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Billings, Rapid City, Custer State Park

Flying the Edge of America

Saturday, July 19, 2008: Billings, Montana

Fueling 51-Juliet before leaving Yellowstone

It was sad to leave Yellowstone behind us but we made our short drive to the airport and were soon flying off into the wild blue yonder. The flight from Yellowstone to Billings was short, under two hours, and the day was perfect to be flying through the mountains; clear and smooth.

We landed without incident, were picked up by our hotel, and soon found ourselves in downtown Billings, Montana. We walked the streets, found a Starbucks, a farmer's market, and a good brew pub to eat lunch in.

I have to stay we were generally impressed with the food in Billings. Lunch was quite OK with excellent beer. Then dinner was superb in a restaurant called Walkers, which we thought was appropriately named for us, that had an impressive wine collection and served gourmet foods including tapas.

Flight to Billings Video

Sunday, July 20, 2008: Rapid City, South Dakota

The changing countryside

We left Billings early morning for Rapid City and the flight went without a hitch.

We had to laugh out loud at the title of the book in this photo, given its thickness

The countryside is now changing from rugged mountain peaks to 4,000 feet high plains; very flat but still high. The only exception to this picture was when we crossed the border into South Dakota and came upon the Black Hills. These hills are not like the cascades they only reach up to 6,000 or 7,000 feet but they are heavily forested and truly look black; hence the name I guess.

The monument

Once on the road from Rapid City airport it was about 40 minutes drive until we reached Keystone the little tourist town just down the road from Mt. Rushmore. We checked into our hotel and then headed out to see the monument. It is an amazing sight as you come around the bend of the highway and there, right in front of you, is the sculptured mountainside.

We went into the park and walked the President's Trail which takes you as close to the rock face as the public is allowed. All in all it was a fantastic experience even if somehow strangely kitsch. Julia and I look forward to spending the next two days hiking the Custer State Park area.

Flight to Rapid City

Monday, July 21, 2008: Keystone, South Dakota

Julia and I scrabbled on to a granite outcrop for this shot

We took off after breakfast to Custer State Park. The drive there was amazing. Driving through magnificent pine forests, winding roads with hairpin bends, and tunnels carved right through the Granite Mountains!

The wildflowers delighted us once again

Eventually, we arrived at the ranger office and got recommendations on the hikes we should do. We find that mostly the ranger's advice is very helpful. In this case we ended up on a hike that followed a creek, but the problem was there was not a visible trail. So after forging the creek a few times and being covered with grass burs we turned around and headed out. We did not let this setback deter us from experiencing the Black Hills; we looked up our maps and made a decision on another hike.

Returning to the "long and winding road" we were beset by an afternoon thunderstorm and pouring rain. Eventually, we made it to our destination; the Harney Peak trail. This hike was a 10 mile loop which took us through some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen on the trip, and ended up with us on the Harney Peak which is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west for the Pyrenees!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The monument now

Today we visited the Crazy Horse Monument. This is a privately funded effort by a family foundation with the support of most Native American tribes. The story of how the project got started and now continues is amazing. As kitsch as Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse seems to be more admirable. For one thing, it is huge compared to Rushmore, the entire Rushmore monument would fit into the head of Crazy Horse.

Also, in a strange Vegas like way, it does seem a sincere effort to acknowledge the wrong committed to the Native Americans; although this seems a lost cause to me. Because of accommodation issues we had to change the next few flights. So instead of flying to Williston, North Dakota we will fly to Grand Rapids, North Dakota. Also we changed International Falls, Minnesota to Grand Marais, Minnesota. Small changes but they worked out better for us as far as flight times go and the weather.

Black Hills Hike Video

How the monument will look in 60 years or so

From Julia: French fries aren"t usually part of my lunch and dinner every day. But since leaving home in June they seem to be an ever present item on my plate, testing my willpower to its maximum. My two pairs of trip trousers are feeling tighter and tighter on a daily basis. I tell myself this is happening because I"ve been using unfamiliar dryers and Laundromats instead of the home dryer. However, a sneaky voice is whispering in my ear that the fries have something to do with it.

Actually, we have had lots of delicious food on the trip. I suppose there had to be an exception to the rule of good food available everywhere. Last night, we went to one of the top restaurant choices in downtown Keystone for dinner. To wet our appetites and prepare our palates we drank a bottle of wine before leaving the motel. This meant that at dinner we were tipsy enough to wonder whether the herbs in the canned chicken dumpling soup were rosemary or some other fresh delight. Just as we were pondering this culinary question a dark shadow came over the table. At first, I couldn"t figure out who was this grubby looking person interrupting our discussion, when suddenly, with horror, I realized it was the chef. All I can say is sometimes it is better not to know who's opening the cans in the kitchen. This grubby apparition assured us it was a touch of thyme and basil in the soup, and then he seemed to disappear in a puff of greasy smoke as quickly and mysteriously as he had arrived. Miraculously, we did not suffer any ill effects from the food, only a hangover from the wine.


Trip stats

Obama:13

McCain: 1

Miles Hiked: 93

Miles Flown: 2,282

States Visited: 6


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