Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay 12
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.—Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
We dreamed. We planned. We left. We returned. That’s the short version.
I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy traveling. Growing up a military kid I was drug around from one base to another. Military bases are kinda the same with the same kinds of people. Over time I learned to appreciate, and even anticipate, the journey in-between the leaving and the arriving. As the years have passed by I’d forgotten about that sense…the heightened awareness of living in the current moment. I wish I could learn to live with that kind of mindfulness within the daily ordinary. Then I…well, I guess I’d be a saint of some sort and able to see the sacred in the mundane. Ah, but that isn’t right because nothing would be mundane. So…um…not a saint.
Day One: Frankfort Kentucky to Kansas City Missouri, 559 miles
The hardest part about the first day of a trip is waiting to leave. My husband put in a half day at the plant. I spent the morning getting last-minute packing and cleaning done. For me, this is the worst part of any trip…the few hours before leaving. I get anxious and worry about forgetting something important. Anxiety sucks and mine was really high that morning. I could tell my heightened emotional nuttiness was getting to the kids so I set my worries aside and rested on the couch. I wasn’t napping though the kids thought I was because I could hear them whispering to each other. I was simply trying to will myself into a calmer state. My anxiety goes into overload sometimes and I can imagine and worry over the most impossible and ridiculous “what if” scenarios. By the time I got myself in a calmer state my husband was on his way home.
Our goal was somewhere just passed St. Joseph, Missouri. The Dodge minivan we rented for the trip sabotaged our day. Somewhere in Illinois the van just stopped. We are on the interstate at sixty-five miles per hour and the motor just turns off. No motor, no brakes! My husband is a car guy so he doesn’t panic and knows exactly what to do. Or he totally fakes it to keep me from flipping out. But I really believe because he is a car guy. He drifts the van over to the median and after a few minutes it starts up again. The second time it happened was just passed Marion. This time we call Enterprise and they tell us to go back to Marion to switch out vehicles. By the time we get the vehicle back to Marion we learn they do not have a van for us. Turns out they do not even have two cars to give us to make it to St. Louis!!! We end up driving the broken van one hundred and thirty odd miles to the St. Louis airport to do a switchout. Crazy. The van quit on us a total of five times before we made it to the rental facility. I was livid to learn the problem is a known issue with Dodge minivans. The switchout was quick and easy except for the rain. Enterprise knocked two days off the rental price when we turned it back in; that was nice.
The sky rained on us all the way through Missouri. Several times we noticed Billboards paying tribute to the late Bert Reynolds. It made me sad to think he was gone. I liked his movies and always wanted a Trans-am because of Bandit. Over and out. God’s speed. We lost at least three hours to the Dodge van malfunction and turned in when we got to Kansas City. It felt good to stretch my legs. The lost time cost us a visit to the Pioneer Auto Museum and stopping along one of the many spots of the Lewis and Clark trail.
Day two: Kansas City Missouri to Lead South Dakota, 766 miles
The day started out rainy and gray. From Kansas City we drove north until we reached Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sparkles felt awful most of the day but she didn’t complain very much. I think her anxiety was pretty high most of the trip. She really just wanted to be home. I told her that she would feel like a stronger person by the end of the trip. She was worried about her ulcerative colitis ruining the days ahead. I tried to encourage her and told her that she would be stronger and less fearful because she would know that she could leave home after this trip. I’m not sure she believed me at the time but now that we are home she does know that she can go on a long trip and still manage her chronic condition.
On the way north we stopped in Hamburg, Iowa to gas up. It just so happened to be the town’s festival day. I thought it was interesting to see their Popcorn Days Festival. The town also marked when I started to see American flags everywhere. The central area of the country is very patriotic and that was nice to see.
In South Dakota we stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace. The outside of the building is covered with corn and other grains. Though it was interesting to see I was glad to get out and stretch a bit. When we made it to Wall, South Dakota we stopped for another walk and stretch. Wall is a small town famous for its drug store. They’ve built it up into a touristy stop and still put out signs for hundreds of miles around the place encouraging motorists to stop. I thought Wall had the smallest library I had ever seen until we traveled through other towns in South Dakota. We also stopped at a scenic overlook off of the interstate for a nice view of the surrounding prairie.
