Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.

The internet will tell you that quote is from the Dali Lama’s eighteen rules to live by. Um, if you actually know anything about the man or Buddhist teachings in general then you can spot it as fake. My free tip of the day is to never pull your quotes from “quote sites” on the internet. So many of them are wrong!!! Anyway, I like the statement and think it is a pretty good thing to do. Heck! Maybe even more than once a year. That’s be cool.

Day 7: Lead to Deadwood and Sturgis…not that many miles

This was something of a rest day. We’d been out late most nights and wanted a nice day about without so much riding. The kids were getting restless and just needed to play.

Our first outing was to Tatanka: The Story of the Bison. This place was not originally on our list of things to do in South Dakota. I am glad we ended up here. Tatanka was built by Kevin Costner and is an educational center and living history museum about the bison and the Plains Tribes of North America. We watched a short film about the building of the place and listened to a presentation by a Lakota cultural interpreter (named Phil) about the many uses of the bison. Many of the displays were hands on which the kids really enjoyed. Littlest discovered his love of drumming with the handmade drum. Displayed outside were several sculptures depicting a buffalo jump; a hunting technique. We also learned about the near extermination of the species and the individuals who saved them. I would consider Tatanka a not to miss site primarily for the living history experience.

Our next stop was Deadwood. We walked around the town and enjoyed the gunfight scenes in the street. One of the actors asked why the kids were not in school. I let him know they were in school and he could teach them something. He chatted with the kids and passed out free metal deputy badges. For us, Deadwood was a bit of a bummer. The town was mostly casinos, bars, restaurants and a bit of shopping. They cater to the biker crowd and I wonder what will happen as that crowd ages out. We did have some family pictures made at one of those old time dress-up places. It was fun and we haven’t had family pictures made since Middle Boy was about two years old. We saw the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed but didn’t go inside. Afterward we toured the graveyard in town and saw several famous graves.

We went back to the resort for the evening. The kids played outside and in the pool while I did the laundry. I think we all enjoyed a free afternoon.


Day 8: Lead to Spearfish Canyon, Belle Fourche, Broadus Montana and Devil’s Tower: 286 miles

We started the day exploring Spearfish Canyon. We walked around Roughlock Falls and just enjoyed the beautiful morning. We would have missed stopping here if it wasn’t for a comment left on my Instagram page. Spearfish Canyon is absolutely beautiful and I am glad we made time to explore this little gem.

We then drove up to Belle Fourche because it is the geographical center of the United States. How cool is that? I didn’t even know about it until I was looking for a place to stop on the way to Montana. They have a really nice visitor center and Littlest happily spent his time working puzzles while the rest of us explored the history. The most interesting story I found in the museum was about Three Toes of Thunder Butte. This grey wolf was smart and evaded capture from 150 men for 13 years. He was both respected and hated by the local ranchers and trappers. When Three Toes was captured he died “of a broken heart.” The wolf’s wounds were superficial and there was no reason for him to have died except for the need of freedom.

I left a painted rock there for someone else to find and posted its location to the owner’s Facebook page.

We loaded back up and headed to Broadus, Montana. Why? For the experience of having lunch in Montana. It was also the closest location in Montana with an open location. There was another little stop that was closer but their only restaurant did not serve lunch. So on to Broadus! Montana is just open grassland and ranches with the occasional fenced in military…rampart. That the best word I can think of anyway…places civilians do not go. There were also lots of pronghorn. These little guys were everywhere from Montana to Colorado but they were plentiful along our road to Broadus. We saw more of these guys than people.

The restaurant I had chosen for lunch was closed when we got there! Fortunately, the bowling alley/casino/restaurant next door was open. The food was good and the people seemed kinda standoffish but were super friendly when engaged. But I guess that is why you’d live in a place with more pronghorn and prairie dogs than people…to get away!

We then turned south and headed to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I’ve wanted to go to this place since I was a kid. I used to have a book about Native American myths and stories. The place was called Bear Lodge in my book so it took me a few years to realize that Devil’s Tower and Bear Lodge are the same place.

