Thursday, August 23, 2007
Wednesday morning, we had a whole state to cross to get to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore. The road stretches like a thin double ribbon over the wide undulating hills of the prairie. The space around us and the wide open sky are stunning. The hills flatten out in the middle of the state, and approaching the west we see the first rock formations of the Badlands. And all along I-90 there are countless billboards for WALL DRUG, a drug store founded in the 1930s which has expanded its business to include a cafe, gift, clothing, biker leather, you-name-it shops, and made it a prime tourist attraction in the tiny town of Wall in western SD. We had to stop, we had no choice, and we got a couple of ultra-dry roast beef sandwiches. Hundreds of people in every section of the "store" (actually a number of stores) - the road signs suck 'em all in.
Turning south from Rapid City, we're into the Black Hills, bringing mountain roads, tall pines, and a chill. But the clouds were left behind on the prairie, and we climbed into the first sunshine of the day. Since the four mountain presidents face eastward, the late afternoon sun was behind them; but we decided not to stay around until morning just to see them in a better light. Looking past the swarm of tourists, RV's, trucks, and shops in the visitor center, the huge stone faces of Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln are inspiring. Thinking back on their contributions to the US and what it stands for, I'm glad they were the four choices for this massive sculpture that took 14 years to form.
We decided to skip the evening film on Liberty in the amphitheater, followed by the spotlights on the presidents, and drove down the road to a KOA resort we'd found in a brochure. A sprawling complex of hotels, shops, RV's lined up with vacationers in lawn chairs, tent sites and kamping kabins. We got a little kabin in the woods containing just a couple of beds, with electricity and free Wi-fi. Just enough camping at this stage of the trip. Checked Internet first thing, no signal, they obviously hadn't checked reception in all the remote sites. So we had to pack up again, get a refund, and head on down the road again. We stopped at the immense Crazy Horse sculpture down the road, which was to be illuminated by a laser light show after dark; but we could see clearly from the entrance just how far from complete the hunk of mountain was, so we skipped entry and the $20 fee. Further on down the highway we spotted The Bavarian Inn, a welcome touch of Europe in the vastness of America (melting pot that it is, all across), and got a nice room. Wienerschnitzel and Bratwurst in their restaurant finished off the day nicely. The clouds had come in just after sunset, and by nightfall the skies opened up. The lightning in the broad western sky is dazzling, and when it's high and wide, the thunder rolls from one end of the sky way, way to the other, emphasizing the immensity of the natural forces at play.
Up early Thursday morning to make our way down to Denver to see friends.