Saturday, August 13, 2016

Oh, Montana!

When you first drive into Montana from the east you find that it isn't much different than the east.  We drove for a couple of hours into Montana and Pearl said, "is this Montana?"  Her vision of the state was much different.

We told her to just wait.....

Wide open fields and "big sky" greeted us in Montana.

Note the mountains in the distance.
We left the Black Hills en route to Glacier National Park.  We expected to stop along the way and did in Billings, MT.  It was late and dark by the time we got there.  We hadn't made a hotel reservation because this was one night of our trip we weren't sure how far we would get.  We didn't think it would be difficult.

And then we stopped.  The first hotel had suites only and it was expensive.  The second had one room left - we'll take it.  Imagine our surprise when we let ourselves into "our room" to find it occupied.  Stuff was everywhere!  Somehow the hotel made a mistake.  The guests allegedly checked out, but didn't.  They showed up as we were sorting things out and were surprised that their keys didn't work.

The hotel did make arrangements for us to stay at another local hotel and they paid for the room which made it much better, but it was late and we were tired and and were toting luggage all over God's country!

The next morning our route took us on some of the byways in Montana to Glacier.  Pearl was happy when we got to the mountains.  This is the Montana she expected.

One of the things I remember so vividly about Glacier National Park isn't the namesake glaciers, but the water.  I have yet to find appropriate descriptors for the chilly blue/teal of the rivers and lakes in Glacier National Park.  I find myself photographing the water more than any other aspect of the park.

Along Route 2.

Lake McDonald. Our hotel overlooked the lake.

In the park along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

We had never driven along Route 2 before from East to West Glacier.  I would drive and redrive and redrive this route all day long!  I did want Jamie to slow down.  The speed limit is 70 and I have no idea how we drove 70 and didn't end up in the water.  The road is quite curvy.  I think the truck must have been on fire or something because we were driving so fast - must get to the hotel!

Another hotel glitch.  We booked two rooms at Glacier for two nights - Lake McDonald Lodge - one of the oldest lodges in the park.The hotel had a reservation for one room and that room had two double beds.  Nope, that won't work with the three of us.

Our trusty clerk said "wait, I have something up my sleeve," to which I replied, "great, I'm a fan of sleeves."  He explained that they had a storm about the time of my booking and those who booked at that time had their reservations screwed up.  He did have a room that had just been redone - one of the deluxe double queen rooms with a balcony overlooking Lake McDonald.  Hey, dude, I like your sleeves.  

Below is the view from our room.

A little bird watching us outside our window.
We enjoyed amazing meals at the Lake McDonald Lodge restaurant.  Pearl had trout which came with a side of asparagus.  It should be noted that Pearl is like a toddler - she is quite picky about her veggies.  I have never seen her eat asparagus.  She picked the asparagus up and ate all of of it.  I said to her, "Mom, you're eating asparagus," to which she replied, "so I am."

Pearl did tell us about "trout'n" as a child in St. Carol's, Newfoundland.  She and her siblings would fish for trout each afternoon after school.  They would use bamboo poles not these fancy poles that people use today.  They would bring back all these fish and her mother (my grandmother - 'nan) would cook them for breakfast the next day.

I asked if kids still did that and she said that they do not.  "I think kids today are just too lazy."

She also noted that her belly was "expensive" because she was eating all the expensive stuff on the menu.  Hey, Pearl, anything for your belly!

We made the trip to Montana before the Going-to-the-Sun Road was completely open.  We could only go so far on the road so we didn't see as much wildlife, didn't see the glaciers, didn't see as much of the park as we would have liked.  We still drove around and saw much.

One unique feature is a "fen" which is a bog/swamp-like feature.  It's deceiving because it looks like a beautiful field but if you step on it, you sink into the grass.  Your shoes get wet and so do your socks and feet.

Pearl had a great time looking at the scenery and taking very short walks. I enjoyed the water and got better at selfies!

Jamie figuring the camera out and Pearl waving.

Near our hotel where the creek meets Lake McDonald.

