be any survivors.
Me: New survivors might evolve.
Her: They couldn’t. There’d be nothing left for them to evolve from.  And how would they know English?
Me: Look! A chipmunk.

Truly, our voices were slightly raised during this debate, and we got many strange looks.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying experience. On the way to our next destination, George presented us with a lovely profile.

Next stop: Crazy Horse, Boyd’s Antiques, and Custer State Park.

[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.

It’s the time of year we all look forward to – our annual Mother-Daughter Labor Day trip! This is our 5th Labor Day excursion. We always pick somewhere new to go. Since flying was looking a bit pricey this year, we picked a destination that was drivable, and a state to which neither of us had been: South Dakota. We refer to this trip as the Lobe, since last year’s 14-state driving extravaganza was called the EAR (or Excellent Adventure Roadtrip). This, since it’s only 3 days and 4 states, is the Lobe.

As is customary, it’s always an experience travelling with me. I wound up leaving an hour later than I had hoped from work, and on our way out of Denver, l looked out my window and saw a dead hawk under a bridge. I took it as a bad omen initially, but Kelsea told me some Greek mythological fact about hawks that cheered me up. (This was to be the first of our semi-significant animal experiences for the afternoon.)

As we got through the Burbs, we encountered an amazing full rainbow that went double and triple on us from time to time in between cloudbursts. Kelsea was the photographer for this blog, as I was driving, and strangely enough, she kept snatching the camera from my hands when I attempted to take a picture while driving 80 mph. Go figure!

Double Rainbow!!

We drove alongside the rainbow for around 20 minutes. I’ve never seen one last that long before. We did our own impression of “Double Rainbow Man” and considered it a good omen.

We exchanged snappy dialogue:

Me: So do you have any classes with such-and-so?

Her: None

Me: You have nun class together? Are you studying good habits?

Her: What? Uhhh… [groan]

Actually we talked constantly – it was a feast of reason and a flow of soul.

Colorado whipped past and we lamented the closing of the Sweetsville Zoo. How could it have closed? There was no guide and no admission. And they couldn’t have just gotten rid of all those giant sculptures. I mean, there was a tugboat in there, for Pete’s sake.

The tradition of the Corn Slap was reinstated as we passed by numerous cornfields in full tassle. This, if you are unaware of it, is like Slug Bug, except you get to slap the back of the person’s head if you are the first to see a cornfield. (It was a painful trip through Kansas last summer.)

Wyoming greeted us with its standing buffalo silhouette on the bluff, and a ton of fireworks stores. We realized that we hadn’t stopped on the EAR and taken each other’s picture at the Welcome To [Insert State Here] sign upon arrival in each state, but there would be no time like the present to do so, so we were planning on doing it this trip.

Of course, the first live animal we saw was camels. Yes, camels. Four of them. Apparently they are trying to fool the camels into thinking we’re in the desert, which we’re totally not, although your local horticultural school will tell you that this is high desert.

Still I had never seen camels in any semblance of the wild, so I was trying to turn my head around backwards, Linda-Blair style, to see them. Not what you do while driving 80 miles an hour. But then I think I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done while driving 80 mile an hour.

This incident did, however, help set the tone for some of our music selections during the drive. Not that we were listening to Bedouin karaoke, but since our tastes are somewhat divergent, we take turns with playing our respective iPods. She gets a couple of hours, and then I get a couple of hours. Kelsea is very considerate about what we play – she’ll check with me to be sure a song is something I enjoy, inform me if one is really inappropriate (ahem, then why do you have it on your iPod? Oh right, because you’re 14), and skip over the heavy metal ones for me. I do the same for her when my turn rolls around, since she loathes country music with a bloated passion. With a few song exceptions, and those are the ones I love, that I MUST listen to. So now, when those songs would come on, and she’d groan, my most appropriate (in my opinion) response was:

“Don’t complain. You saw camels.”

We also saw a herd of buffalo, which was new for her. And we saw buttes.

Butte

Isn’t it a beauty? (Get it? Get it?)

Being somewhat directionally challenged (even though to get to South Dakota from Denver, you basically head north and turn right), I had not only programmed Daniel, the Garmin, with driving directions, but had also printed out a set from Google maps. The problem was that these two set of directions were slightly divergent. Not greatly, but about 30 miles worth of divergent.

As we were zipping along, I had a choice to make as to which set of directions to follow. Well, the sun was, while not still high in the sky, at least still in the sky, so I opted for the slightly shorter route. As soon as we took the exit, I had a feeling I had chosen unwisely, as we went from a six lane interstate to a two lane road. But it was straight and fairly empty and nearly as fast as the highway and there were rock formations, and it felt like an adventure, so we were happy.

Drive, drive, drive. Pass the town of Chugwater, much touted in signage but leaving something to be desired in person, although it was in a geologic basin surrounded by flat top cliffs, with white sandstone rocks and tempting caves creeping up the sides. Kelsea was in mid-sentence when she stopped in awe and said how she could envision Indians in this particular spot, long before Chugwater chili came into existence.

Just past Chugwater, Daniel was a little unclear as to his directions, and so we turned around and took the Google directions, which Daniel wound up agreeing with. It was only about 5 miles to Hartville, where we would get on another road for a long stretch.

Hartville was a sketch in time and an oasis in the Wyoming landscape, built in a hollow with lush trees by a creek, with 76 residents, all of whom were just winding up a little BBQ in the tiny grassy park, and all of whom looked at us as we drove by.

