After getting up and rushing out of Comfort Inn we left the metropolis of Custer City. We began the day with an array of high quality foods (a continental breakfast) and then a short drive and a light four hour hike to the top of Harney Peak in the Black Hills. Not everyone came up with us, but the ones that did made it all the way.
7 Miles of not as strenuous as we would have expected trails up through the pines and spindling rocks of the sacred black hills. 7,242 feet, the highest peak between the Pyrenese in Europe and the Rockies, also known as the location of Black Elk’s vision and the center of the world for the Lakota. The views were spectacular - a lame adjective that does not even begin to fit the beauty of the landscapes from that peak.
It was a sacred place (if you ignored the bumbling southern tourists). There was an array of pine trees decorated with red, black, white, and yellow fabrics - colors of the Medicine Wheel. On the top of the hill, once we were done playing with the eerily tame chipmunks, we held hands and honored the six directions, a sort of homage to the Lakota idea of the sacred hoop of life, as well as our unity as a class.
On our way down we met a rather nice (and incredibly talkative) old man, Jim Anderson. He spoke, without any interjections from others, about the Lakota culture. He had been climbing the mountain for 50 years. He knew Fool’s Crow, a medicine man. He even knew Black Elk’s grandchildren and was raised on the reservation - being the only white person in his school. Though his stories and knowledge were infinitely fascinating (and seemingly never ending) we had to make our way back down to Sylvan Lake for lunch, which was delicious, due to enormous amounts of Nutella.
After the hike we did a quick visit to the Crazy Horse monument, we didn’t look at it close up as that would have cost us $54. One would have thought that after 30 years it would be finished, it only took 14 to build Mt. Rushmore (hmm); it seems the sculptor’s are sure taking their time.
We finally drove back to shining Rapid City, which was nicer than Custer. Reminded me a bit of the reservation, which I actually miss quite a bit. We got to hang out downtown for awhile, checking out the largest Native craft store around, Prairie’s Edge. No one can even afford even a donut now, but the souvenirs were worth it. Once we had finished spending money like rockstars we checked out art alley, which is basically a bunch of graffiti on alleyway walls. But it was rather impressive.
Dinner was fantastic, we ate at a place called the Firehouse Brewery. After, we hung out in town while the teachers returned the Tang*.
* For those who do not know the story, we accidentally got a large amount of Tang. Gabe put in the cart as a joke and no one really took the time to take it out. Multiple times we motioned to try the poisonous drink mix, but to no avail.
We went back to the hotel - yes we checked into another hotel but that was a boring story - and settled down to watch Smoke Signals, an independent film about two young Indian men who go on a road trip of sorts. I liked it.
That was about it really. Oh yeah, we got our phone’s back. Its nice to be connected again, but also kind of awful. I liked being away from it all on the rez (I really do miss rez life).
Tomorrow we fly out of Rapid City and back towards home. It seems as if barely any time has passed since we first drove our rented pure white vans (now more brown with white trim) out onto the majestic prairie, yet so much has happened. We’ve grown closer to the history of this land, closer to the people, and closer as a class. But we’re all ready to be separate for a little while before we graduate on Sunday (!!!!)
This morning we said farewell to the Lakota Waldorf School, which has been our home for the past week. After taping up plastic inside so that they could paint the ceiling, we packed up our stuff and made ready to depart. The school’s quiet groundskeeper, James, took our photo against one of the school’s north wall. He also thanked us earnestly for our service and bid us a fond “toksha ake” (spelling improvised) which in Lakota means “see you later,” they do not say goodbye. Toksha ake, Pine Ridge and Lakota Waldorf School.
We left the prairie and began the last leg of our class trip: a reintegration, if you will, into the world of the washichus (the Lakota word for white people, it means “takes the fat”). We left the rez and drove up into the Black Hills, a land once sacred to the Lakota, now dotted with campgrounds, parks, hotels, lodges, and tourist resorts. We visited the famed Wind Cave, one of the largest caves in the world, and the place the Lakota believe their people emerged from. We were wowed by the limestone tunnels and glittering boxwork ceilings, but most of us (minus some claustrophobes) wished we could have left the tour group and done some off-roading beyond the paved cement paths.
