Surprisingly enough, the signal seems to be quite strong and steady at the moment (knock on wood); so I'm going to take this opportunity to cut compose a quick entry by cutting and pasting some of this week's writings, saved on my phone and kindle's notepads, to my journal.
I like the idea of being able to save short little writings on my devices, and then pasting them into an entry at a later date, especially since composing a full entry on either my phone or my Kindle Fire is not all that easy for me. Typing onto the on screen keypad, with half or most of the screen covered by that virtual keypad, is still awkward and cumbersome for me. I wish I had one of those little 11" or 13" Netbooks, or better yet a Microsoft Surface Pro, tablets that have a detachable keyboard. Yeah, I never like trying on those tiny keyboards much; but when I need one for situations like this, it would be better than not having a physical keyboard at all.
It is so chilly right now. I have been here for 6 nights now, and I am still amazed at how quickly the temperature changes in this little mountain valley as soon as the sun goes down. When the sun is getting ready to set, it can be 70 to 80 degrees, and then just 10 minutes after the sun sets, you are shivering as the temperatures quickly plunge 15 to 20 degrees cooler. Your body doesn't have time to adjust, leaving you to shiver until you can get your jacket on. Right now, I'm sitting here with a jacket over the top of a hoodie sweatshirt, over the top of my scout uniform. And yes, I have my pant legs zipped onto my switchback shorts.
The boys have a good sized campfire going, up the hill at our campsite. It's technically after lights out right now, but I'm sure there are a few boys still up roasting a marshmallow or two. And I am quite certain that several leaders are still up huddled around the warmth of that fire. It has been a long week, but it has also been a great week.
Over these past few years of being involved in scouts, with Jack, I have been on plenty of camp-outs where when the end of the week/weekend rolled around, you were ready to pack it all in and get home. I'm getting a bit worn down, but I can honestly say that I could stay here a while longer too. This has been a fun filled, and busy week, that has also been relaxing while being full of adventure.
Personal Fun Fact: This trip to South Dakota has brought me the farthest West, that I have ever traveled in my lifetime.
I have been to the Southern Tip of Florida, and to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean in that Southern State. I have been to North Carolina and Georgia. To date, I have only been as far as Dayton, Ohio towards the North East; but I'm hoping that changes within the next couple of years. This trip has renewed my interest in checking off places listed on my bucket list, that are within the continental US ( I say that, because I know I will most likely never make it overseas in my lifetime).
I'd REALLY LOVE to check The Big Apple (New York, NY) off my list within the next year or two. But, I'm fairly certain that will not be a Scout trip, and I wouldn't want it to be. I want to be amazed and WOWed with my Sweetie by my side for that one, so I'm going to need Karen's help to check that one off my list. Technically, Karen has been to NY,NY nefore, but this one gets exempted from the "Sloppy Seconds" rule because it's been 25+ years or so since she was last there. It's a different NY, with new things to see together, since she was last there. Im hoping that since it has been so long ago since she last saw the Big Apple, that it should be an easy sure thing to talk her into going with me. Maybe next year, in 2017. Im going to save vacation days, and only do one scout trip, to make sure I save enough days for it... Just in case.
Karen and Delaney:
I really wish that Karen and Delaney could have been here with us this whole week. That would have made this the best vacation/trip of my life. I know that it goes against my whole rule of never doing things with people that have "been there/done that" because it spoils the magic of experiencing something for the very first time for everyone else; but I really want to bring Karen and Delaney back here to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
I PROMISE that I would do my best to try to not spoil their wonder at seeing these places for the first time. besides... Our troop had to kind of hurry through several of our sight seeing locations, so there is still a lot of wonder that would still excite me as much a second time around, as it has this first time.
It does make me sad to think that Karen and I didn't experience those "Oh WOW!" moments together. I even remember thinking that to myself as I walked up to see Mt. Rushmore for the first time. I wished that I could be holding Karen's hand as we walked up the Avenue of State Flags, and got my first glimpse of the mountain sculpture above. The same was true for Crazy Horse and the Bad Lands.If the situation were reversed, I know that I would be beyond pissed and upset that I weren't there to see it first time with her. That would be like her going to the 911 memorial reflecting pools, or to the Empire State Building without me. I'd be so mad I don't know if I would ever speak to her again.
