Friday, August 31, 2012

Crazy big Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse Monument from afar. Photo by Debi Lander.
Big, bigger, biggest
Crazy Horse Memorial really knocked our socks off. You can't imagine the immensity until you take the bus ($4 well-spent) up to the base. All four presidents' heads at Mount Rushmore will fit in Crazy Horse's head.

As seen from the base. Photo by Debi Lander.
Scale model of the finished sculpture at the visitor center. Photo by Debi Lander.
The Lakota were quite hurt when the U. S. put its presidents on a mountain in land sacred to the Lakota people. The elders asked Korczak, the sculptor, to come to the Black Hills and work on a project for them. He was well aware that it could  never be finished in his lifetime or even his grand childrens' so he left detailed plans, measurements and drawings including painting the horse's ear and nostrils on the mountain. His wife, Ruth, and seven of his 10 children carry on the work today.

Outline superimposed over the mountain. Photo by Debi Lander. 
Surprisingly for such a massive project that accepts only private donations, there was none of the "Gimme, gimme" atmosphere at all. The Museum of the American Indian collection is well underway and on display. The film about the project is very good. Neither is there a hint of the schlocky. We were delighted to find it classy all the way.

Young Lakota dancer performs for visitors. Photo by Judy Wells.
Hot times in the Black Hills
BB- Brown Bison, our trusty steed. Photo by Judy Wells.
Before leaving Custer State Park we were going to take the buffalo safari, an off-road excursion in over-sized Jeeps, but the weather report changed our minds. South Dakota is breaking records with a heat-wave and the highest triple digits yet were expected, so we ditched the bison, loaded up BB - Brown Bison, our trusty vehicle (we hope) and headed for Mount Rushmore first thing in the morning.

Having done the Deadlands at 103 degrees, these Florida gals know better than to tour a mountain of granite in 106 degrees (schools were being dismissed at noon!).

Never manage to totally leave Florida behind. Coach Bobby Bowden autographed this Seminole football to Ruth, who has put it on display. Photo by Judy Wells.
We kept our cool and visited the presidents via the amazing Iron Highway, coming next..

Needling it in Custer State Park

Needles Road will keep photogs. snapping. Photo by Debi Lander.
Pronghorns greeted us shortly after we entered Custer State Park in South Dakota's beautiful Black Hills. They do look black, from a distance except for where the mountain pine beetle has left behind huge swaths of brown, dead ponderosa pines that darken the gray and brown rocks.

The Game Lodge. Photo by Debi Lander.
The park is a delight. Our rooms at Creekside Lodge were huge and wonderfully equipped with decks overlooking a creek that we wished we'd had time to enjoy. The best meals we've had were next door at The Game Lodge which has hosted a bunch of presidents and, on its lawns, herds of bison almost daily.

We had been told not to miss the Needles Road so we took it en route to Crazy Horse Monument, the world's largest sculpture.

Needles laced mountain ridges.... Photo by Debi Lander.

Needles Road
Spectacular is too tame a word. With every turn - and there are more than an endless corkscrew - rock formations model for photo buffs.

...stand in clumps... Photo by Debi Lander.
 We hit every turnout, scenic overlook, wide shoulder and still wished for more. Repairs keep a large part of it a one-lane drag but we just lowered the windows and snapped away.
...or by themselves. Photo by Debi Lander.
It couldn't be named anything else either, for needles of rock, like overgrown hoodoos of Bryce in Utah crop up along mountain ridges.
Phallic? You bet. Photo by Debi Lander.

So beautiful, so itchy if touched. Photo by Debi Lander.
The aspen and poison ivy (or oak, we weren't sure which) have begun to turn yellow and gold, so striking against the dark green of the pine needles.

These guys ALWAYS have the right-of-way. Photo by Debi Lander.
Deer graze along the roadside and in the meadows, bison herds go where they want, leaving ample buffalo chips behind in case like Hansel and Gretel they need guides to find their way back. They don't.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

So-so tips and Badlands beauty

Nickel coffee? Expect to get what you pay for. Photo by Debi Lander.
Best pies, said several, and 5-cent coffee, so we stopped en route to the Badlands. Let's just say we'd both had better, especially the coffee which Debi said bore no relation to the real thing.

"Home made ice cream," proclaimed the Wall Drugs billboards, so we stopped here, too. Not.

Badlands. Photo by Debi Lander.
What was spectacular and better than anyone led us to believe were the Badlands.

They may be bad but they are also  beautiful. Photo by Debi Lander.
Wow. Incredible colors and fantastic shapes pop right out of the rolling prairies. Takes your breath away and drives photographers nuts trying to decide where to point the camera. It's all good.

The panorama changes with each hour. Photo by Debi Lander.
Good, too, is the park infrastructure. Raised walkways wind from scenic vista parking lots into the formations which is a very good thing considering the rattlesnake population that calls this place home.

An excellent visitors center is midway into the park as is the Cedar Pass Lodge Cafe  just down the road where the Fat Tire beer was cold and the bison burger and Indian taco salad (served on fry bread) ranked among our favorite meals so far.

