Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Badlands of South Dakota and on to North Dakota

Sunday, Aug. 25 dawned a beautiful day--promising another fabulous day in this glorious adventure!  We pulled out of our wonderful little campsite and drove into Hill City, where we parked so we could do another ride on more of the Mickleson Trail.  It was a wonderful ride and a great way to start the day.  Then we headed off toward Badlands National Park, via Rapid City.  As we were driving through Rapid City, we saw the sign for the Stave Kirke, or state church in Norwegian, and we were so happy to have found the sign.  We had read about this in one of the tour books and were excited to see it.  This is an exact replica of a Lutheran church that was built in Norway in the 1800's.  This one was built in 1968 and it is so beautiful!  When we walked up to the first building, we met a man who was on duty that day and he explained how there was a big settlement of Norwegian and other Scandanavian immigrants in this area, who came over in the 1800's.  This little building where he was now houses a gift shop, but it was actually built in Norway, then they took it apart, numbered all the pieces and shipped it to Rapid City, where it was reconstructed by the Sons of Norway.  It shows much of the typical intricate decorative carvings in the wood face of the little house.  Then we walked over to the church, which is surrounded by beautiful big beds of lavender.  The church is small, but gorgeous, with intricate carvings and patterns, and an audio was playing to describe the design and significance of the various features in the church.  There is a covered walkway sort of area, going all around the church, and the narrator explained that this was a place where parishioners in Norway would leave their outerwear, and also the men would leave their weapons here, as it was not allowed to have them inside the church.  There are 12 carved faces representing the disciples, and high up above the wooden benches there are 12 St. Andrews crosses.  Up in the chancel, on one side near the altar there is a "leper's door."  The narrator explained that, while lepers were not allowed into the sanctuary, they could stand outside in the covered walkway to listen to the service, and they would then open the door and be served communion through the wall--very interesting.  The only service they have now in this little church is at 7:30 on Sunday evenings, but we stayed a while in the church, offering prayers for a number of our friends in need of special blessings and strength as they face various health issues and the loss of loved ones.  Especially for our dear friend Jim, who is my seatmate in choir back home, and who is a lifelong Lutheran--I love to tease him about the need to loosen up when our choir does a gospel number, but his Lutheran background just won't quite let him sway back and forth, LOL!!  So I was happy to offer prayers for him in a true Lutheran church!  Then we did their prayer walk behind the church and it was a peaceful little area, under the trees, with several statues, very meditative.

We then went into this little replica of a typical house of Norwegian settlers in the area, modeled after the actual house of Ole and Lena, and it was quite interesting.  They had carved statues of the couple, and in the house they had a collection of lots of typical Norwegian things--kitchen utensils, tables, cabinets, beds, quilts, clothes, etc., all very intricately designed.  We ended up back at the gift shop, and they had a whole section devoted to Norwegian and Swedish Christmas ornaments, cloths and other decorations.  Of course, as you might imagine, Santa and Mrs. Claus went nuts in this place!  We came away with some really beautiful things to adorn our house for Christmas when we return.  And the exciting part is that once we get home, it won't be that long before we'll get to pull them all out and set them up!  Added to our Nativity collection, as well as a gorgeous round cloth that will go under the glass on our breakfast room table--can't wait!

Then it was off to the Badlands, an interesting drive, but wow, it is desolate!  In Badlands National Park there is a 24 mile drive around the park, with a number of pull offs to see different  views of the rocks, hills and valleys.  It was quite hot when we got there and we could see why this park is not so full of hiking trails as many of the parks we've visited.  In some ways it reminded us of Bryce, in that there are lots of thinwalled fins and some hoodoos, but, for the most part, the colors were not nearly as varied and multi hued as in Bryce.  It's mostly gray and beige/brown, but they look so much more fragile.  It reminded us of sand castles so much more than other similar formations we've seen, and it looked like it would not take anything for the formations to just crumble, or melt in a hard rain.  We eventually came to some parts where there were more colors, but far and away most of it is pretty monochromatic.  There was one area where they have uncovered a number of fossils from creatures in the dinosaur age--hard to believe that at one time, long ago, this area was a sea, completely under water.  You'd never think that from seeing how arid it is now.

Anyway, we left the park and headed back to Rapid City to spend the night.  On the way into town we decided to find a vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurant to have dinner, and after a couple fits and starts due to some places being closed on Sunday evenings, we found a delightful Mexican restaurant and it was delicious.  The chips and salsa starter had an interesting twist--they had a black bean dip along with some wonderful salsa, instead of the more usual cheese dip.  It was quite good.  And the vegetarian fajitas were outstanding, as was the spinach enchilada that Trisha had--yum, yum!

