Last week I was in South Dakota in the Mount Rushmore area with CHNW(crazy half-nekked wife, left) and her CFCF (crazy fully-clothed family, not pictured). Here's why the trip was particularly meaningful for me.
When I was a teen, I found an old snapshot in a drawer at my grandparents' house. It was taken by my grandfather in 1930, when he was traveling around the country looking for work. He was a bricklayer, so he'd go from job to job, wherever he could find them, and send money home to his wife and kids. Along with one of those letters came the photo below, with this enscription on the back.
(For a better view, click the image to enlarge it)
Pretty good handwriting for a Sicilian bricklayer with a limited education, eh? Of course, in his day, schools employed the infamous "Penmanship-or-Die" method.
Below is a shot of me with the photo, in front of the completed project. There are only four heads, not five, as my granddad wrote – not sure if five were planned at the time he was there, or if someone gave him wrong info. He didn't get the names quite right, either. They are, from left to right: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Louis Armstrong.
In the closeup shot of Rue below, you can see some prairie dogs on her head, erecting a primitive antenna of some sort. So much for non-human animals not being able to use tools.
Another cool place we visited is the Crazy Horse monument. This one is WAAAAY bigger than Mt. Rushmore, which is why they've made so little progress and aren't predicted to finish it before the sun goes supernova. In the foreground is a statue of what they would like it to look like, in the background, over 320 miles away, is what it actually looks like.
If you click the bottom pic below to enlarge it, you can make out white lines on the mountain's lower right corner that represent the horse's ear and eye. Settle down, it isn't vandalism, but part of an official change of approach as they reaized that drawing on the mountain is faster and easier than carving it. The drawing is projected to be finished by 2084.
In that same shot, you can see the face of whoever that guy is that is riding Crazy Horse. To give you perspective on the size, three school buses full of fat kids could fit into the nostril, and did in the early nineties during an incredibly strange highway accident. All of the children were rescued, but the buses were left in place for fear of nasal collapse.
We also visited Deadwood, the original city of HBO fame. CHNW and I are big fans of that show and her dad, whom we call "Stranger," is actually an obsessed stalker of it. Here is a pic of Stranger standing out front of the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down.
Inside, they have a small room at the back that is supposedly where the regrettable event actually happened. It is made up to look exactly as it did then with eerily realistic mannequins reenacting the crime. No detail was spared in this uncanny recreation and I can only imagine what it must have cost.
I was so caught up in the moment, I lunged at Bill to warn him of the approaching gunman. Wow, was I embarrassed when I remembered it was 2008 and the whole thing was just a display.
You can also visit the cemetery where all the stars from the TV show are buried: Wild Bill, Clamato Jane, Sherriff Seth Bullock, etc.
Bullock's grave is interesting because people have put various keepsakes and offerings on top of the headstone. Among them are flowers, necklaces, candles, a plastic kid's sherriff badge, various bits of trash and doodads, and numerous business cards, as displayed here by the lovely CHNW. Also interesting is that his full name was apparently "Seth Bullock Pioneer Martha His Wife ." I guess I can understand why he didn't want to go by "Sheriff Wife."
As if it were possible to have even more fun, we did. We took a long, leisurely drive (around 83 hours, by my internal clock) through the outback of South Dakota and saw many gorgeous wildlife-style things. Here are a few samples of our zoological eye feasts that day.
This is the Pronghorned Horse. The park ranger said that thing on her neck is a radio collar. He didn't say what kind of radio the horse likes to listen to, though.
At right, a young moose, yet to grow his antlers.
The Wooly Monkey Horse, left, and the ass of a jackass.
The Great American Bison, or "Buffalo." Before the white man came with his saloons and bar snacks, they are said to have had wings.
Not all buffaloes have underdeveloped twins growing out of their foreheads as this one does. Local people carve these beautiful beasts up with knives and hatchets and eat them like they were popcorn. Many of the locals are the size of buffaloes themselves, as a result.
Our last shot is from the lawn out front of a family museum attraction, where children are taught to shoot lethally sharp objects at their fellow mammals in an attempt to procure a feeling of accomplishment from their suffering.
CHNW and I wanted desperately to get hold of a human child-sized mannequin, paint a target on it and add it to the lineup.
All in all, South Dakota is beautiful and well worth a visit. I'm never comfortable long in places where animals are so blatantly disregarded as individuals and patriotism is so blindly flaunted, but the land was gorgeous and the people were friendly as hell. Your results may vary.