The Great American Road Trip: Part Five — The Long Journey Home Begins

Nine or ten days in the car stopping off at American sites of great natural beauty and historical wonder.  With three kids.

The results were surprising to us all.

Click here to view Part Four.

Day Six:  Custer, SD to Sioux City, IA

The Comfort Inn in Custer was built into the side of one of the Black Hills.  It was a great place to stay.

At breakfast, a very friendly young woman from Eastern Europe hustled about the room to make guests as comfortable as possible.  We had met college-aged men and woman from places such as Russia, Ukraine and Romania.  They were working at Wall Drug and at various locales in the Black Hills.  They were all vivacious, energetic and helpful.  Upon checking out of the hotel, I asked the clerk about these people.

“They’ll all here on J-1 visas,” she replied.  “Aren’t they great?”  She then added, “We can’t get American kids for the summer.”

I agreed that they were all very nice.  I then asked the lady how she felt about people who were against immigration.

“Well,” she said.  “They should come here and do these jobs themselves.”

The J-1 visa is issued to over 300,000 college students from other countries to come to America for four months at a time.  It was created during the Kennedy administration, and was intended to encourage cultural exchange.  This was a Cold War attempt at winning the hearts and minds of our “enemies.”

Today, there is controversy over whether some employers are using the J-1 students as a “guest worker” labor force.  The J-1 program was never intended to be fill this role.  This summer J-1 workers went on strike at the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania.  But, perhaps this a topic for a future blog post.

We viewed the Crazy Horse Monument from the road.

Getting back to us, we stopped at the Crazy Horse Monument just a few minutes down the road from Custer.  In 1939, Korczak Ziolkowsi (who had worked under Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore) was invited by Lakota tribal elders to build a monument on the same scale as Rushmore.  Ziolkowsi began the work in 1948.

Blasting almost entirely on his own, Ziolkowsi continued the project until his death in 1982.  Since then, his wife and seven of their children have worked to continue the project.  It is privately funded.  The ultimate goal is that, when finished, the mountain sculpture will form the centerpiece of a campus that includes the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian University of North America and Medical Training Center.

This objective remains ambitious.  The sculpting is interesting in light of the fact that Crazy Horse (the victor of Little Bighorn) did not allow himself to be photographed, and his burial site was kept secret.  So, no one really knows what he looked like.We continued on to our morning’s objective, Bear Country U.S.A.  This was The Fashionista’s choice.  Overall, our expectations were low.  Happily, this game park turned out to be great.  We drove through various reserves first:

Then we parked the car and got out to see the animal babies in a separate section of the park:

We had fun there.  But, Island Boy was not happy.  He wanted to see a donkey.  If possible, a talking donkey.

We said bye-bye to the Black Hills and began our journey through Rapid City and then eastward through South Dakota on I-90 — a different route than we had taken to get to the western part of the state.

Originally, we had wanted to visit the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation — the setting for On The Rez, the book that began our interest in The Mount Rushmore State.  However, we came to realize that our gawking in this sovereign nation would do no good.  It was not as if there were any attractions there enabling us to pump dollars into the local economy. The monument for the Battle of Wounded Knee (something The Major would like to visit) is apparently not developed for tourism.  Perhaps another time.

We reached the Missouri River by lunch time.  Our meal at Taco John’s (a local “Mex-West” chain) was not Running Girl’s favorite repast of all time.

We then took in a fascinating exhibit about Lewis & Clark located on a bluff high above the river in Chamberlain.  The intrepid explorers had passed through this area twice — once on the way out, and again on the way home.

Recreation of the explorers' flatboat

Of course, IB made a friend on board.

We learned: what they brought on board; what they ate; how they propelled their boats upstream; and how well they got on with the locals.

At this point, dear reader, I bet you’re saying: Those Kay Nou folks have squeezed as much out of South Dakota as is possible.

But, you would be wrong.

In Mitchell, SD, we stopped at:

That’s right — the world’s only Corn Palace.

Actually, Mitchell has another famous monument.  This one happens to be a living, breathing human being.  89-year old former U.S. Senator, George McGovern.  WWII hero.  Democratic nominee for president in 1972.  Just imagine if he had been elected instead of that other fellow.  What was his name?  Oh, yeah.  Richard something.  Sen. McGovern still lives in this town.

As evening was falling, we hit Sioux Falls — the only part of the trip where we briefly retraced our steps.  We arrived at virtually the same time of day as we had four days earlier.  While driving through, we saw the same hot air balloon aloft.  They must launch it every day at the same time.

The Comfort Inn in Custer was so nice that we booked a suite at the same hotel in our destination, Sioux City, Iowa.  We bade our beloved South Dakota a fond farewell as we crossed into the Hawkeye State.  The scenery immediately turned leafy green.

Unfortunately, Sioux City was flooded.  The Missouri River had overflowed its banks, inundating the city’s treasured and highly-touted waterfront.  We never got to see it.

Before going to our hotel, we crossed the bridge and drove a few miles into Nebraska.  Even so, it’s hard to say with a straight face that we’ve been there.

The name Comfort Inn did not suit our hotel.  It was just the opposite.

There was an extremely tangy smell in the air.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Then, as I laid my head down on the pillow, I figured it out…

— Running Girl & The Major


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