Friday, September 30, 2011


We had beautiful sunny comfortable weather 9 days out of our recent 10-day road trip. The only day when it was pouring was when we were in Iowa. I am bringing back the Friday Sky series (Hey Qaptain Qwerty, it is not "Friday Freaks") with these photos taken while we were in South Dakota.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


During America's Westward Expansion, Sturgis was originally a stop for the "bullwhackers" (wagon drivers) on their way to Fort Meade. The town was also known as "Scooptown" because soldiers who came in were "scooped" (cleaned out) by characters such as Poker Alice, a famed cigar-smoking scoop expert. Now Sturgis is known for its annual motorcycle rally, the biggest rally in the country.

The first rally in 1938 consisted of nine (that is right, 9), started by a local motorcycle club. It grew and grew to the current count of almost half a million (that is 500,000). During the rally in August, only motorcycle traffic is allowed on Main Street. There would be hordes of Harley riders along US-83, heading to the edge of the Black Hills. Hotels, campgrounds and restaurants are filled with not only riders but also those with a dark side of wanting to be free and wild :)
While at Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, we constantly were asked by others whether we were at the Mustang Rally. It was just a coincidence that we were in South Dakota during Labor Day weekend when the 5th annual Sturgis Mustang Rally was held. The event started on Thursday and ended on Monday. CP was again extremely pleased when people (mostly men, of course) made comments about the Mustang such as, "Nice pony, it should be in the parade!"

It was almost 6:00 p.m. so the streets were empty since all the visitors were gone after the rally. We walked around and went into a few stores that opened late. We talked to a really nice gentleman who came to America from Iran late 70s. He went to Boston to study civil engineering. He came to South Dakota to work for a company. He later bought the gift shop from a co-worker. "I am very happy to be here", he said. A nice story similar to my America story, and a wonderful example of what our America is about.

We both had steaks for dinner at Easyriders Saloon. After dinner, we checked into the hotel. We saw the sign telling hotel guests to use the cloth from the rag bins and not the good towels from the room to clean their motorcycles/cars. We set the alarm for me to get up early for an appointment with the tattoo artist at 7:15 a.m. - haa haa.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Monday, September 5th - We continued north from Hot Springs (US385), then to SR244 to Crazy Horse Memorial Monument and to Mount Rushmore National Memorial monument.

The admission was $11 per vehicle. After finding a nice spot (away from all other cars, especially those gas-guzzling SUVs with big, wide doors) for the Mustang, we walked from the parking lot, up the steps, down the Avenue of Flags, toward the Monument.
It was a beautiful sunny and comfortable day - such the day that made me feel so blessed to be alive, sort-of in good health, proud to be an "interesting" American and to be living in America!

At the memorial, there are many facilities including Carvers Cafe & Gift Shop, the Mount Rushmore Bookstore, the Sculptor's Studio (on-site studio for sculptor Gutzon Borglum but only open during the summer season), and Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center. Lincoln continued the work after his father died in 1941. Once again due to the tight schedule, we had to skip the 1/2 mile trail that would take visitors to the base of the mountain for a closer look at the monument.

Looking up at the 60-foot heads of the four U.S. Presidents on a 5,675-foot granite peak, I was a bit surprised that the monument was not as big as I have imagined. The carving began in 1927. George Washington's head was finished in 1930, next were Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and the last head of Theodore Roosevelt was finished in 1941. Thomas Jefferson's head was supposed to be on the right side of George Washington. Workers cut the stone, but it was not strong enough for the sculpture and had to be blasted away. The 2nd try placed Jefferson's head on the left side of Washington.
"... let us place there, carved high, as close as heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away." Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore Sculptor, 1930.

When I saw the motorcycles (below photo), a thought came to my mind, what would these presidents, WJRL, prefered as mode of transportation, motorcycles or the Mustang? (The readers probably are thinking, "TOTA, you sure have weird thoughts!") I would guess that Washington would drive the Mustang for comfort and because he was a rather serious and proper individual.

Jefferson would drive the motorcycle because it would allow him to explore the surrounding (or checking what Lewis and Clark missed). Roosevelt also would ride the Harley being that he was an avid outdoor man. Mr. Lincoln himself would have to be in the T-bird with the top down to accomodate his tall hat - haa haa.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Don "Nick" Clifford (his wife Carolyn was standing next to him in the above photo) who was one of Mount Rushmore workers from 1938-1940. Mr. Clifford worked as a driller. Dangling in mid-air, the drillers used jackhammers to drill holes in the side of the mountain. They hung on to the drills while chipping away the stone (back then there was no agency called OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration - to enforce safety on the job sites). Next to Mr. Clifford was the honeycomb rock that carvers made small holes in the rock so they could carve details.

