Four Foto Friday – Black Hills and Beyond

As you may have heard, we’re trying to “Live Below the Line” this week. This is a challenge to raise money and awareness to fight global hunger, and we set out to eat on just $1.50 each per day. We’ll plan to write more this coming week on how it all went (spoiler alert: we survived!).

Despite limited food rations and lower than normal energy levels, we also managed to complete one of our most active weeks thus far! Turns out, this corner of the US has many great attractions and, with several days of sunny weather, we were able to pack in a lot.

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Owen amongst the boulders of Devil’s Tower, WY.

Montana and Wyoming: OK, I spoke too soon about the nice weather. Last weekend was pretty cold and rainy as we headed east on Route 90. Sunday found us passing over rolling hills of the high prairie with strong winds and freezing rain. We opted to make an unexpected stop in the town of Gillette and wait for better driving conditions. Despite the slowdown, we still managed to salvage the long drive with stops at the Little Bighorn Battlefield (site of “Custer’s last stand”) and Devil’s Tower National Monument. Both marked our entrance into Plains Indian territory, and it was interesting to learn the significance of these two sites to the local Sioux. A good perspective as we entered their most sacred region, the Black Hills.

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Cubs at Bear Country, USA.

Rapid City, SD: Our first full day in Rapid was a slow but enjoyable one. We explored the downtown area and discovered a really cool store called Prairie Edge, which was filled with Native American artwork, a fine arts gallery, and an extensive collection of western books and music. In the afternoon, we went to Bear Country USA, a drive-through game park that featured over 100 black bears. Normally, we try to avoid such touristy stuff, but this one was surprisingly well done. We had a great time passing through the bear pens, which also contained wolves, buffalo, big horn sheep, and many other large mammals. The highlight, however, was in the walk-through area (more like a zoo) which had a number of new bear cubs that were born this spring. We loved watching these little guys wrestle and play (not unlike a couple of active young boys we know!).

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Our American Family

The Black Hills: On Wednesday, we drove into the heart of the Black Hills with our first destination: Mount Rushmore. This seemed like an obligatory stop for our trip, but we all left highly impressed by the artistry and craftsmanship behind this audacious project. The visitor center did a great job of showing just went into creating the monument, and the spectacular viewpoints gave us many opportunities to appreciate both the sculpture and its natural setting. From Rushmore, we passed by the Crazy Horse Memorial (still in the making) and on to the National Museum of Woodcarving in the town of Custer. Owen, especially, loved visiting this place and seeing the many fine pieces of carved wood. This definitely reignited his interest in woodcarving and gave him a few more ideas for his own projects. To cap off the day, we drove back to the RV park via Wildlife Loop Drive in Custer State Park. This scenic drive through prairie lands featured many animals (buffalo, elk, pronghorn, deer, etc) as well as newly born baby buffalo, which were super cute to see.

On Thursday, we returned to the Black Hills to visit the Old West mining towns of Deadwood and Lead. Deadwood’s wild past (think outlaws, saloons, brothels, and gunfights) has largely been replaced by a modern casinos and staged performances for summer tourists. We found, however, an authentic historic record of the town in the Adams Museum. Nearby, we also visited the town of Lead, home to the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere (Homestake Mine). The good folks at Black Hills Mining Museum gave us a great tour and we left with a much better understanding of the South Dakota gold rush and the history of mining in this area.

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Climbing around the Badlands.

Badlands and Minuteman: Today, we traveled east of Rapid City and found two very different national parks. First was the Badlands, whose landscape was desolate, but beautiful. We only had a few hours here, but enough time to hike over and the through the otherworldly formations. Nearby, we also visited the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. This included a very interesting tour of the underground control station (given by a man who had actually worked at the site) as well as a look into a defunct nuclear missile silo that is inconspicuously surrounded by acres of grassland. This experience gave us a good opportunity to share with the boys what it was like to grow up during the Cold War and the nuclear age. Both both parks were interesting sites that we all enjoyed.

One last pit stop for the day was Wall Drug. Like South of the Border in the Carolinas, this store’s billboards stretch out for hundreds of miles in both directions. We appreciated the 5 cent coffee (which fit into by “Live Below the Line” budget) and the boys picked up some fudge that they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Wall Drug is a great story a great story of persistence, luck, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Looking ahead, our plan for this weekend is to make some progress across the plains and make it to Chicago by the middle of next week. We’re still on target for a return to CT on March 20, but have the Great Lakes and upstate New York still to come. Thanks for following along!

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