Saturday, 30 June 2007

The alarm went off at 7 am South Dakota time, which was 8 St. Louis time and 9 New York time, so it was easy to get up and at 'em. Gus showered first, and then I went, and I discovered an obvious truth after this: we have wildly divergent morning constitutionals.

Here's what Gus does:

  1. Shower with bar soap and cheap shampoo.
  2. Kind of dry off major parts of body; if a few areas remain wet, assume they'll dry out once t-shirt is on.
  3. Comb hair with fingers.
  4. Brush teeth

That's it. Here's my routine.

  1. Shower with Dr. Bronner's liquid castile peppermint soap & American Crew mint shampoo.
  2. While in shower, shave with American Crew shaving oil - just 4 drops!
  3. Completely dry off with maniacal desire to remove every atom of water from my body.
  4. Clean out ears with Q-tips.
  5. Exfoliate! Exfoliate! Exfoliate!
  6. Irrigate sinuses using the patented NeilMed system.
  7. Style hair with American Crew texture creme.
  8. Apply anti-perspirant/deodorant.
  9. Splash cologne on my face.
  10. Brush teeth with electric toothbrush.

At that point, I usually wait for the butler to show me a choice of outfits for the day, but since I'm on vacation, that's obviously impossible.

We packed everything back into the car and drove to Wall Drug, the main reason to visit Wall, South Dakota in the first place. Back in the 30s, a couple bought the drug store in Wall, but it didn't do too well ... as in, no one would visit. After 5 years, they were about to give up, when the wife had a brainstorm: why not offer free ice water to thirsty travelers? That worked, and Wall Drug today is absolutely gi-normous, as you can see.

Wall Drug takes up 2 whole blocks

Wall Drug easily takes up two entire blocks. When you walk inside, the amount of crap in evidence is truly overwhelming (and when I say 'crap', I mean that with the greatest affection and respect).

Wall Drug interior

Wall Drug interior

They have everything there: typical drug store stuff, sure, of course, but also western clothes, western boots, western art, western toys, western books, and western knives. Also an espresso bar. I am not making this up. Guess where I went?

How about a wall of old-timey photos? Got it.

Old time photos on a wall at Wall Drug

A scene re-enacting Wild Bill Hickock's fatal card game? Sure!

Wild Bill Hickok's last card game

A huge collection of newspaper articles about Wall Drug? Of course! (And how self-referential is that, huh?)

Press articles about Wall Drug cover one wall

We went outside to find a tame giant Jackalope that allowed people to climb on its back. I of course immediately hopped on top of that thing, as I'm a sucker for giant quasi-mythological beasts.

Scott on giant jackalope

Gus took a lot of convincing. I mean, I had to employ all of my powers of persuasion to get him to finally climb on that damn Jackalope so I could take a picture of him. But climb he did.

Gus on giant jackalope

Inside Wall Drug, I found a large stuffed bear that I asked Gus to stand next to. I wanted Gus to raise his arms in the same pose as the bear, but he wouldn't. Coward!

Gus with bear

This next one is for our buddy Darin. When Gus, our father, several friends (including Darin), and I went to Canada in 1990 on a fishing expedition, we bought some different flavors of potato chips in Canada. Some were dill-flavored, while some were ketchup-flavored. Both ideas sounded loathsome to me, so I refused. Gus, however, ate 'em both ... on a dare, most likely. He reported that they were absolutely terrible. When we saw the same brand of chips, we had to commemorate that event.

Gus with disgusting potato chips

We finally left Wall and drove about 10 miles to the Badlands National Park. At first things are typical plains: flat and grassy.

Just before the Badlands

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the Badlands, but it was completely stunning, with sharp ravines cutting through heavily-striated rock that reveals clear colored layers, with oases of grass appearing here and there. Really beautiful.

The Badlands

The Badlands

The Badlands

The Badlands

The Badlands

I took a panoramic movie that you can download and view.

2.4 MB QuickTime MP4 movie

In addition, I stitched together all the various photos I took into a slide show that you can download as a movie file and view.

