We Went Off: Great Faces, Great Places, and Deep Spaces (#8)

You may want to start with part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, and part seven if you’re new to the series.

It would be hard to make our children’s first sighting of Mt. Rushmore more anticlimactic. It was dark, foggy, and rainy when we drove by it that first night, so let’s just say it didn’t look like anything you’d drive across the country to see.

IMG_8396The next day wasn’t much better; daylight helped but the weather? Not so much. It took three trips there throughout the course of our stay to get this much of a view.

IMG_8357We stayed for two nights in Keystone, South Dakota, a small town with a classic Western feel to it.

IMG_8400Many of the shops and restaurants, like this one, had an old West atmosphere. Baby-girl even bought a pink cowgirl hat in one of the stores.

IMG_8375Oh, and the small people spent hours playing at our hotel’s arcade.

On the morning we left, we decided to stop at the Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns just east of town. I had originally planned to tour another area cave, but the small people fell in with some leather-wearing, Harley-riding bikers who frequented the area (technically, LCB and I were there too, but I just love how that sounds), and they recommended Crystal Caverns over many of the others nearby, so we adjusted our itinerary.

IMG_8408IMG_8409Before we went in the underground cave, they gave us flashlights and let us explore a smaller cave outside the opening of the main cave. There’s one thing about Crystal Caverns, however: There are no elevators, so you descend into the bowels of the cave via 185 steps, which for me meant that whole pesky heights thing again.

IMG_8421And because it’s a cave, the steps you must descend (and later ascend) are small, narrow, and very wet. It’s all good stuff. I learned one thing from the Hunting Island Lighthouse experience, however: Never, ever, ever, ever look down, no matter what.

So I didn’t. You could have screamed “Look! Free dark chocolate and extra-aged cheeses below!” at me and I would have remained stalwart throughout the climb.

And I didn’t think about the potential domino effect that could happen if a tourist at the top of the stairs began to fall and sent the whole lot of us potentially plunging to our deaths. Nope, I didn’t think about that at all, even when the lady descending right above me was clearly oblivious to the whole personal space code the rest of the population observes.

Let’s just say here that I did not need to see that much of her from that lack of distance.

IMG_8438IMG_8434Once at the bottom, it really was pretty cool.

IMG_8430This, for example, made me think of a peanut butter and chocolate concoction of some sort, but for some reason, no one else mentioned it.

IMG_8435IMG_8419Our tour guide, both interesting and informative throughout, pointed out some of the world’s largest dog-tooth spar crystals along the cave’s walls.

I’m glad we went, and not just because I can now check that off my list of things I’ve done and now have no obligation to do again. I really would recommend it if you like the idea of caves and a hands-on experience.

IMG_8440IMG_8443After leaving the cave, we headed east and of course ran smack dab into Wall Drugs. So we had to stop, and buy cheap cowboy hats for the rest of us, and show the small people what all the Wall Drugs hype is about.

IMG_8458Then, we headed into the Badlands National Park. I still can’t quite put my finger on what it is I love about the Badlands so much. There’s the openness, yes, but it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the layers of colors, or the varying elevations, or that I feel like I can almost create in my mind a fast-forward version of the wind and water erosion that may have taken place over time, slowly leaving its mark on land otherwise untouched.

IMG_8466Whatever else it is, it is also beautiful.

IMG_8454The red-headed lady on the left was really sweet and friendly. She and her husband had just jumped in their giant SUV and headed west a few days earlier since their kids are all out of the house now. They had hit many of the places we had as well as some different ones, but they had to be back the following week for some obligation that I’ve now forgotten. You could just hear in her voice that she really wasn’t eager to leave. (I learned a lot about her because she’s from Texas. 🙂 I guess you can find the right type of people just about anywhere, even if you’re both far from home.) 😉

IMG_8475IMG_8480More than once, we stopped for mountain goats along the way.

IMG_8486I totally want to put some of these signs in my yard someday right after I move to a new neighborhood, just to see neighbors’ reactions. I might even pipe in some background rattling sounds if I get really ambitious. It might work better than a guard dog, too.

IMG_8495IMG_8505We hiked around different areas of the park for a while. LCB led while I listened for rattle sounds. Late in the afternoon, we left the park and headed east.

IMG_8515While perusing some touristy literature I’d picked up along the way, I realized we were going to be traveling near the Corn Palace, so I just knew we had to have a look-see. Few things sound more American to me. Sadly, we missed their operating hours, but were able to drive by the outside so we could at least say we’d seen it.

Imagine my surprise to find out later, as I was mentioning this to my parents, that I’d already seen it as a child. Clearly, it made quite the impression. But I’ll tell you what. Those people know what to do with a few good ears of corn.

We stopped in eastern South Dakota that night, and took our time driving through Iowa the next day, even driving by one of LCB’s childhood homes enough times to thoroughly creep out the little kids standing in the front window watching us. And here’s where this series would have concluded, with the touristy part of our trip at its end, were it not for a little light that suddenly appeared on the dashboard as we pulled onto I-80 heading out of Iowa City.

And thus we have the need for a small but not-so-pretty epilogue.

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