The Dakotas


When we last checked in, Sally and I were way down in New Orleans, sipping gumbo and listening to smooth jazz. But around mid-June, we both felt an itch to check in with our youngest, Julie. Julie's a junior at the University of Minnesota, but she's working this summer at a girl's camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Sally tends to worry and, where the kids are concerned, she can see trouble behind every molehill. So it wasn't long before we were headed northwest, hot to investigate all the dangers - and treasures - of the Black Hills.

That's where we are now, and it turns out to be beautiful country. It's about as different from Louisiana and our home-turf of Minnesota as a place could get, but itís pretty fine all the same. The hills are gentle rollers, and I believe they're called "black" because of the ponderosa pines that cover them. From a distance, they really do look like black squares on a patchwork quilt.

Julie got a furlough for the July 4th weekend, so we piled her gear into the RV and took her along with us. Those of you with kids know that they have a pretty weird sense of fun sometimes. No sooner were Sally and I talking about where we'd like to go - the Badlands? Mount Rushmore? - than Julie piped up with "Wall Drug! We have to go to Wall Drug. And the Corn Palace!"

Neither Sally or I had ever heard of Wall Drug. But when Julie explained that it was a tourist stop and that 'all the other counselors had been there', we knew our fate was sealed. We headed east on Interstate 90, on our way to Wall, South Dakota.

Like most things in South Dakota, Wall is set in the middle of miles of sunflower, corn, and soybean fields. And Wall is a tourist stop, all right. The main attraction is the old-fashioned drug store that sells everything from moccasins to jack-a-lopes, plus some dinosaur statues and curiosities from the Old West. It's an unusual place, that's for sure!

We didn't have time to take Julie as far as the Corn Palace, which is located in the eastern half of the state in Mitchell, not far from Sioux Falls (also on Interstate 90). But Julie got us to promise to stop there on our way back through, so she could have a picture. Apparently, it's something like a Taj Mahal, but built entirely out of corn. Only in the Midwest, eh


When I was a little girl, I remember a family trip to South Dakota, when a heard of bison crossed the road in front of our car. One of them even put its big nose right on the car window! So of course I was thrilled to be able to take our daughter along on a bison-watching expedition. How lucky we are that bison herds still wander freely through Custer State Park.

Julie and I like to try to identify wild flowers with our little guide book, and this is an especially pretty place for doing that. South Dakota has all kinds of roadside prairie flowers - daisies, cornflowers, black-eyed-susans, purple cone flowers, and of course sun flowers. We were so busy with the flowers during our picnic lunch, we almost missed the bison herd! Steve had to call us over to watch them swarming across a nearby hill. They're such amazing beasts with their lumbering great heads. I was delighted to see them - and right before July had to go back to camp, too. As she said, sheíd have a fabulous story to tell her campers when she returned.

After we dropped Julie off, the RV seemed so quiet! Not to mention roomy. It was a little like being empty-nesters all over again. I missed her awfully, but I have to confess that it didnít take Steve long to interest me in something new ñ a trip to see the new Crazy Horse Memorial. Like Mount Rushmore, this is a towering face ñ Crazy Horseís face ñ carved into the side of a mountain. But unlike Mount Rushmore, this monument is still under construction. Work on it only started in 1948. As we read on the signs there, Crazy Horse was a Lakota chief who was known for his loyalty and upright character.

It was such a moving experience, gazing up at that solemn face. As I said to Steve, it seemed like Crazy Horse could see all the way across the hills and plains, clear into the last corners of the Dakotas. And who knows? Maybe he even liked seeing the daisies and black-eyed-susans waving on the roadside as much as Julie and I did.

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