lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Today was day two in South Dakota. Today was the day we decided to do a lot of the typical tourist stuff. Shawn had read in the guidebooks that the very best time to go to Mount Rushmore was early in the morning, so we were on the road again around 7 am. On the other hand, the guidebooks were right. We had the place to ourselves.

Here is our postcard perfect shot of Mount Rushmore.

The classic shot


Turns out Shawn LOVED the museum at Mount Rushmore and we spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Today, over dinner, she said that Mount Rushmore was one of her favorite parts of today, in fact.

Mason looking up at Mount Rushmore

I like this shot because it highlights one of the things that first struck me about Mount Rushmore. Most of the pictures you see look like the one I took, so you never have the sense that these faces are just carved out of the top of a mountain. When Shawn and I traveled here in the 90s with Karl from Czech, that was the thing I most remembered: that Mount Rushmore was actually just a tiny fraction of the mountain. For some reason, I had somehow thought someone had carved an ENTIRE mountain.

This time I was able to be more impressed.

From Mount Rushmore we took Iron Mountain Road "backwards" towards Custer State Park. If you go the other way, several of the tunnels have been cut to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. Having done it the right way with Karl, we didn't feel we needed to do it that way this time. Iron Mountain Road is famous for its pig-tail bridges and switchbacks. There are also one-lane tunnels cut out from rock. We stopped at one of the overlooks.

Mason on the rock

The road was really fairly beautiful, lots of tall pines and jutting rocks. We've been having amazing weather, too, the wind was actually chilly this morning. You can see that the "sky was not cloudy all day" as the song says.

After getting off 16A, we turned toward Custer State Park. There is an entry fee to the park of $20 per vehicle. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and heard the park ranger telling tourists that there was good bison viewing off Fisherman's Road. To get there we took off on Wildlife Loop. Shawn and Mason were pretty convinced we'd never see any animals because most of the view consisted of miles and miles of this:

desolate Custer State Park

We started making jokes about a government conspiracy to hide the wildlife, especially the elk (which we kept mispronouncing elf). However, we did turn off on Fisherman's Road, which was dirt and gravel. But, that was where a lot of the wildlife was (no elf,) but we did see a huge herd of bison (including babies) and more pronghorn.

And my favorite: PRAIRE DOGS.

praire dog

I love how this one is just sitting with its feet in the air.

prairie dog lying down on the prairie

Then we got a classic bison blocks the road moment:

bison in the road

And, then, the "tourist" burros. Apparently, the burros are not native to South Dakota, but they were left in the park by workers. They are super friendly, looking for hand outs, and will stick their heads in your car.

burros

Unlike some people, we didn't get out of the car or feed the burros.

From here we drove up Needles Highway (aka Highway 87). I... could have used a few more guardrails on this drive. The roads were super-duper narrow and there were sections where there was just a tiny bit of asphalt between me and the cliffs.

needles highway

guard rails are a thing, South Dakota!

This scary-ass road culminates in this:
Needles Eye

The "eye" is so narrow that as our car went through, Mason could stick his hand out the wind and touch the wall of the tunnel. I have no idea how some of these big-ass trucks that kept passing us on the road got through that thing without scraping off their rearview mirrors (at the very LEAST.)  
I was really sort of surprised that the rangers that took our money did not measure the width of the car.  

Even though I white-knuckle drove this, I think it was probably my favorite part of the day.

We then stopped at a Subway in Hillcity for lunch.  Subway has become a weird go-to lunch place on the road. Shawn used to hate Subway, and now she's like, "OH LOOK, A SUBWAY!" I think because the food is always consistently decent and there are vegetables.

After this we turned towards home base.  We dropped Shawn off at the hotel, and then Mason and I took in a round of mini-golf at the pirate themed mini-golf course just down the street from our hotel. From there, we tried to go back to our creek, but it had been discovered by some frat boys (and one girl) who brought pizza to the rock, so we went across the road and found a new creek to wander around.

creek in black hills

And explore, we did:

Mason in river

I call this one "uh, Ima, what do leeches look like??!?"

