Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Running away from Floods, part 4: Monday (and coming back to floods)

More from my journal:

September 18, 2013 12:58 am

I finally did get to sleep, though, and I slept until 10:00 am. Tim said he and the kids started a new fire while I was sleeping and they had fun roasting all kinds of things. Roasted mini powdered donuts was a big hit, apparently. They said that was really really good. I guess the chocolate covered minis were also good toasted over the fire, but they got a little drippy. Roasted pear was pretty good, except pears are not complemented by pine smoke flavoring (although roasting them is yummy).

By the time I woke up, Benji and Nathanael were back asleep again, Nathanael in the van and Benji in Tim's sleeping bag.

The other kids and Tim went on a little hike and learned there was a fence around the campground to keep buffalo out. Buffalo! While they explored the nature trail, I heard an elk bugling! Tim had warned me that he'd heard them early in the morning. It was a cool sound. Appropriate, too, since we were camping on “Elk Mountain,” which was so “mountainous” that even Elijah climbed to the top in about 10 minutes. Elk sort-of-Hill was more like it. Cool campground, though. Except they had discovered when they woke up that the burrs Anda had pulled out of her sweater were actually little round cacti! And there were little cacti growing all over our campsite on the ground! How the kids managed to avoid that when they were running around in their stocking feet the night before in the dark is beyond me. I had managed to drop her sweater on them when I dropped it on the ground. Surprising nobody else got them.

Anyway, while the kids explored with Tim (who hadn't sleep almost at all), I cleaned up the camp and started packing things away. Got clean clothes on everyone and then Tim re-packed the van, we put the fire out, and ate the rest of the breakfast food, and we set out for Mount Rushmore, which was supposedly 30 miles away.

It took us longer to get there than we planned because as we left the campground, we found a whole herd of buffalo, including young ones and babies, standing right beside the road by the van. They were so close that Tim didn't dare get out of the van to get his camera from the back . So we drove up the road a ways, got his camera, and circled back. Buffalo are very very large animals, and very impressive. They were so very cool to look at up close.

After we'd had our fill of gazing on buffalo, we continued on toward Rushmore. That whole area is AMAZING. Gorgeous forests, neat rocks, wildlife galore. We saw flocks of wild turkeys, herds of deer, antelopes, and buffalo. At least one rabbit, at least one chipmunk, at least one raccoon. Lots of birds. It was so cool.

The road to Rushmore is winding and cool. Takes you through some very impressive forests and mountains, with some amazing views. My favorite part were the tunnels blasted through rock in the 1920s—square tunnels, with only one lane through them. Some of the roads were split, with the two lanes going through different parts of the woods, so we felt like we were driving on a path (one lane, no shoulders or anything). As you come out of the tunnels, often you can see Rushmore in the distance. It was cool to go through the drive—felt very retro, like something you might have done in the 1940s. Also, the pigtail bridge curves were cool. They twist like a little piggy's tail, so that you can do hairpin curves without having to turn so sharply—so you do one leaf of a clover as the turn instead, going over and then immediately under the same bridge. Tim said it accommodated busses in the old days.

We were disappointed to find that it costs $11 to park at Mount Rushmore. Good for a year pass, but who wants to look at that place for a year?! I would gladly camp in those woods and mountains for days, but not Rushmore itself. It's a one-time-and-you've-seen-it kind of place.

Mount Rushmore is a giant monument to the hubris of the 1920s. It is a huge unfinished sculpture that's kind of amazing and kind of disgusting. It reminded me of the time my family went to the Grand Canyon and Ben looked down into it and said, “Where is it?” We said, “Where is what?” He said, “The Grand Canyon.” That's kind of how we all felt. And that was kind of how Rushmore felt. Oh, so they carved some big faces in the cliffs and left a giant tailings heap below? Cool? I mean, it's a big rock sculpture. Cool, I guess, 10,000 years people are still going to see those faces there and...well, I just couldn't stop thinking about Ozymandias.

Oh, I forgot Hot Springs. On the way from Gordon, NE, to Mount Rushmore, you drive through Hot Springs, SD, and that was an awesome town! I want to go back there some day. It's nestled in mountains and was super cool. If we had known how cool it would be, we would have planned a day there all by itself. So much to see. Touristy town, for sure, but one with some class and a lot of quirkiness about it. It reminded me of Manitou Springs, CO.