4.1 MB QuickTime MOV movie

At one panoramic stopping point, I took a picture of Gus against the landscape.

Gus in the Badlands

We turned around to walk back to the car, and instead of taking the official walkway, we noticed the desire lines that thousands of other visitors had created. Gus walked ahead of me up the desire line.

Gus walking on the desire lines

And that was our routine in the Badlands - drive a mile or so, see something amazing, get out, look around with mouth open, take pix, get back in car, repeat. Well, let me rephrase that - Gussie saw most of the Badlands in the car. I was the one getting out constantly, which was fine.

Gus in the car in the Badlands

Many of the hills were composed of very small, ashy rocks. While I was standing on one rock, I looked down and took this picture, which makes the rocks obvious.

My feet on Badlands ground

Parts of the Badlands reminded me of the Grand Canyon - no surprise, since both are the results of millions of years of erosion and geologic activity (NOT the Flood that Noah sailed through!).

The Badlands remind me of the Grand Canyon

We finally left the Badlands and stopped right outside the other side of the Park at the Cowboy Crossing, a gas station designed to completely grab anyone who stops in by the ankles and then shaking them until all money falls out of their pockets. As in, gas was $28 a gallon. OK, it was just $3.35 a gallon, which is still excessive.

Cowboy Corner gas station

While Gus was busy taking care of the gas, I emptied the cooler of melted ice and put in 2 bags of new ice. Gus drove over, and we ate lunch in the car. I have something amazing and exciting to report: Gus finally ate a fake meat wrap! Yes, it's true. He ate it, and when I asked him if he liked it, he grunted in reply, 'Yeah.' I guarantee, by the end of this little trip, he'll be a full-fledged vegetarian!

After we ate in the front seat of the car, I started to put the cooler back in the trunk. As I did so, I asked myself, 'Hey, Scott - did you remember to close the drain plug on the side of the cooler? Sure you did. Or did you? You'd better look.' Sure enough, I had brilliantly forgotten to close the plug. Oops!

I settled into the passenger seat of the car.

Scott: Hey, Gus - this is really funny! - guess what I almost did? Heh ... I almost put the cooler into the trunk without closing the drain plug! In an hour or so, we would have had ice water all over our luggage! Isn't that funny?

Gus: No.

Scott: It's pretty funny!

Gus: No.

Scott: You gotta admit - it's kinda funny!

Gus: No.

Scott: Funny?

Gus: No

Scott: Not funny?

Gus: No.

Scott: No?

Gus: No.

Our next stop was the site of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, in 1890, during which 500 American soldiers killed about 150 Indian men, women, & children. Not one of our prouder moments as a nation. The site is located in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which consists of beautiful lands and really bad housing, as you'll see.

We reached the Wounded Knee Memorial, which is really just a sign along the side of the road, at the site of the actual massacre. The sign's written description of the event is detailed and takes up both sides. Interestingly, the title - again, on both sides - originally must've said The Battle of Wounded Knee, but someone has screwed a piece of wood over it onto which is painted the word 'Massacre'. It's a pretty desolate spot.

The 4 big guns the soldiers shot indiscriminately into the crowd of Indians are on this hill.

The hill from which soldier fired big guns at the Wounded Knee massacre

Today it's a cemetery - Catholic - and it contains a monument to those who died. Unfortunately, there was a funeral going on there - we saw the procession winding its way up the hill - so we couldn't go see it for ourselves.

Over here, where there's a small stand with info and a few items of jewelry sold by an man & his wife, both of whom appear to be about 60, is where the Indian camp was. That's where many of them were slaughtered.

The site of the actual Wounded Knee massacre

Others tried to escape down a nearby river creek, but many were trapped and killed there.

I took a panoramic 360-degree movie of this spot, which you can download here.

1.6 MB QuickTime MP4 movie

There were two small stands at this site. The one with the older couple had a family from Harrisonville, MO there (funny that they were from Missouri too!), so we walked to the other one. The woman there appeared to be in her 20s, with a terrible complexion of inflamed pimples & pock marks and very bad teeth. We talked to her a while, & I quickly became convinced that she was transgendered, and that she must've been a man at one time who changed sex. I remembered reading that Native Americans were very understanding of the braves who dressed and acted as women, and so this didn't surprise me.

