A few miles north of Valentine, Nebraska, just outside Rapid City, South Dakota, is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the United States, Mount Rushmore. Since we were “in the area,” we planned a day trip to see if it is really as impressive as we’ve heard. We were definitely NOT disappointed.
As we drove north, we were able to see lots of wildlife, particularly elk. The terrain transitioned from the rolling sandhills to a rougher, rockier landscape with considerable pine and other trees. As we got closer, we saw the monument being created for Crazy Horse . Known as the largest mountain carving located in the Black Hills, it currently displays the head of Crazy Horse and will eventually depict him riding his horse.
Our primary destination for the day, though, was Mount Rushmore. As we approached, we could see it but didn’t really get the full impact until we parked and walked to the veranda. This is a lovely plaza area with gift shop, concessions, and a walkway marked with flags of the states. All of this sits on one side, with a valley area separating it from the actual Mount Rushmore. There is an open-air theatre in the valley, and I could imagine how impressive a concert would be in that setting!
And then, there it is: Mount Rushmore! Each of the four heads is 60 feet high, carved into the edge of the mountain. Each of the four presidents represents such major aspects of our country: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It was awesome to just stand there and look and “absorb” the moment.
It was also very interesting to people-watch. Thousands of bikers (motorcyclists) and international visitors strolled along the veranda, snapped photos, listened to the historical information being read over the loud speaker. Listening to the variety of accents and foreign languages pointed out the draw that this United States monument has to all, regardless of nationality!
When we left the national memorial, we drove on to Rapid City, where we made a short stop to see the truly amazing paper sculptures of Allan and Patty Eckman . The cast paper sculptures depict nature and Native American figures in intricate detail. I had read of them in an Email and welcomed the opportunity to see them in person. They are really quite beautiful, and I tried to fit one into my budget but…
We have traveled quite a bit, within the United States and outside its boundaries. We’ve been fortunate enough to see parts of Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and Italy; and we’ve visited states from California to Maine, Washington to Florida. Until this summer, however, we had never gone north on I-35 beyond Salina, Kansas!
In an effort to remedy that, we struck out a few weeks ago in our trusty Ford Fusion to Nebraska. With the goal of visiting my brother in Valentine, NE, we mapped several routes but decided on the easiest – north to York, west to North Platte, and north to Valentine. As we left the overwhelming heat of Oklahoma, we prayed for cooler temperatures as we went, and our prayers were answered!
The further north we went, the less the fields suffered from “sunburn” and drought. By the time we turned west at York, the cornfields had become lush and green. While we may sing about “corn as high as an elephant’s eye” in our state song, the corn in Nebraska truly was more deserving of that phrase.As we turned at North Platte, we began to encounter the sandhills that my brother had often talked about. While somewhat like the rolling pasture lands I grew up with in Osage County, the sandhills are a bit different – not quite as rounded, a little sharper. Knowing that the soil was totally sand in that area, it was interesting to see the green grasses, waving in the breeze.
Now Valentine, Nebraska would probably not be a typical destination for vacationers, but it truly was an interesting little town and does draw tourists for the hunting and fishing in the area. We stayed at a local motel, the Trade Winds , which was sold out, primarily due to the motorcyclists on their way to the 71st Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. During our week in northern Nebraska and a day trip into South Dakota, we saw literally tens of thousands of motorcycles!
With a population of just over 2800, a hospital, churches, and a charming downtown area, Valentine is inviting for those who enjoy hunting and fishing. It is obvious that is its major draw, when the motels offer “fish and fowl cleaning areas” as an amenity! To cater to the locals and visitors, there are several exceptional restaurants, including Cedar Canyon Steakhouse, Jordan’s Fine Dining, and our favorite, The Peppermill .We took a short drive to Merritt Reservoir, where the walleye lurk, just waiting for the fishermen to lure them with leeches. I like to fish, but I declined this time. Somehow or other, I just couldn’t imagine baiting my own hook with a leech. Fishing for walleye requires the right technique, and I felt that finding it on my plate, already caught, cleaned and grilled, was a much better plan!