I bought two copies, one for myself and one to send to my nephew, JL. I thought the book would be an educational item for JL than another t-shirt or something that was mass-produced in China!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


It was one of those "someone-please-pinch-me-so-I-know-I-am-not-dreaming" moments (just like when I was at the Grand Caynon last year or in 2008 when we attended Mass at Basilica di San Pietro in Rome). You could read books, watch movies or see the photographs, but nothing could be compared to actually being there, so close that you almost could reach out and touch the face of Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota in about 1842. He belonged to the Oglala tribe of Sioux Indians. (As a child, Crazy Horse was called Curly Hair because of his curly, light brown hair.) This brave Sioux Chief was known as the warrior who led the fight and defeated Custer and the United States 7th Calvary at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. This battle was the greatest military victory in the history of the Sioux and Cheyenne people fighting for their freedom, preserving their culture and protecting their land.

Crazy Horse Memorial Monument is a non-profit, educational and culture project financed primarily from admission fee which is $10 per person. The three wings of the building of the Indian Museum of North America has almost 20,000 artifacts. If only we would have at least a whole week! For more information, visit

(A motorcycle rider in front of us waited until she got up to the window to "slowly" pulled out her wallet, "slowly" presented her credit card to pay for the $10 admission fee. A few more vehicles behind us. She put her credit card back into her wallet. She then put her wallet in her pocket. She asked for a receipt. More vehicles behind the vehicles behind us. Then she "slowly" pulled put her wallet and "slowly" put the receipt in the wallet. Called me "TOTA - a grumpy geezer" but visitors should have money (cash or credit card) ready when they get to the window.)

Above is the 1/34th scale model of the actual size of the monument. The model is located on the Viewing Veranda. More than 8 million tons of granite have been blasted off the mountain. The monument, still being carved from the granite of Thunderhead Mountain, when complted, is supposed to be 563 feet high and 641 feet long when, or if it ever would be completed. (I know for sure it won't be within my lifetime.)

We had to again keep to the schedule and could not stay to watch Legends in Light, a laser-light storytelling presented at dark nightly during summertime. The mountain is lighted nightly at dark for one hour in the off-season.
Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) knew that the project would not be completed in his lifetime, so he left detailed plans to be used with the scale model allowing others to continue the work. Korczak was born in Boston, a Polish descent (could be my husband's cousin), and as an orphaned, he grew up in foster homes. Visit to read more about this great sculptor and how he was invited by Chief Standing Bear to carve the monument so the world would know that the red man also has great heroes.

The American frontier was officially closed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1890. President Thomas Jefferson thought it would take over 2,000 years for the population to fill up the land that once was a wild, uncharted, unsettled space. It took only 80 years for people of all races and around the world and their American Dreams to complete these United States, all 50 States, stretching from coast to coast and beyond (Alaska and Hawaii).

Do you share the "Manifest Destiny" belief that Americans had the right to all the western land all the way to the Pacific Ocean and that the Westward Expansion was a magnificient accomplishment of the creation of a nation or are you haunted by the destruction of Native American culture, the loss of innumerable species of animals and natural resources by the early settlers with permission from the government in the name of exploration while ripping apart what once was sacred land?

Friday, September 23, 2011


After driving through a sea of corn in the heartland Iowa and too-many-to-count farmhouses that dotted as-far-as-the-eye-can-see flat cornfields,

we continued on to Nebraska, a land that once was the "great American desert" occupied by Native Americans and millions of buffalos roaming the open space, the Cornhuskers becomes a "breadbasket" State, providing corn, wheat and cows to the rest of America. We drove east to west on US-30 through vast tracts of rangeland (my husband laughed at me when I got the horses and the cows mixed up - heh heh). The land gradually slopes upward, stretching to the Rocky Mountains,

we finally arrived to the land of the proud and mighty Sioux, the Lakota, Dakota or Nakota. Hot Springs, South Dakota is a very nice town and I wished we could spend more time there.

South Dakota is exactly what I have imagined all these years - charming, romantic and filled with fascinating history of the Old West. I wished we were not bounded by the schedule (wedding in Colorado), I would love to slow down and enjoyed more of the mountain scenery and so many breath-taking natural beauty.

The mountains shaped by the glaciers that chiseled the landscape thousands of years ago, leaving large boulders in the middle of the plains where warriors once hunted buffalos by horseback.

We had to stay on schedule (as other typical tourists) following the signs pointing to Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.

