We’re on the road back to Rapid City. And we see Sturgess???? Really???? Can’t drive through Sturgess without checking it out – especially when the whole town is gearing up for the 75th annual motorcycle rally. Originally we thought we might find some eats here, but the pickings were a little slim outside of bar food. A short stopover included a tour of the Hall of Fame, which was actually pretty interesting, even if you are not a motorcycle fiend. Where else can you find photos of Lucy and Ethel (of I Love Lucy fame) geared up and riding motorcycles? Or Liz Taylor in motorcycle gear? And the New Jersey Maids Motorcycle Club – who knew?
Crazy Horse was the next destination. Korczak Ziolkowski started work on the monument in 1948. He had worked on Mount Rushmore – but it was his stonework that caught the attention of the Native Americans who approached him about building a monument to honor their chiefs. When Ziolkowski died, his wife and ten children carried on the work, which still goes on today. Awesome and very impressive – it gives a great sense of place. Currently they blast it about twice a month. A vast hall holds many artifacts and displays, plus instructional videos. There is also a medical center and university program under construction and in use.
In the main reception area, I loved the displays of clothing and weaving samples – can you imagine working the beading on this authentic dress? Deerskin, four pieces, beading. Finally, but finally, the Laughing Water restaurant had what I was looking for – Fry Bread! We both had the Bison stew with Indian Fry Bread on the side. And dessert was fry bread with cinnamon and honey. Talk about heaven….mission accomplished!
The next day dawned on our last full day. Drove the lower curve of the Wild Life Loop Road, and then cut over to the Wind Cave National Park.
There are a LOT of visitors that line up to get into the caves – we were lucky and only had a one hour wait. Elevators took us down three flights to the underground cave entrance. That was a lot better than the original “discovery” entrance. I can’t imagine what foolishness or bravery prompted the Tom and Jesse Bingham to crawl through the hole to see what was there and discover why wind was blowing out of the tunnel. Suffice it to say that the Lakota knew of its existence for time unmeasured, but never explored it because it was considered sacred and the place where their people first emerged from the earth.
The entire tour took one and a half hours, and it was well worth every minute. Right now Wind Cave is the sixth longest cave in the world, located beneath the largest expanse of mixed grass prairie land in the United States. Four miles of new cave are mapped every year. There are many unique formations, including the calcite “boxwork” formation. I certainly wouldn’t want to get lost inside there! Back above ground, Iron Mountain Road was our next target. There are about three or four tunnels with vistas of Mount Rushmore at certain points of the road. Breathtaking! We walked among “friendly” Mules that were VERY people tolerant. They beg well. Large herds of pronghorns would crazily run in circles after a string of motorcycles blasted through.
At one point we were stuck in a line of cars that were stopped by bison blocking the road – they came so close to the car I couldn’t focus for a picture and I rolled up the window – didn’t want to tangle with the horns that were approaching me, too close for comfort. There had to be at least two hundred bison along both sides of the road. The few that were crossing and blocking finally moved and we passed through. Then it was back to town to meet with my cousin Michael and his partner, Liz. Hadn’t seen him for over 30 years! I had discovered he was in the area by his Facebook posts, and we managed to coordinate a meeting place. Small world!
The upper loop road in Custer National Park is know as Needles Highway. All along this road are fantastic views of incredibly intricate rock formations. They came to life with the threatening clouds that danced on the spires. Sometimes gloomy and other-worldly, it didn’t take much imagination to understand how myths and legends were created by the people who lived in this amazing geography, all those years ago. After a bit I realized that there was only so much information one could absorb in one day, and only so many pictures you could take. Here was the time to just enjoy the experience of walking on the side trails and logging the memories of this incredible journey.
The final day. Our flight was not until the late afternoon, so we would be able to take another drive to cover the lower loop at Custer National Park. There had been reports of mountain goats, and a park ranger had pointed out to us earlier where the most recent sitings had occurred. At one point I had just given up. I mean, I had seen so much wildlife already, and some of it pretty close up. Then the final gift – a mountain goat by the last single lane tunnel near the end of our drive. Traffic was backed up as people struggled to see when it was safe to enter the tunnel. But there were also people parked at the side of the road because there was a lone goat just hanging out, watching everyone watching him. I got my photo! My new best friend.
Back at Rapid City, we walked around, and selected Ciao Italia for a quick lunch. Dessert would be at Armadillo’s, a local creamery that is obviously a local favorite – it was packed! All too soon it was back to the airport. Check-in went quickly, and a smooth flight got us back to a 98 degree evening, to home sweet home.
When are we going back?
Deep in the Heart of Wyoming (back)