Friday, September 30, 2011

Good-bye Salt Lake City, Hello to the Real Utah

We left Salt Lake City this morning with no regrets. Traffic was horrible -- shades of the Washington Beltway. There were orange construction cones for miles with little evidence in most places of anybody working. Finally, about 30 miles from the city, the highway went down to two lanes in each direction and a more country landscape. (Sigh of relief...) It reminded me of our Interstate 81 in the Shenandoah Valley with a large grass median and mountains to both the east and west, although the mountains here are much more rugged and with less vegetation than ours back home.

The ride was beautiful through the country, especially when we turned off Int. 15 and turned onto Utah 20 to go over the mountains and then onto US 89 down the valley. But the really incredible views began when we got to Utah 12. We drove into Red Canyon with bright red-orange rock formations, tunnels cut thorugh the mountain, and towering cliffs on either side of us.

But nothing could have prepared us for the incredible sight of Bryce Canyon. After we set up camp we drove into the park and went out to Sunset Point. We looked out over miles of towering rocks rising from the canyon floor in an amazing variety of shapes and forms. Some looked like giant chess pieces, others like walled cities and castle turrets. There were cathedral-like spires and rocks that resembled all kinds of things just like cloud pictures. I took one picture that appeared to have a duck in it and one group of rocks reminded me of the model of Jerusalem we saw at the Morman Temple visitor's center. Some of the rock formations looked absolutely impossible with large boulders balancing on the tops of skinny pillars. How could such a place exist? To me it is an absolute wonder of nature and should be listed among the wonders of the world.

This, to me, is the real Utah, the rugged natural landscape that celebrates the rugged individualism of the people who settled this great state. Larry read me an entry about the early settlers of Panguitch which is about 25 miles from Bryce Canyon. We passed through it on our way and will return on Sunday to attend Mass there. The early settlers had a difficult first winter when the crops failed. They were starving, so an intrepid group of men set off to Parowan about 40 miles away to get food for the settlement. The ox-drawn wagons couldn't make it through the deep snow, so the men abandoned them and used quilts to walk the entire way - putting one down, walking across it and putting down another in front while they retrieved the quilt behind. The town still celebrates the "Panguitch Quilt Walk."

That story speaks to the spirit of the people who settled this country. What a courageous band. Would that we had that same spirit in facing the challenges of today. We are stewards, individuals created in God's image and entrusted with the care of this beautiful country and the people in it beginning with the least ones, the little babies in the womb waiting to be born. May we be faithful stewards quick to respond like those men whose ingenuity and courage saved their families from starvation.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Salt Lake City and Antelope Island: Not Our Favorite Stop

Thursday, September 29

George Bailey would love the Salt Lake City KOA. Last night was filled with jet noise, train whistles, and traffic -- all night long! The only thing missing were ship anchor chains. Needless to say, we didn't get a great night's sleep. It's too bad they put us in the front near the road; the back of the park is probably quieter. Oh well, we're off tomorrow.

We got up early this morning to go to the 8:00 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine which is absolutely beautiful, although I knew the Church had been renovated the minute we walked in because it had a large baptismal hot tub in the back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Travelling There is Half the Fun!

Wednesday, September 28

We have thoroughly enjoyed our tourist days when we go hiking or visit museums or go on some sort of activity like a boat float or tour. But the days we just travel from one place to another will, I'm sure, be among the most memorable. Like today - mostly just a travel day to Salt Lake City.

After taking down the camper we took one last walk along the Snake River behind the campground and Larry left a little stone hoodoo. We've seen them everywhere we go since Wisconsin so it seemed appropriate to leave our own mark on the beach behind the Jackson KOA.

Then we were off, traveling south on US 89 toward Alpine. Immediately we were treated to the most beautiful fall colors. The box elder, which the locals call mountain maple, ranged from a rosy red to a brilliant scarlet. Against the bluest of skies they were exquisite. We passed into the southeastern corner of Idaho and came to a museum about the Oregon Trail in Montpelier. I'm so glad we stopped. Not only did they have a wonderful series of paintings about the pioneers on the Oregon Trail, but there was a display of beautiful quilts. (You would love it, Rebecca!) We spent a delightful hour wandering around and then getting some tourist info from the visitor center next door. The woman was very helpful and urged us not to miss the viewpoint overlooking Bear Lake.

Travelling down Logan Canyon we were treated to some of the most beautiful scenery on our trip yet. I asked Larry to stop at one point so I could walk back up the road to take a photo of an impressive rock structure with a lovely little creek. What a surprise to see a young man climbing the rock. Well, actually, he was swinging from a harness clipped to the rock. He seemed to be enjoying just hanging there. I was delighted to get a photo, not only of the interesting rock, but with him hanging from it.

The view from the observation point above Bear Lake was breathtaking. The color of the water changes, according to the information sign, because of minerals in the water. Calcium in the rocks is washed off and causes the light to make different colors from brilliant sky blue to aqua. The Lake is spring fed and huge. It was like a brilliant sapphire on the landscape.

Getting into the area around Salt Lake City was a reminder that even out west there are cities with terrible traffic and congestion. We are staying at a KOA in town and have already noticed the: airplanes, trains, traffic noise, and bright lights. Our poor little maison de les etoiles will see few stars while we stay here I think. But we will only spend two nights and one full day here. We are eager to get back to the middle of nowhere where God paints his autumn world in brilliant colors and silence.