She told us about her jewelry and how part of it included buffalo bone. She said that they were allowed to kill one buffalo a year over a 2 day ceremony, and that everyone used all of the slain animal. Much of the bones were used in jewelry, with the meat shared among people as well. She referred several times to life on 'The Rez', which sounded weird to my ears. I mean, I've read that phrase many times, but it was strange to hear someone use it naturally.

I bought a bracelet for $8. Why not? She needed the money - she said we were her 1st sale of the day, and it was after 1 pm - and I enjoyed the little she told us.

Which brings me to Pine Ridge. We drove into the town, and it was just awful. I knew that many people on the reservation - most? - live in poverty, but it's one thing to read about it and another thing to see it first hand.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

It's strange coming from Missouri to South Dakota and getting far more immersed in Native American culture than I've ever been. In Missouri, over my entire life I've known ONE Indian. That's it. But here, things are completely different. Images of Indians, as well as Indians themselves, are everywhere, permeating every place you go. Of course, that also means lots of kitsch too. But it's been nice getting a new perspective on things.

We left Pine Ridge ahead of schedule, so we decided to add a new stop to our itinerary: the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. We had no idea what we'd see. We parked and walked in to a large (36,000 foot) building. Right in the lobby was a huge (replica) skeleton of a mammoth.

Mammoth skeleton

Mammoth skeleton

That impressed me, and so did the signs everywhere detailing the geologic history of the area. When we're seeing in the US a resurgence of so-called 'Creation Science', which ain't science, I'm glad to see real science. The tour was about to start any minute, so we decided to take a chance and pay the $7.50 each to go on it.

Man, it was cool. I was really glad we did it, and I hereby heartily recommend it to anyone else following in our footsteps. Basically, about 35 years ago, a man bought a bunch of land and started developing it for houses. In this spot they dug up mammoth bones, so they asked a local paleontologist to come look at the site to determine if it was important. Lucky professor! It's incredibly important, and it's basically made his career.

Tens of thousands of years ago, a limestone cave underground collapsed. Over time, a warm spring filled in the depression that was created in the ground above, forming a natural bowl full of warm water and grass. Mammoths would climb down into the bowl to eat and drink, and then find out that they couldn't climb back out. So there are a lot of mammoth fossils for folks to dig up in this spot. They've been at it 30 years, and they estimate that it will be another 35 before they're done.

What was that bowl is completely covered by a large building.

The Mammoth Site

The tour actually walks you above where the dig is performed. Our tour guide pointed out the real live fossils below us.

Mammoth fossils

Mammoth fossils

Mammoth fossils

In particular, I thought the mammoth tooth was interesting. It looked to be about 8 inches or so long.

Mammoth tooth

In addition to mammoths, a giant short-faced black bear skeleton has also been found. Those suckers could have looked in a second-story window if they stood on their hind legs. Good thing they're extinct!

Skeleton of a giant short-faced black bear

The mammoths we were seeing included the smaller Wooly variety that everyone has heard of and the much larger Columbians. Those fellas were so big that a modern African elephant could have completely walked under their lower jaw. In fact, here's Gus standing in front of a reconstructed Columbian mammoth.

Gus standing next to a Columbian mammoth

I didn't mean anything, but I said, 'Hey Gus - stand there by that mammoth so people can judge its size by comparing it to you!' Really! It just slipped out!

Gus bought another fridge magnet, but first I got him to pose with his new little friend, a cute furry wooly mammoth.

Gus with wooly mammoth doll

And the best part? Mammoth poop!

Mammoth poop

Twenty minutes away was the Crazy Horse Memorial (admission: $20 for the two of us) ... or what will one day become the Crazy Horse Memorial. A sculptor was commissioned to create a gigantic - and I mean GIGANTIC - mountain carving of Crazy Horse in the 1930s, and it's been in progress ever since. The original sculptor died in 1982, but his wife and 7 of his 10 kids still lead the work on it to this day.