Anyway, some of the kids tried to become Junior Rangers at Rushmore, but they all ended up having more fun running up and down in the giant amphitheater than working on the junior ranger badge requirements. They also loved the part of the museum exhibit about how Rushmore was made where you push a button to select a part of the statue, and then you push down the T-trigger to set off the dynamite, and it shows that part of the sculpture being blasted using historical footage on a screen. The boys thought that was a blast (hahaha...) getting a turn to explode the mountain themselves. Benji was disappointed, though, that dynamite looks a lot like a small toilet paper tube in real life. I was disappointed that we didn't have time to hike to the artists' cottage.

As we were leaving, a couple asked us to take their picture. We did, and they said, 'Thanks, where're you from?” and I said, “Colorado,” and they said, 'Which part?” and I said, “Boulder County” and they said, “Oh, we've been watching the news. Is your house okay?” Everywhere I went, people were really nice and supportive about that, sending happy wishes and prayers with us that our home would be okay and our community would be able to rebuild, and looking for news. I was touched by how often this conversation played out and how often people were kind and supportive and truly mourning with us.

Around dinnertime, we left Rushmore and drove a mile into Keystone, SD. It's also a touristy town. The best parts are around the bends out of sight through town, but it lacked the charm of Hot Springs.

Unfortunately, everything in Keystone was closed for the season. Finally we found a Subway that was open and had free wi-fi so we could get dinner and the directions home. No interstate freeways go anywhere near Rushmore in any way that would be useful to us (I think one leads east from Rapid City, which is half an hour north of Rushmore—both wrong directions for us).

So we wrote down the directions to get home, and Tim was too tired to drive, so I set out. Every 15 minutes or so I would wake him and have him read me the next set of instructions, and we started the 5 ½ hour drive home at about 8:00 pm.

It was a easy drive, although I noticed just in time that I had turned the wrong way once—would have taken us 40 miles in the wrong direction if I hadn't noticed the sign said “East” and woken Tim up to figure out where I went wrong (I skipped a step).

I drove 3 hours before we stopped to go potty. Then Tim drove an hour.

And at midnight, we gave up. We were 45 miles north of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on I-25 when he realized he was too tired to drive anymore, and so was I. So we pulled off at a dark exit, one exit before Chugwater, to have a little nap. It was a cool spot, parked at the foot of this amazing rock formation with a balanced boulder on top, black against a brilliant starry sky with a nearly full moon.

Unfortunately, the front seats in the van don't recline. So Tim grabbed his pillow and fell asleep sitting upright in the driver's seat. I shuffled things about for a bit, nursed the baby, and got all the kids settled into sort-of-sleeping positions.

To our surprise (and the kids' fascination), we hadn't been parked more than 10 minutes before a big dark gray pitbull appeared and circled the van, watching the kids. After a while, it ran off. But then I was afraid to let anyone out of the van, and only Anda got out once (to go potty) because strange pitbulls in the dark in the middle of nowhere don't seem like a good idea for kids.

I drifted in and out of sleep, watched the moon set behind the cool balanced rock. Watched the stars. I kept waking up and praying that we needed to drive safely home now, and then falling dead asleep again. I had Jack in my arms and his car seat was inaccessible from my spot in the front seat. I was very uncomfortable, and kept waking to be sure I didn't drop him. Finally, I stole a stuffed animal from Nathanael and used it to prop Jack up so we could both sleep. Even then, though, it was very uncomfortable.

We finally woke up and got going again at 5:30 am, just before dawn. We stopped in Cheyenne for information on road closures (freeway was open!), and to let me drive. Tim promptly fell asleep again, and I got us home okay. It was a little bit of a shock to drive into Longmont at 7:30 am and find it was a serious traffic jam from I-25 seven miles to Hover Street, and then down Hover St. to 119. We got off and went around a back way because the traffic was terrible going south, so we went around and came at our house going north and that was much better.

We got home around 8:00 am (many hours later than we planned) and unloaded the van. Kids and I went to bed. Tim showered and went to work (and didn't get to go to bed until 9:00 pm!)

It was an amazing trip--difficult in many ways, especially for Tim, and super fun in other ways.  I'm not sure we'll be touring with Tim any more. He needs to sleep on trips, and he can't with us being awake all night. We don't have to decide now, though, so I might be wrong about that.

But certainly we have more adventures and trips in our future because I like them. Even with 7 kids in the car.

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