Waterfalls and the river.
One of the highlights of our trip to Glacier National Park was a boat ride on Lake McDonald.  The park ranger who was our boat guide was 90 - literally.  He joked about being 90.  He also repeated stories.  And he shared opinions in a way that made me uncomfortable.  He lamented that people don't get off the beaten path and that they expect to see animals on the yellow line in the road.  Normally I would say, "sure, people need to get off the road," but when you are traveling with someone who isn't mobile enough to do that, it's a nice sentiment but it's also alarming to suggest that someone may not enjoy the parks because she can't go hiking.

He also couldn't answer what I considered to be simple questions.  He noted that there is an invasive trout species in the Lake.  He couldn't tell more beyond that.  How did it get there?  What's happening with it?

We did hear about forest fires and how natural they are.  We also heard about how he fought in the big forest fire of 1900 or something like that.  The ride itself was beautiful; the lake incredible.  I couldn't wait to get off the boat!

After two days in glorious Glacier National Park we headed south to Virginia City and Nevada City.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Deadwood - the Black Hills

Doane Robinson had a vision - carve famous figures into the granite of the Black Hills to attract more tourists to South Dakota because "tourists soon get fed up on scenery unless it has something of special interest connected with it to make it impressive."

He enlisted the help of artist Gutzon Borglum to help "carve" the heads into the granite that would become Mt. Rushmore.

Mt. Rushmore is impressive.  I am not sure if you see the heads as you approach from the road to Mt. Rushmore because that road is up the side of a mountain and I had my head covered because I am terrified of heights.  Studies show that those afraid of heights are soothed by covering their heads with sweatshirts while being driven up the sides of mountains (I made this line up about studies).  As a note, I originally typed "while driving up the sides of mountains."  I had to correct that.  I am quite sure studies would show that people careen off the sides of mountains if they cover their heads with sweatshirts while driving. 

You park in a huge parking ramp and then walk along the Avenue of Flags (all 50 states are represented and Pearl and I took our picture at New York) to get to the incredible visual of Mt. Rushmore.  

You are able to see Mt. Rushmore as you walk from the parking ramp but Pearl was looking down watching her step as we walked.  The walk wasn't treacherous but she's a safety girl.  Once we got to the Grand View Terrace, we sat down.  Mom looked up and exclaimed, "Pauline, look at the faces."  She was stunned.  It is a sight to behold.

To think that Borglum and his men "carved" this sculpture primarily using dynamite is incredible.  Each presidential head is six stories tall.  The carving began in 1927 and was finished in 1941.  We were there in time to celebrate 75 years - a year older than Pearl!  Over the 14 year period, 400 or so people worked on the monument, according to information presented at the National Memorial museum and gift shop.  Unfortunately, Gutzon Borglum died several months before the memorial was finished.  His son, Lincoln, had to finish the project.  The monument was declared complete on Halloween, 1941.  Eerie!

Avenue of Flags

As you leave the Memorial,
you see Washington in profile.

Pearl did comment that we were seeing "more stones" as we drove from Badlands National Park to Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands.  Well, yes.  We are in the mountains.

After Mt. Rushmore we thought we would visit the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Night and day.  Mt. Rushmore seemed to be organized and well taken care of.  Crazy Horse seemed, well, crazy.  First of all, the fee to get into the memorial was ridiculous!  

The Crazy Horse Memorial was commissioned by the Lakota to "preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians" according to the brochure.  The memorial is not even close to finished.  In fact, if you weren't told what it was, you would have no idea what was being carved.

And the story is just bizarre.  Korczak Ziolkowski, an artist who worked alongside Borglum on Mt. Rushmore was commissioned to sculpt the world's largest sculptural undertaking.  He started in 1948 and won't be finished in my lifetime.  He died in 1982 and most of his children are involved in continuing this project.  

The videos and other materials in the museum stressed that no federal or state funds are accepted for this project.  Everything is done via donations, grants and fees to the memorial.  This isn't just a memorial.  We were able to visit the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Education and Cultural Center.  We did see information about the Indian University of North America.  It is an interesting complex.

As someone who works in communication I have to express disappointment with the marketing communication materials.  We were treated to a lengthy video that detailed the family.  No offense, but I don't care what the children of Ziolkowski are doing and who does what at the memorial.  Tell me about the Native American heritage.  Sell me.  I left bored and disappointed.  That nearly never happens for me at historic monuments and memorials.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse will be carved pointing "in answer to the question posed by a white man, "where are your lands now?""  His response, "My lands are where my dead lie buried." He was chosen because he was known to never have signed a treaty, according to the memorial brochure. For more information about the Crazy Horse Memorial and the mission of the complex, please visit the web site here.

