Just returned from a fascinating trip through the Great American Midwest. We have now officially done South Dakota – been there, done that, got the cheap stamped brass Christmas ornament (we collect those). It’s funny how the journeys Grace and I take always seem to take on a theme of some kind. Something random happens and then we keep seeing related things again and again over the course of the trip…
We flew into Omaha and rented a nice Honda Odyssey van, picked up Dad & June and headed north; first to Sioux Falls and then straight west across the state to Deadwood. Dad popped in a Roger Miller CD along the way and we enjoyed the music, especially his goofy-yet-philosophical “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd“. Little did we know that not only would we hear the tune again playing in the streets of Deadwood, but that we’d actually be *in* a buffalo herd less than 24 hours later!
The next morning we started off early to do the 3 “must-dos” in the Black Hills: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park. The carved mountains were every bit as impressive as we expected, but the real fun was the drive through Custer State Park. Well, the first 80% of it was pretty boring actually – nice scenery but no wildlife whatsoever. We saw a few donkeys and antelope but no prairie dogs, and we really were hoping for buffalo. We were getting a little disillusioned when Dad said he could see some buffalo on a hill a long ways off. But we couldn’t find a way to get closer and we were nearing the end of the wildlife loop through the park. Finally, finally we found them. Hundreds of them, on both sides of the road, many of them coming right up to the cars! We could hear them grunting at each other, and even got video of a nursing calf head-butting his mother’s underside to get at the action.
Leaving the park, the drive back towards Rushmore on 16-A was a real bonus – do not miss this when you visit! Known as the Iron Mountain Road, the highway winds up a mountain with crazy hairpins and one-lane tunnels in the mountain rock. The tunnels are strategically positioned to perfectly frame the Rushmore faces in the distance as you pass through. At the top of the mountain is a beautiful scenic view of Rushmore (from above!) and the surrounding hills.
The next day we headed up to a nice lodge mountaintop lodge my Uncle Fred and Aunt Sharon rented to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Lots of family turned up and we had a nice time. Visited downtown Deadwood and saw a reenactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok.
On the way back (diagonally across Nebraska) we stopped at Smith Falls State Park, home of the largest waterfall in Nebraska. We expected something about 8 feet high… it is plains, after all. But the falls are actually very impressive, nearly 70 feet high. And if you ever find yourself lost in “the middle of nowhere,” look up and see if you might be in Ainsworth, Nebraska, which officially bills itself that way. If you are, stop by the Ainsworth Golden Steer for an excellent steak dinner. We did; food and service were awesome. Could have done without the “free steak dinner” insurance sales presentation on the other side of the dining room, but somehow it seemed like the perfect ambience given the circumstances.
Then back to Omaha, where I had to have my requisite Runza as I do every visit to Nebraska. Mmmm!