We enjoyed our visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument. At the visitor’s center we looked at the displays and watched an informative video. This distinctive formation was in Indian Territory and a landmark well known to many tribes. The pioneers followed the North Platte River as they journeyed westward. They could see these formations for days as they traveled across the prairie. This route is known as the Oregon Trail and was also part of the Mormon Trail. The Pony Express also rode through the area. As many travelers before us, we could see the Bluff as arrived in the area, and as travelers have for generations, we camped near the base of Scotts Bluff. Unlike those early travelers, though, we drove a twisting road through tunnels and with increasing vistas to the top. The view is amazing. We walked to various overlooks, thoroughly enjoying the scenery spread out below. I’m glad we were able to visit a place we have heard of most of our lives.
Mount Rushmore is spectacular and I would come again to see this monument honoring our country. The size and detail are amazing in the daytime and beautiful at night. After dark we saw a short movie about the monument, heard stories from a park ranger, and watched the lowering of the American flag by ex-servicemen from the audience. This monument is cared for by the National park Service and includes a visitors’ center, gift shops, and museum where we watched a movie telling the story of how it all came about. The artist, Gutzon Borglum, was a first generation American of Danish decent. He began the project in 1925 and it was completed by his son Lincoln shortly after his father’s death in 1941.
We also enjoyed going to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a family owned monument and the ongoing work of Korczak Ziolkowski and his family. There are American Indian artifacts and items on display as well as a gift shop and a restaurant. Ziolkowski and his wife have passed on but his children continue the sculpting. We were lucky enough to be there for not only one of the nightly lazar light shows but also one the two nighttime dynamite blasts that are done each year. Although it was extremely crowed we found indoor seating that allowed a great view of the light show and blasting. We’ve never seen anything like the blasting, as over 100 charges were set off in rapid succession, each one with a “boom” and fiery flash of light.
Both of these monuments are worth a visit and both should be visited in the early evening so they can be seen in both daylight and under lighting.
We’ve enjoyed tours of both National Park caves in the Black Hills. We took the Historic Lantern tour of Jewel Cave. The park ranger was in Historic costume with a fitted coat and riding pants. That was the standard uniform of the 1930’s. We met at the log cabin rebuilt to the specifications of the cabin lived in by the first Park Ranger and his wife. Half the people were given kerosene lanterns to carry just like they did in the early days. We were warned that the tour was considered strenuous, we would climb up and down about 600 steep wooden steps (some ladder-like) and be required to bend and stoop in some areas.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cave as well as providing plenty of information about the crystals on the walls and the various bats that inhabit the cave. It was interesting to see how the early cave explorers saw the caves and fascinating to think they could see so little of the path ahead as they went through the cave. I was very tired when we finished but glad I took the tour.
Our second cave was Wind Cave and we took the Fairgrounds Cave Tour. We enjoyed this hour and half tour. The cave continually equalizes the atmospheric pressure of the cave and outside air causing it to “breathe” in or out. Our tour was part of the upper and middle levels of the the cave. It is considered the most strenuous walking tour of the park with 450 stair steps along the 2/3 mile hike, but there are rails to hold on to. One flight has 89 steps going up. Our tour guide was a young lady in her first year with the Parks service. She was very knowledgeable about the cave, its history, and the formations. The major attraction of this cave is the Boxwork formations found in the middle level of the cave. We also saw popcorn and frostwork formations. This is an excellent tour and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a strenuous hike.
We spent a fun afternoon at the Ingalls Homestead (“Little House on the Prairie”) at DeSmet, SD. We started at the visitor’s center where we bought our ticket and looked at all the goodies in the gift shop. We also watched short introductory movie. From there it was out to explore the property.