One last picture from the day. We saw many signs along the road urging motorists to watch out for free-ranging stock. And what a treat it was to come upon a herd of sheep that apparently had just been led across the road by a shepherd on horseback. What fun! But the entire drive today, fun from the moment we left the campground in Jackson until we hit the traffic around Salt Lake City, was pure delight. Thank you Jesus that there are so many more open spaces than there are cities in this wonderful vast country of ours!

Scenic River Float and the National Museum of Wildlife Art

September 27 - Tuesday

After breakfast we went to the KOA office to check on the scenic Snake River raft ride. Just in time - the ride was scheduled to go at 10:00 and it was quarter till. We ran back to the camper for sweaters and the camera, hopped in the KOA van for the ride over, and off we went. Our driver was a full time RVer, a retired electrician who works during the summer and then goes off to visit his kids when the campground closes in October. We've met lots of full-time RVers who either work or volunteer while they travel.
When we got to the river there were a half dozen rubber rafts being prepared. We donned the mandatory life jackets, got the safety speech on what to do if we fell in, and were assigned to a guide. Ours was a young college grad named Hunter who decided to spend a few years having fun before settling down. When summer season ends he plans to work for one of the ski places to get free skiing during the winter.

Our two hours on the river delighted us. A picture perfect fall day gave us beautiful views of colorful trees set against a blue blue sky and the bluegreen river. We saw several eagles including two brown-headed juveniles with their mother. A river otter swam by as well.

Hunter told us Harrison Ford owns 40 acres in the area and often participates in rescue operations with his helicopter. He told a story of a young woman being airlifted off the mountain with a broken leg. When the pilot turned around to ask how she was doing, she saw it was Harrison Ford and fainted dead away. We think it's a river guide story, but maybe it's true and the actor has some Indiana Jones blood in him for real.

After enjoying the real thing we drove to the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Patrons of early wildlife art were hunters. So often animals were portrayed as the perfect specimen. Many artworks showed the "heroic male" of the species boldly standing in the foreground of a natural setting.

We finished our day walking around Jackson and eating at the Teton Steakhouse which had a fabulous soup and salad bar as well as a good senior sirloin at a reasonable price. Another memorable day in the great state of Wyoming!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jackson Hole and a Tram Ride up Mount Rendezvous

September 25-26

There's so much to do here in Jackson Hole we extended our two nights (with one full day to explore) into three nights. It gave us time to do laundry, catch up on some blogging because I have internet finally (none in Yellowstone's campground), and just enjoy gazing at the mountains and hiking along the river. We settled in on Sunday afternoon with enough daylight to walk down along the Snake river which runs in back of the campground. The tenters are right on the river overlook. Wow!

The next morning we dawdled a bit over breakfast then made a stop at the Visitor's Center to get hiking information. We decided to take a flat walk on the levee along the Snake River near the town of Wilson. At the .5 mile marker there were two female moose nibbling on the trees. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a clear picture because they were in behind the trees. We probably would have missed them entirely except for several other walkers who pointed them out. They really blend in with the scenery. We stood and watched them for a few minutes and then went on hoping they would come up on the levee to cross to the river for a drink. No luck. But the three mile out and back walk was delightful with all the fall colors and the bluest sky I've ever seen. We also came across a few young people with a border collie who was trying to catch his shadow. What a sweet little animal (reminded me of our Shaley who lived to be 16 and was our "circus dog" who would jump through hoops and do all kinds of tricks). The river is clearly down now and there is driftwood all along the dry places in the river. People tell us in the spring when the snow starts to melt it turns into a raging riot. I sure wouldn't want to take a whitewater trip then.

We drove up to Teton Village and had lunch at the Mangy Moose. It was breezy but we sat outside on their deck and braved the occasional cold gusts as we ate our buffalo burger and Idaho trout fish and chips. Great food and a hefty lunch to prepare us for a hike on the mountain. We took the tram to the top of Mt. Rendezvous. It was an eleven minute ride and what a view! But when I got off at the top, I had to sit down I had such vertigo. The mountain is over 10,000 feet elevation and  looking down into the valley with nothing around me but open air (and a breeze to boot) made me dizzy. I had to look down at my feet when we climbed the stairs to the "top of the world" to view the scenery all around. Looking over at Grand Teton peak, the highest mountain in the range, we seemed to be at the same level but Rendezvous is actually about 3,000 feet lower. Sure didn't seem like it.

Dad with Grand Teton peak in back.

We hiked about a half a mile down the mountain and then stopped to sit on a rock and pray our rosary. A large group of young people came along and then an older man. We asked who the kids were. They were students from Iowa state studying landscape architecture and he was the professor. He said the hike was to explore what exactly landscape architecture means. What a place to think about it!

I'm not sure what "landscape architecture" is, we didn't get into that, but we've seen lots of buildings here in the west that are designed to fit into the landscape. I imagine that's what landscape architecture means -- designing buildings in comformity with the surroundings. There's definitely a different look here. The visitors centers and museums are often made with local stone and in different designs from back east -- simpler and more rugged. Lots of the log cabin type look in the restaurants with cowboy decorations: ten-gallon hats, saddles, dear and buffalo heads, antler chandaliers and door handles. It's really different from what we're accustomed to. And bronze sculptures, big bronze sculptures are everywere: bison, groups of elks, bears, moose, etc.