Dangerously beautiful if you venture off trail - rattlesnake heaven.  Photo by Debi Lander.
The orange flag - dangerously hot - was flying for anyone too numb to feel the three-digit temps so we are piled into our large, ranchy rooms at the America's Best Value Inn in Wall, waiting for the "magic moments" of light and cooler temps.

You're driving through rolling prairie one minute then boom! There they are. Photo by Debi Lander.
We'll also stay till it's dark enough to see the stars pop and to try driving by starlight which the natives swear you can do.

No Brad Pitt look-a-likes yet.

Afterthought: Don't count on seeing scads of stars when there's a half or bigger moon. 

Trouble in the Badlands

All seemed well - picked up a bright blue Toyota Corolla at Sioux Falls airport's Hertz rental counter. Luggage fit and everything. Didn't like hills but sipped gas so we were happy.

Travis and Joe (l-r) work on trunk. Photo by Debi Lander.
All well until we loaded up to leave Wall for Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. Trunk would not close. Knights of the Road Joe Leach, owner of our motel, and his cousin, Travis Nelson, tried everything (as had we) but had to give up on the fix.

There went our early morning magic moments of light for photography, my visit to a big box store in search of card reader and battery charger (both at home - see even pros forget!) and a quick tour of downtown Rapid City which we heard is nifty.

Joe with the finished "fix". Photo by Debi Lander.
Instead, we tied trunk down with twine, secured it with duct tape (travelers' savior) and headed to Mr. Hertz at Rapid City airport, where they gave us another car - bigger, thirstier but comfier - and discovered the arguing over costs would resume in Sioux Falls upon our return.

If all's well that ends well, we'll have to await the outcome.

Isn't travel fun?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Extreme Rodeo: barrels. bulls and mutton-busters

The Boys' Ranch benefit rodeo is a popular event so we weren't about to miss it. The stands were filled with adults, the grassy slopes around the arena attracted the younger set.
Attacking the first barrel. Photo by Debi Lander.

Cowgirls on racing quarter horses defied gravity circling the clover-leaf of barrels trying to finish the course faster than anyone else. Given the number of farms and ranches there was a lot of action.
Photo by Debi Lander

Ride 'em cowkid! Photo by Debi Lander. 
The youngest buckaroos then headed to the chutes. This was Debi's first experience with rodeo and especially  mutton-busting so she had an altogether different reaction. While I was giggling, here's what she thought:

I never attended a rodeo before the one held in Sioux Falls and knew nothing about Mutton Bustin’.  But, I soon learned it involved sheep that were not Mary’s little lambs.

The mutton competition involves youngsters ages 3-8 riding full grown sheep as if the animals were bucking broncos. Some might call the activity training wheels for bull riding. Whatever. 

As a grandparent, I wouldn’t put one of my grandchildren on a live animal with the goal of hanging on until knocked off and possibly trampled.   

Ride 'em, maybe. Photo by Debi Lander.
The finale, as always, the bull riding. A few locals plus cowboys still trying to amass enough points - winnings - to qualify for the national championships tackled the recalcitrant bulls who don't take kindly to being ridden. One, a rank Brahma-Angus-mean cross, bucked so hard in the chute his would-be rider risked life and limb three times before being given another bull.

Debi's reaction: Although not many stayed on for the qualifying time, the riders were real macho cowboys and I was impressed.

Can’t say I wanna be a cowboy but I honestly enjoyed the entire event. 

That pretty much sums it up for both of us.

We had to escape the giant bass at Outdoor Classroom before hitting the road to the Badlands.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mitchell's Corn Palace is a playground for punsters

Corn Palace, punsters' delight. Photo by Judy Wells.
Judy says, You can create bushels of corny puns in 120 years, which is how long the city fathers and mothers of Mitchell, S. D., have been creating the Corn Palace.

First Corn Palace, Photo by Judy Wells.
Punning is contagious and what began as a way to attract more settlers to the town by showing what could be done and celebrating the harvest as well, has become an exercise in alternating corny puns and groans.

Fry it, eat it, Photo by Judy Wells.

During the annual festival you also corn-sume fried cookie dough, oreos, candy bars and anything else that fits on a stick or in a deep fat fryer provided by many corn-cessions.
You can also nibble on a fresh ear of corn. Photo by  Judy Wells.

Amazingly realistic panels fill the sides. Photo by Judy Wells.
Actually it is a sight to see, the huge building cob-bled together and decorated outside with scenes and designs all of 13 shades of corn, plus grains, grasses and sour dock weed - 3,000 bushels of grains and grasses, 275,000 ears of corn (each one halved!) and a ton of of nails and wires at a cost of $172,000.

Some 300,000 to 500,000 visitors come annually to gawk. And pun.

Each year a new theme is chosen and a designer creates 12 new panels to fit; 2012's theme was youth athletic activities, 2013's is We Celebrate (the first panel is being "cornstructed now).

Follow the ears inside. Photo by  Judy Wells.