Day three: Lead and Sturgis, South Dakota…not that many miles
We arrived in Lead fairly late so we slept in. We stayed at a nice Ski Resort that was pretty cheap since it wasn’t winter. Lead wasn’t close to most of our planned visits but it was central enough that everything was only a fair drive away. We went to Sturgis to get a few groceries and stopped by the Motorcycle Museum. We spent the rest of the day in the pool, grilling and exploring the views at the resort. Mining was going on nearby so we also saw some very large and interesting work vehicles too.
Day four: Lead to Mount Rushmore via Iron Mountain Road, sickness detour, Crazy Horse and back to Lead. 136 miles
The day started out really nice. I got up early and took some sunrise photos. I found a grouse and rabbit for company while walking up the hill a bit to get some pictures. We drove into the Deadwood visitor center to pick up maps of the area. Then we headed into the Black Hills.
On our way to Mt. Rushmore we stopped at Pactola Reservoir and took some pictures. The place was really nice and is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills. After hiking around we loaded back up and left. On our way we stopped at Candyland which was terribly overpriced. But with a van full of kids there really wasn’t much of an option but to visit the place. We did pick out a few goodies and some small batch sodas to enjoy later. Littlest loved the place and asked us to take his picture by the giant ice cream cone and lollipops.
Our next stop was a very crowded Mt. Rushmore. The mountain is a cool thing to see but I was a little disappointed that parts of the trails were closed as well as the museum about the builder. We took some pictures and walked around where were allowed. I was amazed by the number of foreign visitors to the park. I lost count of the number of different languages I heard spoken. We visited the shop and had some ice cream. The ice cream is way overpriced but they do serve President Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for vanilla ice cream. It was truly the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever eaten and it will be the last ice cream I ever eat! I’ve suspected that I have an issue with dairy products but not too long afterward my IBS kicked in pretty hard and we ended up cancelling some of our plans for the day.
Before my IBS turned wrathful we took the scenic Iron Mountain Road toward Custer State Park. The route was curvy (really curvy!!) and had some of the coolest bridges that looped over the road. Some of the turns were so tight I swore we’d see the rear of our van in front us. My stomach was starting to feel uncomfortable at this point but not bad enough to worry me. IBS causes me pain everyday so I don’t always know when it is going to get really bad when it starts to flare up.
Somewhere along the way we stopped on the Centennial Trail for lunch. The kids had fun climbing on rocks and exploring the area. I began to notice that even the dirt in the Black Hills sparkles like the glitter fairies flew by. Flecks of mica are all over the ground in the Black Hills. At first I thought it was broken glass bottles but it was just the dirt. I also began to notice just how clean it is in South Dakota. There wasn’t much litter in all the places we visited. These people love and respect their environment. I didn’t eat much for lunch because I started to feel worse with every bite. By the time we made it to the Custer Park entrance my IBS was awful. Fortunately, after a few emergency stops we found a general store with some medicine. We had decided to make our way back to the resort and would just rework our plans to visit Custer State Park and the Needles Highway. I suffered through a full-blown panic attack and just wanted to cry. I really wanted to go to Crazy Horse and was so disappointed in my self and my sick body.
We did stop a Ken’s Minerals so Katie could look at the rocks. She loves stones. I sat outside and just willed the medicine to work and tried to calm down. Anxiety just makes IBS worse so I went through some of my breathing exercises to calm the jitters that had set in. The medicine and the breathing techniques ended up working. By the time we saw Crazy Horse in the distance I felt well enough to stop. The memorial is a beautiful place and I was emotionally overwhelmed. I cried and cried. The place felt sacred to me like a church. Sparkles walked around with me through the museum and gift shop. We were privileged to watch a Sacred Hoop Dance by a Lakota artist named Starr Chief Eagle. Her Lakota name is Brave Star Woman. She gave us a nice talk about the Lakota people and their history and then danced for us. She dedicated her dance to those in the audience that were having a bad day. The moment felt very personal to me and I cried again.
After the dance Brave Star Woman spent time answering questions. She explained to Littlest how she made her hoops and allowed him to play with them. Middle Boy asked her about the making of her regalia and the meaning behind some of the symbols she wore. We were all impressed by the beauty of her beadwork. Sparkles asked her about the meaning of some of her dance moves. As she had promised in her talk, Brave Star Woman asked Sparkles what the movements meant to her. By then I was with Littlest and the hoops but I heard it was an interesting conversation.