The temperature at the top of the mountain was about twenty degrees colder than the bottom. and snow in the crevices. A sign at the top showed pictures of wildflowers and called the area an "alpine meadow." There were still flowers blooming among the rocks and it made me think of Heidi living with her grandfather on the mountainside and running barefoot in the summer meadows with Peter and the goats. The view down into the valley was breathtaking once I could look farther than my feet. I think I could get used to being that high. I never get vertigo on our own beloved Virginia mountains but they are an entirely different breed. I think the Massanutten is about 1500 feet as it rises from the dam below our house -- quite a bit smaller than 10,000 foot Mt. Rendezvous. And people ski off Rendezvous. Someone on the tram was talking about a teenager who was killed last winter when he fell head first into a snow well under a tree. Apparently the snow under the trees doesn't get packed down and he must have smothered when he couldn't get out. I hate to think of such things.

We looked for wildlife on the tram ride down but didn't see any. We did see lots of beautiful fall colors, but I kept hoping for a glimpse of mountain goats or bighorn sheep. No luck, only the shadow of the tram preceding us down the mountain.

Then back to the campground for a campfire. What camping trip would be complete without an occasional hot dog cooked on a stick over an open fire? The stars were brilliant in the dark, clear sky. So I've decided to name our little home on wheels la maison de les etoiles, the house of stars. We haven't spent much time there except at night sleeping under the stars.

Grand Teton, Jenny Lake, and Interesting Conversations

Sunday, September 25

The angels continue to be on the job. This morning Larry noticed that the ball on the trailer hitch was loose. (Thanks, angels for the alert! Losing the trailer hitch could be a real disaster putting all the weight on the two linklines.) Lacking a wrench large enough to fix it, Larry borrowed one from our neighbor, another blessing. If you don't have the right tools, pray that a human angel has one to loan you. After tightening it, we hooked up and went off to a service station to have the hitch looked at and further tightened.

We had a long talk with the mechanic who is a native of Wyoming and fiercely independent. He described how the government is destroying the work ethic and gave the example of a friend who had open heart surgery and went on disability temporarily. He wanted to go back to work but social services told him if he did, not only would he lose disability, but he would also have to pay back all the disability he had received. So, of course, he can't afford to go back to work. This is how the government creates a permanent welfare class. Penalize work. Talking to this gentleman was a real education in economics. He said the people of Wyoming (about half a million in the entire state) keep a close watch on their state legislature. He favors a flat tax, but a state senator told him that will never happen because it would put so many people out of business: IRS agents, CPAs, tax preparers, etc. He predicted a revolution is coming bigger than the Civil War. Interesting conversation.

Meeting people around the country is fascinating. We had a long conversation the night before with a gentleman at the Jackson Lodge as we sat by the fire. He was concerned about government as well although he was more shoulder-shrugging, what-can-anyone-do-about-it frustrated. The mood out here is definitely anti-government. These are people who love America and hate what the career politicians are doing to her.

But back to vacation.... We left the service station and headed south toward Jackson Hole. I booked a KOA on-line (Gosh I love that Ipad my daughter-in-law loaned me! Thanks, Jes.) That relieved the stress of trying to find a place later so we could stop and take our time enroute which was exactly what we did.

The views along the road of the towering Grand Tetons are glorious! They are so strange. There are no foothills. The land is flat up to the base of mountain that then appears to go almost straight up. I can imagine the pioneers seeing those moutains. "Great Jehosaphat! How will we ever get over those?" And then there's the Snake River which crossed the Oregon Trail over and over so that the people had to ford or float it numerous times. Here behind our campground the Snake isn't too wide -- only about 30 yards, but it's swift and looks deep. Imagine a wagon train trying to cross that!

Jenny Lake is one of the prettiest stops we've made. We took the boat across the lake. It was a speedboat ride with the wind whipping so much we had to take off our hats or risk losing them into the lake. It made me laugh and I loved feeling the spray! Once we landed we hiked out and back to a beautiful waterfall (Hidden Falls) and an overlook only a little further on with an expansive view of the lake and the mountains. The walk was a well-travelled path but rocky and steep. It was like climbing an endless staircase along a stream. The views were lovely with water tumbling in little falls and cascades beside us all along the way.

Hidden Falls is probably a hundred foot drop and lovely.  And only a little farther on was a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake. We didn't walk as far as Inspiration Point because I was worried about my knees holding out for the walk down which is very hard on them. But another angel had given me a hiking pole on the way up so I had that for support. Someone had passed it to him and, when we got about 200 yards from the boat landing, we met a group climbing up with a lady who clearly needed help. They commented on how smart I was to bring a pole and I said, "An angel gave it to me on the way up, and I'm passing it on to you. Have a wonderful walk." I hope she was able to make it to the falls.

