Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part V: Wall Drug and Mt. Rushmore

First day of school today! My children are in 5th and 8th grade this year, which means it is their last year at their respective schools. It was nice that they were both heading off to somewhere familiar, and that they will both be in the oldest grade in their buildings. Next year will be a huge change, when my daughter will enter middle school and my son will head off to high school, so I'm sure nerves will be running high here then!

Now that the kids are back in school, I can actually do things like use my computer, so hopefully I can finish blogging my vacation. Good heavens, we've been back for 3 weeks already and I've only posted up to Day 3!

One thing I forgot to mention in my DeSmet post was the CD I bought at the Laura museum in town. It is a recording of some of the songs that Laura mentions throughout her books, played on Pa's actual fiddle, and recorded at Laura's home in Mansfield, MO. I was so happy to know that Pa's fiddle still gets played, and it gave me chills to hear it. The CD liner notes say that the fiddle was built in the mid 1800s and was believed to have been a promotional gift from a seed company. I wouldn't have thought that seed companies would give out musical instruments as promotional gifts. That gives me something interesting to research!

Here is a link to the CD , and I also found this video on YouTube which is of someone playing Pa's fiddle.

Back to the trip:

Our goal after leaving DeSmet was to drive highway 14 across South Dakota all the way to Rapid City. My 1991 trip to DeSmet was the furthest west I had ever been. I always joked that neither Pa Ingalls nor I ever made it farther west than DeSmet. Once we headed west out of DeSmet on this trip, every inch was taking me into new territory. I was excited!



We made it to Pierre by late afternoon, and since we needed to stretch our legs, we popped into the state capitol building for a quick tour.

I love old buildings with intricate details.


It was too early for dinner, so we hopped back in the car and continued west. The air was heavy and humid, so I checked the weather in Rapid City. They were having a severe thunderstorm, but the radar didn't look too bad, so we hoped the weather wouldn't be all that severe and that we'd drive through it quickly.


The terrain in SD changed from flat to rumpled once we crossed the Missouri River. Everything was green and serene, except for the sky, which started to look rather ominous.
We drove toward this for a long, long time:





And then we were swallowed by it. And it was way, way worse than we had hoped it would be.


Wind? Check. Lightning? Check. Heavy rain, lashing at the windows as if it were heaved in buckets until you could not see 10 feet in any direction? Check. It was like being in a drive-through car wash.


We were scared.


We knew where we were, because we had a map, but we were completely unfamiliar with the surroundings. There were no trees, no houses, no towns, just wide open sky and wide open terrain, leaving us completely at the mercy of the elements. And the elements were angry!


My husband is a very rational person, not easily rattled, so he calmly drove on, albeit very slowly. We were afraid to pull over for fear of getting rear-ended, or of getting swept away in a flash-flood. There was no where to take shelter. The safest thing to do was keep going. Several times he suggested I video the storm, but I was clutching the Life Hammer in both hands (in case we ended up upside-down in a flash-flood-filled ditch), and I refused to put it down.


The only thing that made me feel even mildly safe was the fact that two cars were following close behind us. I have no idea if they were locals or long-distance travelers, if they were familiar with the territory or feeling as helpless as we did, but seeing their headlights steadily keeping up with us made me feel like we weren't so all alone. I thought about the pioneer wagon trains that traveled together as people sought new opportunities in our country 150 years ago, and felt a little bit of kinship with them. Safety in numbers, or so I'd like to think. Man, those Pioneers were brave people. Either that or desperate.


The storm raged around us for at least 20 minutes, which felt like forever, but finally the deluge turned into a steady rain, which eventually slowed to a shower before fading away to sprinkles, and the wind gusted one last time to clear the clouds and show us the sun again.



The storm was over by the time we arrived at Wall Drug.







The sign on that door was particularly appropriate, because for awhile there I thought we might not make it!

Wall Drug is one of those places that, if you are in the area, you might as well go see. It was exactly what I expected, maybe even a bit nicer and a bit less tacky than I anticipated. We had a lot of fun there (maybe we were just giddy because we'd survived that storm!), and is definitely a family-friendly place.




After dinner, ice cream, and general goofing off at Wall Drug, we finished our drive into the sunset.


The next morning we headed for Mt. Rushmore! I had read that the approach to the monument is more impressive and scenic if you come from the south, so we took a longer drive to get us to highway 16A. Our first glimpse of the mountain was from afar:






Highway 16A was fabulous, hugging Custer State Park, winding uphill, tunneling through the Black Hills.







Many of the tunnels framed the faces of the monument perfectly, but my camera couldn't capture that. (My son insists that I don't know how to use the white balance, and he's probably right.)


Motorcycles abound in the Black Hills, particularly during the Sturgis rally. We were there mere days before the rally, so the thrum of motorcycles punctuated the air.


Finally we got to the monument itself. The skies were clear blue, just like it always is in pictures of the monument. Maybe the sky is always blue over Mt. Rushmore?













Just gorgeous.





I picked up a trip mascot for us at Wall Drug:











My kids call him "Biseth". I call him "Bison Buddy." I put him on the dashboard during our journey to Mt. Rushmore, and my husband was game enough to let him live there for the duration of our trip. He got to see a lot!