Yes, we kicked off our visit to the rez with a road trip. After all, we wouldn’t be doing much driving on the rez, right? Not!
For the uninitiated, the rez is Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwestern corner of South Dakota. As they say in real estate, it all comes down to location and that is true in this story because the rez is located near nothing. That’s right, really, nothing is close to the rez . . . and of course, nothing on the rez is close to anything else on the rez either. With 2 million acres to spread out, I wouldn’t necessarily want close neighbors myself.
Our trip actually began in Hartford, CT the morning of Friday, June 3 when we boarded an early, non-stop (yes, a miracle) flight from Hartford to Denver, CO. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by Southwest Airlines. They do need more newer planes, as we discovered on our return flight, but this plane was new, clean and comfy.
We arrived in Denver much earlier than you’d expect — oh that’s right, there was that thing with the time changes. Gaining 2 hours in your day can be helpful. After gathering the baggage, we went to choose a rental car. My husband, the rental car genius, had reserved an SUV that was going to cost us the exorbitant price of $20 and change per day. You are not seeing a typo – we had a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee for that price. Genius, right?
The drive to the reservation was going to take us about 7 hours, so it was good that we had gained those 2 hours crossing the country. It was a pleasant drive for the most part.
On one of our stretch breaks, we happened to be passing Carhenge. I did not misspell Stonehenge. Carhenge is a quirky, arty adaptation of the “henge” idea. Located right along County Road 59 in Alliance, NE (http://www.carhenge.com/), there is no charge to view the art – there is, however, a shop for snacks and souvenirs, aptly named the “Pit Stop.” It was a good place for a break.
We entered the Pine Ridge Reservation from the south, which necessitated passing through White Clay, NE (of which I have written before), that bastion of sobriety and icon to American greed. That last is sarcasm for those not familiar with White Clay, NE.
It took nearly an hour to reach our motel, the Lakota Prairie Lodge Resort in Kyle. This is in the northeastern part of the reservation. We checked in and settled in, then called our Lakota friends to let them know we had arrived. They are now living in Allen and invited us over. We drove to Allen (about half an hour) where we had a wonderful reunion. They are the kind of friends you can pick right up with, even if you haven’t seen them in a year. We finally left about 10 pm, realizing that our bodies thought it was midnight. Since we had to pick them up in the morning to start driving to Salt Lake City, some sleep might be a good idea.
Of course, we had gotten one surprise when we arrived that evening. Our original plan had been to take my friend and her husband to visit her daughter who is currently in a treatment facility near Salt Lake City. She had not seen her daughter since Christmas. Salt Lake City is a long way from home for a young Lakota woman. We love my “goddaughter” and know how much she misses her family. She has been through so much in her years, much of which I have written about and won’t repeat here. Suffice to say here that her anger has real roots.
We knew our Lakota friends did not have a working car and could not afford to pay someone to borrow a car to drive there or pay for the gas. So we had thought it would be something we could give them, what with the almost free rental car that, by the way, had unlimited mileage. It would be like the honeymoon they never had, room and board paid for as well. So we had thought.
Our surprise was that, in addition to our friends, we would be taking her 20 year old daughter and another daughter’s 5 year old son. We had 3 adults and a 5 year old in the back seat. Talk about tight quarters – especially since my friend’s husband is over 6 feet tall and wears 3X shirts. Enough said? I was particularly concerned over the lack of seat belt use and sort-of held my breath on this whole trip. So grateful my husband is a careful and wary driver.
We stayed at Hampton Inns on this part of the journey. Good prices and good accommodations. They 5 year old particularly enjoyed the pool every evening – a rare treat for a rez kid. Our first stop was Casper, WY. Some might dare to drive the 12 hours in one long ride, but this gal, having fibromyalgia, knows her limits. 6 hours sitting in one place in a car or twisting around to converse with the folks in the back seat is plenty for this body.
We arrived at South Jordan, UT on Sunday, June 5, in time for a visit with my “goddaughter.” It was a tearful reunion for mother and daughter. I stood back and observed, not wanting to insert myself into what was an intimate and private moment. I looked at my “goddaughter” – she’d grown since I’d seen her last. She will be 16 years old in July and is starting to look like a young woman. She looked healthy and beautiful. Some of the stories she told were less than pretty, though. When you are living in a center for troubled youth, many things can occur – fights, bullying, etc – that the staff cannot always control. But she is working hard to learn what she needs to and hopes to be home soon. I pray she succeeds.
Monday morning, June 6, we returned to the center for a final visit. Then midday, we had to leave to return to the rez. Although the initial reunion had been tearful, the leave-taking was stoic. Not easy, to be sure! But strong in a way I have seen many Lakota people endure difficulty.
We stayed in Rawlins, WY on the way back to the rez, then completed the trip back to Allen, SD on Tuesday, June 7. The return trip always seems to pass by faster, regardless of where we travel. That certainly was the case here.
After we dropped our friends off in Allen, we still had about an hour to drive to get back to the hotel we would stay in for the remainder of our vacation. Allen, as I said, is in the northeastern part of the rez and our hotel at the Prairie Wind Casino and Resort is just west of Oglala, in the southwestern corner of the rez. If you could drive directly from one to the other, it would be a diagonal – the hypotenuse of the triangle, which we former math teachers know is the shortest distance. But there is no road that does that. As they say in Maine, “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” At least not directly.
We finally checked in to the hotel. People who want to travel to the rez often ask me about accommodations. Choices are minimal. There are a couple of bed and breakfasts – which I have not tried yet. There is the motel in Kyle and the hotel at the Casino. I have written about the motel in Kyle before. This was our first stay at the Casino.
The decor and bed were excellent. The bathroom was . . . well, amusing. The plumbing in the shower had been installed upside down and backwards somehow. Typically, to turn on the shower, the lever arm is attached at the top of the regulator and is lifted to turn on the water. In this shower, it was attached at the bottom of the regulator, was already in the lifted position and had to be pushed in to turn on the water. It was a bit like learning a foreign language. Amusing. The water is very soft and it takes quite a while to feel that you’ve rinsed off the soap or shampoo properly. Of course, that is only in part due to the soft water. It is also due to the very low water pressure from the showerhead. Between the soft water and low pressure, I’m sure it took me 3 times longer to shower than it usually does – which sort of defeats the purpose of water conservation, don’t you think?
It was a good night’s sleep that night, however. After I stopped feeling like I was still rolling down the road in the car. Strange feeling to be stopped after so many miles on the road.
Denver to Kyle 371 miles
Kyle to Salt Lake City 717 miles
SLC to Kyle 717 miles
Kyle to Casino 79 miles
TOTAL for 5 Days 1884 miles (approximately)