City, South Dakota to Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Early Tuesday morning, the last day of May,
I woke up because the room was too warm. It was still raining outside.
The room heater was working overtime, so I turned it off and went back
to bed. I woke up at 6 AM local time. The TV weather predicted rain all
day and talked about the unseasonably cool weather. "What happened to summer?"
one newscaster asked. When Zack got up, we went looking for a place to
eat breakfast. Zack spotted a sign for a Denny's, just a couple miles behind
us. "Zack, you're a genius!" I said. After a hearty breakfast, we packed
up the van and headed out in the drizzly morning. As we drove through Rapid
City, the rain started to let up. We passed a business called Tombstone
Tours. Going through the downtown area, we saw several statues on the street
corners. I realized they were statues of the presidents. The one for John
Kennedy had him helping a little kid across the street. (I later found
out it was supposed to be his son, John Jr.) The statue for Andrew Jackson
had him standing in a contemplative pose, as if he was thinking, "Hmmm,
I wonder what indigenous peoples can I displace today...?" The statues
are part of a project called the City of Presidents. Since 2000, Rapid
City had been installing lifesize statues of U.S. presidents on the downtown
streets, and hoped to have the first 40 installed by 2010.
We entered the Black Hills National Forest, and came down
a hill to the little town of Keystone. The main street was a colorful blend
of the old west and glittery Las Vegas. We climbed back into the hills
beyond Keystone, and suddenly found ourselves going through a short tunnel.
I didn't remember a tunnel when we visited years past. We must have come
from a different direction.
Roadway tunnel, just outside Keystone,
a dinosaur on that hill!
||Up on a hill, I saw something I'd been
looking for since we arrived in Rapid City: dinosaurs! There were some
dinosaur statues up on a hill that had been there since I was a kid. It
was one of my few childhood memories of Rapid City. Highway 16 led through
and out of town. We began a long, slow climb into the Black Hills. There's
always been a magical quality about the Black Hills, the way the tall,
ponderosa pines stretch up to the sky, the way clouds caress the treetops
and hug the peaks.
Leaving Mt. Rushmore
|Suddenly, towering above the trees,
we saw them: the majestic carved faces of Mt. Rushmore. We arrived just
after 9 AM local time. My National Parks Pass got us in for free, but there
was an $8 parking fee I wasn't prepared for.
The visitor's center was much different than I remembered
it. When we visited back in 1969, everything was pretty much like it was
in the movie "North by Northwest," with a big, wooden deck and vast, rustic
lodge. That was all gone, replaced by a granite gauntlet of stone and flagpoles.
The architecture was kind of soviet, actually. We wore long sleeves, because
it was still very chilly out.
We watched a movie about the carving of Mt. Rushmore.
One of the displays had video clips of Mt. Rushmore from various TV shows.
Zack was amused by the one from "The Muppet Show," with the faces telling
jokes. We hit the bookstore and gift shop. There were stacks of Rushmore
books, magnets, shirts and other souveniers. I told one vendor about visiting
when I was a kid. The gift shop back then had little presidental pencil
sharpeners; they had Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln... and Kennedy.
He was amused by that, and told me a souvenier from the year before had
Lincoln --with a mustache. "That was discounted," he added. We stayed a
little over an hour before heading out again.
Zack at Mt. Rushmore
The whole area around Mt. Rushmore was busy with tourists.
The road had many recreational vehicles, some of which were so huge the
passengers needed to get out and guide them around the steep mountain curves.
The rain had stopped, and baby blue skies started to peek through the clouds.
Seventeen miles down Highway 16, the road widened, and coming around a
corner the Crazy Horse monument came into view.
The Indian Museum of North America
The Crazy Horse Monument, as it appeared in December, 1970
Crazy Horse in May, 2005
There was a new lodge next to what I remembered, with a museum
of Native American art. Zack was very interested in the history, and his
own personal heritage. We watched a little movie about the sculptor and
the early days of carving the mountain. It was nice that the family was
still involved in the project.
||The last time I'd been by was Christmastime,
1970. Snow frosted the little dirt road off to the lonely mountain. This
time, however, the well-maintained road was 4-lanes wide and very busy.
