Abide Culture Road Trip Chronicles: Black Hills, Badlands, and Buffalo Bill

3:15am. Black Morning. Packed. Up and brewed coffee. Got the kids up and loaded the steel beast. Cargo box—decorated with stickers and decals: boasting of states visited; memories of past adventures—perched above us. 4:00am. Everyone in and belted down. Digital licorice on shuffle; mixed tape of songs and sound. Playlists. Gear shift pulled to REVERSE. Out the driveway and up the street. STOP sign. Left turn. Up the street. RIGHT. Follow the dark road to the on-ramp. Flashing YIELD light allows another left turn. Onto I-90.

I-90 crosses the United States; the longest freeway in the country: a length that runs 3101.77 miles. A permanent scar that connects coasts west to east. Seattle to Boston. Pacific ocean. Atlantic ocean. Constructed in concrete.

The world is asleep. Truckers riding big rigs are our only neighbors. Artificial light swallowed by the black morning. Reflectors glow in headlamp's light; tracers betwixt mileage markers. Rain starts to drop as tires hum. As we climb the mountain pass, light rain turns to snow and slows our roll. Trucker ahead of us shines lights bright. I pull behind and draft. Snow blows over and around us. Elevation rises: foot by foot, mile by mile. We climb the pass and descend into the following valley. Around the trucker as snow becomes rain again. Next pass comes as snow gets heavier. Still rolling slow between truckers and waking drivers. Pacific standard times becomes Mountain when we cross into Montana from Idaho.

Dark skies grow to a pale gray. A rising sun tries to break the cloud cover canopy with a promising sunrise to no avail. Gray grows light. Fog clings to pine trees; Bitterroots exhale. Snow capped mountain ranges etch big watercolor sky while overlooking prairie. Prairie becomes farm land. Farm land turns to sage brush.

Morning turns to day. Montana becomes Wyoming. We stop for another gas fill up and bathroom break. Family heads into the gas station while I tend to the steel beast. Once done, I walk inside and around the corner looking for the RESTROOM sign. As I open the door, another man stands in front of the mirror taking a cleansing sink bath. He looks at me and goes back to his chore.

Back outside, a van with Wyoming plates comes through the parking lot and parks. The driver gets out and yells at me. “Excuse me, sir! Sir! I have a gift for you!” he exclaims while holding a blue paper in his left hand, waving it at me, his crazy red hair sitting in shocked expression that matches his equally crazed eyes. “Sir! Sir! I wrote this a year ago. We here in Wyoming care about liberty.” I take the paper while saying “Thank you.” He turns on his heel and continues on his way as I slide into the waiting seat.

“What was he saying?” questions Erin. I tell her and read the photocopied paper out-loud to the family.

Back on I-90 and Wyoming becomes South Dakota. Flat. Rapid City. Find our hotel. Unload. Up to our room. Back out to find some dinner. We eat and drive back to the room. Night comes as does sleep. Alarm awakens. Morning ritual. Eat and get ready. Out the door and back to the beast.

Our destination: the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mt. Rushmore. The day begins cold. Our drive takes us from Rapid City, through Keystone, and up 16. 16A. 244.

Faces gaze above us as we drive the hill. Up to the parking lot and greeted by the attendant. “Hello Idaho.” she says through a genuine smile. Small talk as she happily gives us information of where to park. “Thank you,” I say.

Finding a spot to park and step back out into the cold morning. Bundled against the South Dakota spring, we walk against the wind and up through construction zones. Unblinking eyes stare southwest above the "Avenue of Flags". The "Avenue of Flags" was established back in 1976 during the United States' bicentennial. 56 flags adorn the walkway, placed in alphabetical order. 56 flags that represent 50 states, 1 district, 3 territories, and 2 commonwealths of our United States of America.

