Lucie: At 9 a.m.I'm still in bed, feeling sore muscles from our horseback riding the previous day. But soon it's time to drive to Rapid City, about 30 miles away. The road is slow, first part mud and snow, then gravel, and then we finally hit the asphalt highway. Mark, our Minnesota driver, is sitting in the passenger seat teaching our California native, AJ how to drive up the muddy driveway and the dirt road. We park in downtown Rapid City in front of Prairie Edge, an expensive but beautiful store that sells Lakota artwork, such as buffalo skulls and robes, beadwork and quillwork, bags and pouches, jewelry, books and music (http://www.prairieedge.com/).
These crafts reminded me of what I saw in Dances with Wolves, the Kevin Costner movie we watched yesterday. I realized even more how romantic my perception of Native Americans has been. Through our stay on Pine Ridge Reservation, I have come to understand that these Indians just don't exist anymore. Their descendants live in houses, wear jeans and hoodie shirts, speak English and very little Lakota. A modern Lakota culture has emerged through the revival of traditions in the 1970s, but it's not the same, of course. Today's pow-wows have become competitions with traditional, fancy, grass, and jingle dance styles, and lots of fry bread for sale.After lunch Gervais and I took the horses out one last time on the ranchland. We met some prairie dogs, crossed the river and rode up the hills to the plateau where the buffalo were gathering. We saw them from the distance. Gervais said, "If they start charging atus, gallop as fast as you can in the opposite direction." The buffalo stayed quiet and we stared at the magnificent view. The sun was reflecting in the winding Cheyenne River and illuminated the snowy hills.
AJ: Mark and I decided that we needed some hiking on this trip, so the two of us headed to Bear Butte, a sacred place of the Lakota. The Butte juts a thousand feet out of the South Dakota flatlands north of the Black Hills, the result of a slow upward thrust of igneous rock. On the approach it's difficult to tell the scale of things, especially after our experiences at the Crazy Horse Monument. The Butte is so out of place on the perfectly flat land it's impossible to tell how tall it is—which is slightly worrisome when you're planning to climb it.
But we started up the trail anyway, accompanied by colorful prayer flags and offertory bags of tobacco flapping in the wind. The ascent was magical, in part because of some combination of weather that had left the plants encased in sparkling ice. The sun was refracted by what seemed to be crystal coating on everything. Further up, deep snowdrifts obscured the trail, making the 45-degree hillside appear to be uninterrupted. I carefully kept my eyes on my feet.
The summit was spectacular—and windy. It was exhilarating to be so high and surrounded by absolutely nothing but the cold air. Unfortunately, there isn't too much to see besides the perfectly flat, tan South Dakota prairie and the Black Hills, hazy in the distance. And it was too cold for me to concentrate on the spiritual meaning of the climb, so we quickly descended past mule deer and soaring hawks to the warmth of the car.Back at the ranch, we celebrated our last night at Buffalo Gap by eating some home grown buffalo burgers.