It was about dark when we got to the RV park, but it was a nice park and we got a good level site, right across from the laundry room.  This was good for the next morning, when we had time to do laundry, catch up on some of the blogging and journaling and some postcard writing.  Good to have some down time to get some of these things done before heading out.  Wish we could have had a bit more time in Rapid City--quite a lovely place.  There are lots of parks and they've done a lot of wonderful landscaping along public areas.  This was the first time for either of us in South Dakota, and I had not realized how much of a Scandanavian presence there is in this state.  I guess I had mentally associated Norwegian and Swedish settlers more with Minnesota, but there is a strong influence here, certainly in Rapid City.  But it's quite pretty.

We had decided to zip back into Wyoming to see Devils Tower, a really unusual rock formation, that's often included on those lists of Things You Don't Want to Miss, so we had read about it and figured it would be a good spot to see.  Since we didn't get out of Rapid City until after noon, we started looking for a place to spend the night a little before we actually got to Devils Tower.  Since we had full hookups at the RV park in Rapid City, we were all set for dry camping, so we looked for national forest campgrounds.  The app we have on the iPad had described a place called Bear Lodge Campground, in the Black Hills National Forest, as a small campground, with just 10 sites, but it sounded nice so we decided to give it a try and hope for the best, that it would not be full, since it only had 10 sites.  Well, we had a "first" experience--the entire campground to ourselves!  We were the only ones there.  I guess since it was Sunday night and schools have already started in this area, combined with the fact that this is a really really really really remote site, it should not have been a surprise, but it was kind of weird to be the only ones there.  Since we have the Geezer Pass, it was only $5.00 for the night--pretty good deal to rent out a campground for a five spot!  After we pulled in and took our pick of the sites and had been there for a while, a woman came through to check on the place--she was the camphost, but since it's such a small place she had responsibility for 3 other campgrounds as well, so she either stayed at one of these other places or lived offsite.  Anyway, one other car came in, but they were tent camping, and after they got out and realized how hot it was, or for some other reason, got back in their car and headed off.  There was no wind and it stayed pretty hot all night, so we ended up running the generator to have some a/c to keep from wilting during the night, but it was okay, since no one was around to be bothered by the generator motor!

Tuesday morning we got up and headed on to Devils Tower, and this is an incredibly unique rock.  It literally just sticks up nearly 300 feet out of the ground, and looks like a giant bundle of stalks of some sort, just going up almost completely vertical, from a large boulder field.  In the visitor center we read about how this is a sacred site for many different Native American peoples, figuring prominently in their religious and spiritual histories and beliefs.  Archaeologists have found evidence that native people have lived here as long as 10,000 years ago.  The story boards described some of the different legends of the different tribes about how this rock came to be, which were fascinating.  Many times throughout the year various Native people come here for sacred ceremonies and prayers, and you can see prayer cloths hanging from trees around the base of the rock.  Then there was a section on how this has become a mecca for rock climbers from all over the world, and how this has produced a good deal of conflict between the Native people who consider it a sacred site and the rock climbers.  As one Native leader's quote there described it, "Every time we see someone climbing or pounding some metal piece into the rock it's like our bodies and our souls are being pierced."  Now there is a voluntary "no climbing" moratorium for the month of June each year, when many tribal people come here for ceremonies.  I can see how it would be an exhilarating challenge for rock climbers--indeed, we could see several climbers scaling the vertical sides of the rock while we were walking the path around the rock--but I can also see how devastating it is to people whose ancestors were there long before any of the settlers, and who consider it a sacred site that should not be defiled.  A moral dilemma which would make a good final exam question for an ethics course.  On the way out of the park we stopped at "Prairie Dog Town," an area full of prairie dogs, and watched them run around, seemingly playing games and frolicking in the grass.  Really entertaining!

Then we started the rather lengthy drive to Theodore Roosevelt National Park--taking us back through South Dakota and into North Dakota.  As we crossed into North Dakota, Trisha was excited, since this means she has now visited every one of the lower 48 states--woohoo!  We were on a state highway for several hours in South Dakota, and for a few miles in North Dakota before we hit Interstate 94.  The scenery was really spectacular--this was the epitome of "amber waves of grain" you could see miles and miles of fields of golden grains, blowing in the wind and some fields that had been harvested.  In addition there are massive fields of corn, and sunflowers!  We had read that the Dakotas were the nation's largest producers of sunflowers, for seeds and oil, and, while we had previously seen some fields that were not yet matured into blooms, all of a sudden we were presented with gigantic fields of bright yellow sunflowers!  Just a splendid sight, and Trisha was so excited!  She had been hoping to see blooming fields while we were here, after reading about it, and today it finally happened.  We took a bunch of pictures, but we'll see how well they turned out.  As with most of the pictures we've taken, there is no way a photograph can give you the true picture of how massive some of these places are.  But we would come over a hill and BAM, there it would be, massive yellow blankets spread out over the hills for miles--just fantastic!  (I have been similarly hopeful that we might see bighorn sheep, since there have been signs all over South Dakota to be on the lookout for them, but so far the only ones we've seen have either been statues or stuffed animals in visitor centers.  Alas, I'm afraid we're about to be gone from the places we would likely see them.)  But we're so happy we got to see these sunflowers!