37°F. The wind is relentless. We stand at the Grand View Terrace and take in the sculpted faces: 60 feet in height with 18 foot eyes. George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Theodore Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. The Mt. Rushmore National Memorial sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose these presidents due to the principles of liberty and freedom on which our nation was founded upon. Birth: George Washington. Growth: Thomas Jefferson. Development: Theodore Roosevelt. Preservation: Abraham Lincoln.

“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps finally staked, on experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
George Washington
First Inaugural Address
April 30, 1789

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson
Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863

“We, here in America, hold in our hands the hopes of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men.”
Theodore Roosevelt
Address at Carnegie Hall
March 30, 1912

Down the stairs into the visiting center to warm. We read. Explore. Back outside and look at the unwavering faces. Back to the beast and down the hill and to the right: Custer State Park. Winding roads. Ponderosa Pines grow high. Parking, we get out and the sun warms us. Wind dies down in the shelter of the trees. More exploration. The day grows long and we decide to get some dinner. Back down the hill and stop in at the Rushmore Candy Co. first. Leave and make our way downtown.

Toy stores. Bookstores. Comic book shops. Outside gear shops. We get hungry and step into Firehouse Brewing Company. We are greeted and seated down at our table. Firehouse patches—donated by firehouses around the country—adorn the walls. Perusing the menus. Buffalo bacon burgers. Place our order and chit-chat with the waitress. After dinner, we leave and are welcomed to Art Alley. Artists using different styles of paint to colorize the alley. It gets late. Back to the hotel. Sleep comes again as another day is done.

The next day we drive to Badlands National Park. The landscape reminds us of Canyonlands and Zion in Utah. More exploration. Erin comments “This was all caused by death and destruction, but, through all that, God still gave us something beautiful to enjoy.” “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” [Genesis 9:9-11] Mental Postcards taken. Buffalo graze and roam. Prairie Dogs pop in and out of their holes. Signs warn of rattlesnakes. Park and explore. Turning behind us, I spy another park visitor as she reads the stickers decorated on our cargo box as she shields the sun from her eyes. Across the road and make our mark in the Backcountry Registration book before we trail hike. Step in sand. Hike. Family time. Sign the book again before we leave and back on the road. Drive in the scenery that surrounds us. Slightly sunburned and happy.

Another day done. The next following day, we decide to do a loop of Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and back to Mt. Rushmore. Once we get to Rushmore, we ascend the stairs of Presidents Trail. The temperature is colder, but the sun is warm without wind. Photography shots. Digital papercuts freeze analog life. Sun shines. Snow falls. Bitter wind bites cutting through clothes. Shivering skin. South Dakota.

The next day, we leave Rapid City and drive to Cody, Wyoming. Our stay for the next two nights is Wapiti Lodge—a quaint place to sleep—between Cody and outside the East Entrance of Yellowstone. Shoshone River flows right behind. We play Uno, then bed.

Next morning we drive into Cody, as snow falls, and make our way to Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a Smithsonian affiliate consisting of 5 museums that all sit under one roof. Buffalo Bill Museum. Plains Indian Museum. Cody Firearms Museum. Draper Natural History Museum. Whitney Western Art Museum.

Our first stop: Cody Firearms Museum. Over 4,700 firearms on display. Gun library. History. Next: Buffalo Bill Museum. Then the Plains, Natural History, and Art.

Hours spent learning. Hours spent reading. Hours spent with family. The museum closes soon so we leave and decide on dinner. Back to the lodge for another night of packing. Sleep.

4:45am. Awake before alarm. Packed and ready to go. 25°F. Freshly fallen snow. Outside to warm the beast and load up. A macabre graveyard of winged things rests, frozen, upon the grill. Owls talk to us as we prepare to leave. Fingers freeze while latching the cargo box. Into the warming cabin and slide the gear shift to DRIVE. Wapiti Lodge in our rearview mirrors as massive herds of elk forage for food. Through triple tunnels and into Cody. Asphalt becomes sheets of ice. Wyoming becomes Montana. Snow melts. Sun warms. Montana becomes Idaho. Pacific time. 2,381 miles driven. Home.

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