We pull up, and Gus says, 'Oh, there it is.'

I reply, 'Where?' I'm looking everywhere. 'Where is it?'

Gus points: 'Right there!'


'Right there in front of us! See it?'

'No. Where is it?'

'See the head? The huge head carved in rock? Right in front of us on the frickin' mountain?!'

'Ohhhhh! There it is!'

This is what we were talking about. Do you see it?

The Crazy Horse Memorial in the distance

This is what it's going to look like when it's done.

Crazy Horse Memorial model

This is what it looks like now. That hole is going to eventually be a lot bigger, since it's going to be the space between Crazy Horse's arm and his horse.

Crazy Horse Memorial

We watched a 20 minute movie about the history of the monument, which was actually pretty interesting (except for the little bastard who kept talking and screaming throughout, while his crappy parents did NOTHING), and then began to walk around the Memorial Center. Note that the carving itself is at least a mile away, and van rides there were $125, so we contented ourselves with the far-off view.

So, just how big is this thing? Bigger than the Washington Monument. Much bigger than Mount Rushmore - in fact, the 4 presidents would fit in what will eventually be Crazy Horse's hair. That's big. Here are some factoids about the Memorial.

Crazy Horse Memorial factoids

While we were there, it started to rain. Big, fat, lazy drops of water fell, a few at a time. These were some of the biggest raindrops I've ever seen. It wasn't a hard rain, just a fat rain. We ducked inside one of the many buildings on site, and there was a pile of free rocks!

Gus with free Crazy Horse rocks

Gus picked up one, and I thought for a moment he was going to wing it at me, but I talked him out of it.

We left the Crazy Horse Memorial, and we were so far ahead of schedule that we decided to go ahead and drive through a nearby forest then and there. So off we went.

At first it was just forest. Trees, trees, trees. A twisty road. Hills and mountains, difficult to see exactly because of all the trees. Then we hit something we weren't expecting: a tunnel big enough for only one car - with two-way traffic on the road!

Coming up to a small tunnel

We got closer, and you can see what I mean - this thing is small.

Entering a very small tunnel

Then something weird happened - as Gus drove further into the tunnel, time and space collapsed! We had inadvertently entered a wormhole, and the walls of the tunnel receded from us as our car approached light speed!

Tunnel weirdness!

What were your intrepid explorers going to do, as the laws of Einsteinian physics themselves began to twist in on themselves?

Tunnel weirdness!

'Cut that crap out,' Gus said. 'It's your camera.'

Gus driving in the Black Hills National Forest

We left the tunnel and continued our way through the park. The roads were incredibly twisty, winding back on themselves in complex switchbacks pretty much constantly. In fact, at one point Gus said, "Look at our GPS! It looks like we're driving through someone's intestines!"

Some very curvy roads

Now, by this point I thought we were actually driving through Bear Country, which is a wildlife preserve. I was expecting bears - lots of 'em! - and elk and moose and deer and sharks and wolves and maybe even a velociraptor or ten. Epic battles between species! In fact, Gus and I briefly discussed who would win if a shark fought a mammoth, and we agreed that we had no idea, but it'd be worth paying for to watch.

After about 20 minutes, I was getting really disappointed. The only animal we'd seen the whole time was this dude's dog, again in the back of a pickup (is that the freakin' LAW in South Dakota?).

Black Hills National Forest dog

Since the truck wasn't actually moving, I wasn't mad at the guy. But I wanted to see some wild animals.

'Where are all the bears?' I asked in a dejected voice.

'Bears? Why do you think you're gonna see bears?' said Gus.

'Cause we're in Bear Country, silly,' I replied, using my old cowboy voice to say the words 'Bear Country'. 'So where are the dang bears?'

'Scott, we're in the Black Hills National Forest! Bear Country is tomorrow.'


So that explained why there were no bears. Yup. That would pretty much cover it. But we still saw lots of critters. Wild turkeys (sorry about the quality of the pic - I had to snap fast).

Black Hills National Forest turkey


Black Hills National Forest buffalo

Long-horned elk (I think) [Editorial note: I have since been emailed by "ramesses2" & informed that those are actually Big Horn Dahl Sheep. My apologies to both elk & Big Horn Dahl Sheep.]

