Some midwest places…

During the time that I was on assignment in Iowa, I was fortunate enough to visit Keystone,SD and the surrounding attractions.  It was a very long drive over 2 states and 1 time zone, but a trip I will always be glad that I took.

I had a 4-day weekend, which turned out to be a pretty good amount of time for the things that I wanted to do.  I drove to Keystone,SD and went directly to Mt. Rushmore.  I was told that it was magnificent to see in the day and at night.  I went in early May, which to my good fortune was excellent weather wise (although it really can go either way) and the crowds were light.  I don’t think I would have enjoyed the trip during the summer months due to the popularity.  When I first drove up to the park, I was surprised at the size of the carvings-I really expected them to be bigger.  It was still quite a sight to behold and I was very happy with it once I actually got into the park.  I walked along the Avenue of Flags-the walkway to the monument that has all the state flags with the year they were admitted to the Union.  Once at the monument, there is a large place to view it, but also a one mile loop trail that goes closer to it.  If you’re looking at the monument and start on the right side of the loop, there is a large staircase that includes 150 or so stairs-not the easiest task, but don’t let it deter you from seeing the monument.  Even at the closest point, it really isn’t all that close, but you can see a phenomenal view of it.

 

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Once I was done there, I decided to drive down to Custer State Park to see the buffalo I had heard so much about.  It was like a living version of “Home on the Range”-very much where the deer and that antelope play!  It was quite magnificent to see these creatures and the drive to and fro was beautiful.  My favorite part was at one point looking through this rock formation that looks like a bridge and seeing the face of Mt. Rushmore right through it.  If there had been a spot on the road to stop, I would have because that would have made a wonderful picture.

On the way back from Custer State Park, I also stopped at Crazy Horse Monument.  It is unbelievable how big it is!  There is a video that is played and if I remember right, over 20 Mt. Rushmore carvings can fit into just the top left corner of the Crazy Horse Monument.  It is far from complete and that is mostly due to them not accepting any state or federal money.  They say that they don’t want the government to fund any part of it so that it will not be owned in any part by them.  The exhibits are very informative and you can go up pretty close to the monument in a van.  There is no going up to the top yet for the general public, but it seems that at one point, that will happen.  You can purchase parts of the mountain that have been blasted away.  It is an attraction that is not to be missed if you are in the area and an excellent educational tool.

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On the way back to my hotel, I stopped for dinner at a place that had been recommended to me for one of their bison burgers.  Up to that point, I had very little experience eating bison.  Being the daring person that I am, I also wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters.  (If you are unfamiliar with those, they are bull testicles) I am the kind of person that doesn’t like to knock things before I try them.  I wasn’t holding out much hope that I would like them, but I was darn well going to give it a whirl.  They were served with BBQ sauce and cocktail sauce.  I liked the BBQ on them better and they weren’t all that bad.  I didn’t dislike them, but I don’t think I need to eat them again.  I am happy to say that I was daring enough to try them though.

The next morning, I left early to head to Devil’s Tower, WY.  This was going to be my first trip to Wyoming and I was very happy to be able to check off another state from my list.  (During my time in Iowa, I was able to see 8 new states.)  It was about a 2 hour drive from Keystone and the most wonderful thing was that I could see it from about 35 miles away-it is enormous!  I finally made it to the park-it is considered a National Park.  It is a haven for lots of rock climbers and I enjoyed watching them scale this gigantic geological wonder.  It is very sacred to the Native Americans and there are a couple of different versions of the legend as to how it was formed.  Basically, a bear was chasing 7 sisters and the tower grew as the bear climbed (he also made the striations along the sides) to the sky to escape him and that is how the constellation, Seven Sisters was formed.  There is a one mile trail that goes around the base and that is very worth it!  I have no rock climbing skills, so that wasn’t an option for me, but I can only imagine how amazing the view from the top must be.

I then headed to Deadwood, SD to see the historic sites there.  There is a museum, a house (the Adam’s house) to tour, many casinos (including one owned by Kevin Costner called Midnight Star) and Mt. Moriah Cemetary where “Wild Bill” Hicock, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny are buried.  I would suggest to get in early for the guided tours as they fill up fast and sometimes are cancelled without notice.  I wasn’t able to take a tour, but I don’t feel that I was really hindered by that.  Another interesting thing about Deadwood is that prostitution was legal until about 1980 there.  If you want a real wild west town experience, Deadwood is the place to see it.

There are several wineries in the area as well and all have tasting rooms.  By far, my favorite was Red Ass Rhubarb at Prairie Berry Winery.  www.prairieberry.com I also went to the Naked Winery.  Most wines in the area are heavy on the fruits that can be grown there, which makes for a different wine experience.

Before going back to the hotel, I did stop over at Mt. Rushmore to see it at night.  I was a little too early in the season for the fireworks that they have, but it was still pretty awesome to see it all lit up.

