Western Vacation, Part 7: The Black Hills

I would have liked to have been on the road by now, but considering the day we had yesterday, I suppose it’s reasonable that all of us are a little slow moving this morning. Let me tell ya: we did the Black Hills yesterday, did it as much as it could possibly be done, wrung it dry, and a good time was had by one and all.

I’m not sure why– maybe because we did so much– but I don’t have a lot of scenic photos to post here. Oh well; you’ve seen most of the things not in the pictures.

After toast and doughnuts in the hotel, we headed off to Mount Rushmore with a first stop in the touristy-junk town of Keystone. Lots of gift shops and rock shops and such; Will spent some of his own money, carefully choosing some taffy.

Here’s Will and Annette on the street at Keystone.

Then on to the star attraction, Mount Rushmore. I don’t have any good pictures of Rushmore, at least on the digital camera, and, as much as I like taking pictures, I thought about not taking any at all. I mean, haven’t all of us seen Mount Rushmore enough, even if you haven’t actually been there?

The last time I was here (which was in 1996 when Annette and I were moving out to Oregon from Bowling Green), we only stopped at Rushmore for about 15-20 minutes, long enough to park, fight the big crowds on the main viewing platform, and have a full-frontal view of the four heads. This time around, we took the hike around a trail that takes you by the artists’ studio and many other viewing sites. That was pretty cool, and we managed to get some exercise, too.

From Rushmore it was on to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the never-to-end family business mountain carving project. It’s been going on for around 75 years, and I don’t think there’s any way that they’ll finish it in the next 75 years. Regardless, it’s still a pretty impressive site, a memorial for Native American peoples and the work of a very stubborn family who have refused government assistance.

Here’s Will standing by a cool display of glass beads in the museum part of things.

Rushmore has been done for a long time obviously, so that’s all about product. Crazy Horse is all about evolving process. Annette is certain that the progress on the mountain has been noticeable, but don’t ask me to tell you the difference between what we saw in ’96 and now. Well, okay. the face is done. But the cool part about Crazy Horse is the idea of it, and also seeing the process evolve, with the visitor center buildings being added on to in any which way. It’ll be interesting to see this thing in another 10 years.

Then it was lunch at the Mount Rushmore Brew Pub in Hill City, which was slow service but good food and very good beer and it was raining and hailing out, so it was a good time to sit around inside. Funny story: Will and Annette ordered sweet potato fries, and high school kid waitress and the young groovy couple sitting a few tables away were both fascinated by the idea that one would eat something like that.

Then it was on to Reptile Gardens, which is a private zoo sort of thing just off of the road that features a lot of (guess what?) reptiles. They had a lot of snakes and such that I hadn’t seen in other zoos before, including komodo dragons and (what they claimed was) the largest salt water crocodile in the Western Hemisphere, an 18 or so footer named Maniac. Let me tell ya, that was one big assed crocodile. They had prairie dogs and giant tortoises (in the old days, they apparently let the kids ride them), and we saw a pretty good snake handling show.

Oh yeah– they also had these trained chickens who would do stuff like play basketball (as the one in the picture is doing at the top of the page), or play tic-tac-toe or give you answers to a series of yes or no questions. It was all skinner box kind of stuff– the chickens peck at a target and then they get a reward– but it was pretty funny, and no, I don’t think it was all that cruel. They had a sign explaining the care that they give the chickens, and they pointed out that these chickens actually live a “full lifeâ€? (in other words, they aren’t dinner).

Then we managed to get kind of lost around Rapid City, which actually wasn’t that bad because we got lost in the good part of town. My impressions of Rapid City improved a great deal.

Then we went to the Black Hills Caverns, one of the many cave tours in the Black Hills. This was Annette’s idea, but Will and I liked it a lot too. The thing that was most, well, cute about the whole thing was the “mom-and-pop� nature of the operation. For example, our tour guide (and Annette and Will and I were the only people on the tour) was a high school student from Sturgis who told us stories about bike week and living in the Black Hills in between her rehearsed tour banter.

Then it was time for mini golf (always fun, of course) and then for later dinner at a place called Boston Pizza, which is actually a Canadian chain and has as much to do with Boston as Outback Steakhouse has to do with Australia.

Whew. That was a long day.

Now it’s time to get ready for the road.

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