Black Hills National Forest elk


Black Hills National Forest deer

And my favorites, these incredibly cute, unbelievably fast little bitty (5 inches?) squirrels. These little suckers are just like bang! zoom! zip! from here to there and back again. I don't even think it's possible for them to just, y'know,walkfrom one spot to another. 'Saunter' is not in the mini-squirrel vocabulary.

Black Hills National Forest squirrel

This one little guy stopped on a rock long enough for me to take a quick snapshot.

Black Hills National Forest squirrel on rock

As Gus & I walked to one panorama point, we saw the mini-squirrels constantly. One would be on our right, then one on our left, then one on a rock, then one on a tree. 'Gus,' I said, 'if those things swarm us, I think we're doomed. I can see it now. 'My God!' the park ranger said, 'These men were devoured by ... mini squirrels!'

We finally left the forest and drove into nearby Custer, population 1600 or so. It's a pretty rural town.

The Claw, Antler, and Hide Company in Custer

Gus had gotten us a reservation at the America's Best Value Cowboy Inn. Great name!

Gus in front of the Cowboy Inn

The rooms had a western theme going on the doors, as you can see. Well, at least a cowboy every once in a while.

Doors at the Cowboy Inn

We went to room 130, unpacked, and relaxed for a bit. The Cowboy Inn was supposed to have free WiFi, but I just couldn't get a signal. At all. I asked the owner if she could help me, but she referred me to her son, who was just then out. No problem. We had to go eat anyway.

We ended up at the Dark Horse Food & Brew.

Dark Horse Food and Brew

Gus sat down at a booth while I walked up to the bar. 'Ya got any local microbrews?' I asked the girl standing there.

'Not really. Well, we got some from Colorado and Montana. That's about as local as we can get.'

'Montana sounds good. What is it?'

'Do you like dark beer?'

'Hell yes!'

'We have a dark ale from Montana called Moose Drool.'

'I'll take it!'

Moose Drool?! You had me at 'moose'. And at 'drool'! I'd buy a case of that if I could & bring it back with me to Missouri. And actually, it was very good. Very dark, very bitter. Mmmmmm. That was some good Moose Drool.

Gus had Elk Steak for dinner. Seriously. He said it was good. We both had salads: mostly iceberg lettuce again, with a few strands of cabbage and a lonely strip of carrot here and there. I had the Tilapia, which was actually quite tasty.

We left and headed back to the Cowboy Inn (I would have laughed and laughed if it was the Brokeback Mountain Cowboy Inn, but alas, it was not go be). I went to the front desk, where the son of the owners was there. He was a young Indian (east Indian, not Native American) man who was attending college up in Washington state and was helping his parents out over the summer. A very nice guy, who really wanted his parents' new business to succeed.

We ended up working on the WiFi problem for about 1/2 hour. He showed me the routers, the wireless access points, the wiring, everything. I told him what I thought about his equipment and his wiring, and suggested some other hardware that they might want to try out. It was a good conversation. Basically, the problem boiled down to not enough wireless access points, with those that were there having to send radio signals through too many walls. To make a long story short, I got to geek out for about a 1/2 hour, with the ultimate conclusion being that my free WiFi was just not going to work in my room. Instead, I ended up sitting in the lobby for an hour uploading this journal, grabbing email, etc.

By the time I got back to the room, Gus was asleep and it was past midnight. I knocked loudly and Gus woke up and me in, grumpy as could be. I noticed he'd been reading a new graphic novel -The Boys, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. 'How is this?' I asked. 'Mmmph ... snnnn ... it's good,' Gus muttered as he fell back asleep. 'Well,' I thought, 'I'll just read this for 15 minutes or so before I turn out the light ...'

Garth Ennis' The Boys

One hour and 20 minutes later, I finally turned out the light. Man, that was a good one! Great story, with the usual Ennis twisted behaviors and over-the-top violence. But I stayed up far later than I wanted to, and I knew I was going to pay for it the next morning.

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