Well that was a long gap! I’m writing from Tokyo, Japan – my fifth, and most likely last, term teaching here. But I’m going to keep things in order and catch you up on the last few weeks of my summer in the U.S.
The day after I moved out of my apartment in Laramie, I began a long-anticipated road trip with my dear friend, KRC. We’d both become enchanted with Wyoming in the last year and had talked about taking a tour of the state. We also wanted to explore South Dakota, so we decided to make a big loop hitting some famous landmarks. These next two posts will capture that trip.
KRC had plans to be in Hot Springs, SD with another friend for the weekend and the timing worked perfectly for me to drive from Laramie and meet her there. I rented a mini-SUV, moved my belongings to her house on the other side of Laramie, packed my camping gear and extra clothes and hit the road. (After the trip I’d move my things to my parents’ house.)
Day 1: Laramie to Hot Springs
During the mid-1800s, pioneers coming from the East crossed the arid land of Wyoming during the westward migrations. The Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer trails were the routes by which an estimated 500,000 people made their way west. Remnants of these passages can still be seen in many places. I could have easily driven to Hot Springs in four hours, but I wanted to stop along the way to see some of these historical markers. The four-hour journey became seven.
The wagon trains that came across the plains often spread out so as to minimize the dust that was kicked up. But in some places it was necessary for the wagons to travel in a line, one after the other. The ruts left by the wheels of so many wagons can still be seen in several places on the plains. The ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming are the most famous and are cut into the sandstone to a depth of five feet. The center rut was created by people walking behind, often having to help push the wagons through the rocky terrain.
Nearby is the site of Register Cliff which is close to the North Platte River. This was an encampment where the pioneers would rest and resupply before continuing on their journey. Many people left a record of their stop by scratching their names in the soft rock, which became known as Register Cliff.
A cave was dug which was used to store food and other supplies for the travelers.
This location also served as one of 184 stations of the Pony Express. The Pony Express is an important part of American history and was the predecessor of the U.S Postal Service. Mail and packages were carried across the continent by riders in a kind of relay system, making it possible to transport the mail from coast to coast in 10 days. It was in operation for only 18 months, coming to an end when the Civil War broke out, and as the telegraph system became the more efficient way of delivering messages.
Pony Express marker.
All of these features are located near the North Platte River.
Despite the paved roads, scattered modern buildings, signs and vehicles, it was still easy to imagine what this area might have looked like as an encampment for the pioneers so many years ago. I could envision the covered wagons, tents and fires for cooking; people going about their chores and life as they knew it on this unprecedented journey to a place they knew very little about. However hard they thought their trip had been so far, they had no way to predict how much harder it would become as they continued west over the barren land of Wyoming and through the Rocky Mountains. Had they known, they might have decided to stay right here.
I, however, had miles to go and continued on to the border of South Dakota, my 48th state visited (North Dakota and Mississippi are the only ones left).
Welcome to SD, y’all.
See ya later, Wyoming! I miss it already.
Now I was all business and ready to get to my destination. I drove a couple more hours to Hot Springs and found a lovely campground just outside of town. Tucked in my tent on the edge of the Black Hills with a crescent moon above, the first day of exploring new territory had come to cozy end.
Day 2: Hot Springs to Hill City
The next morning I found KRC and her friend Erica walking through Hot Springs. Erica is a magician and they were in HS for a performance she had scheduled there. While walking around, we came upon an exhibit of The Wall. This is a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I’ve been to the memorial in D.C., and this one was no less heart-wrenching than the original. The names are listed on each panel by day of casualty.
Some of the 58,272 names inscribed into The Wall. The dates at the bottom indicate the time period in which those whose names are listed died.
After spending some time reading names and sending silent tributes of honor, we pulled ourselves away and officially began our mini-Grand Tour.
Our next destination was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Lakota Native American Indian and one of the most important and famous chiefs in history. The memorial, near Berne, South Dakota, is in recognition of his legacy and, “to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.”
The memorial will be, when it is finished, the world’s largest mountain sculpture. It was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski, who was commissioned by Lakota Chief Standing Bear to create the monument. It became the life work of Ziolkowski, his wife Ruth, and their 10 children, six of whom are still involved with the project. They established the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and fund the project with donations and admission fees to the visitor complex, and accept no government support. The face of Crazy Horse is complete and was dedicated in 1998. It will be years before the entire structure is finished.
I knew about this sculpture from family members who had been there, but had no idea how extensive the complex was or how much history was presented. The museum had many original Native American artifacts, including letters, ceremonial dress and displays of arrow heads. The most interesting aspect was the documentary film, which told the story of the Ziolkowski Family and their commitment to the memorial. Some interesting facts about the project can be read here.
Model of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The profile as seen from the viewing platform at the visitor’s center.
The visits to the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, while fascinating, were also emotionally exhausting. It was difficult to integrate the historical impact and conflicting feelings that were tripped by these exhibits. But it was also important to acknowledge these emotions and take in the importance of what we were seeing.
After leaving Crazy Horse we headed for Hill City, found a hotel, and pondered the bike rally we’d somehow, unwittingly, found ourselves a part of:
To be continued…