Next, just to up our tourist cred even more, we headed over to Mount Rushmore, where the huge stone faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln grace (or deface, depending on your opinion) one of the Lakota’s sacred hills. After spending so much time amongst natives, the attitudes on display seemed shocking to many of us. Satya declared the great faces “supreme BS,” while Liberty accused the class of patriotism deficiency. We still got the requisite class photo in front of it, so voila!
Finally, after driving round about the hills, admiring the landscape, stopping to watch bison munch grass, and hoping Mr. Schurman wouldn’t fly off a sharp turn in the mountain road, we reached the little “city” of Custer, pop. 1,860. Though some of us miss the Lakota Waldorf School’s atmosphere, others are glad for our motel’s beds and blankets. Tomorrow will be our last full day in South Dakota, we will see what it brings.
Yesterday (Saturday) we finally finished painting the school, despite intermittent rain and some little dripping accidents (courtesy of Jo—“I’m-over-this”—hopefully she doesn’t read this before it gets posted). After cleaning up and admiring our handiwork, we enjoyed a sleepy noon siesta, lazing around being an essential activity for the hardworking high school senior.
The high point of the day came when we drove over to the Dead Man’s Hand Company’s Gypsy Market and Espresso (yes, that’s the full name) a charming little shop owned by Patricia (the woman who took us on our ticky nature hike Friday) and her husband Jason. We lent a hand in their organic garden, weeding, hoeing, planting tomatoes, sowing corn, and giving screaming little girls piggy-back rides until we were all exhausted. Luckily for us, our friends at the Gypsy Market grilled us up bison burgers (the fake vegetarian Satya proclaimed them “totes delish”), ribs, and sausages, as well as salad and pasta for the true veggies.
We also met the second super-cute dog of our adventure, a fluffy puppy named Felix. He was, of course, the constant center of attention; we probably would have got our garden work done three times as fast without the little guy running around asking to be cuddled, but we appreciated the company. Felix was so adorable he even got his own photoset on this blog, though Perin still pines for Karl.
Today, after rising early, eating a breakfast of french toast and steel cut oats, and preparing our lunches, we loaded into our vans and headed out to the Bad Lands. Our guide Rob Janis, the bus driver for the Lakota Waldorf School, lead us down a route of ever-worsening roads until the mud became too great and we were prompted to disembark from our wheeled transportation.
We walked along the the dirt road, conversing among ourselves and taking in our beautiful surroundings. Though the landscape was incredible, there was very little in the name of wildlife, save for the cows, birds, and the occasional dung beetle. We very relieved not to see any rattlesnakes, well live ones at least; we saw two dead juvenile snakes along the road.
Under the baking South Dakota sun we made our way along the meandering dirt road, taking a small detour to climb up one of the crumbling buttes that we passed by and admire the spectacular scenery. After about one and a half hours of walking and a break at an abandoned family cemetery, we reached a chocolate-milk colored White River that marked the border between the reservation and South Dakota or “state side” as the locals call it. Most of us rolled up our pants and waded across the river, but only Satya and Noah opted to strip down to their boxers and take a dip.
The walk back to the cars seemed to take much longer, mainly because of our limited water supplies and increased temperature. Upon reaching our cars, we enjoyed our sandwiches, quenched our thirst, and piled into the car to visit the Badlands National Park. The ride over was especially uneventful, because everyone (other than the drivers of course) was fast asleep. Mr. Schurman dragged us out of the cars at various stops along the scenic drive, but in the end it was worth it; the views in and around the park were even more spectacular than those along our walk.
For our last dinner at the school, we enjoyed mu-shu chicken courtesy of Aiyana. Now we are heading out to the teepee to enjoy our last circle around the fire.