Welcome to Hartville

I ignored the sign saying “No Outlet”, assuming it meant that at one point there was No Outlet, but surely not that there was NO Outlet. We curved up a hill, around a bend, past another No Outlet sign on a little fork road. Then we were met with a Road Closed sign, and Kelsea, wise woman that she is, said, “I think the road is closed.” Being me, I said, “Of course not.” We encountered yet another Road Closed sign, and she said, “I think so.” She’s always been a bit of a backseat driver, so I kept a steady course. The next sign said “Road Closed 1000 feet,” and my daughter said, “Mom, there have been five signs. What is it going to take for you to believe them?” I guess it took me running up against the closed road. Because I did. And then I believed them. But I did not believe Google maps anymore.

We backtracked, waving at the townsfolk, who looked at us if they wanted to BBQ us, and got back to the safety and comfort of our little two-lane highway.

Many relationships, over time, run their course, and so it was this trip. Daniel, the Garmin, and I were having problems. I had started to feel like he was mocking me in his snooty British accent when I didn’t listen to him. He would revert to “Please drive the highlighted route” which of course I can’t see when I’m driving because I wasn’t supposed to look at him when I’m driving – that just felt like he was being sullen and pouty. He would “lose satellite connection” when he was annoyed with me because I was lost. Or he would start saying the ever infuriating “Recalculating” when he was insistent that I make a U-Turn even though I was on a perfectly good road, just not the one HE chose for me. No flexibility. No compromise. I had had enough. It was time for us to break up.

Kelsea chose a new Garmin beau for me – Lee. Lee is Australian. His voice is soothing, not superiorly irritating. He makes me feel like he’s winking at me when I screw up, and he’s just along for a fun ride. So G’Day, Lee. He made me feel much better about being navigationally challenged. And it was remarkably easy to stop saying “Daniel” and start saying “Lee”.

Kelsea was in, as she put it, the best mood she’d been in for months, wanting to take pictures, enjoying the trip, the beauty of wooly Wyoming. There was a gorgeous sunset behind us, and the sky morphed into blackest night, peppered with stars, and a peach-colored sliver of a setting moon.

Wyoming Sunset

It was open range, so I was a little edgy driving 80-85, but there were no speed limit signs. We decided that the speed limit was “As fast as you can go without dying”. I will come back and post that sign myself.

Kelsea was hungry and there was nothing to be seen – and I mean nothing – as far as places to eat – or places to do anything – or just places – went. She considered killing and eating an antelope, and we then experienced that awkward moment that comes when you suggest eating your Mother’s shamanic power animal.

As we were driving along, taking a slight hill, something dashed across the road in front of the truck, causing me enough panic to swerve slightly. Too small to be an antelope, too big to be a rabbit, I thought it had horns, I thought it had fur, I thought it had wings, it was a tan the color of the earth. I had nearly hit a jackalope – or perhaps a chupacabra. Either might have made delicious roadkill.

Finally arriving at the crossroads that is Lusk, Wyoming, we got gas, semi-edible crap (I finally tried pork rinds, because I never had, and all I can say is DON’T and don’t ever let me do so again), and a tip to visit the Keystone Taffy-Pulling Shop outside of our destination, all at Tye’s One-Stop. Lusk was a nice little town, with a Friday night high school football game in progress. Kelsea wanted to stop to watch, but it was so late already that I had to veto the suggestion.

Lusk All A-Bustle

We still had 200 miles of darkness to go before reaching Rapid City.

Cellphone service was gone. We would pass through pockets of hills and trees, enchanting in the darkness, except for the occasional giant wildlife carcass that would startle and disturb the straight line of the road. There was some commotion in our truck when a car ahead of us was pulled off the side of the road, lights bright. I thought it was an officer who might disagree with me on the unposted speed limit. We discovered it was someone who shared our brilliant idea of having their picture taken by every “Welcome to [insert state here]” sign.

We drove into the direction of the most amazing lightning storm. No thunder, but lightning illuminated the cumulus clouds and the entire horizon in an eerie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” sort of way, which, given Kelsea’s recent UFO sighting, gave me pause. It would flash out from under the clouds, like a shutter opening and closing on a bright lantern, the light spilling out flat through the darkness.

Kelsea fell asleep (what greater sense of comfort and security than to fall asleep in a car while your parent is driving, even if the parent driving is me?), and I played country music to my heart’s content while wending into Rapid City. It was close on midnight, and I was trusting that the Holiday Inn hadn’t given away my reservation. Kelsea had programmed the address into Lee earlier, so I was relieved when he directed me specifically to our destination. However, our destination wound up being a vacant lot off the main drag and behind a warehouse, with a deviant looking character sitting in the dark grass beside it. Had my daughter programmed my destination to be a clandestine drug deal two states distant? I didn’t stick around to find out. But I did wake her up to show her that she too is somewhat navigationally impaired.

We waved to the drug dealer and retraced our GPS steps to find the charming Holiday Inn Mount Rushmore. The front desk woman was as welcoming as a corn husk, but after careful observation, I saw a little flyer that she’d been looking at with the cover “In loving memory of Steven” on the desk. And a plaque on the wall that identified said Steven as the owner of the Holiday Inn. So I silently forgave her her prickliness and her way-too-intense false eyelashes.

With an indoor atrium, waterfall, and glass elevator with freaky mirrored ceiling, we were satisfied with our surroundings. Our room is right outside the elevator door, but it was quiet last night. The sheets are soft, the beds are cushy and there are more pillows than we know what to do with. It’s a beautiful day in a new state.

From the 8th Floor of the Holiday Inn

Kelsea woke up once to plug in her phone and her backpack got her into a nearly unbreakable ju-jitsu hold so she went back to sleep, as is evidenced by the lump shown below:

My Loveable Lump

Time to poke the lump and start the day.

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