Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back to My Past

OK, round two of my South Dakota/Wyoming vacation recap...I know hearing about other people's vacations is always everyone's top priority!  Last week Justin went to visit his company's office in Sheridan, WY, and I went with him.  And we went without Ben and Tessa.  YEEE HAW!  It was fabulous.  I read two books.  TWO BOOKS in three days!!!  I used to do that all the time but not lately.  On Wednesday morning I brought Ben and Tessa to Justin's mom and then returned to Bismarck quickly to pack.  It is during this moment that I spend approximately an hour in our house by myself!  Tee hee hee...I don't think I have ever been in this house by myself. 
This trip was especially interesting to me because we were going to be visiting the land of my early childhood.  When I was in preschool through first grade my family lived in Gillette, WY, and the Black Hills and all of their attractions were a regular vacation destination for us.  The order of our trip was as follows: 
-Sheridan, WY
-Gillette, WY
-Mount Rushmore
-Deadwood, SD
-MN Lakes country and diapers, tantrums and screaming
As we set off on Wednesday afternoon the diapers and tantrums seemed delightfully far away.  We stopped at the Painted Canyon visitor's center in Western ND on the way.  I knew we were truly in Western ND when I saw the signs around the area telling people to clean up after their dogs and their horses if they happened to be riding horses.  There are lots of riding trails around the canyon.

Believe it or not, I can't remember ever stopping at this scenic diversion even though I travel West on I-94 at least once a year if not more.  Usually the trip is in winter, so I guess it wouldn't be as fun in the cold and snow. 
We arrived in Laramie just as the sun was going down but I have to say that the highway that runs between I-94 and I-90 is sure beautiful.  It seems deserted but the farms and fields are lush and green so you know someone is there.  It was almost too dark to see the Big Horn Mountains as they came into view but I knew I could see them in the morning. 
Laramie is a really fun city.  If you imagine what Wyoming might be like this is it! 
Our hotel and Justin's office were on opposite ends of the main street (called Main St.!) and while Justin was at the office I visited every cute boutique and bookstore and coffee shop.  We at lunch on a patio and I drank beer (yeaahhh!) and that afternoon after I got sick of shopping I sat in the hotel room and read for several hours.  I was in heaven.  That night we visited a local brewery and ate at a restaurant and sat at the bar (no need for high chairs or booster seats!). 
The next morning we headed off toward the Black Hills.  On the way, we stopped in Gillette to see the places of my childhood.  We lived their from 1987-1989.  I remember a cozy neighborhood where we walked to the pool and the park and school and that is what we found to still be there. 
I attended Stocktrail Elementary school I found the address when I searched on the Internet for it. It was on the map that Google gave me.  When we were in the neighborhood we drove around in circles trying to find Stocktrail and finally asked some women on coffee break stroll and they informed us that it had been torn down three years ago! 

There it is, the former Stocktrail!  I guess they tore it down because it was old. I don't remember it being that old (even though I know that was like 25 years ago).  I would guess it was from the 1950's or 1960's.  They built a new elementary school at a different location and might build another new one at this location.  The population of Gillette has doubled since we lived there so I guess it is no surprise that the school situation has changed.

Here is a picture of the back yard of our old house from the alley.  That garage was not there back then and the yard seemed much larger without it. We had one of those metal 1980' era A-frame swing sets back there.

There is the front!  I tried to be discreet since I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable with seeing an out of state vehicle with people snapping pictures of random houses through the windows.  It is not a big house but it seemed huge to me as a little kid in elementary school.  My parents did a lot of renovations and finished the basement.  I remember the day we left it for the last time before my family moved overseas and then back to ND and it was really sad.  I rang the doorbell but no one was home.  I wish I could have seen the interior and met them but oh well, another time. 

After leaving Gillette, on the way to Mt. Rushmore, we drove by Crazy Horse and decided to stop for a quick visit. 

