NAMI Walk 2015

Yesterday morning, for the third time, I think, I joined my wife, daughter, three of our five grandchildren, and some of my wife's coworkers from Access Counseling Services for the 2015 5K NAMI Walk to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
It was a beautiful day for a walk, a bit chilly to start but plenty warm at the end. We started at the Fitton Center for the Arts in downtown Hamilton and enjoyed blue skies, the sparkling waters of the Great Miami River, and a good crowd the whole way to the lower dam, where we turned around. 
The grandkids behaved themselves admirably (as did I), and by a little after 11:00, we were headed home, glad once more to contribute to a worthy cause, and to support the lovely Robin and her good friends at Access.

Devils Tower

On our last full day of our recent sojourn in South Dakota last week, our hosts took the lovely Robin and me to Devils* Tower, in Wyoming. Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in northeastern Wyoming. When we arrived on the grounds of the national monument (America's first, designated as such by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906), we stopped to visit with some of the year-round residents of the place, in a sprawling prairie dog village. When we got out of the car, they came running to see us (though it's harmful to the critters when people feed them, people obviously do). We also resisted the temptation to take one or two home with us, partly since they carry plague-causing fleas and partly because they wouldn't fit in our luggage.
Devils Tower itself--or Bear Lodge, which is what the tribes in the region have called this place for centuries--is amazing to see. A sacred spot to the Lakota and other tribes of the area and an enticement to rock climbers from around the world, it dominates the beautiful landscape for miles around. A Kiowa legend tells the story of seven little girls who while playing some distance from their village were chased by some bears. The bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock. One girl prayed to the rock, "Take pity on us!" The rock began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, digging their claws into the sides. The rock rose higher and higher until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are still, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. The Kiowa call this rock "Tso-aa," "tree rock."
After a brief visit to the visitor center, we took the 2.7 mile Red Beds Trail, that took us through the countryside, showing us some breathtaking vistas and occasionally winding out of sight of the tower. We kept our eye out for rattlesnakes, and happened upon a docile rabbit but otherwise saw only birds and squirrels.
What a great hike. No elevation to speak of, and clearly marked all the way. I tried to talk my companions into giving a shove to the balancing rock (above) at one of the turns, but they had no adventure in them at all. 
We encountered a number of native American prayer cloths and prayer bundles tied to branches or outcroppings, a reminder of the sacredness of the place to more than twenty tribes.

I'm so glad we went, and so grateful to Randy and Kathy for taking us. 

*Note to my writer (and OCD) friends: When Devils Tower became a national monument, the official paperwork contained no apostrophe. So the official name is not Devil's Tower or Devils' Tower but Devils Tower. So there. Since numerous tribes and Wyoming legislators have backed an effort to rename it, it may soon become, officially, Mato Tipila, "Bear Lodge." Serves it right.  

Mount Rushmore

Just over a week ago, the lovely Robin and I had the joy of visiting--for the first time, for both of us--Mount Rushmore, the monumental sculpture carved into the face of the mountain known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. Our hosts, Kathy and Randy, first took us to a spot that was apparently directly opposite the K Bar S Lodge where we stayed that week, as we were able to view from there the opposite profile of George Washington from the outline we could see from the lobby of the Lodge.

From there we made our way to the parking garage and stately entrance to the memorial grounds. The sixty-foot sculptures of the four U.S. presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln) could be seen for the whole way up the flag-lined walk. Just magnificent. 

We were in time for a reenactment of the four presidents who posed (above), and then enjoyed a sumptuous meal with our group at the Carver's Cafe, before browsing the museum and then gathering in the amphitheater for the final lighting ceremony and flag lowering of the season! What a privilege and a joy. 

Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA is a drive-through wildlife park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, near Rapid City.  The lovely Robin and I visited last week with a couple new and good friends--and loved it! We saw wolves, bears, elk, buffalo, and other wildlife on the three mile drive. One big black bear lumbered right in front of our car, probably just to let us know who was boss.  

The grounds also feature a "babyland," where young ocelots, beavers, porcupines, red foxes, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and more are cared for. We happened to be there when feeding time began, which was fascinating to watch. 
I loved watching the red foxes--three females--and otters, among others. I could have pulled up a chair and just watched and watched. But, you know, they had a gift shop and--well, I have a wife. And grandkids. So...

The Alpine Inn

Among the many fine meals the lovely Robin and I enjoyed on our recent six-day sojourn in South Dakota (sufficient sibilants for you?) was a lunch with friends at the Alpine Inn in Hill City, South Dakota.
Once the Harney Peak Hotel, built by the Harney Peak Tin Mining, Milling, and Manufacturing Company for use by its mining executives, this was a favorite spot for Sunday diners and for mining, timbering, and railroad men active in the area. Though the mining company ceased operations in 1892, the hotel and dining room remained in operation until 1934. When Waldraut (Wally, pronounced "Volly") Matush came to Hill City in 1970, he acquired the Harney Peak Hotel in 1974. After housing a variety of businesses, it became the Alpine Inn in 1984.
When I saw spaetzle on the menu, I got excited--but it wasn't the noodle dish I remember from our visits to Germany, but a dumpling dish. So I passed, and ordered the Wild Green Splendor salad (above), grilled chicken breast, Gorgonzola cheese, dried cranberries and pecans on a bed of--you guessed it--wild greens and served with a light raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was perfect. 
It was a satisfying meal in fine surroundings shared with great company.

