A travelogue by Mark Leeper
Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper
06/03/02 New Jersey to Pittsburgh
06/04/02 Pittsburgh to Beloit, WI
06/05/02 Beloit, Wisconsin to Fairmont, MN
06/06/02 Fairmont, MN to Rapid City, SD
06/07/02 Rapid City Area: Crazy Horse Memorial
06/08/02 Rapid City Area: The Badlands
06/09/02 Rapid City and Deadwood, SD
06/10/02 North Dakota: Bowman and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park
06/11/02 Rapid City Area: Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park
06/12/02 Rapid City Area: Mammoth Site and Wind Cave
06/13/02 Rapid City, SD to Cody, Wyoming
06/14/02 Cody, WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
06/15/02 Cody, WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
06/16/02 Cody, WY to West Yellowstone, MT
06/17/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Yellowstone Park
06/18/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Yellowstone Park
06/19/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Parks
06/20/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Yellowstone Park
06/21/02 West Yellowstone, MT to Twin Falls, ID
06/22/02 Twin Falls, ID to Bozeman, MT
06/23/02 Bozeman, MT: Museums
06/24/02 Bozeman, MT to Buffalo, WY
06/25/02 Buffalo, WY to Rapid City, SD
06/26/02 Rapid City, SD to Fairmont, MN.
06/27/02 Fairmont, MN to Waterloo, IO
06/28/02 Waterloo, IO to Aurora, IL
06/29/02 Aurora, IL
06/30/02 Aurora, IL to Toledo, OH
OH to New Jersey
06/03/02 New Jersey to Pittsburgh
I should start with a dramatis personae. There are really two of us going on this trip. There is me and there is Evelyn. Evelyn is the sweet thing I have been married to for a little over 29 years and nine months. That may make us sound older than we are but we got married very young, each of us knowing a good thing when we see it. There will be other people named in the log. We will do a little visiting along the way.
I was beginning to wonder if Evelyn could really make this trip. In the week before she got some sort of virus that made her hoarse and at its worse robbed her of her voice. It is very strange since she usually is really talkative. Today is the sixth day of this problem. It is impinging on the trip which really makes it too much of a good thing. In the midst of this she also pulled a muscle in her foot. She could hardly walk for several days. I expected her to get over that in a few hours but she is still not walking right after five or so days. So far I am in pretty good health. I am not ready to climb Mount Rushmore. In the meantime I will keep a close look on Evelyn to see if her two ailments prove to be the Hoof and Mouth.
I guess that brings me to this trip. This is the third of our trips visiting the areas of the old West. In October of 1992 we did Arizona and New Mexico and liked it so much in May of 1995 we did Utah. We loved that also. I am convinced Utah is the most scenic state. In fact we have been a lot of places in the world and I think no place else in the world I have seen matches it for natural spectacle. In the East you get two breeds of response when you say you are going to Utah. One is "Why Utah?". The other is "Ah, you're going to Utah!" The latter is from people who know Utah. New Mexico is pretty good too.
This trip we are doing the North Central states. That is predominantly Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and the Dakotas. We are going to see a fair amount on the way since we are driving the whole way.
I suppose the centerpiece of the trip is going to be Mount Rushmore. This is particularly topical now. The United States is opposing the Taliban. Those are the folks who destroyed their country's colossal Buddhist statues. When we were attacked by their allies the US went super-patriotic. What could be a more appropriate time to see America's patriotic colossi? We need to exercise our right to see and appreciate giant stone figures. If we let our colossi go, maybe flamingo lawn ornaments will be next. My understanding is that the Taliban is also not too hot on flamingo lawn ornaments and Talibanis almost never have them on their lawns. It is our patriotic duty to see giant sculpture no matter how kitsch. I figure if we go through life not having seen them, then the terrorists will have won. [Gawd, what a load of codswallop!]
A large part of the point of the trip is to see the West. Western films are a large part of what this country is and certainly how it is perceived.
Americans make and watch films in many genres. But none has done so much to define Americans to themselves or to the rest of the world as the Western film. The Western is a purely American genre. The setting is the United States for the vast majority and North America for nearly all. Yet it is a genre that has become part of world culture. In the 1970s a major movement in European film-making was the Western. Westerns were made by France, Spain, Germany, and particularly Italy. One rarely sees any number of one country's films set in some other country's history. But the Western has become part of world culture. It even influences how some countries, like Japan, make films for themselves. Akira Kurosawa freely admitted that his samurai films were strongly influenced by Westerns.
The genre of the Western has its roots in popular written fiction. Most likely the genre evolved from the heroic novels of James Fenimore Cooper. There were even earlier heroic and fanciful stories of Daniel Boone fighting Indians written as early as 1784. But the largest influence would probably have to be the popular action dime novels that began as contemporaneous stories. As the West was developed a popular fiction arose that told, usually inaccurately, the supposed exploits of real people like Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James and many more. And purely fictional characters like Deadwood Dick were also created. These pulpish writings were popular not just in the United States but in translation in many parts of Europe.