From here, we turn towards the home fires. Probably taking I-90 through Wall Drug.
lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
 Originally, we'd planned to spend three days here in South Dakota, using Rapid City as our "home base." We decided today to cut it short. Our family is just plain tired of the road.  There's a ton to see here, but today proved that we're pretty close to saturated with "scenery."  Tomorrow will be our last full day here, then we will do the huge drive home.

This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time)  that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site.  79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture.  You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us.  A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.  

South Dakota hills

However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time.  The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig.  When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating.  At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism.  But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13?  He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.  

Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!

mammoth skull with tusks

I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths.  Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths.  Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone.  They're actually just dried bone.

There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear.

short-faced bear skeleton

I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop. That's pretty cool stuff. 

We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day.  I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a  neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.

Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park.  We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave.  What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs!  I love prairie dogs.  If I had a fursona, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.

prairie dog town!

I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.

SO ADORABLE.

As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road.  Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn.

pronghorns, America's antelope

I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip.  Just as I did not expect bears.  We also saw what we figure was a marmot sitting on a fence post in Wyoming. 

From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo.  Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out.  However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:

buffalo in wind cave national park

Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.

Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town.  We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard.  We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.

Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.

black hills with rocks and trees

Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk.  At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation.  :-)

Sheridan Lake Road

As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring.  There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads.  

Mason dipping his toes in the stream

my big fat butt in the river

I managed to drop my phone in the water.  Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.

Classic.

However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)

Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park.  Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!
lydamorehouse: (I love homos)
We planned one more day in Beulah, ND, mostly because we had hoped to get flieschkuekchle from the deli at the Beulah grocery store for dinner tonight. So we decided to bum around the area to see what could be seen. Plus, one of Shawn's relatives told us that there was actually a road up to Salem Sue and Mason got it in his head that if we'd touched Dakota Thunder (the giant buffalo), we ought to be able to say we'd also touched Salem Sue.

Looking at the map, we thought we planned ourselves a pretty decent day of it, and so we headed off bright and early to Lake Sakakawea. The trip took us back to Hazen, and, because the map didn't have a name marked on the road that looked like it took us to the lake, I stopped and asked for directions from the gas station employee. I asked him the best way and he said, "Head back toward Beulah at the next gas station and turn north." I showed him the map and said, "Here? But it has no name." He gave me a funny look and said, "Just go north. You'll hit the lake."

Apparently, roads don't need names if they go to the lake.

As we turned down that road, we discovered the Hazen cemetery, where some of Shawn's relatives are buried. We stopped to look around and Mason found a shed snake skin, from the size of it, it was probably a rattlesnake.

snake skin in the cemetery

He's holding it up, in the wind. It was a Very Blustery Day, as A. A. Milne might say. We actually decided to take the snake skin with us, and so we stuck it in a plastic baggy. It's the sort of thing that will go nicely on our altar.

On the road there, we had to stop for a family of ducks that made their way across the two lane highway. It was the first of many times that I hit the brakes suddenly for critters crossing the road. A TON of gophers dashed across the road (and one lost its life under our wheel, alas, despite my best efforts.) But, most of the things trying to cross made it. I made sure of that as best as I could.

The lake was fairly spectacular.

Lake Sakakawea

Floating in the breeze we saw a pelican. We also drove down to the boat landing and stuck our hands in the lake, just to say we had.

Then it was back on the road for the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. This is where I started pointing out cows. There are, in case you were wondering, a LOT of cows in North Dakota. In fact, in one of the brochures Shawn picked up at the Knife River site, we learned that for every one person, there are three cows. Pretty soon this became a running joke and I'd say, "Hey, everybody, guess what? I found some cows!" Many of the cows had calves, so part of the game (for me, at least) was looking for the babies.

I needed a game, because we drove around a lot.

We got out and walked around a lot at the Knife River Site, though. They have an interpreter center there with some history of the site. The village is notable because it's where Louis and Clark picked up Sakakawea, actually.  All that's left right now are depressions in the earth where the earth lodges once stood.  They had a reconstructed earth lodge out front:

earthen lodge at Knife River

There were miles of trails, but we took a short hike down to the water's edge.  The sun was bright and the air smelled AMAZING, mostly wild clover, I think. I told Shawn that I thought it smelled a little like laundry detergent, and I suspect that's not a coincidence.

