1) on our way to dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City-- highly recommended for both for the food and the beer-- we took an impromptu presidential quiz, as Rapid City has a presidential statue on every street corner; Ian would run ahead and stand on the plaque, blocking the name, and then we would guess which president the statue depicted . . . a number of them were easy: JFK, Taft . . . who was a fatty, John Adams (thanks Paul Giamatti!), Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush . . . and I nailed a number of more difficult ones: Herbert Hoover, Andrew Jackson, and Harry Truman . . . but some were impossible for us: Martin Van Buren, Chester A. Arthur, and James K. Polk;
2) after a fantastic meal at the Firehouse, we walked through Main Street Square and stumbled upon a theater group setting up an outdoor production of Hamlet-- which was to begin at dusk-- and though we were full of food and beer and tired from a day of hiking, this piqued my curiosity-- were they going to do all four hours of the most famous Shakespearean tragedy on a tiny stage in a South Dakota park? or was this going to be a parody?-- so we stayed to see and it was fantastic: a boiled down, eighty minute version of the play, but all Shakespeare-- just the best bits-- and my kids loved it (I was also giving them a running commentary, using my brother Marc as King Claudius, which was probably very disturbing . . . you come home from school and I'm dead and Uncle Marc is in our house and he says I'm your new dad and then I show up as a ghost and tell you that Uncle Marc murdered me . . . so what would you do? . . . and my son Alex didn't bat an eye, he said "kill him" and then I remembered that The Lion King was a less disturbing parallel to the plot, and used that for reference) and my kids also loved watching the South Dakota delinquent teenagers hanging out in the parking deck just behind the stage, setting off car alarms and smoking cigarettes and acting cool (and Ian also loved sneaking behind the stage to see what character was going to enter next);
3) Monday morning we drove to Wind Cave National Park and I learned, for the seventeenth time, that I don't like cave tours and that if you've seen one cave, you've seen them all-- but my kids loved it and they want to do the four hour "Wild Cave" spelunking expedition once they are old enough (I also learned that some people are really really stupid . . . who brings an 18 month old screaming child on a cave tour? . . . though this wasn't as bad as when Cat and I went through Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and got stuck behind a family with horrible body odor);
4) we learned that bison really do roam free on the plains of South Dakota;
5) we learned that Hot Springs is the most scenic town in the Black Hills-- all the buildings are made of light red sandstone and some are stately, a warm stream runs through the center of town-- fed by the springs-- and there is a even a waterfall . . . the place has none of the tourist vibe of the towns up near Mount Rushmore (it actually has a sense of decay, which is paradoxical, considering the solid nature of the buildings);
6) my children learned that Evans Plunge is their favorite place on earth-- it is billed as "the world's largest natural warm water indoor swimming pool" and it is quite huge, a giant gravel bottomed pool filled with 87 degree mineral water from the eponymous hot springs of the town . . . and it has some old school water slides-- extremely fast and scary-- and rope swings and rings, and an outdoor pool and water slide as well . . . worth visiting;
8) we learned about Crazy Horse on the way to Wind Cave National Park-- the twenty minute film at the monument nearly made me cry-- carving this mountain is like a great underdog sports movie . . . a far more moving place than Mount Rushmore (in fact, you could fit all four busts at Mount Rushmore in Crazy Horse's head);
9) I learned that nothing looks sillier than a skinny dude in full cowboy attire-- black Stetson, black pinstriped button down long sleeve shirt, blue jeans, boots-- discerningly tasting an ice cream sample on one of those cute little spoons.