Each year a farmer must grow 13 varieties of corn, each in a field separated by another crop so the air-pollinating plants won't have their colors altered.

Meanwhile, for the 15,000 residents of Mitchell, the interior is their city center.

Setting up for a band. Photo by  Judy Wells.
The high school basketball team, the Kernels, play there; their mascot, Cornelius, cavorts and stay-at-homes are all ears as it is broadcast over WKORN radio (the school's yearbook is The Maize). Concerts are performed as are weddings, meetings, proms and graduation exercises.

And puns are collected and rehearsed for next year.

Cornelius. Photo by  Judy Wells.

The adventure continues.....

Land of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Debi says...

I was a very good girl and sat properly at my desk in a one room schoolhouse.

I explored Laura Ingalls Wilder's house- built by Pa, of course,  and the prairie lands where they homesteaded. I felt powerful driving a team of horses that pulled a covered wagon over prairie grass and beside cornfields.

De Smet, the Little Town on the Prairie,  remains a small town (population 1,200) that cherishes the memory of the Ingalls, their most famous family as well as the Wilder's (Laura married Almanzo Wilder).

What a warm and welcoming place to visit...more to come.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh, the wonders you can see!

Pink quartzite quarry, Sioux Falls. Photo by Debi Lander.
Debi says: The Good Girls are digging to the very bottom of the Dakotas in search of stories.

Judy says: The things you learn talking to travel specialists at Travel Media Showcase:

You can drive a tank (!) over a car or through a mobile home in Mankato, Minnesota.

Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, is 3 1/2 miles of Victorian architecture where when he lived there, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "This Side of Paradise." If the author were still there he would be sharing the street with Garrison Keillor.

Oklahoma City is the horse show capital of the world.

Charlottesville, Va, has a higher ratio of restaurants to population than New York City.

The only farm house Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed in in Elgin, Illinois.

The only World War I museum in the country is in Kansas City, Missouri.

The shortest, steepest railway in the world is in Dubuque, Iowa.

The world's largest popcorn ball is on display in Sac City, Iowa. It's preserved in Saran Wrap!

Rockford, Illinois is the proud home of the Sock Monkey Museum. 

And people ask why I want to travel to such places.

Surprising info about Sioux Falls

The falls of Sioux Falls -  what there is of them this year. Photo by Debi Lander.
Debi says: Nary a Drip

Went to Wisconsin last February for a winter getaway and found no snow.  Here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the falls are barely falling.  Drought has severely curtailed the normal torrents of cascading water back to the drip of a leaky faucet.

No worries.  The Good Girls will fall back and head out to the prairie tomorrow hoping the 7-year locusts don’t descend.

Travel Media Showcase meetings all day today. 

Judy says: Things I didn't know about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, until yesterday:

The balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are made in Sioux Falls.

To the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people who were here first:

• Eagle feathers were awarded for good deeds; those were honor bonnets, not war bonnets the elders wore.

• Drums were the heart of the nation; playing them every day made you healthy in the heart (aerobics anyone?).
• There were 50 uses for sage.

• It was a matriarchal society; men conferred with the women before any final decisions.

• Native Americans did not receive voting rights in South Dakota until 1950 yet they had and have the highest percentage of veterans per capita in the nation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beery good so far

Sioux Falls is flat but its beer is just right. Hit the Ramkota Hotel on a Tuesday and pints of Grain Belt are a whopping 25 cents each. Good beer, good omen but watch out where you order fish tacos. The ones here come in pita pockets!

It may just be a Sioux Falls thing like the spinning shower head. Thought I'd be a little closer to Kansas than this, Toto.

Oh, and fyi, Wednesday is Whiskey Night in the sports bar. May need it after a day of meeting with travel folks at Travel Media Marketplace.

Lots more ahead.

Good Girls heading West

It's 7:15 a.m. and we're already in Chicago. Actually, 8:15 FL time but that's still early to be in the big-shouldered city. Awake. Which came at 3:45 a.m. Yawn.

We've moseyed our way into the United Club lounge, have comfy chairs, computer plug-ins, newspapers and mags and munchies. We'll survive, I think, for the next leg to Sioux Falls, S. D.

Onward and upward.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Travel with the pros through the Dakota

We are Debi Lander and Judy Wells, professional travel writers who decided it was time for a road trip. Neither of us has ever been to the Dakotas so that's where we're going and we hope you'll come along.

Starting from Sioux Falls, S. D. August 27, we'll head through the Badlands to the Mount Rushmore areas of Cody and Deadwood, up to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D. then back across through Bismark and the Indian lands to Fargo (Gotta see that chipper of Coen brothers fame) before finishing back in Sioux Falls.

That's the plan, but considering our senses of direction and quirky curiosity, no telling where else we'll wander, on purpose or by accident. Kind of like Thelma and Louise without a death wish (all Brad Pitt look-a-likes are welcome to try catching our attention).

Along the way we'll be showing you where we've been, stayed and eaten; telling you about who we meet; collecting anecdotes and sharing the adventures we encounter.

So join our rambles. The gas is on us.