Experiencing the Dakotas is like falling in love. There are so many details I don’t want to forget: In Medora, the fluff falling from the cottonwood trees. The sweet, hollow timbre of the Native American flute played at Mount Rushmore on Independence Day. The crisp fragrance of the juniper along the Painted Canyon trail in the North Dakota Badlands. Conversely, the musky stench of the buffalo herd I was caught in for two miles in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Custer State Park, where I found my muse. I was so overwhelmed by the Dakotas, I didn’t think I could write about my experience at all. But while driving through Custer State Park on one of my final days, surrounded by the lush greens, melodious birdsong, and, yes, buffalo, the muse came and these words followed.
Experiencing the Dakotas is like falling in love. My senses awakened, and everything seemed fresh and vibrant, wondrous and magical. I kept wanting to see more, do more. Yet, I wanted to slow everything down and savor every new experience.
When I left California, my thought was to blog about a different personal experience. I was headed to the home of my ancestors, who lived in Wisconsin in the early 1800’s, then migrated on to the Dakotas. I was following their path, and wanted to write about that. And that was a wonderful opportunity. But, as soon as I saw the North Dakota Badlands, it was no longer their story I was following. It was a very personal experience that I’ll never be gifted enough to put into words. In fact, while I was there, the only word I could think of was “amazing”. I must have said it a hundred times. I’m certain my travel partner and tour guide got tired of hearing it from this wide-eyed and giddy California girl.
The beauty and vastness of the Badlands brought tears to my eyes. I had never imagined such a place. I wanted to touch every rock and explore for miles. I only hope my memory holds up, so I can continue to enjoy it in thought.
From the Painted Canyon, it was on to Medora. Charming isn’t a good enough description for this little Western village. I would spend the rest of my life there, if given the opportunity. It may be my new favorite town – and that is quite a compliment. I’d like to go back and spend more time. As it was, I only had a day and a night.
There at Medora is part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I spent an hour or so driving through some of the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. Beautiful green fields dotted with flowers and prairie dogs, more of the magnificent Badlands and the occasional buffalo lying around.
From Medora, new rules went into play. I was completely off the cell phone and social media. No texting, tweeting, or posting. I was to be in the moment – without having to share the moment with a few thousand followers. Even GPS was against the rules. A handy paper map became my only reference for navigation. Those rules transformed my trip. When was the last time you turned off technology and were truly experiencing life for yourself? I was deeply enriched by the experience.
In South Dakota, I traveled through Deadwood (fun for a quick stop, but casinos aren’t my thing) on to Rapid City. The next morning, July 4th, I headed out to Mount Rushmore. Again, I was in awe as I experienced something I wanted to do my whole life. Since it was Independence Day, there were some special programs including a Native American flute player that I greatly enjoyed.
After the morning at Mount Rushmore, it was on to the Crazy Horse memorial, then a lively stop at a saloon in Custer City and on to Custer State Park. Here, again, my senses sharpened, my eyes widened, and everything was, well, amazing.
Speaking of amazing, I took a moment to look up some synonyms to describe the Dakotas. The best are: stunning, majestic, magnificent, and resplendent.
Yes, experiencing the Dakotas is like falling in love for the first time. It’s glorious, the ending is a little painful, and it’s a memory you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
I’ve spent a few minutes at the end of writing this trying to figure out the slightly melancholy feeling it gave me. I realize now, I feel homesick.
And I’m sure my good friends in the Dakotas are reading this with knowing grins, thinking, “You haven’t seen it in winter!”