I will say that I felt a certain sadness and despair visiting Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials in one day.  While Mt. Rushmore was a stunning site and a testament to artistic invention, it left me feeling hollow.  I had to think that the Native Americans in the area had to be disturbed that the Black Hills - their sacred hills - were marred by the faces of four white men who likely represent to them death, destruction, defeat, arrogance, and oppression.  Sure enough, when I returned from the trip, I looked up several articles on the subject.  I am still struggling with how to process that information.  

Our next stop was Deadwood.  The ride to Deadwood was serene, idyllic and picturesque.  We decided we would return to the Black Hills because there are many recreational opportunities including a rail trail.  I am a huge supporter of rail trails (converting old railroad lines/tracks to multi-use trails).  For more information about rail trails, please visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy web site here.

Deadwood was just hot, hot, hot.  The heat wave of Badlands continued.  It was nearly 100 degrees.  Walking through town was painful.  It didn't help that it is a tourist trap.  I expected a certain degree of kitsch, but come on now.  I might think differently if it was 20 degrees cooler.  Perhaps not.

We also encountered for the second time our "pace car," if you will.  When there is road construction of any consequence, rather than have flag folks, they have a car that you follow.  For example, we wait our turn for the car with official markings and some sign on the back to lead a group of cars through.  It then turns around and you follow it through the construction. Then turns again and continues all damn day, I would guess.   It seemed to me an inefficient way to get the job done, but this isn't my area of expertise so I will reserve too much judgment.

The white truck with the orange sign on the back is our
truck to follow through the construction zone.

After our time in South Dakota - seriously one of my new favorite states - we were off to Montana.  This was the object of the trip for Pearl.  All the rest was just filler.  Tune in next week for Glacier National Park and points east en route to this magnificence.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Badlands....Bad to the Bone

After leaving the World's Only Corn Palace, I felt corny so I kept it going, hence the title of this post.  I will stop after this and go back to normal which is roughly defined for me anyway.

Badlands National Park.

I think the best way to sum it up is to quote Pearl, "I cannot believe what I am seeing."

This was our first visit to this park and I have to say that I fell in love and cannot wait to return!  The rock formations, the colors, the starkness, the animals all made the park an incredible place.

This particular scenery was new to Pearl.  She had never seen anything like it.  She kept giving us directions: "Pauline, stop here," "Pauline, take a picture of that over there," and she would point, "Pauline, make sure you get that," and she would point again.

Half the fun and amazement was seeing Pearl's face.  Even posing with the bronze Fonz in Milwaukee and Cornelia at the Corn Palace didn't compare to the spectacular beauty of Badlands.  Some photos.

It was 100 degrees while we were here and that is no exaggeration - the temperature read 99 on the outdoor thermometer feature of the truck and that was later in the day.  In fact it was so hot that I am quite sure my nipples melted right off my boobs and rolled in the sweat river right down to my belly button (never fear, I was able to put them back in Montana where it was much cooler).

Why is it called Badlands?  The area is home to the Lakota people.  According to the Badlands National Park web site, the Lakota ancestors called it "mako sica" or "land bad" because of the harsh conditions - high temperatures, lack of water, rugged terrain. The Lakota also know this area to be sacred to them.

It is also a geologists and paleontologists dream!  The geology of the area is quite unique and is better explained at this link.  I'm not going to try to outdo other nerds!  And if you like fossils, here is where you will find your peeps!  Turns out Pearl isn't as interested in all of that.  She would have gone along for the ride but Jamie and I like to read everything and see all the exhibits.  Yeah, we're those goobers.  We will have to return when we can spend time poring over all the information and when we can walk a bit more extensively.

And the wildlife!  We saw:
  • Prairie dogs - which were enormous fun to watch
  • A snake - although it didn't rank high enough in the fauna hierarchy to get a picture in the Badlands Visitors Guide
  • Bighorn Sheep - on our way back from Wall Drug. Jamie was so excited he had to tell a couple of others folks, "hey, did you see the bighorn sheep up that way?" like a little kid

Hey, what up, tourists?
Prairie dogs!

The snake is kinda visible to the left in the photo.

Bighorn sheep relaxing in the heat.

