Day 46 – Adventures Abound

We left the sugar beet aroma of Scottsbluff, NE in the morning sun and headed West and North. Agate Fossil Bed was only about an hour’s drive away. The landscape was dotted with small farms and even smaller towns. The land grew small rolling hills and eventually large rocky crags poked up to our right and left at various points along the drive.

We turned into Agate Fossil Beds and intended to stay for the movie, take a few pictures and move on. Only, the Visitor Center was filled with so many artifacts and information we stayed almost an hour. After learning about the fossils and formations in the rock; the geological layers of sediment and the eras of prehistoric wildlife; as well as the Native Americans who once lived on these lands, we had to go out and take a hike.

The hiking path was nicely maintained and there were warnings to stay on it due to rattle snakes in the vicinity. Thankful we did not see any snakes, we made note of other wildlife, including numerous red ant hills and several black centipedes. At one point along the trail I could hear crickets in stereo. But, one of the most amazing experiences of the hike was the intense silence. Out in the wilds of Nebraska it is quiet like we never hear quiet. We could almost hear our own hearts beating. If breezes blew, we could hear them. If the prairie grasses danced along with the breeze, we could almost hear them. The crickets made the loudest sounds for miles and miles. At one point I stood still for several minutes just absorbing the complete and utter silence. I wish there could have been some way of recording it. But, instead, I can only remember the experience and try to describe it.

When we reached the top of one of the rock formations we could see for miles and miles. And, surprisingly, at the top our cell phones started to bing, informing us that we now had some reception. My driver quickly put in our destination for our next stop so we would have some directions when we got back to the car.

But, most amazing of all, along the hike we saw fossils of where ancient ancestors of the modern beaver had made their homes down into the soil of 19 million years ago. Here we were on this trip, making all these stops to find ancestors of ours, and along the way in Nebraska we also find traces of ancestors of the beaver. These ancient creatures, intent on building homes, burrowed down in a cork screw fashion until they reached an acceptable depth, then spread out to make rooms for their living space. To this day, the “cork screws” of some of their burrowing is fossilized and remains visible.

We marveled at how life changes through the ages and how adaptable we have to be in order to allow life to advance and change into the future. And, not just life, but thought as well. If we can not accept an evolution of thoughts and ideas, how will we ever be able to make the adaptations necessary for life itself to evolve and change? Thrilling conversation occupied us for many miles as we traveled on.

Following our Gypsy (or GPS) we made the appropriate turns and suddenly we had a choice of three possible routes. The one she suggested; one that was eight minutes slower; and one that was 15 minutes slower. We chose the fastest one, because after all, we had places to go and sights to see. We were taken down a beautiful “canyon road” with cotton wood trees in firey yellow along the road. Then suddenly we were on a gravel road. We continued on. What choice did we have now? Not much, as the landscape was dry and barren grazing lands as far as the eye could see. Well, at least it was only eight miles until a turn onto the next road . . . which was also gravel. As was the next . . . and the next. We traveled on 35 miles of Nebraska gravel roads and only met two cars the entire way. But, we did see a lot of cattle, especially these lovely girls with their new earrings shinning in the sun. My driver thought they were wondering if they were going to be in my “mooovie.”

Eventually we found civilization again and were ready to stop at the first possible place for comfort and some food. Reaching the town of Custer, South Dakota didn’t seem to help much. Almost every establishment was “Closed for the Season.” One lonely bar and grill was open, so we gave in and ordered a sandwich simply because we didn’t know what else to do. It was filling, but that was about all. It probably should have been closed as well.

Now, with our brains off our stomachs we could think about Mount Rushmore and visiting the monument in the setting sun. It’s a long and twisty drive to the top, but very beautiful, too. We paid our $10.00 for the privilege of parking (for an entire YEAR) in the parking garage, and walked into the monument.

There are so many, many pictures of this rock with four faces we all recognize, that it seems like it would be passe. But, quite the contrary, we found it stunning and inspiring. We walked out along the “old view point” and remembered when we had first visited as newly weds; when we had brought our children in the ’80’s; and the last time we were here about 10 years ago. Like the evolution of thought, if we are open and supple, there is also an evolution of appreciation and wonder. Today we felt an ever deeper sense of respect for these four great leaders of our country. We stayed until darkness fell and giant flood lights illuminated their faces. It was impressive, even in the darkness.

We found our Comfort Inn on the North side of town and brought our “cup of soups” up to the room for a late night meal. It was perfect dinning after such an adventurous day. From 19 million year old fossils; to Nebraska gravel roads through the free range; to stunning likenesses of four impressive leaders; and spirited conversation; there was enough abounding grace to fill us for days and months to come.