Wyoming and South Dakota

October 25, 2009 by Julie Perry Nelson

My husband, daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and I spent a four day weekend in Wyoming and South Dakota in 2009.  Before we went, we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” since DevilsTower figures so prominently in the movie.  Devils Tower, Wyoming, is 1237 feet tall and was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as the first national monument.  My son-in-law thought that DevilsTower was made up for the movie so he was thrilled to learn a few years ago that it is real.  There is a nice 1.3 mile trail around the monument.  While we walked it, we were able to see a number of climbers working their way up or down the Tower—it looked scary to me!  The ranger said that I would be able to climb it; women are good climbers because their legs are stronger than men’s in relation to their body weight and they follow directions.  For inexperienced climbers, there is a 2 day orientation, instruction, and practice, and then they are led in the climb by a ranger.  I will leave that for younger climbers.

We drove on to Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker.  He was playing five card stud and held a pair of aces and a pair of eights, known today as “dead man’s hand.”  There are frequent reenactments of the shooting and the apprehension of his killer which are kind of fun to watch.  We visited Wild Bill’s grave and that of Calamity Jane who is buried next to him.  Deadwood today is a tourist town with many casinos.

The next major site we visited was Mount Rushmore.  There is a wonderful museum and history of the carving of the mountain which was an incredible undertaking.  The faces are over 50 feet tall but they are dwarfed by the mountains around them and don’t look as big as they really are.  There is a nice trail to walk along to obtain different perspectives of the faces.  We enjoyed the visit and watching the people who had come from all over the world to see the monument.

We next visited the Crazy Horse monument which will be even bigger than Mount Rushmore when it is completed.  The carving has been ongoing for over 50 years and there are still many more years left before it is completed.  It is most appropriate that a Native American is commemorated in the Black Hills of South Dakota which belonged to the native people for so many centuries.  We enjoyed visiting the museum and learning about the people who did and are doing the carving.  Incredibly, this monument is funded by private funds.

On the way home, we drove through CusterState Park in South Dakota which is home to about 1500 head of bison.  A number of times, we stopped and took pictures of bison crossing the road.  Most of the cows had calves so the herd will grow.  We also saw many pronghorn antelope, deer, prairie dogs, a marmot, and a coyote and a badger.  We later learned that coyotes and badgers work together to hunt prairie dogs—most interesting to see.

This was a wonderful trip to some parts of America that are truly “larger than life.”

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