Our Summer Vacation

 

Like many, we take an annual summer vacation. This year we spent our summer vacation at one of our favorite places, the Black Hills of South Dakota.

We have a small pop-up camper, and enjoy camping our way across the country. We take our time, and we've never taken televisions or any other electronics except for the kids' CD players.

We've found over the years that not taking these items on our summer vacation has really benefitted Lucas, helping him to participate more with the family.

From helping to look for sticks for roasting marshmallows, to enjoying sitting around the campfire, to even telling us when he sees a train while we're driving, Lucas seems to want to be a part of the family on our summer vacation.

We're convinced that this time without a TV, etc. has really stimulated Lucas' ability AND desire to communicate and participate with us on these trips!

While we stuck pretty close to home for our first few camping trips, as Lucas became accustomed to the idea and routine of camping, we were able to go further away. We've even gone all the way across the United States to California!

But our favorite place to spend our summer vacation has got to be the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Sometimes you find a place where you just feel like you belong. That's how the Black Hills are for us. We camp above Mount Rushmore, explore caves, visit the Reptile Gardens, prairie dog towns and our old favorite, the Crazy Horse Memorial being carved into a mountain.

But Lucas' #1 favorite out of all the places we visit and things we see is a store called Rattlesnake Jakes.

We first visited Rattlesnake Jakes on our summer vacation in 1997, and our first trip of many to the Black Hills.

Rattlesnake Jakes is a fun little store in a strip of fun little stores, selling Black Hills Gold jewelry, Sioux pottery, t-shirts, children's toys, etc. It also has some rather unusual rattlesnake based items, like earrings and key chains made out of the "rattles".

But what makes it Lucas' favorite place is Rattlesnake Jake himself, who knew his name and talked to him from that very first time!

Rattlesnake Jake is a life sized, animated mannequin who sits in a corner of the store. He talks to people with help from Dallas Dietrich, who owns the store along with his wife, Mary.

Dallas will learn a child's name, and then as the child wanders around the store, eventually coming across Jake, Jake will talk to them as if he knows them!

Dallas and Mary also own and run a place called Meeting The Need. They had worked with many disabled people through another group Dallas helped found, Ski for Light.

Ski for Light helped disabled people go skiing, play golf, or even go rock climbing. Meeting The Need came about when they discovered that people with disabilities really had no place to stay in the Black Hills that truly worked for them.

The Dietrichs took an old tin mine with its wooden buildings still intact, and over the years, have turned it into a wonderful series of "lodges" with the help of hardworking volunteers. Each lodge is beautifully furnished with period pieces, and has wide doorways, low countertops in the kitchens, and open, easy to maneuver bathrooms.

The lodges are connected by a series of boardwalks, and there's a great big deck with a fire pit in the center, for those nights under the stars. People with all types of disabilities have enjoyed themselves in this beautiful, safe and fun environment.

Mary took us over to see how things have changed in the 4 years since we last visited, and we were amazed!

4 years ago, there were only a couple of buildings ready for use, but now ALL are pretty much finished, and people who don't usually get to come to a place like that are coming and enjoying themselves, along with their families and/or caregivers! They've even hosted reunions there.

We feel proud to call Dallas and Mary our friends, and hope to spend some time working at the camp if we ever get the chance.

In the meantime, take a look at Meeting The Need (they're listed on our Links page, too). The "Construction" and "Open House" pages have some great photos, but they were taken a couple of years ago, and things are even nicer now!

If you ever wanted to vacation in the Black Hills, give them a call and see if Meeting The Need can help meet the needs of YOUR family. And be sure to tell Rattlesnake Jake "Hi" from Lucas!

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