Day 67-69: Badlands & Black Hills... sounds scary!

Trip Start Jul 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 27, 2008

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Leaving behind a miserable Chicago, we drove straight through the EziPass toll booth instead of stopping at the cash booth. We're blaming the rain.Onwards through Wisconsin - I wanted to stop for some cheese but it was too cold and wet to go looking for a dairy/farm - and we still had to get to Worthington for dinner (8 hours away). Another change of state, we entered Minnesota and although the GOP Convention was still in full swing in St Paul, we stayed well south of the Twin Cities. A long, long, day of driving, but the change of scenery again was welcome, lots of green fields in Minnesota. And lots of wooden barns. An overnight stay at a Travelodge was a huge hit with the kids. The decor was pure SleepyBear, so we had bears on the curtains, on the bed and in the bathroom. They hadn't been that excited about a hotel room since Nickelodeon way back in Orlando. Since we'd all sat through the Democratic Convention and Sarah Palin's acceptance speech we thought we should also watch McCain accept his nomination, although judging by the number of people in the hotel restaurant watching the NFL opener, it's possible we were the only ones tuning in
First stop was a trip over the Iowa border - Matt's trying to get through all 48 lower states - and then on to Mitchell where we sought out the Corn Palace. A bit of a gimmick, but we enjoyed the hot corn for lunch. Entering South Dakota was a novelty - we stopped at the Tourist Center for their bathrooms, and the kids came away with Raging Bull Tattoos, an activity book and a South Dakota pin, which kept them entertained through the prairies that then stretched for miles. And miles. 
Although we were following the I-90, we found the countryside quite beautiful - golden grassland prairies against the clear blue skies, and by late afternoon found ourselves in The Badlands National Park. An unusual place ... an otherworldly landscape with barren walls and spikes stabbing the air. I had heard it described as an inverted Grand Canyon, but to us it had more in common with the landscape in and around Bryce Canyon. There was a familiarity to the landscape though that we'd left behind in Arizona, so we breathed in the dry air for as long as the cold wind would allow and then headed along the scenic road to Mt Rushmore. Our trusted GPS got into a bit of a muddle with our KOA campground, taking us on a winding, narrow, railway criss-crossing expedition that had us all a bit tense. In part because we needed gas and these remote back parts of SD were not looking promising. We were also battling against time, it was nearly 8pm and the KOA restaurant closed at 8pm, so we ended up finding both gas & food at Keystone. We also found out where the campground was. We drove past Mt Rushmore but because it was not quite 9pm which is when they turn the lights on, we didn't get a glimpse. Besides, we were both too busy watching the road for deer, two of which had already run out across the RV in front of us while we had been lost in the back country. The KOA was a welcome sight, just a little chilly. The temperature had dropped to under 50 degrees, so we had to unpack some of the bags in the roof box that until that point had just been along for the ride.
Mt Rushmore is very cool. Much, much, larger than we expected and we didn't feel (as some did and probably still do) that the granite boulders should have been left alone, quite capable of impressing just by being there. The kids did the Jr Ranger program and were beaming with pride when they were 'pinned' with their badges. The booklet was quite comprehensive and Matt and I were very busy over lunch trying to help answer questions about President's we were only just becoming familiar with ourselves. Have to say though, there was a moment of pride when the Park Ranger gave them their test. Tom got his question correct: Who is this? It was George Washington, and lucky for him, the only President he knows. Dan's question was: Who is this? And having a brother named Tom, he had no problem remembering Thomas Jefferson. Aviva's question was: Who is this? Teddy Roosevelt. But the clincher, which Aviva knew was: What does this man usually wear and why? That one had both Matt & I stumped, but after 3 years in the US pre/school system, Aviva knows her Presidents!
We spent the afternoon at Crazy Horse (the memorial to the Sioux leader) and discovered by pure luck that we had arrived on the anniversary of Crazy Horse's death and what would have been the 100th birthday of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski. There was to be a night blast (only 2 are done each year) following the laser show, so we zipped back to the campsite for some fishing and laundry, and then packed all our warm things and headed back to Crazy Horse with the other 3000 people wanting to catch some of the action. It was quite spectacular watching the zig-zagging of the dynamite blasting off (presumably) large chunks of rock for the soon to be sculpted horse (see video below). So far only Crazy of the Crazy Horse has been sculpted but the family are undertaking to complete the original design - a huge undertaking. 641 feet long by 563 feet high. Crazy Horse's completed head is 87 feet 6 inches high. The horse's head, currently the focus of work on the mountain, is 219 feet or 22 stories.
We really enjoyed the Badlands and the Black Hills region. Next stop, another National Park ... Yellowstone followed by Grand Tetons. Bears and mountains, here we come.
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