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

Monday, December 13, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: The Natural Beauty of South Dakota

Custer, South Dakota
Thursday, September 23, 2010

We were excited to start a new chapter in our journey today as we joined our friends Bruce and Kimberly for breakfast in the cozy Great Room of our motel.  The flames were glowing in the fireplace and the coffee and hot cinnamon rolls smelled soooo good.

We shared a relaxing breakfast near the fireplace, viewing the mountain waterfall outside.

It was damp and rainy so we thought that going subterranean at Jewel Cave National Monument would be a good plan.  We took the in-depth (no pun intended) tour of Jewel Cave with Ranger Bethann Herman.  She was an excellent guide offering detailed information with a delightful sense of humor.

We were surprised to learn that it is the second longest cave system in the world.  Only 152 miles have been mapped so far; they believe that it may be much larger.

The site was a subterranean wonderland.  The caverns are unlike any other we have visited.  We are accustomed to “wet” caves filled with stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and draperies.  Instead, the walls and ceilings of Jewel Cave are mostly dry and are covered with a thick crust of calcite crystals, boxwork and other filigree formations.  It definitely was a “jewel” to behold.

By the time we came back to the surface, the rain was gone and the sun was awaiting us.  So, we headed east to Custer State Park, eager to view its renowned natural beauty and wildlife.

We drove around beautiful Stockade Lake and then followed the Wildlife Loop Road through the park.

We were in awe of the wildlife that we encountered: pronghorn, white tail deer, prairie dogs, wild turkeys, incredibly friendly “begging” burros, and the pride of the park—a massive heard of free-ranging American Bison.

We were able to drive on unpaved roads among the buffalo as they headed across the prairie.  We watched and wove among them, marveling at their stoic magnificence, until the sun had set behind the mountains.  What an experience!

The four of us celebrated this exceptional day of natural wonders with a sublime dinner of pheasant, bison, and elk at the dining room of the historic State Game Lodge.  We were quickly learning that the animals of the prairie are honored in the west in many ways—conservation, respectful hunting, mounted display, and deliciously dining.

Back at the motel, we spent some time chatting around the hot tub, sharing our impressions of an incredible day.  
-- Ted and Laura, Bruce and Kimberly