How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Before I get into my regular post, I just want to acknowledge that today, up until this evening, is the ninth of Av. It’s a day of mourning and fasting for Jews because both the first and second Temple were destroyed on this very day millennia ago. May Yeshua/Jesus return soon, comfort all who mourn, and restore His Kingdom to Israel.

This summer I and my spare time have been focused on preparing for two different trips … one past, one (oh, happiness!) still to come. I think back with relish of that past trip last month, when I was gone from July 5 –19. Every moment of those fifteen days was something I want to remember. My flight on Saturday morning saw me awake before 3:00 so that I could get to the airport; I had a layover in Salt Lake City before arriving at my final destination in Rapid City, South Dakota, shortly before noon local time. Before I dropped into bed that night, I had been awake for twenty hours, which I really think is a new record for me (there was the time I was up until 5:00 a.m. at a slumber party, but I don’t remember how long I had been awake the preceding day!). A new experience, that; I don’t think I’ll forget how being awake for so long on a tiring journey feels—the heaviness, the bouts of irrationality, the determination to stay up until every last bit of excitement has been squeezed from the day. When I finally laid down, my body still tried to keep me conscious because I had been telling it to do so for hours. (Maybe this detail sounds trivial, but I never know when such sensations will serve me in a piece of writing.)

Have any of you been to Salt Lake City? I don’t know about the actual tangible streets and buildings, but from the air, the land surrounding SLC is fascinating. I wish I’d had my camera. The valley, perfectly surrounded by desertish, rather short mountains, looks, not really forbidding, but pleasantly desolate and … other-worldly. It reminded me a bit of the marsh Frodo and Sam cross in The Two Towers, because, like that marsh, you get to see the landscape with a bird’s eye view. Except in the Salt Lake valley, the sun was shining, the colors were bright, and you can tell the wetlands are bursting with life. See this Flickr photo and this aerial photo. There are maze-like waterways and ponds everywhere, mostly blue but sometimes greenish, verdant marshy spots, and sandy beaches. These all swirl together like paint that needs to be mixed, while the set-apart Great Salt Lake is deep and blue and vast. Its backdrop of barren mountains made me think of Noah’s Flood receding around Ararat.

Sweet clover. I could see that from the plane!
Western South Dakota, like much of the West in my experience, reminisces about wild days gone by. Most of what I saw from the plane was countryside: tall hills black with pine trees, rolling hills alternately grass green and rich yellow green. This summer had been unusually rainy. What is that yellow down there? I wondered. Soon after I landed and joyfully joined my friend and her family, I was enlightened: sweet clover. So much sweet clover was blooming yellow that the air outside Rapid City’s little airport smothered me in the smell of honey. It’s the strongest scent I’ve ever smelled outdoors, stronger than pines in the forest and fish by the lake.

We spent all day Saturday driving in the Black Hills. It was unforgettable: the roads, no matter their size, twisted and wound up and down and around the low mountains, always presenting a beautiful view. The small towns all had their share of old Western style, most strikingly the Hills in their background. There were such intriguing spots as Needles Highway, at the top of which were the Cathedral Spires, huge, tall, narrow rocks spiking into the sky; Sylvan Lake, which they showed in National Treasure 2; Wildlife Loop Road, where we saw donkeys, bison, and antelope; and, of course, Mount Rushmore. I snapped a picture of Mount Rushmore as soon as my friends pointed out that we could see it … it was very hazy, but I was so excited! I’d been dreaming of seeing Mount Rushmore since I was a child. Once you get to where you can see the monument, the clarity is amazing. The faces are way up there in elevation, but they’re so gigantic you can see small details, as if you were looking at them face to face. The juxtaposition of manmade and nature is like the ultimate Photoshop job.

Can you see me way up there in the middle?

The Eye of the Needle
Can you see the faces looming out of the rock?
How about these faces?
Well, that summarizes my one-day sightseeing trip. I love mountain, or mountain-like scenery; it’s timeless and thus I feel connected to the era when white settlers were just exploring it, or even before then when no one was around at all. How do you feel about mountains? Do you enjoy stories set in the mountains?

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