We continued to explore the museum and ended up staying for dinner at the restaurant on the premises. I was still worried about my stomach so I only ordered some fry bread and jam. My husband and the boys watched a documentary about the building of the Crazy Horse Memorial and the mission of the place. The memorial is completely supported by the people and so far no government money has been accepted. I didn’t mind spending money there because I knew it went to a good cause. We loved Crazy Horse and had a great experience there. We decide to come back another night for the laser show and drove back to Lead. The day was physically and emotionally hard on me and I slept hard.
Day five: Lead to Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, Chapel in the Hills and Ft. Hays. 177 miles
Our first stop was Sylvan Lake with Custer State Park. We hiked around the lake and climbed the big rocks. Littlest just wanted to throw rocks in the lake and I am sure he would have done so for hours if we had let him. We drove through the Needles Highway and really enjoyed the scenery. So beautiful! However, Middle Boy was a little frightened by the tight turns and asked about the brakes a few times. Later, we turned onto the Wildlife Loop through Custer. The bison were on the move and we ended up stopping since they were on the road. We got some nice close up views…maybe a little too close for my comfort.
On our way to Rapid City we stopped by the Chapel in the Hills. It is a Norwegian style church. My kids wanted to go because it looked like a place out of Skyrim. I would have liked to have gone on the prayer walk but the kids were just a little to wound up for a quite reflective walk. It was a nice place to visit and very beautiful.
We then headed out to Fort Hays (which is in Rapid City) for the Chuckwagon Show. Sparkles found a rock shop with a panning set up. She really enjoyed the panning experience. I bought her a second set to pan since she had had a really tough day. It was Tuesday and she was missing her therapist, I guess. She just wasn’t into being on vacation that day. The Chuckwagon show was okay but we were not their target audience. The food, however, was pretty good and very efficiently served for the several hundred of us that showed up. For me it was a bit of a disappointment but still an interesting experience.
Day six: Lead to Wall, Minute Man, Badlands, Dinosaur Park and Crazy Horse. 302 miles
We left early and headed out to Wall Drug. We looked around at their extensive photograph collection. We noticed where all the references to Wounded Knee were changed from “battle” to “massacre”. I was glad to see history being presented honestly. I was also sickened by all the photographs of hundreds of dead bison. History can be so heartbreaking.
The kids did their souvenir shopping at Wall Drug and I got us some maple donuts. I think those were the most expensive donuts I have ever purchased. Shannon bought me a beautiful Turkish Lamp and Sparkles chose a gift for her friend Emma. We then drove to Minute Man Missile Station and learned about the Cold War. Littlest found a Dr. Seuss book he had to have and I kinda freaked out to learn just how many times we came close to a nuclear war. From then on we were a little quicker to notice fenced off areas in open prairie in South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
The Badlands were incredible to drive through and are aptly named. We stopped at most of the scenic spots. My favorite spot was the Yellow Mounds Overlook. We also saw the pass where Chief Big Foot and his people made their way through the Badlands toward Wounded Knee. At the end of the paved road in the Badlands we had a choice; return to the interstate or take the gravel road through the Buffalo Gap Grasslands, reservation and farmlands. We chose the graveled…but mostly dirt Sage Rim Road. Sparkles wasn’t as enthused as the rest of us and responded, “Oh, isn’t this delightful” with all the sarcasm she could conjure. We saw some bison and hundreds of prairie dogs.
We eventually made it to Rapid City and went to Dinosaur Park. We were under the impression it was a nice place to picnic and play. Not really. There were no picnic tables. It is just a few dinosaurs on top of a really steep hill with no shade. It was a nice view of the city but I didn’t really care at the moment.
We drove out toward Crazy Horse to await the laser show. The show was really nice and I am glad we went back to see it. At night the mountain becomes the backdrop for a laser and musical story of the culture and contributions of Native Americans. The ending was particularly moving to me. The lasers formed to show a moving image of Crazy Horse with the wind in his hair pointing to the land he loves to the music of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.
I left the memorial with three new books, a piece of the mountain and a little less of my heart.