You could say that it all started when a friend didn't believe that I had never been to Mount Rushmore.
"You've been all over the world and you haven't been there?"
She laughed. I smiled back. I love her to pieces, and her remark didn't sting at all.
Now I am not a believer in the bucket list drill, and tend to be rather serendipitous when it comes to travel destinations. If the time is right, and it feels good, I go.
However, my friend started the wheels turning. I had to head to South Dakota before the snow covered the Black Hills and my window of opportunity was over for the season. The prior week the Rapid City area had recorded 5 inches. It made the national news, and momentarily I questioned the sanity of my decision.
I want to believe that Fickle Mother Nature did an about-face especially for me, and I received her warmer temperatures with a few downright hot days, too. It was wise not to put up a fuss and go with the heat while it lasted.
I visited during September touring notable places like the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, Deadwood and the annual bison roundup in Custer State Park. The blue sky was better than perfect and the aspens shimmered in their golden coats.
Granted I was leaving behind a gorgeous Finger Lakes fall, except for the leaf raking which would be waiting when I returned. Sigh.
It was one of those relaxed vacations — the Rapid City airport is so sleepy that you follow your shadow around — full of opportunities to see what adventures would unfold without fixed sightseeing itineraries.
By the way, that’s practice in being resourceful and going with what's right in front of you. It makes you pay attention, too.
Small towns and cities have all sorts of surprises if you are willing to uncover their charms. Spoiler alert: you may get your hands dirty panning for gold.
With a lot of effort and encouragement from my husband, I slowed down to a snail’s pace — maybe I should say the slow motion of a grazing bison — and went with the flow knowing full well that the great wooly beast at any moment can outrun a horse if need be.
The park ranger didn't promise any wildlife when she took our entry fee at Custer State Park. It wasn't but a few minutes and I was in luck, though.
While my husband’s attention was focused on driving, I had a chance to be up close and personal with a huge bison feeding along the side. We pulled over to watch. I was too chicken to roll down the window for a picture, especially when the bison looked up at me, and I got a big wink from his eye — that’s what I wanted to believe anyhow. I was petrified realizing I was close enough to touch him. No way was I getting out. I knew better. My camera shook, and I had enough of that wildlife nonsense. The car window remained shut, and disappointedly my husband had to shoot his picture through the glass leaning beside me.
Down-to-earth people, such as Karen in the sleepy mining town of Keystone, told us what to expect from the annual bison roundup in its 49th year, and offered advice on unique places to eat away from the typical tourist traps. She owned an amazing mineral and gem shop, and we never did get through all her bins of treasure.
The electrician at the Museum of Geology stopped his repair job and gave his opinion on the South Dakota quality of life that is meaningful to him.
Our motel desk clerk spent her teenage years outside Syracuse, and she helped us understand why there are shut-off gates on Interstate 90. Our Upstate weather is more predictable than the sudden rain, ice and blowing winds forcing the closing of sections of highway in South Dakota.
We did meet a couple celebrities just by being at the right place at the right time. Miss South Dakota Rodeo rode up on horseback in Custer State Park — her long blond locks swayed to the gait — to welcome us to the roundup. She was out checking the route, and couldn't wait to pose for our pictures making sure her sash would show.
Governor Dennis Daugaard, known to be South Dakota’s best ambassador for business growth, came to Chief Crazy Horse for a visit while we were standing in the front lobby of the visitor’s center. No photos there.
Mount Rushmore was every bit as grand as I had pictured in my mind. I walked the President's Trail to get as close as possible, and it was a hike along with the history makers of our country. That evening we watched from the amphitheater as the lights illuminated the presidents, and I took time to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going.
As my husband and I wound down the mountain road in darkness, I looked over my shoulder at the shiny hillside one last time. The visit was all worth it.
Native American culture spreads a profound peacefulness, and it replenishes my soul every single visit to Western reservations.
People across America are diverse individuals with infectious spirits and stories to tell.
You may have had enough of someone else’s travel story, and I understand. If you are curious and want more, follow the link http://www.touroutwestwithkay.blogspot.com with additional trip writing and pictures.