ND fields

Knife River (ND)

From here we made a return trip to Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein. We found the road in this time and drove up a very narrow, winding hill.  It was actually fairly busy at the top of the hill, which made me wonder what people did if they met another car coming the other direction on that gravel road. Luckily we never found out.  The cow was there. She's still delightful.  I have no idea why this giant cow has charmed my family so much, but it totally did.

There was also a heckuva a view from up there.

Shawn in ND

I was also impressed with the scrubby wild roses growing on the hill around Salem Sue.  They reminded me of the roses I'd find growing near the railroad tracks in LaCrosse, WI, where I grew up.

wild roses


The next "destination" was the Enchanted Highway. When we planned this trip, I looked at the map and said, "Wait, The Enchanted Highway just stops? That seems dumb. Shouldn't we find a way so that we can come up it on our way home from somewhere?" Oh, good idea, Lyda.  TOO BAD IT MEANT HOURS OF DRIVING THROUGH PRETTY MUCH NOWHERE.  

We kept having to tell ourselves as we drove through towns like Mott ("Mott, the spot that god forgot" as Shawn's dad just to call the town he was born in), that our secondary motto this trip is, "The journey *is* the destination."  But, OMFG, I was tired of driving by the time we finally hit the beginning (or end) of the Enchanted Highway.  But, the bizarre statues were worth it in my opinion.

Interestingly, the only place we saw real, live pheasants crossing the road, was right before this statue:

giant pheasants on the Enchanted Highway in ND

(Mason is there for scale)

Weird fish sculpture

world's largest grasshopper

Some ominous weather started dogging us here at the giant grasshopper statue, but we managed to outrun it, by heading north. 

eye of saurian or geese in flight?

The official name for this one is "Geese in Flight" but I kept calling it the Eye of Sauron.  I think it looks like a giant eye on a hill.

The rest of the drive back to the hotel was a lot of me saying, "Hey, look, I found some cows."  We did, however, see a runaway llama, though. As we were headed along 200, I saw something galloping on the hill. I started to say, "Hey, a cow," but then my brain said, "No, not cow, horse? No... LLAMA!"  The llama was clearly on an unscheduled walkabout since it was being herded by a pick-up truck with its hazards flashing and an ATV.  That woke us up.  

This was outside of a town called "Zap," which made it all the more surreal and hilarious. 

We were pretty road punchy by the time we made it back to the hotel.  We'd hoped to catch that fleischkuekchle at the deli, but it turned out that it was closed. Worse, the only other restaurant in town that served them was also closed. Damn you, Sunday in a small town!  But we met up with Shawn's brother Keven (who was also in town for the reunion) at the DQ for dinner instead. A far cry from fleischkuekchle, but I was so hungry at that point (having only really eaten the road food we'd packed, which consisted of things like beef jerky and trail mix) I was happy with ANYTHING.

Now I'm going to collapse into bed and rest up for another long drive across the country to Cody, Wyoming!
lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
 ....I finished Closed and Common Orbit last night!  

Yesterday was a busy day.  I got up early and took our car to Dave's to make sure it is road worthy for our big trip West (starts tomorrow!)  I always feel so "urban" whenever i take the bus/train combo to get there and back again.  The car was done around 10 am, and by the time I got up Mason was sniffing around for lunch ideas. One of the other trip tasks was vacuuming the car, so I talked him into helping me with a promise of Subway.  While we were sitting at Subway, Mason looked up from the manga we were reading (we're both reading Haikyu!!) and said, "Do you want to go on an adventure?"

Adventure in our family can mean anything from a hike in the woods to a road trip to Crystal Cave.  We opted to head over to Minnehaha Falls and take a walk along the paths by the creek.  The falls were AMAZiNG. Of course, because this was spontaneous, I didn't have my camera. (For those of you who don't know me well, no, this does not mean I left my phone at home. It means I don't have a smart phone. My flip phone technically has a camera, but yeah, no.)  The falls were super huge thanks to all the rain we've been getting. The creek had even washed away a lot of the usual paths. Everything was walkable yesterday, but we could clearly see water lines where the water had crested the trail in places. The whole creek was very fast, too. It's very rocky and rushes like a rapids.  We stopped in that first little wide spot where a lot of people go swimming and Mason and I watched one kid on an inner tube have the time of his life letting the current whip him downstream. He'd hop out, splash back up, and do it again.  I took off my socks and shoes to dangle my toes. The water is still very cold. It felt good on an 80 F / 26.7 C day.  