We had a quick tailgate picnic in the parking lot and moved on to Jackson Hole where we found friendly KOA staff and set up for the next few nights. The bathrooms are spotless, the river is right below our campsite, and we are ready to explore Jackson Hole. My only regret is that the local parish showed no daily Mass. Churches out west have been fewer and farther between and have fewer priests. Pray for vocations.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Big Thank You to the Angels

I haven’t said anything about our angels, but they’ve been busy watching over us ever since we left. We have our guardian angels accompanying us, of course, but we also asked St. Michael the Archangel to come along as a protector and St. Raphael who travelled with Tobias on his journeys. What better companions can one aske for. And they have definitely been on the job.

Yesterday, was a case in point. We were planning to travel to Jackson Hole and stay at a campground there called The Virginian (appropriate for us coming from Virginia we thought). We’ve had no problem anywhere without reservations. But we stopped at a scenic pull off and a lady struck up a conversation asking if we were going to Jackson. When I said yes she said they had a reservation, but were coming a day early and the campground was full. They were going to be parking that night next to the dumpster. Well, we made an instant change of plans. We went as far as Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park and booked a site for the night in their RV park, the last night it was open actually. That particular campground closes Sept. 25th for the season.
The blessing of our change of plans was a lovely two-mile hike around Jackson lake with beautiful views of the mountains and a close encounter with a very tame mule deer who was munching on salad in the woods near the trail. She wasn’t the least bit afraid and we were no more than ten feet away. When she decided to move toward us we backed away. As the park warns, these are wild animals and deer have sharp hooves.

We went to Saturday afternoon Mass at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart which advertised a 5:00 p.m. service. It turned out to be a wedding as well. What an odd crowd with the wedding guests dressed to the nines and the campers in jeans and sneakers. We seem to be lucking out on the sacraments with a baptism at last week’s Mass and a wedding this week. May the bride and groom be blessed in their married life together.

Instead of heading straight back to the campsite we stopped at the Jackson Lodge for an appetizer and drink. The ranger at the campground advised us that they have floor to ceiling windows in the second floor lobby with spectacular views of the Grand Tetons. She wasn’t exaggerating. What a view of the sun setting behind the mountains. And to top it off, after it got dark (and chilly) there was a nice warm fire in the most interesting fireplace with moose andirons. It was a delightful end to a lovely day. Thanks, angels!

Surprising Yellowstone

Old Faithful, the icon of Yellowstone
I’ve always thought Yellowstone was about pristine crystal lakes, rivers, and streams with fishermen casting with graceful movements. I imagined the forests with towering pines and rushing waterfalls, a land filled with wildlife: moose, bear, deer, antelope, coyotes, buffalo and wolves, and, of course, Old Faithful. And Yellowstone is all of that. But I didn’t realize that a major portion of Yellowstone’s features were geothermal. I had no idea that there were HUNDREDS of geysers and sputtering mud pools and fumeroles (steam vents) and hot springs. In the two days we travelled the northern and southern loops of the park we saw steam rising everywhere, even at the edges of the lakes. When we first entered the park we thought there was a fire and there was some fire activity, but most of what we saw was steam from the various thermal spots. Almost everywhere there was at least a faint scent of sulphur from the simmering geothermal activity. Yellowstone is actually a huge volcano and when you drive around the park and stop at the various geyser basins you realize it. In the Old Faithful geyser area we saw three major geysers erupt: Old Faithful (three separate times), the Beehive geyser, and the Castle geyser which went on for at least half an hour of throwing up water and was still belching steam twenty minutes later when we moved on.

We did a tour of the volcano mud pots with a park ranger, a retired biology teacher who works during the summer and goes home to Virginia at the end of the season. We learned the four different types of geothermal activity in the park: geysers, fumeroles, hot springs, and mud pots. The colors are amazing and in one area called the Porcelain Basin the rich turquoise, orange, copper, and yellow reminded me of Indian pottery – beautiful! There’s one area called the paint pots, but we didn’t stop to tour that area. There just wasn’t time to do it all.

Simmering pool in the Porcelain Geyser Basin
One of the most interesting areas we visiting was on the Firehill River Loop. After stopping at a geyser called the White Dome that erupts every 35 minutes(Luckily we caught its five minute show.), we moved on to a spot that features the “constant geyser” that bubbles and spurts continuously. It was in a lake called the Black Warrior set between Fire Lake and Hot Lake. The “lakes” were more like ponds, but the entire area was a steam sauna. Walking the boardwalk around Hot Lake we passed through a cloud of steam that was like a steam bath. I’m sure during the winter it’s a popular spot for wildlife. One of the rangers told us bison will often settle down in steamy areas during the hot summer because it suppresses the stinging insects. In the winter it no doubt keeps them warm.

Speaking of wildlife we saw quite a bit. Buffalo were all over. We were stopped by a group in the road on our way in from the east entrance when we arrived. One night in the dark we almost hit a large bull sauntering along in the road. He obligingly moved over to the other side to let us pass. We saw elk, but I can’t claim they were in the wild. One group was lounging around next to the parking lot at a visitor center. Another group were in the grass around the lodge in Mammoth. They apparently have no fear of people, but the park emphasizes with signs everywhere to keep your distance. They have many more injuries from charging buffalo than from bears.