We drove around the recommended Badlands Loop Road because it was much too hot to go hiking and we were worried that Pearl might not want to do that with "beware rattlesnakes" signs all over the place.

We stayed just outside the park so we were able to have the worst dinner with the worst service (shame on you, National Park Service official lodging and dining in the park - Cedar Pass Lodge).  Thank goodness the sunset more than made up for it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Great Corn Palace - only in America

After leaving Milwaukee, we had an incredibly pleasant drive west through Wisconsin and into Minnesota (I have to confess that sometimes I type words and have auto correct do some of the work.  I couldn't get Minnesota right for the life of me just now.  Had to use Google.  Not sure if it's because it's the evening or I'm just a dumbass.)

We crossed the Mississippi River and I didn't even realize it was the Mississippi.  I'm used to very high bridges over this very large river.  I was expecting to crap myself because I am not a fan of heights.  [You can bet that you will hear more about that fear with future posts.  Turns out there are mountains out west.]

We left Milwaukee in the early afternoon so we spent the night in Sioux Falls at a Quality Inn.  It seems that every hotel has a swimming pool and some even have water slides.  This particular hotel also had "adult only" swim from 10-11 p.m. as noted below. My first thought was, racy and kinky.  Then I thought, that's actually brilliant (not the kink).  One of the things I hate about hotel pools is the kids.  I was too tired to find out what the adult swim was about so we may never know.....

We got up early the next day so that we could make it to Badlands National Park in time to explore.  If you've not been in South Dakota on Route 90, you may miss the 4,567,890 (+/- 1,000,000) billboards on the side of the road advertising every kitschy museum and roadside attraction.  It's like traveling to Florida and seeing the South of the Border signs but this is South of the Border on crack.

Corn Palace, Wall Drugs, 1800's Town, Al's Oasis, you name it.  The Corn Palace was too corny (pun intended, and I'm still giggling) to pass up.  Jamie thought I was nuts.  I said, okay, advertising works.  We have to see this place that's been touted as the "only corn palace in the world."  Honestly, though, how many would there need to be worldwide?

We made fun of the idea of the Corn Palace and then followed all the signs off the exit to the Corn Palace.  Then we marveled.  What an interesting and odd place and what a neat idea.  I have to applaud people who do things like this to attract attention to an otherwise sleepy place.  It was just damn cool.

And Pearl got in on the action.  Here is a photo of her with the resident mascot, Cornelia.

The Corn Palace is the main attraction in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Murals made of corn are constructed each year around a particular theme. 2016's theme is Rock of Ages.  Murals were of musicians and other music-related scenes. The "palace" hosts concerts and other events.  At the time we were there, the auditorium was a giant gift shop.

You can see Elvis made of corn and corn parts.

This photo and the photo below right are close up shots of one of the murals.
You can see how intricate this work is.

The gift shot auditorium.

And what do you buy in the gift shop? Salt and pepper shakers to season your corn!

Al's Oasis is advertised for miles and hit our journey right at lunch time so we figured we would try it.  Um, delicious bison burger and the best onion rings!  The pies looked awesome but we were quite full from the rest of the meal.  Worth a stop!  Al's also has a large gift shop and convenience store.  I bought a book and as I was checking out the cashier started talking about the two presidential candidates.  What?!  And I don't even know how it got started.  Something about being tired and then tired of the election and she doesn't like either candidate.  Okay, great for you.  I thought politics was one topic you didn't discuss with strangers!  Egad!  Can we talk about the onion rings?  Or the magnificent Missouri River (below).

Every visitor on I-90 in South Dakota must stop at Wall Drugs if for no other reason than to get a cup of water.  Honestly, it's the most touristy, ridiculousness around.  Water would be all you want.  But you have to make the pilgrimage. Enough road signs signal that Wall Drugs has water, donuts, cowboy boots, a diner, you name it, that you have to see what the hubaloo is about.

Pearl with Poker Alice
Drinking the water

In the travel chapel

I have a confession.  I had Jamie take a picture of me in the travel chapel at Wall Drugs. Then our truck broke down in Yellowstone (more on that later).  I think it may have been fault for making fun of the travel chapel.  I don't think God appreciated my sense of humor.

Next post.....Badlands National Park.  It deserves its own post.  Preview: Spectacular!