Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's a road trip without waterfalls, buffalo and rattlesnakes?

The beauty of Florence overwhelms you like a bouquet from heaven just as its rich history soaks you to your soul. But even Michelangelo would have been impressed by the sights we enjoyed on the road today.

The sky was shockingly blue with a simple counterpoint of fluffy white clouds.  Below, the green grass rolled to the horizon.  This is the great American Prairie.

Our cross-country travels took us today from Sioux Falls on the eastern edge of South Dakota to Rapid City on the other side.  Between were sights, people and creatures that challenged my mind and soothed my soul.

Sioux Falls
After a quick breakfast at our Sioux Falls hotel, we headed out to see the cataracts that give the city its name. They are not tall, but are impressive.  The torrent has polished the bedrock in and around the falls to the smooth finish of sculpture. The ruins of a giant mill line a shore now swathed with well-groomed park lawn (upon which scamper cute little critters with a name longer than their bodies -- thirteen-lined ground squirrels).

We then went downtown to walk the Sioux Falls arts district.  Each May, the city picks artists whose sculptures grace the sidewalks for a year.  It's a spectacular way to give a city character.

Venus de Cello
The cornfields gave way to hayfields and eventually to rangeland as we headed west on I-90, listening to "The River of Doubt," the tale of Theodore Roosevelt's adventures in the Amazon. It was a nice contrast between Teddy's nearly-naked jungle Indians to the stately Lakota Sioux, whose museum we visited in Chamberlain.

The land grew wilder as we drove, especially when we turned off to the Badlands National Park. This moonscape of volcanic ash and fossil-laden rock was sculpted by wind and water. Beyond the landscape and the incredible population of wildlife at roadside, the park gave us another pleasant surprise.  We qualified for a National Park Service lifetime senior citizens pass. Damn.  I really am old. But give me the discounts anyway.

The park's rocky spires are unbelievable in any light.  But as the sun started to set and the shadows grew long, they were spectacular.

And the wildlife. Bison, big horn sheep, hundreds of prairie dogs, rabbits... and rattlesnakes.  We paid minimal attention to the warning signs until hearing an urgent rattle in the grass and watching a snake slither under the boardwalk trail. That's the "wild" part of life.
A big horn lamb, a rabbit, a 13-lined ground squirrel, a baby bison, a prairie dog and mamma bighorn

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