The first building we toured looks like a one room school but inside has a coved wagon you can get into plus many displays about the travels of the Ingalls family bringing them to this place. From there we saw a dugout similar to the one they lived in on the banks of Plum Creek in MN. Near it is an original claim shanty similar to one they lived in that was moved from Spirt Lake. After living on the land for five years Charles had to file a governmental document called “proving-up papers” which describe the improvements he had made to the land. Apparently, he more than met the required standards. We saw the barn, water pump, and a reconstruction of Ma’s Little House. At the barn there is a calf and kittens to pet. The pump works and, for Scott, using it was a return to his childhood. At the house the docent told us several stories that took place in their home, reminding us of stories from the books. The visiting children were invited to help wash and hang clothes, beat the rug, and shake cinders out of the cook stove. There is a lush vegetable garden, herb garden, and wildflower display. The original Flindt’s garage building has been moved to the site and is now used to demonstrate and allow hands on rope making, corn shelling, corncob doll making, and hay twisting; all things that were done by the Ingalls family. We enjoyed riding the coved wagon across the fields to see a country schoolhouse like the one Laura and her sisters attended. The “teacher” told about a typical school day. She had everyone participating in her presentation, including having the children read from early readers. She talked about the lunch pails and lunches the children might have brought. We found the Ingalls Homestead to be a very fun and active place and well worth the visit.
There’s a lot to see in the Twin Cities and we enjoyed our sightseeing. Honestly, there’s still more to see.
We enjoyed our visit to Historic Fort Snelling which was built in 1820 at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. It was established to protect the U.S. Fur trade. In doing so the Fort formalized the U.S. government’s presence and American expansion into Native American Dakota land. Later, from the Civil War through WWII, it was used for training of troops. Inside the gate is the parade ground surrounded by the buildings necessary the Fort to be successful. The oldest structure is the round tower which was used for defense. The munitions building has 6 foot walls and wood floors with pegs to guard against unintended sparks. We saw a long building where rooms were set aside for enlisted men and their families as well as rooms that housed single enlisted men. There is a Sutter’s store that was owned and run by a civilian. He sold items not provided by the post commissary to the solders, their families and local people. There were many people dressed in period clothing. Some women demonstrated how they did laundry outside by hand and how they cooked over an open fire in a hearth. Jackie’s favorite stop on the tour was the home of the Commander Snelling that has been restored and furnished with period furnishings. We also saw an area set up as the post Doctors quarters, and hospital. We finished our tour learning the history of the Dakota people and the effects of the Fort on them.
We had a fun evening at the zoo. We started with the special Australian exhibit of Kangaroos and emu. This is a temporary exhibit and the animals will be here until the fall when they will be returned to their home at a private park outside of San Antonio, Texas. The section on Minnesota animals was interesting. We saw a beaver pushing a small log over the dam and another swim out and back into their lodge. A moose walked right in front us before moving into the woods. The aviary was fun to walk through. We especially liked the exotic birds like the Hornbill and the Crowned Pigeon. Of course we had to see the reptiles including a huge python and a komodo dragon. I would recommend this zoo as a fun destination for everyone.
Another adventure included driving into the city and taking the Metro train. Our first stop on the light rail was Minnihaha Falls. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gave this Minneapolis waterfall national fame in the Song of Hiawatha, written in 1853. It is a short walk from the light rail stop and well worth the time and effort to see. The view from the bottom of the falls is great but entails a lot of steps, so be prepared. We caught the next train on into town and got off at Nicolette Mall. Sadly that area is under construction so we had lunch looked around some and headed back out. It was a fun and easy way to see parts of the city.
The Mall of America lived up to its reviews. We were here a few years ago but this time we covered all the floors. I had read about the new Crayola store. We made that our first stop. There is every color of crayon and marker available there. One entire wall from floor to ceiling was filled with crayons and markers. A person could choose a box or basket and fill it with your choice of crayon or marker and pay for them at check-out. There are toys, jewelry, stuffed animals coloring books for all ages, as well as clothing. A really fun place to see. As we walked we found stores offering everything you have seen in any mall. Along with the stores the mall offers an Indoor amusement park with rollercoasters and other rides. We saw a water ride, a mini golf course and the aquarium. After walking all four floors and doing a little shopping we headed home.
Beyond all the sightseeing, we enjoyed the cooler summer weather, especially during the later part of our stay.