When we got out to take photos in Hot Springs, I discovered that I no longer wore my pearl bracelet. I first looked around my seat and in the back of the car but did not find the bracelet. CP asked and I told him I didn't remember when I last had it on or where I might drop it. I explained to CP that the bracelet was not a special keepsake. I bought it because it was on sale, after Valentine special at 50% off (the store charged higher price to take advantage of the men who would not dare to forget to get his lady something on this supposedly romantic day). I also received a coupon for 30% off, including discounted merchandise. For a bracelet that cost less than $100, we decided to continue on our Westward journey. There is no turning back, especially when we might have to go back to Sidney, Nebraska!

It was a good decision that we did not waste our time looking for the bracelet because we found it when we got home and after unloaded everything in the trunk. I probably dropped it when we took out the overnight bags at night or loading up in the morning. CP said he would fix the clasp for me. Lesson learned - Weigh your options accordingly because letting go or accepting loss could be one of the best decisions in your life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Monday, September 5th - The roads (Highway 385) in the year of 2011 were much improved compared to 1874 when the miners and pioneers started pouring into the Western Trails (Oregon/California Trail) in search of gold. Instead of the Conestoga wagons that carried essentials items such as barrels of flour, cornmeal, sugar and coffee, pots and pans, tools and all household items, we travelled on paved roads in the Mustang and only had to bring enough clean clothes, cell phones, iPod, cameras and credit cards to pay for hotels, gas and meals. (Conestoga, Pennsylvania was where the wagons were made, thus the name of the wagons.)

Along scenic US-64 was a clay and sandstone spire resembling a factory chimney, rooted in Nebraska's North Platte Valley. Chimney Rock was the most famous landmark on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails during the great migration West. It was a comfort to million weary travelers/pioneers to see this landmark, like a beacon, letting them know that they were on the right path trudging westward across the continent. Early travelers also knew that Chimney Rock marked the end of the prairies and the beginning of treacherous mountain range and steep canyons lay ahead.

Chimney Rock rose almost 500 feet above the south bank of the North Platte River. Starting as a cone-shaped mound, it became a narrow 150-foot column after being striked by lightening, and erosion from wind and rain.

I read on a website that the native American had a different name for Chimney Rock. They did not have chimney back then, so the appropriate name for such rock formation was given a name as a "private part" of a male elk. (No comment about this bit of information, please. This is a clean, family, PG-13 blog.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Built in a dusty field outside of Alliance, Nebraska, Carhenge was created by a farmer named Jim Reinders, as a memorial to his father. According to the brochure, "Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge, England's ancient alignment of stones that chart the phases of the sun and the moon. Carhenge was created from vintage automobiles, the dimensions of the Carhenge replicate Stonehenge."

Instead of the mysterious circle of rock slabs, "The cars are primarily from the 1950's and 1960's. They are planted trunk down and rise 15 to 17 feet. The cars are approximately 7 feet wide; the same size as the standing stones of Stonehenge."

All 38 of the major stones at Stonehenge are cleverly represented at Carhenge. Also on the site is the Car Art Reserve, which features a number of sculpture pieces (below photos - can you find Benjamin?) made entirely of cars and/or car parts.
Visit for more information.

You did not think we would leave our "child" at home, did you? Benjamin was a good boy, he never asked "Are we there yet?".

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sunday, September 4th - We were at Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles for almost 2 hours. My father-in-law served in World War II and being an engineer/mechanically handy man, my husband paid extra attention to the machines on display. CP was pleasantly surprised to find the M16 Half Track. He remembered that his Dad told him that it was the vehicle Pa drove during the war.

There are tanks and helicopters outside the museum. Inside the large building, there are over 60 restored vehicles, both combat machines and support units. Military decorations, clothing and flags were also on displayed. The museum was created to honor Veterans for their services and sacrifices as well as to provide educational lessons about the weapons of wars. Visit for more information.
On the north side of the museum, off I-80, was the display of the Fall of Saigon. The display includes a helicopter up on a building, ready to take off while the people frantically were trying to climb up the ladder to the helitopter. The black plate steel silhouettes were supposed to be the Vietnamese who worked for the Southern government and knew that they had to get out of the country before the Communist took over Saigon. Many of these people, mostly soldiers and personnel working for the U.S. agencies, were left behind and spent years in prison or some simply disappeared and their families never knew what happened to them.

Monday, September 5th - We got up early and checked out of the hotel so we could be on our way out of Sidney, Nebraska. We waited until we got to Alliance to get breakfast. Before getting out of Dodge, we visited Chimney Rock and Carhenge. At 10:50 a.m. we were so happy to be in South Dakota.


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