After the disaster that was Thursday, all was rectified on Friday.
I canceled and changed our hotel reservations and worked out Miss Sara's travel arrangements. She is flying into Denver (through Los Angeles-go figure) at 9pm tonight (Saturday) and then leaves Denver via Big Sky Air at 9am Sunday for Sheridan, WY.
That means we have to cut our Rapid City stay by one day, upsetting as that is, it cannot be avoided and its no one's fault (well maybe American Airlines).
Yesterday we left Torrington, WY bright and early. I believe it was 6:15am. I hadn't slept most of the night for a myriad of reasons, one being the freight trains blowing their horns as they passed by the hotel. I may have slept 2 hours but at 5 I was ready to get on the road to the Black Hills - in my estimation, the beginning of our vacation. Syd got up and took and shower and we went down from breakfast then we were on our way.
I sang all the way from Torrington to the Black Hills and Syd slept mostly. She mentioned last night that she thought you slept more on vacations. Sorry sweetie... not mine.
The adrenaline started pumping when we crossed into South Dakota. Then we hit the Black Hills and I felt completely at peace and home. There is something about this place that I cannot explain. It calls to me in the summer almost as much as Michigan does. I love the mix or hills and prairie, the big bright sky and the available wildness.
We drove through Custer and I should have stopped but it was early. Then we drove by Crazy Horse Monument that has been under construction all of my life and hasn't changed much since I first visited the area in 1971. There is a fee to visit but we took some nice pictures from the road.
After that we were on our way to Custer State Park to see the free-roaming animals. We drove through the park for quite some time before we finally found the roaming band of wild (or not so wild) burros that occupy the park. There seemed to be fewer than normal but they were still as pushy as ever.
Prior to and after the burros there was the solo Pronghorned Deer here and there and single White-Tailed Deer. At one point we did glimpse in the distance a small herd of antelope or deer, and even one mammoth buffalo alone on a ridge.
A few miles later we found the first large herd of mature buffalo grazing with their babies. It seemed for each adult there was a calf - but there were bulls in the herd as well. We hung around for awhile watching and took some good photos and continued on and a few minutes later came across an even larger herd on the move. There were several hundred and they were all moving in the same direction.
Just as we got to an intersection the lead bull started crossing the road. Anyone behind us surely had to wait at least an hour to continue as there were that many bison crossing the road.
From the Wilderness Loop we drove the Needles Highway and stopped several times to take in the breathtaking views - many of which I have enjoyed several times when I lived here as a teenager.
After filling up the mini-van in Hill City (I dont remember this town) we decided we would go to Mt Rushmore the next day and would instead go into Rapid City and have lunch, walk around, check into our hotel and take a nap. I was exhausted. Exhausted isn't a good thing when you are driving the Needles Highway.
As we were approaching Rapid City I checked my voicemail and called Kevin. My connection was horrible and kept dropping but during the conversation we both expressed our fondness for this place.
Then we descended into the valley and it all became so familiar. Its been 12 years since I was last here and 16 prior to that but it instantly feels like a homecoming. We drove into town then I took a right and found the place that mom and I lived. It was a dump and probably was back then too since mom never had more than a minimum wage job and dad didn't contribute. I remember it as being older but the owner had just renovated the building and it was nice.... its not so nice anymore.
From there we drove downtown (5 minutes away - if that) and parked in front of the old fire station which is now a popular restaurant. We walked around downtown, finding the Elk's Theater where I worked while we lived here.
The oldest theater in South Dakota, still in business after all these years and the memories of my life started flashing before my eyes.
This is no exaggeration. I started seeing my 17 year old self looking out from behind the ticket stand and the concession counter. I could see the girl's I worked with.. Lynette Fink and Diana (I cant remember her last name or the name of the third girl). Behind my sunglasses my eyes teared as my heart swelled with emotion.
I realized that this is the place I left Chris. This is the last place I saw myself as a child, as an innocent. It was after leaving here that I took on the role of adult, a role I took on way too early in life.
Rapid City is that last place I was a child and the last place I knew innocent pleasure. Here, I was a kid with pure joy and happiness in my heart and mind and I cant say Ive ever had a sustained period of either since.
At 17, a senior in high school, Mom and I left Rapid City and within two months I was an enlistee in the United States Air Force, and less than two years later was married to a woman with two children.
It is little wonder why this place holds such magic for me. I had never thought about any of this before. Being here it is all I can think about. Im very happy but really miss the innocence of that beautiful blond boy. Unfortunately, he is gone...forever.
After walking around downtown and eating at the Firehouse we checked into our hotel (a two room suite) and I took a long coming 3 1/2 hour nap. After which we went downstairs to walk around the Black Hills Heritage Festival being held directly in front of the hotel (as the Civic Center). We then walked across the street, split a fajita and came back to the room and crashed.
I told Sydney we were going to get up early in the morning to go to Mt Rushmore before the crowds but she needs her sleep so I will let her sleep for another hour (9 hours).
I gave been sitting here looking out the window which overlooks downtown. I want to get out there and look around. I want to go to my favorite lake, Pactola Reservoir and walk among the trees.
I'm so happy today. I slept better than normal and I am in a place that brings me complete happiness... just for being... not any other reason.
Today is going to be a great day.