Day One: Trouble right here in Rapid City
I wish I could say more about Rapid City. But you know what court orders are like.
No, really, I’m sure it was a charming place. I got there after dark, went to my hotel, and then left town right after sunup. I got one photo out my hotel window this morning.
The airport was very nice. Seven gates in total! Two baggage carousels! My bag was #3 out of the chute! This is already the best vacation ever.
Of course renting the car took 30 minutes. There is more paperwork involved in renting a Kia Optima than there is in getting major surgery, getting divorced, and applying for security clearance with the FBI combined. I would have suggested that “Rapid City” had been misnamed, but I suspect that wouldn’t be the first time the locals had heard that.
Turns out the joke is on me, because “rapid” is an old Lakota word meaning “you can wait your damn turn.”
And speaking or repurposing Lakota stuff, it’s off to the Black Hills and…
The drive into the Black Hills is very pretty, like almost every other square centimeter I’ve seen so far. What I hadn’t seen anywhere else was a brand new Independence Hall. I’m not entirely sure someone didn’t steal the real one from Philly brick by brick, and no one noticed because of anger about the Phillies. (They have a Liberty Bell too, and the Red Sox suck. You can’t tell me that doesn’t mean something.)
Anyway, I got distracted from wondering about it when I passed a sign saying “Tour the site where Dances With Wolves was filmed!” Good thing I left early or the line of cars would be backed out onto the main road.
We all know what to expect when we get to Mount Rushmore. It’s essentially as described in everything that mentions Mount Rushmore. It’s an impressive sculpture — four 60-foot heads high on a mighty craggy mountain. There’s a trail that leads you to a much closer view. It’s worth a look as soon as you can, before President Santorum replaces these heads with the TRUE fathers of our country: Jesus, Reagan, a vaginal ultrasound from a pregnant woman, and Jesus.
You have to be careful walking around. This mountain is sacred to the Lakota, because it’s a mountain a Lakota saw once. The admission requirements for being sacred aren’t that hard. Don’t drop your empty Skittles bag, you revolting peasant.
Once you get tired of looking up our forefathers’ noses, you start noticing the wildlife. Mostly the chipmunks, but there are some deer that don’t care about you unless you get close.
And some badass Federalist mountain goats mocking us.
So if this mountain is sacred to the Lakota, I understand if a few of them are annoyed because the white men who conquered their lands and destroyed their culture came in their sacred forest and carved four giant white man heads on their sacred mountain. Yet you don’t see any protestors, because they all moved 16 miles south to…
Crazy Horse Memorial
This thing is going to be impressive when it’s finished, sometime in the early 23rd century.
Chief Crazy Horse, sitting on his trusted steed Angry Horse, pointing off into the distance as if to shout “My people! Let us get away from the giant white man heads! They may be annoyed about that Custer guy.” He was a wise man.
I confess I wasn’t expecting a 9/11 memorial here. It was off to the side and I was all “looks like someone got sick of carving biceps and just wanted to do some monoliths.” But upon closer inspection…
Some Lakota, including some of Crazy Horse’s descendants, are against the mountain being carved because (brace yourself) the ountain-may is acred-say. But also because Crazy Horse didn’t want to even be photographed, though that might be because he was holding out until he could be carved in granite.
It must have been fun hacking away at these mountains with picks and chisels and dynamite, and occasionally turning to wave at protestors. Eventually though, you want to see if we can annoy the Lakota without having to sculpt. And of course we can! This is one of the lessons you learn at…
Most people recognize Devil’s Tower after seeing it in mashed potato form in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A select few know it because it’s sacred to the Lako–… are you guys for real with this?
I don’t want to denigrate anyone’s religion, but really? We’re told the Lakota had a rich and fascinating culture; we are not told they were the inspiration for the seagulls in Finding Nemo. Those chats with the Secretary of the Interior must have been interesting.
SecInt: We don’t want to violate any of your beliefs or cultural heritage.
Lakota: That would be a pleasant surprise.
SecInt: Our two nations have certainly had our problems in the past.
Lakota: Stand back everyone, we’ve got a history student here.
SecInt: Can you point out which of these places are your sacred lands?
Lakota: Okay… that over there is sacred. And that. Over there? Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. And all that stuff there.
SecInt: That’s a lot.
Lakota: Oh, and that.
SecInt: That’s my daughter’s song book. You’re pointing at the lyrics to Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Lakota: Our ancestors are buried there.
SecInt: What does that leave?
Lakota: Ummmm… that over there.
Lakota: There. See it?
SecInt: That’s a Denny’s.
Lakota: Right. Not sacred to us. Have fun.
SecInt: Can we have the Dairy Queen next door?
Lakota: No. Sacred.
SecInt: Fine. We’ll take the Denny’s too.
*loud explosion in the distance*
SecInt: Oh, they’ve started working on Crazy Horse!
SecInt: Looks like I’m the only one who’s read his history.
Anyway. Sacred or not, there’s a biker rally at Devil’s Tower on Aug 1.
The Tower is neat. You can walk around it to see it from all sides. There’s a dense boulder field at the base, made up of tower pieces which have fallen away. A grim reminder of Devil’s Tower’s ultimate fate as erosion and everything else falls apart.
I’d been hoping there were helicopter rides or something to the top, but no such luck. There is only one practical way to get up there, and I don’t want to go there that badly.
After you’ve done time at Devil’s Tower, there’s not much left nearby except a surprisingly good cheeseburger at the Devil’s Tower trading post.
It was a long day, visiting all this stuff. I had a reservation at the nearby Quiet Canyon Bed & Breakfast. I truly recommend staying there. The place is beautiful, though still being renovated — I was the only guest that night, since they just have one room finished. You look out the front of the building, and you’re looking right at Devil’s Tower just a few miles away.
The best part though are your hosts. Sarah and Joe Stiver are wonderfully nice people. We had dinner at 7pm and sat around at the table until midnight, swapping stories and jokes and music, and petting their German Shepard Melo. (Full name: Carmelo Anthony).
Then they packed off to bed. Joe is a police officer working at the Tower, so he’s technically a federal cop. He’d been awake since 3 in the morning because some idiot climbers had decided to scale the Tower after dark. (Roll Tide!) They’d gotten their lines tangled up and couldn’t move up or down, so they needed Joe to come out with a rifle and put them out of their misery.
Not really, though I’m quite sure he would have considered it. So he had been up for about 20 hours and Sarah had had a full day renovating. All I had done was sit in the car and make up blasphemous jokes about the Lakota.
So they went to bed, I went out on the deck and watched the incredibly bright stars for awhile. A good day. And I think a good reason to be late with this blog post.
Seriously. Go see Joe and Sarah. You’ll be glad you did. Tell them I said hello.
Next up: Finding Custer! Finding Amanda Kimmel! Finding myself in a huge lightning storm in Billings, Montana!