Oct 14, 2010

"Wow, There It Is..."

OK, Rushmore in a nutshell: awesomely awesome, road-trippy fun.

Last weekend the fam and I took off for the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Cat Daddy and I decided that, since we've been in the vicinity for over 2 years now (living just over a half day away in WY and all), that we'd better get up there while we had the chance. I did a little research (thanks to a surprisingly-useful weekend trip guide I compiled based on links & suggestions from my moms' group, as well as hints from our local friends), composed a loosey-goosey itinerary for the weekend, and we were off.

Mt Rushmore--the primary reason for our little jaunt. We'd never seen it in person before, and we figure we may or may not ever live this close to it in the future, so hey, why not. Way better than either of us expected. I was expecting to pull up, say something along the lines of "Wow, there it is," and that would be it. But they have a whole little park going there. First, we paid $10 to park, and now we are good to go back anytime we want for the next year. Then we walked over to the info/visitors' center and got His Highness a little booklet he could fill out to get a Junior Ranger Trainee prize. They have these for any age group and it would've been perfect for His Highness, except that he was not at all interested in talking about the things we found. But they had a cool trail you could hike that took you to the very base of the mountain. Seriously, you could see up all the presidents' noses into their very shallow, granite nostrils. Perfect for the boys, who were all over the bazillion stairs, and rocks, and moss & stuff. When we finished that loop, we went down into their amphitheatre area where people come & watch fireworks in the summer, and saw their museum of history from the build. To be honest, I saw the mountain and was a little impressed, but my response was still along the lines of "Wow, there it is. Onward." But when you hear the history of how it was built, it gives perspective to just what it took to carve those 4 faces in the big ol' rock, and how much work it is to make sure they stay there. It is pretty impressive.

After a lovely local lunch we headed over to the Crazyhorse Memorial. This is sort of like a Mt Rushmore copycat project, except that it is still in progress after over 60 years. The Native Americans invited a sculptor named Korscjak (sp?) to come and carve it to honor Crazyhorse and the spirit of the Lakota people. My initial reaction to this one was along the same lines of Rushmore, but again once I saw the little orientation video I gained a bigger appreciation for the whole thing. First, you can't tell from the parking lot, but Crazy horse is way bigger than Mt Rushmore--all 4 of the presidents' heads can fit in Crazyhorse's head alone, and they're carving out the top halves of Crazyhorse and his horse. Plus they're doing it all "in the round," which means when they are done you could fly a helicopter around the thing and it will be all sculpture, instead of sculpture on one side and back-of-the-mountain on the other. It's taking so long because Korscjak was a big believer in not taking any government money (I think he would be a libertarian if he were still alive), so they are funding it all from private donations & stuff. Which takes time. The weather was pretty nasty while we were there so we didn't get to do any hiking. The memorial has a kickin' cafe though, where the boys were given free cookies & milk, staving off a pretty heavy meltdown on the boys' part. I put a tip in their tip jar. Oh yes I did. I also bought a lovely little beaded bracelet, and abstained from any other gifties in their shop, which I'm finding can be a formidable challenge for me sometimes (but that's another post).

Well, after those two things we decided, other than dinner, that enough was enough for the day. In the course of our driving we came upon an area known as "Cosmos Mystery Area," and were intrigued. So first thing the next morning we headed over for what I call their magical mystery tour.

Legend says that back in the 50's a couple of college students came up on this area and noticed a strange gravitational variation, so they built slanted cabins on the slanted hills and charged admission so they could do all sorts of slanted tricks for people. Or something like that...I'm pretty sure at least 95% of the demonstrations were simple optical illusions, but it was still a whole bunch of fun, and there was still the fact that many of the trees were growing all crazy-like in that area, so there's at least a slight element of the unexplained. Road-trip-a-riffic. As you can see the Littler One was not at all impressed with the slanty antics. He was mostly concerned with walking and climbing all over everything he could find, and trying to singlehandedly unload the gift shop into his pockets. The favorite for both boys was racing up & down the paved ramp leading up to the gift shop.

Over lunchtime we toured the local Dinosaur Park, comprised of concrete quasi-replicas of 50's-style dinosaur impressions. The visitors' center was closed for the season (as were many of the local sights), so after walking the grounds once we called it good. Besides, we had plans for the afternoon at the local indoor waterpark adjoined to our hotel.

Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of the indoor water park because a) It seemed like an incredibly dumb idea to try to take pictures in the water (even though I've done it before), and b) My battery died. But it was a pretty cool place. I was drooling over the attractions more than the boys, I think--they were just a bit young even for the little kids' area. Still, we managed to coax them into a few trips around the lazy river with its beach-grade entry, and His Highness especially enjoyed going between that and the huge hot tub. The Littler One is most definitely a water baby and had a grand old time kicking and splashing wherever he could. The Cat Daddy and I each got to take a turn in the giant slide that spits you into a big bowl and swirls you around a bit before flushing you to the bottom. And some of us were more tired than others come dinnertime:

And finally, the following day it was time to check out and go home. But on the way out of the great state of South Dakota we stopped by my personal favorite, the Jewel Cave national monument. They have several tours available that go down in the cave. Many people like the hour-long one, but we decided that the 20-minute one would probably do just fine for the kiddos. It really is a fascinating place. It's not officially the world's largest cave, but based on studies they've done they think it might be; they just haven't explored enough of it yet to prove it. This was overshadowed by the Littler One treating us to a tantrum of unknown origin, until we were back up on top of the ground, where he quickly calmed down and hiked happily the 1/4-mile trail we did before piling into the car and heading back into the town of Custer for lunch.

All told, it was a fantastic little weekend. Based on the boys' reactions we decided that the next time, we could rent a cabin and let them play in the woods quite contentedly the entire time. And the great thing about forests is that you can find them lots & lots of places, so that makes me hopeful for future vacations, and it makes me love it that my kids love exploring the woods.

As for the Rushmore-area, we do want to go back again. There are about 47 other kitschy-fun things we want to see and do, and I think it's a mandatory rite of passage for kids to be schlepped around to touristy places whether they like it or not...

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