Friday, August 10, 2012

My Summer Vacations

I was excited to be able to take three vacations in the month of June. The first was to San Diego where I attended the wedding of my dear friend Ché. I had a wonderful time staying at my sister Erin's house where I got to chat with her and play with my nieces. I had fun trying out stand up paddle boarding, driving around in the red convertible I rented (made me miss my red convertible days of high school and college), and taking my oldest niece to the Del Mar Fair (the San Diego County Fair).

The wedding was wonderful. I was so excited to be able to share Ché's and Stephanie's wedding day with them. I enjoyed catching up, chatting, reminiscing with old friends, and of course dancing! It was great to spend the time with Kristine and Adam and to see Ché's family again, and it was particularly fun to see Ché and Stephanie so happy together. The night was exactly right: love, emotion, and a little humor too.

After returning home from the wedding I quickly prepared to head to South Dakota. Brian, Emery, Katie, and I took a road trip to see Mt. Rushmore. If you have ever wondered whether or not you should visit Mt. Rushmore, the answer is yes! We loved it!

We stopped by Martin's Cove and Independence Rock on our way through Wyoming. Martin's Cove is a great place to visit with a nice visitors center and handcart trails. We read about the handcart companies and all that the pioneers went through to travel west. Independence Rock, I learned, got its name because it was the place where all of the westward bound pioneers tried to reach by the 4th of July. Brian and I had a great adventure climbing to the top of Independence Rock. I climbed in my bare feet because my flip-flops were slipping off! We made a great team -- Brian made sure I didn't slip. :)

Once we reached our destination, we enjoyed a wonderful day at Mt. Rushmore. I was afraid I would be disappointed by the monument, that maybe it would be smaller or less impressive than it seemed in pictures, but it is amazing. The surroundings are beautiful, the visitors center is inspiring, and the monument is everything I hoped it would be. We learned all about the process used to build the giant sculptures and the people who braved going over the edge of the mountain on thin cables holding heavy machinery to place dynamite and carve stone. We took a tour with the park ranger and learned all about the presidents whose faces are on the mountain. I felt very grateful and patriotic as I viewed the four faces from various points along the presidential path at the base of the mountain. We later returned for the nighttime lighting program and flag ceremony. After a patriotic presentation, all those in attendance who have fought for the United States armed forces were invited up to the stage for the lowering of the flag. Each one of them stated their name and branch of the military as they touched the flag that had been folded. Among the 30 or so veterans and service men and women were two World War II veterans. It was a memorable experience I was grateful to be a part of.

Also on our vacation, we were able to visit Deadwood, the former home of Wild Bill Hickok. Brian had researched and found out the town was celebrating Wild Bill Days, so we were able to attend a free Rick Springfield concert there! It was a stormy night, but we hung in there to the very end with all the crazy, drunk fans just so we could hear "Jessie's Girl."

We drove through the Black Hills to see the Crazy Horse Monument, which is also amazing. It's huge! The Crazy Horse mountain sculpture is so big that all of the Mount Rushmore carvings would fit into one small portion of Crazy Horse's head. We were told that it may still be a couple hundred years before Crazy Horse is ever finished, but when it is it will be incredible.

Brian began to carve strange things into his mashed potatoes one night, so we decided we should visit Devils Tower in Wyoming as well. It's an amazing place too, especially because it was formed completely by nature. We walked the path that goes around the base of the tower, and Brian and I once again went rock climbing. We only scrambled to the top of the boulders at the base of the tower, but still, it was cool. Thousands of rock climbers climb to the summit of Devils Tower every year. It takes 4 to 5 hours to summit, on average, and about an hour and a half to repel all the way back down in 4 different repel sections. It's tall. :) The local American Indian tribes believe the tower is sacred. In fact, they are opposed to calling it Devils Tower because it sheds a negative light on their sacred land. They ask that climbers not climb the tower during the month of June in honor of the Summer Solstice. We saw many prayer beads tied to surrounding trees. It is said that your prayers are better heard at the tower, so of course we took a break in our walk around its base to pray. Scientists and American Indian tribes have a variety of explanations for how Devils Tower was formed. Some explanations involve giant bears chasing American Indian children, and some involve underground lava flows. But, of course, thanks to Steven Spielberg, we all know the real truth: Aliens.

There are so many things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota in addition to visiting Mount Rushmore. There are caves, hiking, shopping, zip lines, chuck wagons, wild animal parks, and of course Cosmic Mystery Areas to visit. We enjoyed visiting Reptile Gardens where we were taught how to wrestle alligators and live with prairie dogs, wandering through a farmers market, looking at the president statues down town, wandering through Fairy Tale Park, and visiting some of the quirky roadside shops. On the way home we took a winding road through Black Hills National Forest and Custer State park where we saw beautiful landscapes, amazing vistas, and rock tunnels. We had a wonderful time in South Dakota!