Rock stars of the Midwest

So sorry, dear readers - I've been so preoccupied having fun at the pyrotechnics conference this week (just got back from the anvil shoot!) that I'm afraid I've neglected my blogging. While all the boys are napping this afternoon before our next big fireworks display show, I'll see if I can catch up a bit.

Kurt, Marty and I headed west from Gillette Monday morning on the pathway to the jewel in the crown of all roadside attractions: Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. We also planned to take in the Crazy Horse Monument along the way and return by way of Devil's Tower in northeastern Wyoming.
Wyoming (and especially Gillette where we're staying) is known nationally for being an important energy producer, mostly in the form of coal, but also other fuels such as coal gasification and oil. On our path to Rushmore, we passed an old oil well museum that had apparently closed a while back, but still had some cool antique drilling and pumping equipment laying around. The best thing by a longshot, though, was the gift shop. Unfortunately the tank was empty.

We also passed this curious structure (on the right) and I begged Kurt to stop so I could take some pictures. While we were stopped, the fellow that lives next door sidled up and told us that it was an old railway car that had been a gun and ammo store for a while. He chuckled and told us he was a little afraid there were still live rounds in there. Hee hee! I wouldn't do any angle grinding in there if I were them! Be sure to notice the matching hot tub out front.

As we headed further west and began to near the Black Hills area of South Dakota, the landscape began to transform into large rocky hills covered with Ponderosa pine.
Our first stop was Crazy Horse Monument, which is only about 8 miles from Mount Rushmore. They seem to have had a virulent mountain carving disease out that way in the early part of the 20th century. The Crazy Horse Monument is an absolutely staggeringly large portrait of Lakota War Chief Crazy Horse, rendered in mountain (see behind Kurt and Marty at left). The work was begun in 1948 and is still actively being pursued. The scale is the first and most obvious thing to remark on (it is way, way, way bigger than Rushmore), but I was also moved by the passion of the sculptor and how successful he was in enrolling others in his vision.

When we reached Mount Rushmore, I experienced a much different feeling. People had told me beforehand to be prepared to be dazzled and I simply wasn't. Maybe because of the shiny new visitor's center, maybe because it seemed modest in comparison to Crazy Horse, but it felt sterile and stodgy and left me cold. It was a magnificent sight, I'd never argue against that, but the place seemed strangely souless to me. We didn't really stay at Mount Rushmore for very long either.

As we headed back to Gillette, we planned our route so it would take us by the geological formation called Devil's Tower, happily allowing us to arrive just before sunset. You are completely familiar with Devil's Tower if you've ever seen the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Remember the mountain of mashed potatoes that Richard Dreyfuss sculpted? Remember that amazing scene where the alien ship comes down and plays the Wurlitzer with the feds? Well that's Devil's Tower.

I thought it mighty be pretty out there from the pictures I'd seen, but I had no idea how blown away I was about to be.

Because we arrived as the sun was setting, there were very few others still about, certainly no hords of screeching children or herds of babbling funlovers. The three of us hiked the beautiful little trail that circles the base of the formation and presents all sorts of grand vistas, while at the same time allowing intimacy with the pine forest you're walking through. We noticed all sorts of marvelous things, like how the porcupines had chewed away the bark of the pine trees to get at the soft spongy interior - a real taste treat for them, apparently.

As we passed the halfway point on the trail and turned toward the west, we could see that the sun had sunk below the horizon, coloring the sky that peeked from beneath the pine boughs a brilliant tangerine. It was an easy path and a beautiful night, so we took our time strolling back to the car and were treated to the breaktaking sight of the moon rising just to the right of the Tower. I lay on my back at a nice observation point where we paused and watched the moon rising higher and higher. Several bats flitted past, barely visible in the receding twilight. It was as silent as the tomb except for the lullaby of gentle breeze and quaking aspen leaves trembling just over my head. I had another of those overwhelming moments where I just can't believe how wonderful my life is. There I was with my dear friends in this beautiful sacred space, lying on my back on a delightful summer evening. Marty spotted to first star to rise and made a wish. I found myself feeling reluctant about leaving. Ah well, there were many more adventures to attend to, so it was time to set sail.

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