Seeing the West

After returning home in July, I spent a couple of weeks getting settled into my new job, meeting people in my new organization, and doing battle with the IT folks.  (After three weeks, they still haven’t gotten my Email working properly!)  I didn’t go directly on vacation, because 1) the kids were in a series of Summer camps and 2) we planned for our vacation to begin with our family reunion in Mark, IL, (population 400-500, depending on the source of the information) on 6-7 AUG.

Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL
Family sitting under pavilion in Mark, IL

The reunion was largely planned and organized by my Cousin Linda and my Aunt Margaret.  As usual, the Illinois part of the Serafini side of the family bore the brunt of the preparations.  As the Serafini side of the family is Italian, the reunion involved a huge amount of food, which included Linda’s famous masticioli recipe, my Aunt Margaret’s famous canolis, and something called bognacalda (sp?), which is reputed to be the first food dip invented.  Bognacalda is essentially garlic, anchovies, and butter cooked down into a paste with some whipping cream added at the end.  You dip bread, cabbage leaves, and/or celery into it.  You also don’t spend much time around other people for a day or two.

I also had a chance to visit the graves of my paternal grandparents and the old family house.  My grandfather was born in 1914, and my grandmother was born in 1918.  As I spent most of my Summers in Mark with my grandparents, it still feels to me that an era ended when my grandmother died two years ago, just a couple years after my grandfather.

From Mark, we headed West.  The first day (7 AUG) was a killer, 12-hour drive.  We stopped at Brooklyn, IA , where they’ve put up a nice display of American, State, and Service (e.g., Army) flags.  On these vacations, we like to avoid chains and hit mom-and-pop places, so for lunch we bought some ham sandwiches at the local grocery store, just about the only place open on Sunday in the town.

On the 8th we continued West, stopping in Mitchell, SD, to see the Corn Palace.  We arrived in Keystone, SD, mid-afternoon, after a stop for lunch at Al’s Oasis.  Al’s Oasis had billboards along the highway for miles, like South of the Border (between North and South Carolina along I-95).  It wasn’t nearly as large or involved as South of the Border, but it made a nice one-hour break.  We spent two hours in the Badlands National Park, including a mile or so hike and climbing a few rocks (which was authorized).  The scenery in the Badlands was amazing, something between the Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert.

After checking into the K BAR S lodge in Keystone, SD, we headed up to Mt. Rushmore.

Surdu family at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010
Surdu family posed on the Grand View Terrace at Mt. Rushmore, 8 AUG 2010

Arriving in the evening, taking photos was a problem as the Sun was to the left and behind the monument.  We were able to get a few good shots.  This photo, because of lighting, looks fake, like we posed in front of a green screen.  We were actually there!  In the evenings, they hold a nice ceremony.  It began with the park ranger describing the hardships of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition, a 10-minute movie on the history of the four presidents featured and the making of the monument, and a salute to veterans.

The presentation and movie included more political correctness than I would have liked.  I’m getting really tired of revisionists who want to recast everything in terms of today’s social outlook.  The description of the Lewis and Clark Expedition harped on the involvement of Clark’s slave.  Lincoln’s achievements were overshadowed by the Emancipation Proclamation, rather than the preservation of the Union.  Roosevelt’s position on the evils of big business were described, but there was only passing mention of the Panama Canal or the creation of the national parks.  (By the way, it was the Panama Canal that was cited by the sculptor as the reason Teddy Roosevelt was included on Rushmore.)  Finally, I really wish people would just sing the national anthem the way it’s written instead of “interpreting it” like some Vegas lounge singer.

So far, this has been a nice trip.  We have a short drive today, with stops at Devil’s Tower, WY, and the Little Big Horn battlefield.  Then we’ll spend a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park.