I remember being here in the 80s and not really understanding what was going on.  I guess I thought that the white chalk drawings on the side of the mountain were what we were there to see.  This huge carving has a very interesting history dating back to the 1940s that is too long for me to get into now.  If you care you can look it up!  Basically the sculptor started work with nothing but himself and some carving tools and dynamite.  He lived at the base of the mountain and he and his wife raised 10 children there who all were involved with the work.  He has died but the work goes on.  The face was finished in 1998. 

It is taking so long because they refuse government funding and the whole thing has been paid for by private donations.  It really is huge.  That tunnel under the pointing arm is thirty stories high!
We finally arrived at Mt. Rushmore as the skies were clouding up.  I saw it as a little kid just like the rest of the Black Hills attraction but Justin never had.  We walked through the huge pavilion leading to the observation area and started taking pictures. 

After taking a few pictures of the faces and one of me with the faces the camera battery died.  Lovely.  So we found a wall outlet in a staircase and Justin watched the charger while I went to get us ice cream cones.  While I was waiting in line for all the pokey families to rattle off their specific orders (too bad for them having to deal with their little kids! Tee hee...) it started pouring rain outside so Justin had to take cover.  Everyone packed into the indoor food court and gift shop and soon we were ready to get out of there.  Mt. Rushmore is kind of a tourist trap.  There were many large groups of foreign tourists similar to the groups of tourists I saw in Europe.  I'm not knocking it because I have been a tourist too but throngs of people all trying to photograph the same scene gets pretty annoying. 
I hope we can visit Mt. Rushmore again.  It is an amazing sight and makes you feel proud and patriotic. There are trails that you can hike around there to get different views and that would have been fun if it hadn't been pouring rain.
 I kept thinking of the line from the movie "Drop Dead Gorgeous", where contestant Becky Lehman, played by Denise Richards, pays tribute to Mt. Rushmore:
"I chose Mount Rushmore, 'cause to live in a country where you can take an ugly old mountain and put faces on it, faces of great Americans who did so much to make our country super great, well that makes me, Rebecca Leeman, proud to be an American!"
Well said, Becky Leeman, it is super great...

Sorry Justin, I got the last picture before the battery died!

Our next stop was Deadwood, SD.  Deadwood is a Black Hills tourist town nested in a deep valley.  It is basically one main street lined with attractions.  I have seen a lot of mixed reviews about Deadwood these last few weeks on social media.  Some people love it and some people don't.  I think the consensus is that Deadwood is just a bunch of crappy casinos and bars with over the top old west themes and it is no fun for kids.  Well, no fun for kids usually means fun for adults so I found that I loved Deadwood! 

We missed the staged old west outlaw gun fight on the street but there were references to Wild Bill Hickok (who was shot in Deadwood) and his friends everywhere.  The building where he was shot is still there. 

It's no Vegas but it still looked pretty lit up at night!
We got busy doing "Deadwood" type activities and went to a casino, drank, and then took some "Old West" portraits.  The costume girls did not seem very impressed with my body in a corset (my costumer said, with a dismayed face, "I will try to make this more sexy" as she pulled and adjusted it...) but the black and white edit covers many flaws. 
These look kind of distorted...we don't have a digital copy so I took a picture of the pictures with my phone.  This activity is extra gimmicky an overpriced but is definitely something fun to do every once and a while! 
As the night went on I was pretty pleased with myself for not losing any money in the slot machines.  I won $20, then lost it, then won again but was disappointed with myself when I lost $8 while Justin was playing black jack.  I stopped before really going in the hole but got bored and put my $12 ticket in some Egyptian themed penny slot machine and...

Yeaaaaahh!  I am still kind of gloating about this.  And it really was almost all profit!  It made me fell validated for the shopping I did in Sheridan.  Justin won some cash at black jack too, and we made our exit before we were tempted to gamble any more. 
I already hope to return to this area next year.  As the kids get older I know it will be fun with them too.  There are many water and theme parks and animal oriented attractions that I loved as a kid.  Reptile Gardens, anyone?  Bear Country?  Flintstone Village?  Its all great! 

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