So tonight (Tuesday) we arrived at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and decided to stay at an RV campground just outside the park in the little town of Medora, so we could have electricity, since it's still pretty hot and wanted to be able to have a/c.  We got hooked up and before too long we started hearing some really awful singing, and discovered that apparently the folks that run this place are big into karaoke, and were having a session--seemingly only for those who had absolutely no ability to carry a tune!!  I mean, seriously folks, these guys were so far off key it was like someone scraping fingernails across a chalk board!  So, after supper I got on the bike and took a long ride--found a bike path that I had hoped would go for miles, but unfortunately it only lasted about 3 miles and then ended up on a road that was an entrance ramp to the interstate!  We've been surprised at how many bicycles we've seen on interstates in several states on this side of the country--back east, I don't think anyone allows bicycles on the interstate highways, even if there is a wide shoulder.  So I turned around and found a park where I could just ride some laps and then rode through some back streets of neighborhoods in this little town, where no cars were moving.  When I got back to the campsite, unfortunately the karaoke session was still going strong!  Anyway, a good lesson in working on not letting outside noises and forces interfere with your inner peace!  To tomorrow we'll head into Roosevelt National Park and see what we can see!

Happy riding on the Mickleson Trail!

Trisha sorta wanted to stop and try out this wine, but alas, it was Sunday!
 'Fraid this is the only bighorn sheep I'll see on this trip

Along the road toward Rapid City, SD

Stave Kirke in Rapid City--this is the house that now is the gift shop; was built in Norway and then disassembled, each board numbered and then reassembled here in 1968
 This is Lena and Ole, the couple who lived here in the 1800's--the man here said the legend is that in this carving, Ole has no ears, since he never listened to anything Lena said, and Lena has only one ear, since she only listened to half of what Ole said!
 This is so typical of the beautiful intricate carvings Norwegians used to decorate everything

 The little church, surrounded by the beautiful lavender!

 St. Andrews crosses around the upper level
 Some of the faces representing the 12 disciples
 The outside covered walkway that goes all around the sanctuary
 Beautiful carving around the main door

The lepers door

 The main door

 Looking out from the covered portico
 Looking out at the bell tower

 Loved these Christmas trees by the lavender!
 Looking back on the church as we headed up to the prayer walk

 The first statue you encounter is Jesus

 The roof of the gift shop, covered in grass.  In Norway they used goats to keep the grass trimmed!
Outside Ole and Lena's little house
 Ole and Jack!
 Looks like Lena may have heard Ole say something she didn't like--watch out Ole, the rolling pin looks ominous!

 Intricate hard anger coverlet in baby cradle
 Lovely lace curtains

 Wedding chest
 Beautiful wooden bucket
 These suspenders were adorned with intricate beadwork
 Clerical collar--Trisha was glad she was not a minister in this tradition, to have to wear this!!
 Certificate of confirmation for a child

En route to the Badlands, coming into Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug

 Some sunflower fields, but no blooms visible

 Here it is!  What started out as a simple drug store in 1931 has become a huge complex of multiple stores.  Apparently the way they got their start to fame was an idea of the wife of the founder to give free ice water to all military personnel stopping in.  Now they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on billboard advertising in several states touching SD--too funny!

 Badlands National Park

 Finally some color!

 Pronghorn antelope

In the Fossil Fields

On the way to Devils Tower

 Here we are, folks, in our own personal campground!!

 Devils Tower, first sightings

 In the little town of Aladdin, on the way

 these horses looked like they were just standing there reading the billboard!

 In the visitor center, a painting depicting one of the legends of the origin of Devils Tower--a bear was trying to get to seven sisters atop the rock, and his giant claws scraped the grooves and channels in the rock--the seven sisters went on to the heavens and became the seven stars of Big Dipper.

Love this Merton quote!
 Looking up at some climbers going up the rock

 Trisha's using a lot of effort to hold up this rock!

 Some of the Native peoples prayer cloths
 Fire has been here
 Looking down into the valley from one of the overlooks along the trail that goes around the base of the rock

 Beautiful burned out root

 More prayer cloths

 Loved this old tree!
Prairie dog town

 In the little town of Hulett.

 This is what every church should be doing!!

 This was at a store, 115 years old, in the thriving metropolis of Aladdin!

In Belle Fourche, the geographical center of the US
 Little museum on the grounds of the visitor center
 Trisha loved all these quilts and things that reminded her of her great grandmother's things

 Here it is, the geographical center of the country!  Apparently it used to be 20 miles away, according to the US Geological Survey, but when Alaska and Hawaii became states, it was moved here

 this is what I always imagined South Dakota to look like--you can see for miles on this straight road!

 Loads of hay on the way to market!
 The dust was overwhelming!
 Here we are!  Now Trisha has been to all the lower 48!

 Fields of corn for miles

 Now here come the sunflowers!!

 Literally, amber waves of grain

 More sunflowers

 Typical North Dakota house

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