Saturday, September 22, 2007

Vacation Wrap Up

The last two days of vacation, I started jotting things on the Treo for later blogging. The time has come to post:

  • I highly encourage a visit to this area; it's one of the standard trips every American family should make as there's really nothing quite like this part of the world: Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer National Park and the surrounding towns. There's something for everyone from the hardiest 'outdoorsy' type to the couch potatoes who prefer to pull up to the curb of the next attraction. The communities around Rushmore and Rapid City really know how to entertain you (and separate you from your money).

  • Mount Rushmore itself has been updated. Though I miss the old cafeteria of North By Northwest fame, people of any age and ability can move around the site easily and appreciate the monument. The drive in from Rapid is beautiful but the Custer highway has some tunnels specifically designed to frame the mountain as you emerge. Very spectacular.

  • The motel in Gillette lacked such amenities as working A/C and clean bathrooms and sheets. I'm sorry to say I missed the highlight of the facilities, the shower in the kids' room. Cheryl reported that the shower curtain smelled 'like Will farted!' Will declared he had done no such thing but agreed the curtain did have a certain tang. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody so will not link to it here.

  • The Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City was nicely decorated, comfortable, clean and fun for everybody. Two for one bar drinks for Mom and Dad went along nicely with swimming for the kids. The pool area even had a 130ft water slide into the dinosaur footprint shaped pool!

  • Mount Rushmore National Park's surrounding forests were decimated a few years ago during an especially bad fire season (or two). Though I had delivered a lecture not thirty minutes previously about the life cycle of forests and how forest fires are a natural part of this process, I still cried when I saw the devastation. I hadn't been to the area since I was 17 and had forgotten about the fires. I cannot believe how different the area looks. I did feel much better the next day in Custer State Park, where everything was as I remember (except for those Invisible Buffalo.. read on).
  • When playing the License Plate Game, the parking lots of major National Monuments are fabulous. At Mt. Rushmore, I was declared the winner (by my own authority) when I found one from Alberta, Canada.

  • The area around Rushmore also is the summer home of a number of visiting international students. We were served ice cream by kids from Poland and Russia. Our darling redheaded waitress in Keystone was named Ieva (pronounced Eva) and came from Lithuania. My mother's family being from that area, she could have been a distant cousin judging by her coloring and facial structure (and willingness to talk!).

  • Custer State Park is very pretty at dusk, as you drive along the wildlife loop. You can enjoy the wild turkeys, mule deer and buffalo. It's fairly secret right now, but we imagine sometime in the next few years, they'll announce something new.. which we may have been the first to discover: INVISIBLE BUFFALO! You can't see 'em but you know they're there by the chips, which are not invisible. In all seriousness, it was disappointing, but the closest we got to the big furry guys (aside from numerous signs warning about the danger of charging buffs), was about 1/2 mile away from a group of about 100.

  • At some point during nearly all visits with my parents, I find myself apologizing for something I did as a kid. This time it was giving the impression that I didn't enjoy the last trip to the area. Apparently, I was a little hard to read as a teen and perhaps slightly surly. The impression was that I hated every minute and was determined to spread the feeling. I corrected that forcefully: I've always remembered the area and what a great trip it was. I did manage to block out a shouting match in the car when I apparently told my parents to 'pull over' because I was going to 'walk home' which took place somewhere outside of New Castle, Wyoming (a couple hours BY CAR from my home at the time).

  • First Word to the Not-So-Wise: when dealing with highways in South Dakota and Nebraska, don't always trust your instincts. We took the more logical (but wrong) turn out of Hot Springs, South Dakota. As a result, we missed the turn back into New Castle or Torrington and ended up driving the width of Nebraska, North to South. We calculated that the drive itself worked out to be roughly the same number of miles, only a little bit longer drive time; state highways vs interstates. However, I HATE being lost and for about an hour, we were good and LOST.

  • Second Word to the Not-So-Wise: Do not be distracted by the tempting, fatty, salty glow of the giant M as you enter Chadron, Nebraska from the North. If you fall into McDonald's fast food clutches, you'll miss the turn for the ONLY HIGHWAY headed your way and might have to back track as far as ten miles after you discover you mistake. Not that we fell victim to such an obvious trap...

  • Third Word to the Not-S0-Wise: Even the best Sprint Broadband service doesn't work in the more rural areas of Southern South Dakota and most of Nebraska. Technology will get you lots of places but it's always a good idea to have a good ol' paper map for when Technology has 'No Service.'

Eric, you are correct, Sir. I got good mileage out of this event. I may even have one more post in me about everything I saw. Certainly I shall post a few pictures, as I can't figure out how to embed them from but have set up photo blogging from between Blogger and Flickr.

Stay Tuned!

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