South Dakota Part 1.
We just returned from vacation. Vacations remind me of weddings—some are easy shoots, some have beautiful scenery, some have a lot of difficulties, some are physically and/or mentally challenging, and some make you long for home. All of them are learning processes for me, not only learning about the place I’m visiting, but also learning about myself. So I made lots of pictures while I was there, and I made a list, too, of things I learned while on vacation.
Before I type my list (probably in another post later this week), I must start with a few details so you understand. First off, we own older vehicles–just makes more sense to pay cash and not have a payment. However, on the way to the Black Hills area (the FIRST DAY of vacation) our full-size van decided to spring a radiator leak in Badlands National Park.
Forever, they will be colored as “THE BADLANDS” in my mind, regardless of their strange Tatooine beauty. Up until that point, our trip to the Black Hills (the sum total of 8-or-9-hours-on-the-road) had gone flawlessly. But after THAT, the miles that should have taken us 2 hours to travel took 5+ hours. Yep, 17 hours in the van with the kids, no air conditioning, babying the vehicle in to Lead, South Dakota. I was exhausted. The cabin was lovely, however, and so was the lightness of the air, the wildflowers dotting the landscape. Birches and pines tilted this way and that over our roof, and rocks jutted up everywhere. I’ve never traveled to South Dakota before this, and I was a bit enchanted, although VERY tired of the vehicle. However, Mike got it in, got it fixed, got us a rental to tide us over, and really, we had no other MAJOR glitches for the rest of the trip. We did start calling ourselves The Griswolds. At the time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. We carried on.
I am a Rocky Mountain girl. We went there last year, and I was floored. I had gone to college there for a couple years, but back then, I was so young, so caught up in daily dramas, that I just couldn’t appreciate the massive impact of Colorado. Now, as a middle-aged woman, I get it. I love the feeling of raw nature, of being absolutely dwarfed by wildness. The Black Hills are on a different scale. Smaller. A little more human. Not as scary–although I have no doubt you could kill yourself on those winding highways no problem, and the sheer rock walls are just as hard in South Dakota–demolishing vehicles like my shoe squashes a beer can. They were beautiful, though. The land folding up and down in the distance, like a sheet of velvet that has been crumpled up in some enormous fist and then dropped down to rest forever–that was a sight. The red rocks gave off a prehistoric feeling, and now, when I look back at my photos of Devil’s Tower, I can imagine dinosaurs thumping through the forests. It was very primordial. The Rockies have too much razor-sharp newness to them–they feel like punk rock teenagers. No dinosaurs trundle through their landscapes.
There was an air of THE WEST, although not necessarily of the Deadwood Saloons and fake old-timey photos variety. Native American feet had trod here as history says–the Ghost Dance HAPPENED, as did Wounded Knee. There I found a face to the places I had read about. Of course there were and are Native Americans in Iowa, just as there are in South Dakota and in every other place in the U.S. Somewhere, in my bloodline, there is Native American in ME, as in a lot of other folks. But the Black Hills area seems less tame than here, and I can SEE IT. I can see THEM. I can look at the hills and the valleys and the cliffs and the rocks and see bison flowing over them like a brown ocean. It is a feeling, an intuition of old hearts beating beneath those rocks out there that makes my eyes catch shadows of the cracked-leather past around the edges of things. There is a spirit to the place, a feeling of dusty churches and cathedrals spun from sheer rock filled with echoes of chanting voices.
We hiked. We climbed mountains. We saw sunrises and sunsets. We ate and we drank and we saw the guts of caves and dunked in waters of valley lakes. We saw history wrought in stone at Mount Rushmore, and a different history at Crazy Horse. We almost lost my son’s glasses–thank you to whoever turned them in at Custer State Park Office! We ate ice cream and tasted wine, and I got a terrific battle scar on my new camera–no worries, everything works. We drove miles and miles, and ended up eating a tasty meal at a place in Custer called The Cowboy Cafe, which should bring a few smiles from those folks familiar with Sidney Elementary School. We bickered and fought. I wrote NOTHING. I took in. Vacation for my brain is like dipping a dry sponge into an unknown ocean. The oxygen seeps out and is replaced by an unfamiliar brew. It is when I get home, when I review my photographs and my experiences that I squeeze the sponge and let everything flow. I made my list of things learned the day after we got home, after a blissfully uneventful ride home. That list will wait until a later post, or multiple posts. My writing is too long already.
So, I’m here. Back at it. Allowing the cool water from the sponge to flow out over everything that I do, hopefully coloring it for the better.
Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities. She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end. There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride! You may learn more about Tracy here. You may follow her on Facebook here. You may learn more about her books at www.inclementiowa.com !