Sunday, January 2, 2011


South Dakota and Wyoming
Saturday, September 25, 2010

After another scenic and delicious breakfast, we packed up Rover (our rented minivan) and bid farewell to the Holiday Inn Express in Custer.  It was a great home base for the past three days.  Entep, the cheerful staff member who was there to welcome us when we first arrived, was also there to wish us safe travels when we departed.  Thanks to Entep and all of the Holiday Inn Express staff for making our stay a memorable one.

On the road again, we headed out of Custer via the breathtaking, winding Needles Highway.  Driving in the brilliant morning light, the perspectives and colors were completely different and as equally spectacular as yesterday’s drive.  We stopped many times along the route to take pictures of the scenes surrounding us.

Winding through the stunning rock formations and breathtaking vistas, we came to beautiful Sylvan Lake.  The contrast between the rocks and the water was dramatic.

Descending the mountain brought a change from the towering pillars of rock to the vibrant colors of the Black Hills National Forest.

As we swung down into the valley, the deep blue waters of the Pactola Lake reservoir glistened like a gorgeous sapphire.  It was surreal to realize that below those pristine waters lay the submerged town of Pactola, a mining camp and military outpost first settled in 1875.

We trekked north through the Black Hills to Deadwood--site of Wild Bill Hickok's murder.  Today, Deadwood looks a lot different than it must have in Wild Bill’s day; it’s more of a modern day “wild west” town filled with hotels, saloons, and casinos.

Wild Bill's Bar marks the location where Hickok was gunned down during a lethal poker game.  According to legend, he was holding two pair--aces and eights--now commonly referred to as the Dead Man's Hand.

Moving on from Deadwood, we passed the Homestake Mining Company, one of the largest gold mining businesses in United States from the gold rush of 1876 until 2002.

Nature greeted us with even more splendor as we drove through Spearfish Canyon to the town of Spearfish. The brilliant yellow of the autumn aspens made a striking contrast against the towering stone walls and pines of the canyon.  It was truly magical.

On the recommendation of a gentleman that Bruce and Kim had met in Custer, we stopped by the Crow Peak Brewing Company on our way out of Spearfish for a sampling of their craft brews and a little snack.  Bruce liked their Spearbeer Pale Ale and 11th Hour Golden IPA while Ted’s favorites were the Pile-o-Dirt Porter and IPOD Black IPA.  All four of us gave high marks to the pickled buffalo sausage.

As we crossed the border into Northeast Wyoming, the terrain flattened out into broad plains speckled with buttes and gulches.

Then the terrain changed once again as we began to climb.

As the land dropped away into a picturesque canyon on our right, Devil's Tower National Monument appeared boldly in the distance.

No matter how many times we’ve seen Devil’s Tower in photos or watched Richard Dreyfuss make a mashed potato model of it in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, nothing gave us a sense of the enormity of this monolith or the spectacular setting surrounding it.

It is no wonder that Devil's Tower, like the Black Hills of South Dakota, is sacred to American Indians.  It is a place of deep stillness and awesome majesty.  Human beings are tiny creatures in the presence of this towering monolith.  It was a humbling experience.  Gazing upon the tower at dusk, we noticed a few tiny pin-pricks of light about half-way up one side.  Each light was an intrepid climber...attempting to reach the top of this colossus.

From Devil's Tower we drove west to Gillette, Wyoming, an area rich in coal resources that calls itself the "Energy Capital of the Nation."  Needing some energy ourselves, we stopped for dinner at Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant.  We admired the brilliantly-colored wall murals as we enjoyed delicious Mexican cuisine.

Our energy replenished, we continued west to Buffalo, Wyoming and our final destination: the Historic Occidental Hotel.  Walking through the front doors of the Occidental was like stepping into a time machine. The 21st century melted away at the threshold and the Old West of legend and lore welcomed us in. 
-- Ted and Laura, Bruce and Kimberly

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: "Monumental" South Dakoka

Custer, South Dakota
Friday, September 24, 2010

Bright sunshine welcomed the four of us into the Great Room for a tasty breakfast and a lovely mountainside waterfall view.  What a way to start the day!

We then set out for the classic American icon, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, via the Iron Mountain Road.  The highway winds through the lush natural beauty of the Black Hills.

The icing on the cake was three tunnels, carved out of the mountain rock, including two that frame Mount Rushmore perfectly.

The grand memorial was truly spectacular when viewed from across the valley.  It was surreal to look across such an expanse of forest and see the heads of our presidents embedded in the mountain.  We etched the vista in our minds at every turn.

Once we arrived at the Memorial site, it was interesting to watch the faces of people as they approached the monument through the Avenue of Flags.  How did our faces look?  We enjoyed a few quiet moments standing on the terrace facing those stony visages.

Then we headed to another deeply meaningful effigy, the Crazy Horse Memorial, whose mission is to “honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.”  We couldn’t come up with better words to explain what we wished to do while visiting this memorial.

Crazy Horse is a massive work-in-process and we felt fortunate to see it in its formative stages.  We look forward to seeing the completion of this great tribute and artistic masterpiece in our lifetime.

The most unexpected and appreciated part of the memorial site was its museum and exhibits about American Indian art, history and culture.  The collections and displays, as well as the orientation video and sculptor's workshop and studio, were enlightening and inspiring.

With our heads and our hearts full, we headed back into the Black Hills via the legendary Needles Highway.  Words cannot begin to describe our awe as towering rock formations and spectacular views unfolded around us.

At the summit was the Needle's Eye formation; we all agreed that this was a singularly incredible place, like none other we've seen.

As dusk settled in, we headed to the Blue Bell Lodge and the Tatanka Dining Room for dinner. (Tatanka is the Lakota word for "buffalo").  We had an excellent dinner beside the great stone hearth in the log dining room, surrounded by spectacular wildlife mounts.

It was a fitting end to an extraordinary day!
-- Ted and Laura, Bruce and Kimberly