Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Road Trip in Review: South Dakota and Montana

When I was really little, my parents took us to South Dakota. Unfortunately I didn't remember anything about it except my Dad trying to convince us that Jackalopes were, in fact, real animals and buying some steer horns at a touristy store. Horns that looked like they had been colored with felt pens, with little dots of color here and there all over them.

I think my Mom later threw out the steer horns, they were a little awful looking. I think they were plastic.

So with those memories in mind, I wasn't quite sure what we'd find way over in South Dakota, but with Hub's insistance that I'd love it, I was game to give it a try. Hubs knows what I like.

Call me adventurous.

So first things first; with all the advertising I had seen about buffalo, having seen Dances with Wolves and reading up on the history of the area, my main goal in South Dakota was to see buffalo. Not just one single buffalo mind you, I had bigger plans then that. I wanted an entire herd crossing the road. Next to my car where they were so close I could see the whites of their eyes. Now THAT would be cool.

Our very first touristy stop of S. Dakota was the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. For any dinosaur fanatic or lover of Ice Age (of which we all are), it's the perfect place to go. Not only do you see real Mammoth skeletons, get to peer through glass at a working paleontology lab, but you can watch people actually dig. Jake was insanely jealous; he wanted to be in there digging too, but we missed the junion paleontologist opportunity by a single day. Instead he settled for being our tour guide's volunteer and hauling around some giant bone Flintstone style to allow us all to touch.

Next stop was Mount Rushmore; whose patriotic evening lighting ceremony had us moved, and we're not even American. At one point "America the Beautiful" was playing and the wind picked up, catching the flag and making it fly, while the sun burst through some rain clouds and spilled rays over the crowd. Everyone stopped and gasped in unison. Later on through the ceremony as music swelled, thunder clapped and lightening flashed right in time with the music, and again the crowd gasped in awe. I swear it was the coolest thing I've ever seen.

Our hotel in Rapid City was the nicest surprise of the trip-practically brand new and sparkling, and because the travel gods felt pity on us for our fiasco with the earlier hotel, our room had kindly been upgraded. When Jake discovered that he had a king sized bed all to himself he bounced up and down on it, exclaiming that he never wanted to leave. Ever. He promptly sprawled out right in the middle and declared that when he grows up he's having a king sized bed.

We also discovered a restaurant that served some of the weirdest food we'd ever seen. Deep fried pickles? Deep fried oreos? What is it with America and fried /breaded/bacon and cheese slathered food? We began to crave salad and steamed salmon with a vengence. In between visits to Cold Stone Creamery, of course, where we were overcome with the amount of choices and giggled at the staff singing to the customers. Best ice cream EVER.

The thing about the Black Hills area is that there is so much to do and see that one has to be a bit judicious. On our first full day we drove out to Hill City and boarded the 1880's train for a ride to Keystone. With a steam engine huffing and puffing, we were pulled through beautiful landscape of rolling hills, forests, and deer grazing in the fields. Hubs and I held hands as the train pulled it's way to Keystone, and we snapped pictures and chatted with our fellow travellers.

Hill City itself was a very cute little town-still somewhat old west looking, but had kept itself from the tourist trappings that some other places in the area had succumed to. Ya won't find flashing lights and billboards here. We wandered through the shops, found a great 50's style diner to eat lunch in, and then headed off for Wind Cave for yet another tour. It was a great tour and yet a very different cave then we were expecting with it's intricate boxwork formations.

And, despite my scouring the hills, there was still no buffalo. We drove right on the edge of Custer State Park, and while we had seen many prairie dogs and antelope, there wasn't a buffalo in sight. Just a sign about them.

So that night for dinner I ate a buffalo burger. Take that, you big hairy beasts.

The rest of our time in Rapid City was left exploring the different towns. We panned for Gold in Deadwood, hit a big sale at a JC Penny's, and dodged our first tornado. I even convinced Hubs to take a drive through Custer State Park because damn it, I still hadn't seen buffalo.

We saw two. Sitting down quite far away, probably sleeping. Of course there's donkeys that come right to your car and stick their whole heads in, and if one wants to see kangaroos, there's even a farm. Maybe I should have shared that with my gas jockey that thought they were in Canada. I wasn't having any buffalo luck.

We eventually packed up and left for Montana and "Whyyyyyyy-oming!"

Montana/Wyoming First of all, let me say this about Montana and Wyoming; they are cold. And windy. All the pants and sweatshirts I had begun to think were just taking up space in my bag were suddenly a very welcome thing to have as temperatures dipped to more Canada-like summers then the 103 degrees of Moab.

At this point once again, the travel gods humbled us. Our hotel was...um...a dump. Okay, granted, the lobby looked nice. And the hallways even. I think it was when we tried to open the door to our room and it creaked much like something from a horror movie that we all knew we had a problem. We mentioned this to the front desk, who commented, "oh but we've tried to oil the hinges and it doesn't work. There are new ones on order."

Having better things to do and thinking we could live with a noisy door, we immediately took off to Lewis and Clark Caverns for yet another tour. This cave tour was amazing with views of bats, columns, flowstone, stalagtites, and even a short stone slide.

By the time we finished it was late at night and exhausted, we began to make our way back to the hotel.

"You know honey, let's just stop and see what the other ones here are like," Hubs suggested. We immediately discovered that unless you had booked ahead you were paying much higher prices for anything in the area. This was, after all, Yellowstone country. We decided to return to our original digs for the night.

That, dear readers, lasted all of five minutes. When we discovered something dripping next to Jake's bed, sand in ours, and that we could hear the elevator every time it moved in the building(our room was on the far end, the elevator was in the middle of the building), Hubs had enough. Jake had now dubbed the room as Room 1408 and refused to sleep. It was 11:30 pm but we didn't care-we weren't going to stay there. (to the hotel's credit they didn't charge us for the night even, which was nice) I never seen Jake and Hubs get in the car so darn fast.

After finding a nicer hotel we spent our next day in Yellowstone National park. We drove through the park, stopping to look at the geysers and paint pots, checked out one of the massive lodges, and say Old Faithful. But the highlight for me, besides the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, was seeing this.

Hey there, big fella. Now just pose nice and we'll let you go. Geez, just when you think the drive is getting boring, an entire herd is just outside your window. Cool!

The next day, we trekked back to Canada. After we crossed the border into Alberta and stopped for a cup of coffee, we sighed. Home. Canada. Back to the land of Tim Hortons and colored money, where Oreos aren't deep fried and we don't have to stay in more hotels. Most of all, back to the coffee we like so much.

Then I noticed that the only coffee available was American. Oh well, you can't win 'em all. At least we'd spent our last $10 American on Mounds chocolate bars.

It's good to be home again.

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