Day 11/12: The Badlands

Thursday was a relatively relaxed day. Finally woke Shayna up about 8:30, had breakfast (we have been making all own meals in our van – so fun), packed up and headed to Rapid City, about 20 miles north of where we were staying. We got gas and groceries, mailed the postcards and headed to a store called Prairie Edge, which is a store of Native American art, books, etc. We bought one of Donovin’s books. I texted him to see if he was around to sign the book. Luckily he was “in town”. We walked around and grabbed lunch from the van while we waited for him. Native time is very much like Jewish standard time. We met him back at the store and we met one of his friends, Del Iron Cloud, who was painting a beautiful picture. Donovin signed our book and escorted us to our car. The next day while we were touring a museum we saw some more paintings by Del Iron Cloud. Small world!

From Rapid City we headed out to Badlands National Park. Another amazing area. We took our time driving through and checking out just about every view point.


Friday morning after Shayna did her math work we went out for “PE” and did the Notch hike in the Badlands National Park for our last major view of the park.


This is the NOTCH:


From there we headed east. We stopped in Chamberlain, SD. Our original plan was to just stop at the Lewis & Clark Visitor center, but saw ads for the Sioux Cultural Museum so decided to check that out first since Donovin is Lakota, one of the Sioux tribes. It was a wonderful exhibit covering all aspects of Native life. The museum itself is on the campus of St. Joseph’s Boarding School which is one of the original federally mandated boarding schools for Native children living on Reservations. Again, very fascination to learn about the history of these boarding schools and the changes that have been made over time on how the schools regard the Native traditions and culture. Whereas the schools originally attempted to strip the Natives of their traditional ways of life, by cutting their hair, making them wear uniforms, and using corporal punishment, today their culture, language and traditions are embedded into their everyday activities. The artist we met in Rapid City, Del Iron Cloud, is an alumni of the school, which is why his artwork is included in the museum. I believe that will be our last opportunity to really focus on Native American history for awhile. I feel like we really took advantage of every opportunity around us to learn about and better understand the Native experience.

From there we did spend a little time at the Lewis & Clark Visitor center and had a chance to learn a bit about their travels through SD.


The next stop was Mitchell, SD, home of the Corn Palace. I ask my nutrition students to watch a film that discusses the Corn Palace, so I had to go see it and take some pics. It just happened to be the week of the Corn Palace Carnival which is when the Palace reveals its new design. This year it is a music theme.

Corn palace

We arrived just as a huge thunderstorm was rolling in. Although it was only 7:00, the carnival was shutting down because of the storm. We quickly shot some pictures, grabbed some beef brisket sandwiches (everything else was fried) and decided it would be best to not camp in a thunder/lightening storm. Luckily we found a BnB about a mile from where we were. A nice elderly woman owns and run it.  She is hard of hearing and forgetful, but still full of energy. It is her 5 bedroom house where she lives alone. We had a nice private room and bathroom and Belgian waffles with fresh whipped cream and strawberries for breakfast. It was a treat to be in a house after 12 days on the road and we are thankful to not have had to endure the storm in the van.




Day 10: The Black Hills continued

Wednesday was our “tourist” day. There is so much to do in the area it was difficult to decide which activities to choose. We started at the Mammoth site in Hot Springs, just a mile from our RV park. While it sounds touristy it was really interesting. It is the site of a sink hole from 25 million years ago when Mammoths roamed the area. There are remains of 62 wooly and Columbian Mammoths, along with all kinds of other animals, rodents, etc. The sink hole was discovered by the land owner who started to bulldoze the area, and found a few remains and once they realized what was there, he donated the land to research and they have been excavating every since.


From there we drove by the Crazy Horse monument and just viewed it from afar and headed to Keystone to the Presidential Wax Museum. Ok, it does not get more touristy than that, but being an American History tour, it seemed the perfect thing to do for Shayna to become more familiar with the presidents. Shayna said it was her favorite thing so far. Who knew!! We passed up on the Keystone Adventure Center which has ziplines, alpine slides, ropes course, etc. But we now know what to do the next time. (Definitely coming back to this area!)


After our walk through history we checked into the Mt. Rushmore KOA RV park, simply because it has a shuttle to the evening light show at Mt. Rushmore. That KOA is its own resort with 2 pools, mini golf ( a really fun course), water slide, bouncy thing, horseback riding, restaurants, etc. We did a quick round of golf and Shayna went on the water slide (in lieu of a shower) while I made dinner (breakfast burritos) so we could catch the bus.

Mt. Rushmore was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. We arrived by school bus (so nice to not have to drive) about 2 hours before the light show. We had a chance to walk around the area, visit the museum and watch a video. Then the light show started. I do not consider myself a particularly patriotic person, but this event was quite emotional. There were a couple thousand people sitting in an amphitheater, with more looking down from the patio above. As it got dark a Ranger came out on the stage and gave a short speech about her favorite president, Lincoln. Then the lights went out and we all watched a 10 minute video about the history of Mt. Rushmore and the significance of each president selected. The video concluded with a collage of photos as America the Beautiful played and you could hear the whole audience start to sing. (If you have been to the Hollywood Bowl when the whole crowd sings together, you know what that is like). No one was singing loudly but you could hear everyone in unison. That got me! At the very last line the lights were turned on to the monument – so dramatic! Then the Ranger asked everyone to stand for the National Anthem. I could barely sing. As we all sat down she asked any current or past military members to come down to the stage. As about 100 people went down the crowd was cheering and whistling. She asked the members of each branch to step forward, then everyone gave a standing ovation. Wow! Does not get more patriotic than that! Between the presidential history and the military recognition, I felt such an appreciation for the founding principals of our country and what we stand for (when we as a nation and as individuals are at our best).

Our time here has been a weaving of the best and worst of our American history – recognizing what these presidents have done as the most effective and influential leaders of our country while we are learning about the incredible damage that has been done to the Native people and their way of life.

Day 9: The Black Hills

Sorry we have not been able to post for a few days. We have been in places that have no internet or phone access.

We have been in South Dakota since Monday. I have completely fallen in love with the Black Hills. It is gorgeous. I don’t know if it is the current weather, but everyday is beautiful, the air is so calm and clean. It is such a peaceful place despite the masses of tourists in the area.

The day after the eclipse was our first sight-seeing day in the Black Hills. We had a special guide arranged through a tour company called Go Native America Go Native America Tours. They arrange local Natives to guide you through the sites. Our guide was Donovin Sprague Hump who is Lakota and a descendent of Crazy Horse. He has written numerous books about Native history and teaches history at the local college. He went to Berkeley for undergrad supported by a federal grant that is part of the agreement made between the tribes and the Federal government.


He met us at the Wind Cave monument. Rather than going inside the cave he showed us another outside side which was the cave exit which has much more significance from the Native perspective. From there we drove around the Black Hills seeing different sites and learning about the Sioux history of the area and the Native stories significant to the area. We drove through Custer park and did the initial part of the Harney Peak Hike, far enough to see some amazing views. It was an incredibly educational day and we have a new friend in Donovin.


After our tour Shayna and I relaxed in the Hot Springs Mineral pools. It is natural mineral spring that is consistently 87 degrees. It was originally used by the Natives as a place to bathe and for ceremonies, but then was developed into a bath house. It is now enclosed as a large pool but the bottom is covered with river rock. There is a slide, basketball net, volleyball net and then a section is set apart as a lap lane area.  While Shayna played on the slide I attempted to do some laps. I was immediately stopped by a guy who asked if I lived in town. He was so excited to find someone who was a swimmer. He and his wife had just moved there from Boulder, Co. She bought an art gallery and he is figuring out what to do.