We never did see a bear as a matter of fact, but I wasn’t about to go hiking in the woods looking for one. Mostly we were on the boardwalks in the geothermal areas and around the lake. We probably hiked about ten miles while we were in Yellowstone but none of it was in the back country where we might have met a bear. That was fine with me. We did see two coyotes from a distance and later a grey wolf crossing the road as we headed toward the southern entrance on the way to the Grand Tetons on Saturday. We felt we had seen more in our two days than anyone has a right to expect and were well satisfied with our visit.

Yellowstone is definitely an intriguing and fascinating place and I hope we make it back again before we hang up our hiking boots.

Charmed by Cody and Buffalo Bill

We arrived in Cody around noon and checked in at the Ponderosa Campground, a great choice. The pull-through campsites were close together, but adequate and the bathrooms were immaculate, my primary requirement from a campground. The lady who checked us in was a walking tourist magazine and pointed us to all the great places to visit. We had to choose from among a wealth since we only had a day and half before moving on to Yellowstone. We decided to visit the Old West town only a short distance away. All the buildings are authentic, moved from one place or another. They consisted of a school, several settler cottages, a store, the saloon, a blacksmith shop, the carriage house, Curly’s cabin (an Indian guide to General George Custer and one of the few survivors of the Little Big Horn), the cabin used by Butch Cassidy and his hole in the wall gang, and a cemetery. There was a little museum as well as all the buildings. We wandered around for about an hour and a half. One of the most interesting areas was the cemetery where they reburied a number of people exhumed from other places who were important to Cody’s history. They were moved and reburied thanks to the efforts of a number of Cody citizens and organizations. Several have large monuments. There is certainly a sense of pride in Cody and a reverence for their famous sons and daughters.

As we were preparing to leave, a group of teenagers dressed up for a wild west reenactment arrived. Several of the girls looked like saloon babes decked out in satin, feathers, and fishnet stockings. They were making a movie for their English class on western literature. What fun. We hung around for awhile while they planned out what they were going to do. Several were talking about killing off their husbands. After visiting the town we stopped at a shop/museum nearby that features a large miniature display. It had military forts, Indian villages, pioneers travelling across the country, Indian buffalo hunts, Buffalo Bill’s wild west show, and railroads. What a labor of love putting such a display together and there was no entrance fee. A number of the display areas had audio explanations of the scenes. It was a great 45 minute stop and well worth the time.

The next morning after breaking camp and going to Mass at St. Joseph's (which turned out to be a Communion service because the pastor was out of town at a diocesan priests’ meeting), we went to the Buffalo Bill Museum nearby. It will probably be one of my favorite stops of the trip. The museum is divided into sections on Buffalo Bill, the Plains Indians, Firearms, and Western Art. I loved the section on Buffalo Bill. What a man, very much ahead of his time. He supported women’s suffrage, was one of the first to urge the preservation of areas as national parkland, and believed in paying a decent wage to his employees. His wild west show employed about 600 players and the logistics to go with it were astounding. But what I loved most about the man was his love for family. He and his wife had four children and only one grew to be an adult. There was charming letter from his daughter which she wrote shortly before her marriage telling him what a good father he’d been and asking him to love her husband as a son. Later Buffalo Bill wrote a delightful letter to his newborn granddaughter telling her he hoped she would love her granddaddy even though he was noisy and gruff and not be afraid of the shooting because he loved little children. One of my favorite photos in the display was Buffalo Bill dressed as Santa for some school children. After reading all the exhibits on his life, I was especially thrilled to see that the day before he died he was baptized a Catholic by a priest, an old family friend. What a fitting end to this saga of a good man, one of the most unique characters of the wild west.

One comment about our travels west: so many priests have multiple parishes. The Cody priest had his main church, St. Joseph, and two others listed in the bulletin. In many places we’ve visited, the bulletins show two, three, even four parishes being served by one priest. We are so blessed in my diocese to not have this problem – yet. Pray for religious vocations and good Catholic parents who foster them.

Heading West: Devil's Tower and a Night to Forget

Devil’s Tower, a rock that was named the first national monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 is only an hour or so from Spearfish and our first stop for the day on the way to Sheridan and Cody. We stopped for a roadblock just outside down -- horses in the roa d. They didn’t look wild so we presumed they got out through a broken fence. I enjoyed the photo op.
The stop at Devil’s Tower was well worth the two hours. As we drove up to the visitors’ center we passed a field of prairie dogs who were so brave they were all out and about right next to the road. I love those little creatures although I’m sure they are a pest from the farmers’ point of view – like groundhogs back east. But they are so entertaining!

We opted for the one mile walk around the tower. The rock formation is amazing with what looks like vertical columns all around. The Indians have a legend that the striations on the rock are the claw marks of a giant bear named Mato. The tower is a sacred place to the Sioux. As we walked around the paved tower circle trail we stopped dozens of times to watch the climbers. We counted at least twenty on our rounds and met the wife of one of them. Her husband was climbing it for the first time. He had a friend who had climbed it before and a 63-year-old with them was climbing it for the fifth time. They were climbing up the sunny side and had started at about 7:00 am. She guessed the treck up and down would be about eight hours and was a little concerned about the heat of the rock and the sun blazing down on them. The tower really is an amazing sight and many fallen rocks at the base show the pillar-like shape of the stones. Amazing!

