Hookers, Rushmore and Limestone: Badass South Dakota


I read the above Vonnegut quote while in South Dakota and found ample opportunity to heed its message.  

I think Soleil did, too. Hallelujah! she said, as she hiked the mile uphill to the climbing crag, the base of a beautiful limestone wall in Spearfish Canyon called The Darkside. She loved going “trick or treating” for green pinecones, rocks, and sticks that she’d collect in her helmet while Tree and I worked on our projects. 


Tree’s project was called….


Got to love the local climbing humor. Since most of the routes were new, the setters wrote the names and grades on rocks placed at the base of the climbs like the one above. Other memorable ones were:



Han Job Solo 



Did I mention Sol can now sound out words that are written phonetically. So yeahhhhh…well, at least she was practicing reading, right? 

Tree sent this BEAST the day before we left. The route had been established a few weeks before we arrived and had only been sent by a few of the locals. We saw lots of attempts though. (By the way, ‘to send’ in climbing lingo means to lead climb the route from the ground to the anchors without falling or hanging on the rope). 


My project was called Passover, 12a. It was my hardest send to date! Unfortunately, I do not have a sending photo, but below (and above) is a shot our friend Peter took with a drone. At the time, I was still trying to figure out how to launch my body up through the dyno (for short people) crux move in the middle. When I got the move to a 10% success rate, I decided to try going for it. Let’s just say when I finally stuck the move on lead and finished the route, I was grateful to NEVER have to climb that again. 


The weather was perfect most days, too, but a couple times we got caught in the weirdest hail storms. It would be 90 degrees out and start hailing grape sized pellets in July. July!!! And I’m talking sheets of it. WTF is that about? As we took refuge under a ledge, I started laughing hysterically. It was just too much for my SoCal raised brain to handle. Hail? July? 90 degrees? Chicken Little! Buahahahaha! 

It happened right after this picture was taken. Look at that sky….would you ever guess? 


A new 11a, can’t remember the name

Anyhow, the town of Spearfish was a cute cowboy-hippie mash-up. Instead of burgers and Budweiser, think grass-fed bison and microbrews. They have a great natural food market, thrift shops, antique and curios stores, bluegrass bands in the park, and lots of local art wares on the main drag. 




These local made bags cracked me up.










Noni came to visit us for a couple weeks. This was a boon to all children in a ten mile radius. Within an hour of her arrival, she had monkey on her hand and was entertaining all the campground kids. 


 We got lucky and were able to hit the 4th of July county fair. 


Red40 cancer cone. But, you know, it was the 4th of July. We had to let her feel like a proper American kid at least once before we leave the country for a few more years. 

9She also went on lots of rides that were super expensive. That was another WTF moment, but this one did not bust me up. When I was a kid (oh geez, I really am this old), tickets cost a quarter each. Ten dollars would last all day. We spent $40 on carnival rides at this podunk fair. Well, Noni did. Thank you, Noni! 

1215 14 6 23

Now starts a lusty HERstory lesson in Deadwood, South Dakota in an old brothel cum restaurant/saloon.


If only I could go back in time and interview some Wild West hookers. I bet they had some stories to tell. Their experience was so unlike any other group of women’s experience in the rest of the country. They were frontierswomen! They were independent, enterprising, naughty, tough as nails, and I’m guessing a hoot to hang out with. Ladies with that kind of grit and hustle are my kind of people. 

9 If you can, expand the below photo and read more about the madams of Deadwood. If not, here’s some excerpts:

“In remote parts of the American West, it was not uncommon for men to outnumber women 200 to 1. So, when ‘sporting girls’ came to Deadwood by wagon train in 1876, along with two infamous Madams, Madam Mustachio and Madam Dirty Em, they were more than welcomed. 

Madam Mustachio and Madam Dirty Em. Could their names be any better? Let’s all have hooker names. I’m going to be Madam Whiskey Tits. Or maybe Madam Honey Grits. What’s your name gonna be? If you’re a man, you can pick an outlaw name. (Answers in comments please)

With the arrival of the women, saloons, dance halls, gambling establishments, and, of course, brothels popped up on Main Street. The brothels were the heart of Deadwoods “Bad Lands” (hence the name) where violence and addiction were common. Most of the girls died in obscurity, but some of them made names for themselves, the most famous being Calamity Jane who worked on and off as a prostitute. The last Deadwood brothel was shutdown in 1980. 

I wish we knew more about the women who settled the West. Their bravery gave women new opportunities outside of the home and helped lead the way to greater equality with men. 

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Of course we had to go see Mount Rushmore, which is more of traditional history lesson, but I of course dug deeper to find the missing women and people of color in that story.