The visitor center was kinda small for the number of people inside. I don’t like to be in crowded locations so we didn’t stay in there long. My husband got a good look at the trails and picked a couple for us to take. We started out on the small trail that goes around the tower and we took this one first. I felt a sense of awe in this place and just wanted to sit and be there. Just be mindful of the place. There was something about the place that really moved my spirit and I cried a couple of times. I’m not sure how to explain other than to say it is like those moments when you have a deep feeling. A feeling so deep that the memory has faded and only a sense of depth remains. I wanted to pray there. But, this was the day my daughter was really missing her therapist and chose to stick to me and fill my head with her suffering. This wasn’t the experience I wanted for myself at the tower. Parenting is not for the selfish. So, I just said a small prayer and hung out with my girl. We did see some Native American prayer cloths and bundles along the trail and I offered prayers for each of those intentions as well.

We then drove out to another trail a little further out that I think gave the best views of the tower. We also pretty much had the trail to ourselves. We met one photographer who was getting set up for a night shoot…something I would love to learn. There was also a really loud Yankee who loved the sound of his own voice but we managed to out walk him. The trail meandered through grassland, hill and forest. On this trail I did manage to get some alone time to reflect and pray. My heart did that thing where it skips around a bit and I feel breathless (even though I can breathe just fine) so I ended up slowing us down. Toward the end of the trail the sun was beginning to set and I got some nice pictures of the kids walking into the setting sun.

We decided to stay at the tower until after sunset so the kids could really see the night sky. Staying at the trailhead wasn’t an option because it was starting to fill up with people (mostly the loud Yankee dude). We went to the picnic area at the entrance and had dinner. We had a nice view of the tower from there and the place to ourselves so we decided to just stay there until nightfall. We found a lovely peace sculpture called Wind Circle made by Junkyu Muto. He has designed several of these sculptures to promote world peace and leaves them in sacred places.

Since no one was around we hung out by the sculpture and waited for the Milk Way. Oldest and Sparkles did enjoy stargazing. The younger two just played. My husband and I tried out hand at photographing the night sky with our phones. We did manage to get a couple of nice shots especially of the Big Dipper above Devil’s Tower.


Day 9: Lead: just a few miles

Our last day in South Dakota. We prepped for the next part of the journey but did visit the Mining Museum in Lead. A visit there includes a walking tour of a replica gold mine through the ages. It was an interesting place and our guide was both personable and knowledgeable. She also intuited when to cut a talk short when surrounded by museumed-out kids. I got a bit upset there learning how better treated and paid gold miners are over coal miners. My grandfather was a coal miner and I grew up hearing stories about the company store and the camps. I left there just a bit pissed-off.


Day 10: Lead, Fort Laramie, Lookout Mountain and Colorado Springs. 468 miles

A long day on the road. I felt sad leaving South Dakota. Forever isn’t long enough in such a place.

We took a detour in Wyoming to visit Fort Laramie. They’ve rebuilt and fixed up some of the fort and the work is well done. The gift shop was really well stocked and would appeal to a variety of history buffs; military, pioneer, Mormon Trail, Native American and wildlife goodies. However, the whitewashed and misleading history made me angry and the constant references to the Lakota Nations as Sioux had me fuming. The treaty room was just too much and I signed the guest book in there as a “place of lies” or “you sit in a room of lies”…can’t remember now how I worded it. The FBI should come a knockin’ any day now. The German couple that signed the book after me kept their distance afterward.

Our first stop in Colorado was to visit the grave of Buffalo Bill on Lookout Mountain. A few years ago the kids had expressed their wish to visit after we had read a book about him in our American history studies. It took about five years but we finally made it. I was completely surprised by the number of people visiting the site especially those of Hispanic ancestry. After a little research I learned that Viciente Oropeza, who traveled with Buffalo Bill is still a legend. He was and is still considered by some to be the best trick rider and roper ever to have graced this earth and he inspired people to take up the sport of rodeo. How cool is that?! I used to enjoy going to rodeos when I lived in Oklahoma especially the more traditional team version of the sport.

We then traveled down to Colorado Springs and met our AirB&B host for the next few days. The house we stayed at was really nice and provided my favorite view in Colorado. If you go to Colorado Springs stay with Zoltan. He is awesome and his house is really nice. The view of the sun setting behind Cheyenne Mountain from his back yard is the best…especially with a glass or two of wine.