As we drove west from Devil’s Tower we saw signs saying to follow the southern route as the “safest” way to Yellowstone over the Big Horn mountains. When we stopped for gas I asked the clerk about the two routes. “If you aren’t used to mountain driving, I’d recommend the southern route,” she said. “The northern is steep with a lot of switchbacks. It can be pretty unnerving if you aren’t used to it.” Well, flexibility is the name of the travel game and we made an instant change of plans as we started west toward Cody. We scratched Sheridan where we planned to stay the night and decided to head down to Thermopolis which has a hot spring. The mountains were a dicey drive so I’m glad we didn’t take the scarier route. By the time we got to Thermopolis it was getting dark and we had no Ipad service for checking out campgrounds. I thought there was camping at the state park but, that turned out to be a mistake and we headed back toward a campground we’d passed called The Fountain of Youth. It turned out to be an unpleasant, unkempt place. It had a spring fed pool but the bathrooms weren’t very clean and the entire campground appeared not to be maintained so I didn’t trust the cleanliness of the pool. The water changes regularly in a spring fed pool, but you still need to clean it regularly and when I put my foot in the bottom felt slippery. We decided not to unhook, just stay the night, and head out for Cody in the morning. To prevent our stay from being a total loss we went out to breakfast at a little cafĂ© called the Black Bear that had great homemade corned beef hash. We bought a piece of homemade apple-plum pie for later and than stopped in at a little antique shop and browsed a bit. I found a paper sculpture in a shadow box that reminded me of the ones we saw in Rapid City so I bought it as a souvenir of our trip.

Larry and I are in no hurry to revisit Thermopolis. We’ll stick with our own hot springs in Virginia, the Jefferson Pools in Bath County. If you’ve never been there add it to your bucket list. It’s a great spot.

Return to Deadwood

After visiting Spearfish Canyon on Sunday we circled around on a loop that passed through Deadwood. We had driven through on our way to Spearfish from Keystone on Saturday, but the town was bustling and parking was impossible especially with a camper so we just passed through planning to skip it. I’m so glad we changed our minds on our Sunday drive. Parking was still a challenge because all the meters required change and I’d left my purse at the camper. Of course, it was full of quarters. We drove around town and finally parked in the Main St. lot. We walked to the Chamber of Commerce where a helpful lady gave us some great advice on activities in town and a super spot for dinner. We walked back into the center of town to catch the Wild Bill Hickock murder in Saloon # 10, a free show. “He’s killed three times a day, at one, three, and five,” she told us. We got there just in time and had a front row table. The young man playing Wild Bill got volunteers from the audience to play his three poker partners and the bartender. They all dressed up as the characters and played cards quietly while Bill gave us his history.

It was a great little thirty minute show with Wild Bill telling us all about his adventures. Wow! He packed a lot into his short life. He was a sheriff in Abilene but gave that up after he accidently shot and killed his deputy during a gun battle with a bunch of bad guys. Friends with Buffalo Bill Cody, he joined Cody’s Wild West Show for awhile, but didn’t like being on display. Finally, he headed out to Deadwood, a gold mining town, leaving his new bride back east telling her he’d make their fortune. He had a claim with a friend but decided the real money was to be made at the poker table. He always sat facing the door with his back to the wall, but on that fateful day one of the other players was sitting in his chair and wouldn’t get up. Wild Bill argued with him twice, but couldn’t prevail on him to change places. Sitting with his back to the door, he never saw Jack McCall come up behind him and draw his gun. McCall shot him in the back of the head. He died instantly. It was a pretty dramatic reenactment with all the poker players running out the back chasing McCall. The bartender came over and felt his pulse and said, “Wild Bill is dead.” The only one missing was Calamity Jane, a friend of Bill’s who was sweet on him and helped chase down McCall. “It’s the purtiest corpse I ever did see,” she wailed seeing Wild Bill after they laid him out. Later when she was dying she asked to be buried next to him on “Boot Hill,” the Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Larry and I drove up to the cemetery and walked to their graves and then wandered around praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary for all the souls buried there. In one place they had a sign for the children who died over a two year period from epidemics. We also hiked up to the highest grave in the cemetery where Seth Bullock lies. Whew! It was quite a treck. Bullock became marshal of Deadwood after Wild Bill’s murder and was determined to clean things up.

We also visited the Franklin Hotel, one of the oldest in Deadwood. Many famous people have stayed there including John Wayne and Theodore Roosevelt. The main lobby sports a casino now but they’ve maintained many of the historic features including beautiful chandeliers and some rooms upstairs with antiques. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to stay there. It’s seedier than grand once you leave the lobby, but it was an interesting place to walk around.

By the time we finished sightseeing, it was dinnertime and we went off to check out the recommendation from the lady at the visitor’s center. The Lodge at Deadwood is relatively new and is on a hill right outside town. There’s a sports grill on one side and a restaurant on the other. We opted for quiet and no TVs. The menu had some great choices and we had a hard time deciding between steak or fish, but fish won out. Wow! It was one of the best dinners I’ve ever had at a restaurant. I had the walleye (from  Minnesota or Wisconsin) smothered in herbs and minced veggies. Larry had a potato encrusted salmon. Both dishes were delicious and the bread was so good I took home the last three pieces in the bread basket – too good to throw out! My dad always said you could judge a restaurant by its bread and this was certainly first rate.