Crazy Horse wasn't a federal or state project: it was all privately funded,
which was why it cost $10 a head to get in. When Mom & Dad took us
there in 1969 or so, there was a tiny parking lot. A row of columns with
busts on the top led to the little studio. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski,
was still alive back then. He happened to be up on the mountain when we
were there, but I got to peek back into the private part of the residence.
I remembered a deck with a big plaster version of what the finished mountain
would look like. Much construction had been since those days, but a lot
of the artist's original studio had been reproduced. The original deck
was now roofed-over, and a deck 10 times as big faced the mountain. They'd
made a lot of progress since 1969. The face was finished, and hundreds
of tons of rock had been removed. When completed, Crazy Horse would be
the largest sculpture in the world.
Down the road, we pulled into Custer, South Dakota, where
Zack got pictures of the old court house, built in 1881. We topped off
Satori's tank at the gas station, where I got a bag of peanuts to snack
on. There was a laundry called Custer Cleaners (where a person can clean
his Custer, no doubt). We passed the Rocket Motel, the 7th Cavalry Cafe,
and a store called the Dakotamart. There was one place in Custer I had
to check out.
When I was a kid, we never had time to go to the Flintstone's
Bedrock City in Custer, so I drove by. Only a portion was visible from
the road, but you could tell it went on and on, the buildings and vehicles
just like the cartoon. I went in the gift shop and got a patch. The lady
said the park was celebrating their 40th year, so I must have been by just
after it opened. The ladies in the gift shop were very nice.
Custer State Park
We left Custer and headed east towards Custer State Park.
The Park Pass didn't work there, since it was a state park, but the guy
at the gate said since I wasn't camping I could drive through for free.
He even told me where the buffalo herd was last spotted: down towards the
southern end of the park. The storm clouds had moved on, leaving white,
puffy clouds in a bright blue sky, which highlighted the green, wooded
mountains and wide, lush fields below. What had started out cold and miserable
had turned into an absolutely gorgeous day.
Snow-covered Flintstone's Bedrock City, December, 1970
Me, at Bedrock City, May, 2005
We came to a corner in the road, and I stopped to read the
roadside marker. As I read, I heard a funny chirping sound. Off to the
side was a little prairie dog... then another. And more, all around us.
It was a prairie dog town, with dozens of the furry little creatures bouncing
around all around us. We came to an intersection, and found ourselves on
Highway 385 again.
|We saw one section of the park where
there had been a fire: blackened, dead trees littered a hillside. A forest
can take a hundred years recovering from something like that. Outcroppings
of moss-covered rock peeked through the Earth, and every turn revealed
a new pastoral view. We were taking it slow down the narrow park road,
and I was looking at some unusual rocks when Zack cried out, "Deer!" And
there they were: a family of three deer grazing alongside the road. Seemingly
unafraid of us, they stuck around long enough for me to snap off some pictures.
That was a delightful surprise.
Down the road, towards Hot Springs, I saw some signs for
Trout Haven, but never saw the turnoff. I would've liked to have visited.
It was another memory of my childhood in the Black Hills. Trout Haven was
an attraction with several ponds. Visitors could go fishing for trout,
then pay for whatever they caught based on the size. When I was a kid,
they charged ten cents an inch for each fish. The ponds were over-stocked
with trout-- millions of them, so it was impossible to not catch
a fish. I remember putting in a line with just one corn kernal on the hook,
and as soon as the hook hit the water thousands of trout rushed for the
bait, churning up the water like pirhanna in an Amazon stream. We
continued on into Hot Springs, which had a charming natural waterfall right
in the middle of town. There were lots of cool, highly-detailed sandstone
buildings from the town's heyday in the 1800's. At 1:39 local time, we
crossed the Cheyenne River again.
||We'd seen deer and prairie dogs on
our visit to Custer State Park, but no buffalo. I was resigned to the idea
until we were less than a mile from the park exit --and then, off to the
side of the road, buffalo! There were three of them, just lounging in the
summer sun. Huge creatures, they hardly took any notice of us at all as
we passed by.