The Alpine Inn is located on the corner of Elm & Main Street in Hill City, South Dakota. I recommend it.

Chuckwagon Supper Show

On our recent sojourn in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the lovely Robin and I were blessed to join a group of friends for a visit to the Chuckwagon Supper Show near Rapid City.
We arrived a little early, but it was getting dark and cold and rainy so we ducked into a couple shops where tin plates and ropes were being made. Fascinating stuff. Then the dinner bell rang and we got in line for a chuckwagon dinner. It was probably not too different from a real chuckwagon dinner, too--nothing remarkable, but chicken, baked beans, a tater, and bread, with lemonade (my choice) to drink.
No time was wasted, as we were still talking and eating when the announcement came to instruct us what to do with our dishes, and soon after we had to redd up the table because the show was fixing to start. I wasn't thrilled about listening to a country music band, but these guys were excellent musicians and entertainers. They injected some silliness and in addition to medleys of country tunes, they presented an Elvis segment and--my favorite--a couple big band jazz numbers featuring a saxophone. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The Chuckwagon Supper Show is located five miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota, on Highway 16 west.

Hole In the Wall Book Store

I could resist practically everything (except the five-cent cup of coffee) at the famous Wall Drugs in Wall, South Dakota. But I found it very hard to resist the Hole in the Wall Book Store contained therein (get it? Hole in the WALL? Oh, come on!).
From their Louis L'Amour offerings (though I own trade paperbacks of all his books) and the boxed set of four Zane Greys to The Life of jim Bridger, Tales of the Black Hills, and many other enticing volumes, I could have spent the day browsing the shelves. It isn't a large bookstore (what you see in the photo is almost the whole thing--or "hole thing," get it? Huh? Huh?), but I found it enthralling.

Maybe I'll go back sometime when it's just me. And I have actual money to spend.

Wall Drug

Dja ever hear of Wall Drug? If so, it's probably because of the billboards and signs that dot the landscape for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and neighboring states--or some of the many signs visitors of Wall Drug have erected around the world announcing the number of miles to Wall Drug from various locations.
Well, I can say I've been there, and so can the lovely Robin. We visited last week on one of our many sojourns around the amazing Black Hills of South Dakota and beyond. It started as--get this--a small-town drug store in the city of Wall, South Dakota, bought by Ted Hustead in 1931. It has since become a tourist attraction consisting of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants, museum displays, and more, drawing two million annual visitors and raking in more than ten million dollars a year.
It is a joy to behold. The lovely Robin and I, in the company of our hosts, Randy and Kathy, had lunch there and, believe it or not, I had an actual five-cent cup of coffee. At that price, how could I pass it up? They also offer free coffee and a donut to honeymooners, veterans, priests, hunters, and truck drivers. 
I also had a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a chocolate shake, though the shake really was just soft serve ice cream, like a Wendy's Frosty. Still. It was good. 
Robin enjoyed her roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes with just a, em, little gravy. 

What a fun and fascinating place, including displays of local and area history, and so much more. And a breathtaking array of western art--including paintings by N. C. Wyeth, the great illustrator and one of my favorites--is displayed throughout the place (though I honored their admonition not to photograph the paintings). It is located 60 miles east of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. 

Badlands National Park

On our recent visit to South Dakota, the lovely Robin and I were thrilled to visit the "Badlands," an area of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, spires, and canyons amid the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
While driving through and stopping often in the Badlands National Park, we got to see two bighorn rams (among many grazing along the road, unconcerned with and unimpressed by the humans who stopped to watch and photograph them). Just before I took the photo above, they butted heads but neither seemed really serious or offended; it looked like a playful butt, though I am no expert in butts of any kind.

I also got to hear a rattlesnake that was apparently coiled under wooden steps at one of the many overlook sites (in the panoramic view, above). I tried to coax him out to play but he declined.

It was an amazing visit to many breathtaking scenes. Badlands National Park is in southwest South Dakota, not far from our lodgings in Keystone.

Needles Highway

Before our first visit to South Dakota, all I knew of the state was Mount Rushmore. There is so much more.

On our recent visit, our generous hosts took the lovely Robin and me to see the Needles Highway in the Black Hills, named after the striking granite "needles" it winds among. Wow. How beautiful.
The highway passes through Custer State Park, which contains the beautiful Sylvan Lake (above). 
I thought when we got to "the needle's eye," that the name was a reference to the narrow passage through which vehicles (of all sizes, amazingly) must pass...and the traffic is two-way! But I was wrong.
The Needle's Eye is a rock formation (above) facing the rock tunnel through the road, stretching to the sky.

It is all so beautiful. No photo can do it justice.

Needles Highway is also known as South Dakota Highway 87, just south of Hill City.

Crazy Horse Memorial

The lovely Robin and I were blessed last Sunday to pay a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive sculpture being carved into Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota in the Black Hills of South Dakota. If it is ever finished (it has been in progress since 1948, when Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski to create it), it will depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. While millions of tons of rock have been blasted and moved from the mountain, the work proceeds slowly for lack of funding. Its completion is uncertain.
The grounds of the memorial includes the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Cultural Center. We saw hoop dances performed there by an eighteen-year-old Lakota woman and her niece.
I could have spent days viewing the many amazing exhibits and artifacts in the museum, including a handwritten family tree of Crazy Horse. So much fascinating, beautiful, and heartbreaking stuff.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is roughly seventeen miles from Mount Rushmore.