While we were eating the bride and groom we saw that morning at Roughlock Falls came in. We stopped at their table before we left and wished them all the best. Then we drove back to our campsite in Spearfish feeling like we’d gotten the flavor of a real “wild west” town. What a fun day!

Here I am standing between Wild Bill and his killer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday Drive in Spearfish Canyon

Since we went to Mass Saturday afternoon, we slept in til 7:45 Sunday morning and ate a leisurely breakfast before packing up lunch and our hiking boots and heading out to Spearfish Canyon. What ascetic spot! Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls which is right along the road and a quick photo op. From there we drove along slowly for several miles admiring the canyon walls Many of the rock formations resembled the spires and turrets of castles - plenty of scope for the imagination as Ann Shirley would say.

Several miles down the road we pulled into a small parking area at iron creek and hiked into the forest along the canyon floor. The creek tumbled and bubbled along beside us as we walked, a charming companion on our meandering walk. Many spots had little cascades and splashes. It would have been fun to wade, but it was too chilly in the shade and since the creek was below us we would have had to make our own way through the underbrush. Since there are rattlesnakes around there, I wasn't eager to put my feet into spots where I couldn't see the ground through the weeds.

We hiked in for about 45 minutes and out again along the same path. Sound boring? It isn't. If you're a hiker, you know that the walk path in the opposite direction is a completely different experience. I noticed flowers and rock formations I didn't notice walking the opposite direction. Back near the parking lot I picked up a rock I'd placed in the path that had lovely colors
 to add to my collection from our trip. They'll make great bookends!

We drove along the canyon oohing and ahhing at the beautiful views until we came to a sign for Roughlock Falls. It was amazing to find such a well-developed and manicured area back in the woods. The falls are a breathtaking sight. There were also rough-hewn and varnished picnic tables and benches that could have been in a woodworkers' museum. Just beautiful. The path down to the falls was concrete in some places and stone in others - lovely. A bride and groom were getting their pictures taken. She was in a white gown, but he wore a simple white and blue striped shirt over dark pants. Amazingly we ran into them again later at dinner after a full day of sightseeing. What a coincidence. (See here for the story.) The falls name comes from the fact that pioneers crossing the area had to "lock" their wheels and slide to prevent their wagons from careening down the mountainside. Interesting how things get their names.

Below the falls is a path that goes for about a mile along the creek. We walked it for about a quarter mile to a spot where it opened up into a wetlands pond. A little past that point it entered the woods and we turned back. A man carrying a tripod and large camera with a zoom was doing some photographing. We had passed him several times as he went through the underbrush down along the stream. On the way back we got into a conversation and he told us the pond was the site of a winter scene in Dances with Wolves where the horses went through the ice. We haven't seen the movie, but will just to look for that scene. Kevin Costner fell in love with the Black Hills while filming it and later opened a museum about the Buffalo called Tatonka which is just outside Deadwood. We hoped to go, but didn't have time before it closed after spending the afternoon in Deadwood which was lots of fun. But Deadwood deserves a post of its own. Until Later...

By the way, no sign of our stowaway. We think he jumped ship along the way, so we have no doubt upset the ecological balance of another state and introduced a new strain to the mouse population making them genetically stronger.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mt. Rushmore and Rapid City in the Rain

Wed. Sept, 14th

Mt. Rushmore in the mist
Wednesday night whenever I woke up I heard rain pattering on the camper roof. It’s a soothing sound, but I was hoping it would stop by morning. It didn’t and it was freezing as well, down in the 30s. Nothing like a COLD rain to dampen your spirits. We had a leisurely breakfast waiting to see if the weather would improve. No luck. So we decided to go into Rapid City and check out inside activities. But when I looked for attractions in the Garmin the first thing that came up was Mt. Rushmore. It was so close, only 1.7 miles away, that we decided we’d just take a quick look and then go back on Friday. But when we got there the drizzle had subsided to a mist that didn’t seem too bad so we parked and headed into the visitor center/museum. At the outside viewing area I took some pictures that turned out well. One advantage of a cloud cover is no shadows. The faces were clear.

I’ve seen pictures of Mt. Rushmore, but being there is a different experience. Just the scope of the
vision is impressive – to carve a mountain. Frankly, it would never occur to me to do such a thing. And it’s almost funny to read about its conception, “an idea to draw sightseers.” Well, it certainly has succeeded in doing that. Even in the rain and outside the popular season there were plenty of tourists and us among them.

George Washington in earmuffs
In the museum we watched the movie about its creation. What a project! Much of the “sculpting” was done with dynamite and the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, had a crew of about 400 workmen helping. Over $800,000 of the million dollar tab was picked up by the federal government. Isn’t that interesting when you consider its original purpose was to be a tourist trap. LOL! Well, the federal government gets its $11 a car. I imagine it brings in millions every year and the government has recouped its investment many times over. The thing I found most inspiring were the photos and quotes from the workers who became truly caught up in the project.

Larry and I followed the president’s trail that gave a number of interesting views of the individual heads. At one point I snapped George Washington and when I looked at the picture I had inadvertently positioned a pine bow to make him look like he was wearing earmuffs. It made me laugh and reminded me of all those photos you get with things coming out of people’s heads.

