Hello from Custer State Park, South Dakota.
This Californian and my associated Southern-raised Californian transplant partner did not even know (and we were both surprised to learn) that there's an entire state park (and associated town, Custer, SD -- awesome Mexican food for the first time in three weeks at The Begging Burro) that celebrates Custer. We'd both been raised to believe that he wasn't that great of a guy. And yet, here we were.
Turns out, the park that bears his name is awesome.
The hike to Black Elk Peak (in the national forest, but starting in the state park -- we arrived a few days after the Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak renaming chaos) was a great one, and tacking on a route down trail 4 to Little Devil's Tower (state park) just in time to dodge the thunderstorm with hail was a great way to close out the hike. Iron Mountain road was wonderful (best way to view Mt. Rushmore) and the Crazy Horse Memorial was totally worth it.
Best quote from the locals re: Harney/Black Elk Peak?
"We're so proud of our peak, it's the highest in the Northern Hemisphere east of the Rockies 'til France."
In general, all of the people we've met in the last several days have been so friendly and wonderful that I want to fall in love with this part of my country.
But on the other hand, there's the unnecessary use of K's. Everywhere. Like the Komfortable Kampgrounds. Or the Kopper Kettle Cafe. And the complete and utter lack of racial diversity outside of service labor and theater. Oh, and did I mention the regular flying of confederate flags? This is the the WEST, I want to stop and ask about history and symbolism and WHY every time I see a confederate flag on an ATV or 4X4 (But, in their defense, it's also shockingly common in rural NorCal, Oregon, and Washington -- if I stopped every time, we'd never get anywhere on this roadtrip).
It's been great hiking, not enough vegetables, too much lean red meat (elk, buffalo, etc.), good quiet sleep without light pollution, and lots of soul-searching...In other words, it's been wonderful.
But I'm ready to go East.