But, maybe that's just me. Maybe I have that perspective only because Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Badlands, are all three locations on my Must See bucket list of places to visit before I die. And, because those first moments shared together are something precious to me.
I honestly don't know where these rank on her wishlist of places to go, or if these kinds of "first experiences" hold as much emotional value to her.
Any way, let's move on to the next topic...
Devil's Tower: - So Close yet So Far. (Super Sad)
There is a 4th bucket-list item, from my "places to go before I die" list, near here. Devil's tower. I think I was either 8 or 9 years old, the first time that I ever saw the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I've always been a sci-fi nerd, especially growing up with things like Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Close encounters, and ET as part of my childhood. There Close Encounters was one of two movies/shows that sparked an early interest in landmark locations (the other being an episode of Buck rogers, where they visited Mt. Rushmore) that I have always dreamed of visiting in person.
The first time I saw the view of Devil's Tower come on the screen in Close Encounters, I remember thinking to myself that if this was actually a real place, I had to find a way to go there some day. I went to school that next week, and spent my entire library time looking up information on Devil's Tower (The internet didn't exist yet, and my family had not yet purchased our first set of Encyclopedias). When my ISP (Independent Study Program - for Gifted Students) class started working on a research project paper, and took several trips to the UMSL library later that Spring, I looked up everything I could find on Devil's Tower. (Unfortunately, the ISP teacher made me switch my research paper topic, to write about King Tut instead.)
Fun Facts: Devils Tower became the very first U.S. National Monument, in 1906. The location is sacred to several Native american tribes, who have various names and stories about the tower that refer to it as The Bear's Lair or Bear's Lodge.
Right now, that landmark location is sitting exactly 121 miles to my West. That's 2 hours and 21 minutes of drive time from where my ACADIA is parked right now. I am SO CLOSE I can feel it, and it's killing me that I have not been able to find enough time in our schedule to even just go see it. I could easily spend half a day walking around it, but would give anything to walk up to it and touch it. Just thinking about it, I feel like Richard Dryfus' character in the movie.. completely obsessed with the image in my mind. I am so sad that I am this close, and will have to drive away without having seen it. We leave the Black Hills on Saturday morning; and between now and then, there just isn't even a 4 to 5 hour window open enough that I could even just drive up to it, get out and look, and then drive back. When I get back home, I'll be 14 1/2 hours away from it again.
The Black Hills:
Today's activities involved exploring the area in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota.
I had always been under an assumption that the Black Hills were a large geographical area, similar to the Smokey Mountains or the Rocky Mountains. But it's actually quite a bit smaller than that. The entire geographical area that is truly a mountainous region is similar in size to the Lake of the Ozarks, and it's immediate surrounding hills and mountains back home in Missouri.
It is really quite amazing how you can be driving in flat plains in the surrounding area, and then literally be twisting and turning int he black hills as the area juts up above the surrounding area. You can go from level fields of grass and rock, to monstrous rocks an boulders climbing several thousand feet high in the span of less than a mile. I can only imagine the volcanic activity that created this beautiful area. No wonder the Native American people s were drawn to this place. Such beauty, covered in a variety of trees, with scenic views across the rocky formations. Beautiful streams and springs. And abundant wildlife all around. All while being completely surrounded by the flat plains of the Western US.
Crazy Horse Memorial:
We started off our day's sight seeing at the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is amazing to see how much has been done since it was first begun, and yet has so very much yet to do. The fact that one family has accomplished this work since it was started in 1948. Imagine what could be accomplished if the same resources that were put into Mount Rushmore were put into this project.
Fun Fact: The entire sculpture of Mount Rushmore could fit inside the head and face of the Crazy Horse sculpture.
Jack and I spent quite a bit of time in the museum area of Crazy Horse, looking at all of the native American artifacts donated from area tribes. The story behind the monument is very moving. We also spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop,and got a few items to bring back home; which we almost lost shortly after purchasing.