About halfway around the trail is the artist’s studio with a model that Borglum was working from. His original design included the presidents’ upper bodies, but that part of the project died with Borglum.

Gutzon Borglum, sculptor
Since we had to go back through Keystone to go to Rapid City, we stopped at Peggy’s for lunch. The sign said “home cooking” and it certainly was. The chicken noodle soup was so good I was sorry I only ordered a cup. We shared a first-rate Reuben sandwich as well. While waiting for a table we struck up a conversation with a gentleman from Australia who loves coming to America. He’s been all over. We also talked to a couple from Wisconsin. Part of the fun of traveling is having these impromptu conversations with interesting people.

Our first stop in Rapid City was the visitors’ center. Right next door was a park which included an exhibit on the Berlin Wall. That was a head scratcher to us until we started reading the markers. Mt. Rushmore seems to have given Rapid City a sort of national identity with an emphasis on patriotism. Americans can do big things, they seem to say, whether it’s creating a nation based on republican principles and rights, building the Panama Canal, carving a mountain, or running an airlift into a besieged foreign city.

There are several blocks downtown with a bronze model of each of the presidents through George W.
Bush. We were intrigued by the “props” in each sculpture. John Kennedy held John-John’s hand. Taft was crouching with a baseball behind his back ready for the pitch. Truman held the newspaper that says “Dewey wins.” George Bush Sr. has his hand on a globe. Reagan is wearing his signature cowboy hat and boots. If it hadn’t been so cold we would have visited all of the presidents. Instead we stopped at Edge of the Prairie, a combination store and museum of Indian culture. The art was incredible including paper sculptures in three dimensions, one showing a buffalo hunt. Very impressive.

We went to the 5:30 Mass at the Cathedral, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for Our Lady of Sorrows’ feast day. It was another orthodox, reverent Mass. So far the closest we’ve come to a crazy liturgy was a sign for a “polka Mass” on the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin, but we haven’t seen any liturgical dancers dancing the polka or anything else. On the other hand, we’ve been to two Sunday Masses where the congregation was praying the rosary before Mass and this evening virtually the entire congregation stayed after the priest left to make their thanksgiving.

Our day ended with dinner at the Alpine restaurant in Hill City which has one menu item – filet mignon in two sizes for either $8.95 or $10.95 served with a baked potato, lettuce wedge, and Texas toast. Having only one dinner item doesn’t seem to suppress their business; it was booming and we had to wait 40 minutes for a table.

What a great day! And the weatherman is calling for sun tomorrow.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gateway to the West, South Dakota

We left Luverne on Wednesday, September 14th and ten miles later crossed the border into South Dakota. The Garmin said it was 5.5 hours to our next stop, but that was with 75 mph speed limits and we can't travel that fast pulling a camper so it was a long day. We had paid reservations at a campground in Keystone that doesn't allow late arrivals so we had to be there by 8:00 pm, an unfortunate restriction because we had a few stops we wanted to make -- at the tourist traps, the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, and that amazing natural wonder, Badlands.

Well, it was clear as we went along that something had to give, so we dumped the Corn Palace and Wall Drug in favor of the loop off the highway into the Badlands. Before we got there, though, we had to travel two thirds of the state with mile after mile of sunflower fields, all gone to seed, but still impressive waving in the sun. We made a rest stop at an Amish market that had beautiful handmade quilts -- museum quality I'd say. I wish I had $800-$1500 to buy one. We bought pieces of cherry and apple pie instead and a loaf of dark rye bread we've been working on ever since. Yum! (Oops, Larry just reminded me that the Amish market was in Minnesota. I'm getting a little befuddled after all these days travelling. Our first stop was in Ohio and since then we've travelled through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Is it any wonder I get up in the morning asking, "What day is it and what state are we in?" LOL!)

We reached the Badlands loop late in the afternoon and stopped to gas up before entering the park. Coming out of the store I noticed the adjacent field was teeming with wildlife -- prairie dogs. They were white except for a few light tan. I wondered if that was normal or if these were an albino strain. They chattered and squeaked as Larry and I sat for a few minutes at a picnic table watching them. What a chorus, I presume a warning. "Strangers...strangers...danger...danger!" One sat at the top of his hole squeaking and waving his tail like a warning flag. God's creatures delight the heart with their antics.

Entering the Badlands we had the sense of stepping into another world -- even another planet. The rock formations look like a movie set of a moonscape or something out of Star Wars. It gave me an eerie feeling. I wish we could have hiked, but we needed to move on to make our reservation so our trip through was hasty with just a few stops for photos.

By the time we got to Keystone it was dark. This is the first time we've had to set up in the dark and there were few lights in the campground. But we had a nice long level site so Larry had no problem backing in. Then we turned the car around and used the lights to see what we were doing. We've pretty much got our camping routine down to a science and were set up within half an hour. Then supper, catching up on postcards to the grandkids, and a little journaling about the trip.

What an adventure it has been so far with every new stop dazzling us with its uniqueness. What a country! From sea to shining sea it's filled with magnificent jewels -- not the least of which are its people. We have met such dear folk as we travel. Many have made our journey easier and certainly all have made it more pleasant. Think I'll pray them all tonight at bedtime. Thank you, Lord, for our exciting adventure.