My idea of a perfect vacation is far different from most people’s, I’m sure. Warm tropical breezes and white sands always sounds inviting, but the novelty wears off after a few days, or in my case, in a few hours. Eating food I don’t recognize and drinking around pieces of floating fruits is not my idea of a great meal.

Traveling to a foreign country doesn’t have much attraction to me, either, unless there is a lot of history to be explored. A trip to Germany in the 80s was fascinating because of it’s history, especially the events and places leading to both World Wars. I was also going to look up some Heintzs while in Munich, but gave up when I looked in the phone book and found six pages of Heintzs listed. Kinda like Smith in America. I would love to spend time in England and Ireland and look for long lost relatives, and soak up the Irish music my dad loved so much.

A vacation involving horses is more to my liking. Patti and I spent a lot of time riding in the Black Hills, seeing parts of Custer State Park that most people never see, riding up what used to be Harney Peak on the back trail, stair-steps carved out of stone, just wide enough for a horse or hiker to travel. It took three hours to reach the top and two hours to come back down. We took a pack horse so we had lunch at the top before we came back down. We spent time at Ft. Robinson in Nebraska, a place filled with history of the West. We stalled our horses in the huge horse barns and rode wherever we chose to, climbing into the sandstone bluffs and riding the prairie around the historic fort. This is a wonderful place for family reunions, and the Heintz family has gathered there numerous times. Check it out.

A place I keep going back to, spending time exploring and imagining in my mind’s eye what took place there, is the Custer Battlefield. We used to take our daughters to school in Idaho and passed by the battlefield twice a year. We stopped every time, under protest from my kids and sometimes my wife, so I could drag them from point-to-point over the several miles that were part of the battle that 25th day of June, 1876, trying to follow the chronology of events and hoping the girls would magically become excited about this part of history. That never happened. It was really a long trip for the girls when my dad rode along, because he too loved to roam the battlefield. The only consolation was that we would always stop at the Purple Cow Restaurant outside of Hardin, and Dad would buy everyone one of their sooper-dooper malts as a reward for being patient.

Traveling through Wyoming, south of Gillette, always fills me with awe, thinking of all the pioneers that came through that country on their way west, in wagons, horseback, pulling handcarts and simply walking. What big country! Independence Rock, with its surface carved with names of pioneers who left their signature for generations to read and wonder about who they were and whatever happened to them, is a monument to our Western spirit, of the audacity and bravery people had back then. God bless that spirit of adventure and endurance!

I guess what I think a great vacation is doesn’t necessarily include a place of beauty, but a place of importance to us as Americans. We have so much to see and learn in this country about our forefathers, and about ourselves. God Bless America!

Gary Heintz owns an insurance agency in Pierre and writes a column for the Capital Journal. He is also co-producer of the Dakota Western Heritage Festival, held annually each September in Ft. Pierre.

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