Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Treasure Hunt

Ooo! Pretty rose quartz!


Road Trip 2009, Day 6: Custer, South Dakota

I have always wondered what July 4th would be like in the USA. Do people celebrate more that in Canada? Is it a huge deal or just a BBQ and some fireworks? Last summer I slept through the fireworks in Moab, so this time I was determined not to miss it.

"I can't BELIEVE it poured rain all day at Mount Rushmore, and then they set off the fireworks and nobody could see a thing because it was so cloudy," fellow tourists were grumbling in the breakfast room that morning. "I traveled thousands of miles to see this. It's a once in a lifetime experience."

People in our hotel had left at 6 am to get a parking spot at Mount Rushmore, in order to see fireworks that were happening at 10 pm that evening. Apparently the place was packed to the hilt and even though it poured rain much of the day, that didn't deter anyone. Hubs and I were suddenly very grateful that we had chosen not to go.

In fact, the weather wasn't looking good that morning either. We were a bit worried that our second rock hounding expedition would be washed out.

One thing that we quickly learned though, is that it can be raining in Rapid City and in Custer, the sun is shining. Off we went again following Allan through the beautiful country roads of South Dakota.

"Oh! A deer! A whole herd of them!"
"Hey! A wild turkey!"
"More deer!"
"And more! This is crazy! I've never seen so many deer!"

It was true. We live in an area where deer are common, but we counted something like 20 deer on our drive. Later we were told that like the rabbits, the deer population has exploded.

This new location where we went rock hounding was AMAZING. I can't tell you about it though, I've been sworn to secrecy. (bwahahah)

"Okay. You want a rock that is clear, not cloudy. Or one that has a really deep color," Allan instructed, "The rain is really good, it makes it easy to pick out the good pieces from the not so great ones."

We each grabbed a bucket and a pick, plunked ourselves down, and scanned for rocks.

Good thing I brought get-dirty clothes for this very thing. I had a feeling we'd be doing something like this. It was hot, sweaty, work!

I guess that when some people rock hound, they just throw anything in their buckets. For us, it's quality, not quantity. I don't just want any old rock, I want a nice one! The problem is you find one really great rock and then just a few minutes later find one that's even better!

Allan was really, really great. He's so full of knowledge about rocks, the history of the area, and his enthusiasm about rock hounding was so genuine, so infectious, that it rubbed off on all of us.

My bucket...not full, but the ones that were there were NICE.


Jake was in heaven. What kid wouldn't enjoy foraging around in the woods for rocks? He found some garnets, tourmaline, adventurine, rose quartz, and a really cool clear quartz crystal. What I thought was very cool was that Allan actually went off with Jake and hung out with him, chatting and teaching him about the area, rocks, and the science behind it.

With some tour operators, it's obvious that they are into it for the money. They don't really care if you have a good time or actually find anything interesting. It was very obvious that the Scotts are in the rock business because Allan just really loves what he does. If you ever are in Custer and have the chance to stop by their shop, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.


As we dug around, we chatted and joked with each other, occasionally taking a break to have a swig of water or a snack. It was almost time to go but somehow, none of us could stop looking at the ground. We were addicted! Then out of nowhere, Hubs piped up,

"Honey, where's the first aid kit?"

I looked up from where I was sitting and there was Hubs; pick in one hand, blood dripping from the other.

"What the heck did you do?"

"Um..." he grinned sheepishly. "Well I was holding a rock in my hand, and thought I would try to split it with the pick, and it sorta bounced, and...."

OUCH. There was a really good gash, all bloody and painful looking, right in the meaty part of his thumb. He probably could've used stitches, really; but being Hubs, of couse he didn't get any.

Tourist Tip#6: Never, EVER, try to split a rock with a pick while HOLDING the rock. Ever.

Hubs just grinned, slapped a band-aid on it, and went right back to digging. Eventually we tore ourselves away from the rocks and went back to the shop to wash them off and box them up. In the end we came away with 3 large boxes full of pretty rocks. What are we going to do with them?

My theory: Allan showed Hubs his machines to cut and polish rocks, and now Hubs is hatching a plan to get a few of those toys for his very own. Or we could just tumble them and make them shiny. Some of them are gem quality though, and would make a nice faceted rock for a necklace, ring, etc.

Jake has big plans to get into lapidary (making jewelry), and so I think these boys are plotting something.

After we finished with the rocks, we changed and had lunch at the Elk Canyon Restaurant in Custer. It looks like a family run business, and had amazing Elk Chili in a bread bowl (spicy, meaty, smothered in cheese with a dollop of sour cream-delicious!). We poked around Custer, and then, realizing that we actually were sorta tired, we grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and went back to the hotel to relax.


There were flags everywhere! Allan gave us a couple to take with us, and Jake and I happily waved them around.

That evening we'd been told that fireworks would be nearby, and as the evening wore on, the people came in droves to fill the parking lot right across the street. They came with coolers, blankets, lawn chairs, and all camped out for hours right in front of the hotel. We decided to join them and sat out on the grass in front of the hotel for awhile, just watching. Little kids ran around with sparklers, people had their stereos playing, and some were even letting off fireworks right in the middle of the crowd. That part was kinda scary, actually. At home you'd NEVER see people letting off firecrackers in the middle of a crowd.

Finally, the 25 minute show started-it was amazing! I wish that I had gotten better pictures, but it got to the point where I just wanted to enjoy it rather than worry about a camera. So we sat back and took in the blasts of light and color, because even at home on Canada Day, the fireworks are never THIS good.



As we strolled back inside with the rest of the crowd, I commented to a girl from Texas about what a great show it was. She grinned back and with a toss of her brown curls said,

"Well, we always say in America to do it big or GO HOME."


Coming up: Next stop...Moab, Utah!

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