We hiked all the way to the river, reliving a lot of memories of the bog walk, the cliff section, etc., along the way. Near the river we found a good spot to sit and Mason read while I watched the mighty Mississippi flow.  We were visited by at least one Great Blue Heron, who flew overhead, and several coots (which I first thought were loons, but they had no spots).  I waded in the water and watched the super-tiny baby fish as they inspected my toes.  There were a lot of them, but they were needle-small, and none of them were brave enough yet to take a little taste of me, like the bigger ones will do.   

I always think it's fun to take the flatter route back, but it never is, though a chipmunk dashed across our path at one point.  Then, we stopped at Se Salt for ice-cream in the park and OMG I wanted fish fry (all the plates passing us looked SO, SO tasty.)  Mason got "salted caramel," which I had a couple of bites of.

A nice day.  As Mason said with a big grin on his face on the drive home, "THIS is summer vacation."

Indeed it is. 
lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
Yesterday was Labor Day as we spent Labor Day as we traditionally do, cheering on labor unions at the north side LaCrosse, WI, Labor Day parade. It's a really wonderful parade, the kind that's very 'small town' in a non-degrogatory way, in that there are floats that consist of heavy machinery, a city bus, and fire trucks. It's simple and awesome.




This is also know to many as "the candy" parade, because the marchers usually fling candy at the people watching. So a lot of families with small children show up. The Maid-Rite Cafe also gives away free popcorn.




It looked like it was going to literally rain on the parade but it never did.



Then we started the drive home and decided to stop for an end of summer mini golf game at Lark Toys. Mason and I have been playing a lot of mini golf this summer for reason, so it seemed like a very fitting last hurrah:

lydamorehouse: (Default)
I'm sorry I'm not up on my blogging, but Mason is home and I've had a lot of little things what need doing around the house. The only breaking news is that my short story "The VanBulyen Effect" (known to most as "the couch story") is finally going to press over at TOTU (Tales of the Unanticipated,) with a publication date of late October. Whoot! This story is... well, really old. It's a time travel story inspired by Entertainment Weekly's coverage of "Michael Collins." They ran a picture of the real Easter Uprising (1916, Ireland,) and both Shawn and I secretly lusted over a couch that was part of a barricade of rubbish that the British had built. When I confessed to Shawn that I loved the couch, she and I started talking about how we'd use time travel to get cool furniture.

Previously, this story held the distinction of being the most "near misses" of all my shorts. It was the story that ALMOST sold to Amazing (back when Amazing was still publishing), and also almost sold to a bunch of different places... now it has a home at TOTU. Hooray.

Well, speaking of summer, my child is terrorizing the coffee shop and since I don't want to be angrily blogged about by others, I must reign him in and go shopping for cat food.
lydamorehouse: (Default)
So my obsession with Bookworm Adventures has reached a new height. Last night I dreamed that I was coming up with awesome words to defeat my enemies (complete with sound effects.)

Eek.

Because Mason is on vacation, I've been going to work out at night. The atmosphere at the gym is much more competitive in the evening, I've noticed. But, I just plug in my .mp3 player and do my thing, though I was quite grumpy last night as some DUDE totally hogged MY rowing machine the entire time I was there.

Then I came home to a household completely asleep, so I sat in the TV room on the couch for an hour or so and wrote on the prequel. I'm feeling a lot better about the direction of the book since I wrote the synopsis. So even though I decided to turn in relatively early, I still managed to write another 1,000 words or so.

Mason and I have been total backyard bums this summer. Yesterday we hung out with Steve, Shari, Berren, and new baby girl again. Here's a great shot of a very wet Mason that Steve (or maybe Shari) took last time we were over. The newborn fell asleep on my shoulder and I got a bit broody, I have to admit.


We also brought a picnic lunch to mama at MHS yesterday (PB & J and turkey sandwiches and popicles, yum!) After we ate, Mason and I did that classically summer thing and lay in the grass in the shade of a tree and watched the clouds. It was a very Calvin & Hobbes moment.

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