I didn’t expect to be impressed, but you know what, it was an impressive experience. Not only because of the faces carved into the rock wall but for this: 


Four hundred workers. The carving started in 1927 and ended in 1941 with no fatalities. It’s amazing what people can do when we share a vision and work together to achieve it. The sculpture was created to increase tourism to the Black Hills, and it worked. Over 2 million people come just to see it every year. 


As for the faces–Washington, Jefferson, T.Roosevelt, and Lincoln–well, they’re cool. I like the guys. They were great presidents and an important part of our national history, and the likeness of each countenance is superb. But, it feels like they don’t belong in the Black Hills. Really. They’re out of place.

Before the monument was carved, the Lakota Sioux used to call the granite wall The Six Grandfathers. Now that fits. I can see the elders in the wall without man’s manipulation of it.

Aside from that point, I have two other contentions:

For one, we stole the land from the Lakota in 1876 after we had already granted it to them in perpetuity in a a treaty in 1868. And then to add insult to injury, we proceeded to carve 4 old white faces on their ridge traveled by Lakota spiritual sojourners. Kind of symbolic of our deeper, darker, less celebrated history, no? 

For two, the South Dakota historian, Doane Robinson, that originally conceived of carving faces into the granite wall had a much more fitting idea. He wanted to sculpt the faces of western heroes Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody into the Black Hills. Not only would that have been infinitely cooler, it would’ve honored the history of the land and people in a more meaningful and attuned way.


Okay, one more gripe. They were supposed to carve Susan B. Anthony into the wall, too, but the government cut funding before that could happen.

So, yeah… no women, no people of color = travesty. 

That’s right Soleil. Take a bow. 


And eat your ice cream made with Thomas Jefferson’s personal recipe. Or so they said when they charged us $5 for one scoop. Thank you again, Noni. 7

Okay, so this last part, I debated not even sharing with you, because let’s face it, no one really wants to see other people’s children’s art. But, here’s the thing. I don’t want to forget this stuff, and this blog is like a diary that’s meant to inspire, and who knows, maybe you’ll find her art inspiring. These days Soleil has been creating “installations” everywhere. She gathers ordinary items and arranges them in a way that I, mom, think is stimulating and balanced. I don’t want to use the word genius, but is it safe to say the kid has a knack for composition? 


I think the reason I’m so taken by her installations is that with her child’s imagination and wonder, she’s able to import meaning and magic into the mundane. What was once a book, a rubber ducky, and some lawn clippings comes together to become an impromptu holy land, a small and sacred place to pay reverence to the blessing and miracle of our everyday lives. 

The downside is that I find these carefully curated ensembles of things that don’t belong together (like toothbrushes and shoes), things I will invariably be looking for later, that I am also not allowed to clean “mess” up, everywhere!  Alas… the things I do to support the arts. 

She made the below artwork on the road as we left South Dakota in a hurry. With three days of non-stop driving to Oregon ahead of us, I made sure to have some time consuming projects ready. I cut up construction paper in various shapes, sizes, and colors and handed her a glue stick, and this is what she made. She called it a ‘mama monster.’ “Mira, ella tiene pelo largo y marron como tu!” Translation: Look she has long brown hair like you! 

Genius. There, I said it. 


Since leaving South Dakota in a hurry (our Trooper died), we have sold the Bounder and traveled back and forth in no logical order between Portland, Hood River, Seattle, San Francisco, and Bellingham, soon to add Los Angles and San Francisco and Portland back on that list before–ojala–we move to Spain. We’ve been lucky enough to couch surf with family that loves us and is willing to tolerate the big messy “installation” that is us, but I’m looking forward to getting out of everyone’s hair and having our own set of wheels to call home again. 


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  1. Madam Beat A Bean

  2. Madam Martini Weenie!!

  3. Lady May I Come Now

  4. So Awesome

  5. We were just in Europe for three months. We drove a 23 ft. Diesel fiat van chassis RV 6000 miles. My key takeaway is that if you can go smaller I would. The roads can be tight especially through old towns and villages. Remember European vacation with Chevy Chase where he got his car stuck between two walls…well it can happens. Don’t trust Google maps and bring via ferrata gear…they are everywhere in Europe. Install park4night which gives you great places to stay for free. Oh and Cadiz province was my favorite place in Spain. Paragliding motorcycling hiking mountain biking kiting heaven. Love love love spain! Good luck!

  6. Madame Switch!

  7. Been thru badlands on the Harley going to Sturgis those were some bad ass times…I’m glad you got to see it! Keeping fingers and toes crossed for your interview big kiss big hug!

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