 

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On my last full day in the Keystone area, I took a tour of the Big Thunder Gold Mine.  There are a lot of caves and gold mines to explore in the area.  Also there is an enormous water slide that opens Memorial Day weekend.  The tour was pretty interesting and I didn’t know how much gold was mined from the Black Hills.  They allow you to pan for gold if you like and they take you into the old mine shafts and then explain how the process works.  I very much enjoyed the history of it.

I also went to visit the Presidential Wax Museum that is on the road to Mt. Rushmore.  I found it quite fascinating.  There is a wax figure of Barrack Obama that greets you at the door. (I can only assume that changes with the presidents)  Inside each president is in wax and there are different scenes that depict major events in their presidency as well as facts about them.  An audio tour is offered to give you more insight into each one.  I would only recommend this if you enjoy learning about history and have at least 3 hours to spend looking at it.  I didn’t know how much time I needed, so I had to rush my way through the last 1/3 of it so I wouldn’t be late for my next activity.  I could see myself going back though if I was in the area.

My last activity for the day was taking a ride on the 1880 Train on the Black Hills Central Railroad for the Mother’s Day Express.  I enjoyed a ride on a working train that offered entertainment, champagne and cupcakes.  I was expecting a little more from the actual ride-it was an hour or so each way and there wasn’t a whole lot to look at.  This is the only thing I wasn’t overly impressed with during my entire trip.  Afterwards, I had dinner and went back to my hotel.

It was finally time to make the 8-hour trek back to Iowa, so I left fairly early and decded to stop at Badlands National Park on the way back.  I saw so many bison and one was right in the middle of the road.  I was cautious because I had been told they would have no issues with charging a car. (and probably knocking it over based on their size)  I also saw quite a few prairie dogs.  They are cute little animals that run around from den to den.   I stopped at the visitor’s center, watched a video about the area and then went to explore.  The landscape was just gorgeous and parts of it reminded me of the Grand Canyon.  But, it is a unique place to visit and very hard to find the right words to describe it.  There is a lot of hiking and exploring, but like the Painted Hills in Oregon, very dangerous if you are not prepared with enough water and sun protection.

All in all, this was one of the most jammed packed side trips I took, but I feel like I spent the right amount of time at each place.  Certainly I could go back and find things I wasn’t able to see the first time around, but I feel content with what I did see.

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Oh, the adventures of Kentucky….

I think that I could write about all of my adventures during my assignment in Kentucky for several blogs, so I will try and just cover the highlights. It was an excellent location for many places that are fairly close to visit. When I say fairly close, I mean within 5-6 hours of driving. I have done longer trips, but for the most part it is best for me to stay at the range. As previously stated, I was halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati. I did make several trips to Louisville and of course one of my favorite places was to go to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. One of the first things you see is a huge bat leaning against the buildings just waiting for some giant to come swing for a homer. I instantaneously was reverted back to my 6-year old self being excited about baseball. Once inside, there is a video and they take you on a tour of the factory where you can see them working on the bats that will be used that season. If you at all are a fan of baseball, you will understand how cool it is to look at a box full of bats labeled “Dustin Pedroia.” At the end of the tour, you are presented with a small bat as a token of your trip. It is very much a mini version of the Hall of Fame with so much to see. I was so very excited to hold a bat that David Ortiz had used in a World Series game!

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Because I love history, I also wanted to see some of what Louisville had to offer, so I took a ride on the Belle of Louisville. She is a steamboat that is original to that era and she is 100 years old as a National Historic Landmark. I took a dinner cruise down the Ohio River and there was a lot of history that was new to me about Louisville. I am very glad to say that I have been on a historic paddle boat.

 

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The Civil War era has always held quite a fascination for me and I admit, one of the major draws to Chattanooga. I spent 3 nights there and enjoyed all of it. I started with going to the Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia. I was happy to explore all that was there and learn that the campaign for Chattanooga was pretty extensive. Chickamauga reminds me a bit of Gettysburg in that there are a lot of monuments placed where soldiers fought and died. It’s peaceful and I enjoyed that I could listen on my cell phone to a tour and do so at my own pace. I was especially taken with Wilder Tower that stands 85 feet tall. It is a stone tower that was built in memory of Colonel Wilder and his mounted infantry that held off Union forces until he had backup.

 

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Back in Chattanooga, I took the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. It is the steepest railway in the world and is a mile to the top. Nothing scary about this ride unless you have height issues because there is plenty of visibility from the glass that makes up most of the car. Once at the top, I made my way to Point Park where the Battle above the Clouds was fought. The view of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River is beautiful and I was just in wonder standing in a place that was so historically significant. Before I went there, I had no idea that the battles for Chattanooga had been such a deciding factor in the war. There is a small museum near Point Park that has an excellent film and exhibit. I walked the mile or so back to the Incline Railway to go back down.

 

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