After the gift shop, we stepped outside to the main observation area, and found the rest of our group seated on some benches looking out at the mountain sculpture. I wanted to get some photos of the two of us, with the monument in the background. Jack handed the bag off to a group of scouts and asked them to watch it. By the time we were finished getting our photos, the scouts were gone, and our bag was nowhere to be seen. they had gotten up and walked off leaving it there. Fortunately, an honest tourist had turned the bag into the checkout area inside the gift shop, and our items were all there.
I was able to get some really great photos of the monument, as well as of Jack and I. I wish that we would have had time to have taken one of the bus tours out to the monument mountain site; and to have been able to get up real close to the sculpture to get the full feeling and scope of the size of it.
Custer State Park:
Our second area of the day was a drive through Custer State Park. For the most part, this park is a wild life preserve, featuring several herd of buffalo, and several areas where prairie dogs have made burrows near the road. Several beautiful streams cut through the scenic drive of the wildlife loop. We also saw several other native species to the park: white tail and mule deer, two very large elk, a small herd of mountain goats, wild ass, and something called a pronghorn.
The buffalo were very impressive. I was aware that they could be on the road and get right up close, but I was surprised at just how close they were willing to get to your vehicle as you drove through the group. We even saw a young calf nursing on its mother.
One of the most entertaining portions of our drive through the park was when we came across the wild ass (donkeys) about mid way through. Apparently, these donkeys have earned the nickname "begging burros" according to one sign I read. The official park policy is that you should not interact with any of the wild life, and not to feed any animals. However, it would appear that many tourists bring food to feed the wild ass, and the donkeys are all too eager to get up and personal with anyone willing to pay them attention, or pay them a tribute of food.
As we came through this area, there were several cars parked to the side, and a group of foreign tourists (their language sounded like it could have been Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish... if I had to guess) were mingled in with the donkeys to pet and feed them, It was like a bunch of kids at a puppy petting zoo.
About 100 feet up the road, two women were chasing after a pair of white ass that were walking about 30 feet off of the right side of the road. As they were trying to pet the larger of the two donkeys, a black ass came up behind the larger white ass, and reared up to mount it. As the two animals were busy getting a "piece of ass," the ladies both went off screaming at the top of their lungs and waving their hands in the air. I managed to snap a few photos just at the right time to catch it.
Apparently, I was not the only one to notice the display of nature in front of us. The snickers coming from the scouts in the back two rows of seats of my car let me know that they found the situation humorous as well.
As I mentioned above, Mount Rushmore has long been on my list of places I must see in my lifetime. On this trip alone, I will have managed to check off three such places all within a single week. We will be going to the Bad Lands on our way home this Saturday.
I was not disappointed. At the beginning of the week, we were been able to get glimpses of the carved monument from the road as we drove into camp. In fact, the site is not too far from where I am sitting right now. It was impressive just from the road, and it is even more so once you are inside the National Park, and walking up to the monument itself. Today's weather was perfect, and arriving in the second portion of the late afternoon was perfect for viewing the monument.
Jack and I walked the Presidential Trail along with several other scouts from our troop, and stopped at the sculptor's studio near the end of the trail. The videos inside the museum are a bit dated; most appearing to have been produced in the late 70's or early 80's, but the amount of things to see was really impressive. I would have really liked to have stayed until the sun set, to see the lighting of the monument. The park does a special light show each evening, and there is even an amphitheater to sit in to view the show.
Jason and I took our car loads of scouts to eat dinner after we left Mt. Rushmore We ate at a place called Grizzley's, in Keystone, SD. The scouts made a really good impression on the manager and staff at the restaurant, and they asked if they could post a photo of our group on their website. By the time we were all finished eating, the sun had set. Our route back to camp took us right past Mount Rushmore. The monument is as beautiful in the night, as it is during the day. At one spot on the highway, there was a spectacular side profile view of Washington all lit up against the night's sky. It was just like the profile view on the US Quarter (except in reverse direction).
This is definitely a place I must see again. There was so much more to do and see, that could not be accomplished in just one part of an afternoon.