Ranching memorial, Oelrichs, South Dakota
Hot Springs marks the southern boundary of the Black Hills.
Beyond town, the landscape dramatically flattens out into broad, rolling
prairie. Visibility: miles & miles. At the little town of Oelrichs,
we passed a sculpture commemorating South Dakota's ranching history. It
was part of the town's centennial.
Lonely South Dakota Road
At 2:13 local time, the lonely road crossed the border
into Nebraska. The road had some construction at various points where traffic
was reduced to one lane. There was, however, no crossing guard to direct
traffic. It seemed like opposing traffic was just presumed to behave themselves
and take turns. So, when we came to the next one, I did. Traffic lined
up on each end of the construction zone, and one by one the cars went through,
drivers waving to each other as they went. There were very few turns in
the road. We passed some pretty, wooded hills outside of Chadron, but otherwise
the view offered only vast, vibrant farmlands. A rabbit zipped across our
path. The highway followed railroad tracks through the sandhills. At 3:21
Mountain time, I arrived in Alliance, Nebraska, "An Oasis in the Sand Hills."
There was something at this oasis I couldn't pass up: Carhenge.
Me, at Carhenge
I read on the Internet that Alliance used to be ashamed of
Carhenge and thought it was an eyesore, but had since "embraced" Carhenge
(and the tourist dollars it brought). Going through town, however, I saw
little evidence of civic pride about Carhenge. For instance, none of the
stores sport "Get your Carhenge t-shirts here!" signs or anything like
that. Zack was a trooper, putting up with my silly side trips. He and I
went back into Alliance for some gas ($2.09 a gallon) and snacks. We passed
a Zesto store, and a business called Sargent Irrigation. (Did it report
to General Electric?)
|Signs on the main street direct traffic
through town, and then back north along Highway 87. At first, it's just
more of the same farmland and signs, but then it comes into view on the
east side of the road. The sign at the parking lot calls it an "Art Car
Reserve." The scale of Carhenge is staggering. The artist really used cars
in a reproduction of Stonehenge in England, recreating it down to the "stones"
that were knocked off and half-buried. A bulletin board displays news clippings
of Carhenge, as well as diagrams of the original in England. A guy in a
red shirt was reading the clippings, apparently overwhelmed. I mentioned,
"Looks like somebody had a lot of time on their hands." "That's just what
I was thinking!" he laughed. We walked among the upturned cars, the only
sound the whispering breath of the Nebraska winds. It was a surreal, whimsical
place, and in it's own bizzare way, lovely and peaceful.
From Alliance, we continued to follow Highway 385 south,
the railroad tracks alongside us all the way. We passed through Angora,
a one-room post office surrounded by abandoned buildings. At Highway 62,
we left the railroad tracks behind and traveled west to the town of Scottsbluff,
Nebraska. The bluffs themselves appeared on the horizon, silhouetted against
the setting sun. We stopped for the night at the Super 8 Motel, which was
a very nice place. It had a lobby for reading, indoor pool, hot tub, laundry
facilities, and 80 channels on the TV in the room. We unloaded Satori,
then went looking for a place to eat. It was sprinkling when we went back
outside, and dark, ominous clouds lurked above. I wondered if a town the
size of Scottsbluff had tornado sirens. We looked all over, and only saw
closed businesses. Finally, we found a Godfather's Pizza, and pulled in
there for supper. The pizza was average, but the salad selections were
Scott's Bluff looms on the horizon like a big looming thing
The skies had completely cleared by the time we headed
back to the motel. I tried out the hot tub, and it was very hot (102 degrees)
and very relaxing. That night, as we watched "Storm of the Century" on
TV, I received very welcome text messages from some friends back home in
Broken Arrow. They were out drinking at my favorite pub, and thought of
me. They made me smile. Zack crashed early, and I fell asleep about 10
PM. We'd driven 261 miles from Rapid City to Scottsbluff.
of Presidents Project
Crazy Horse Monument
All content copyright (c)2005 by Tim & Zack