What are the characteristics of this genre of story telling? There are many elements that show up, but one strongly outweighs the rest. These are stories in which the outdoors plays a major part. The outdoors is beautiful and it is hostile. And the hostility of that young environment forges the people. In the few towns the law has a hard time competing with rowdies. On the homesteads and everywhere between the rowdies and outlaws have the upper hand, because help is far away. Distance is a common foe to all. As a result it is expected that all, but especially men, be self-reliant. The Western hero is likely someone who grew up on a homestead and had to be able to defend it from nature and from the lawless. This makes a strong division between those who strictly follow the rules, and those who break them. It was a long time before moral ambiguity was introduced to the Western and when it was it was not without some resistance.
Perhaps the best example of the resistance to the moral ambiguity was the reaction to Fred Zinneman's HIGH NOON. This was a film that said that it took more than one strong man to fight evil, it takes the entire community. If the community is unwilling to cooperate and take risks, it is unworthy of being saved. Howard Hawks rejected that pessimistic viewpoint and responded with RIO BRAVO. That film recreates the situation of HIGH NOON, but then it says no, if a man is strong enough in his principles he can reverse evil by himself. The john Wayne character refuses the help of the community and showing no sign of fear he defeats evil himself. Of course he is successful because that is how the script is written. In their films together Hawks styles John Wayne as the American Siegfried.
The "strong men forged in a hostile though environment" theme is common in many cultures. In Russian literature one might find it in Gogol's THE COSSACK CHIEF (AKA TARAS BULBA). Germany had its "Mountain Films" made between the wars and which gave a start to Leni Riefenstall. It even shows up in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan books. In China it is THE WATER MARGIN with its 104 righteous outlaws. But few of these have gained much international acceptance. With the power of the American film industry the Western film has gone all over the world.
Europe has sometimes expressed resentment of this power, but it should be remembered that in the years when the Western film became popular internationally, in large part the 40s and 50s, the American film industry really was the international film industry due to the tireless efforts of one Mr. A. Hitler. Are Westerns directed by Fritz Lang really products of a film industry that is just American? Of course it does not help European filmmakers financially if the international community of filmmakers is located in Hollywood. But better a film colony alive in Hollywood than extinct in Europe.
The Western has gone a long way to form the European perception of the American people. In spite of the fact that the US was founded by and in large part constituted of Europeans it is seen as the young culture of the Western stories. Coming from older cultures and using that to fuel a patriotic (chauvinistic) impulse they have perhaps exaggerated the influence of the Western on American thinking. How often in their editorials and political cartoons concerning the United States does the imagery of Westerns come up? American Presidents are represented as Western law men. Our policy has been perceived as taken from the morally unambiguous black and white Westerns. And on the right wing perhaps there is more Western movie influence than we like to admit.
In spite of the decline of the Western film in production numbers, the Western is still very much with us in a 21st Century world.
We can take our time and drive since we are now retired. Yeah, we retired young. Loving it. I don't think we hated work, but it is nice to have the time and to not have to rush back to anything. It is the economic philosophy of the ultra-right that we should minimize taxes because nobody know how to spend money better than the individual. If we assume that for a moment and also the old adage that time is money, we get that nobody knows better how we should spend our time than we do. I think that is why I like retirement more than constructively working and why I do not think I will get bored with it.
We don't know exactly how long this trip will be. We want it to be something of a wander. It will probably be about four weeks, but we aren't committing. When we get tired we'll go home.
I am getting a late start starting this log since I drew the first drive. We planned to leave at about 9:00, but it turned out we left at 9 exactly. The major in-flight movie this trip is Stephen King's NEEDFUL THINGS read by the author unabridged. It is about 24 hours long on cassette. We got it for $3 at a library sale. King's big talent is to string the reader/listener a long for a long time without expending much of his plot in doing it. NEEDFUL THINGS is a reworking of an idea that Richard Matheson covered very thoroughly in a short story. I think Matheson is one of the world's most under-appreciated authors. He is a writing talent on the level of a Poe.
At noon I pulled into a the lot of a Bob Evans restaurant in Harrisburg, PA, the town with the glowing future. I had a meat sandwich. I ordered a fresh salad. Fresh might not be just the right word for the salad, but at least I think it was a recent salad. When the check came they did not charge me for the salad. I pointed it out and they refigured the check. Then I realized they also forgot to charge for Evelyn's coffee, but I let it go.
After lunch we went west on 76. A lot off nice green farmland. Herds of sheep. I even saw a field of donkeys. There were three tunnels through mountains, Blue, Kittatinny, and Tuscarora. This is a pretty nice day. Earlier rain had been forecast, but we seem to be lucky and it will hold off until tomorrow. I write in my log and look at forested hills and nice rural valleys. A billboard for a motel shows a hypnotic spiral and tells me I am getting very sleepy. Nice try.
A peculiar incident: Something flew over the car. It was more a glide than a flight. I saw just a flash of gray and a white underside. I got it in my head that it might be a flying squirrel. I should look up what regions they are in.
Not much else of general interest. We got a room at the Comfort Inn in Gibsonia. We got together with our friends, the Robinsons. Together we went to Duncan's, a science fiction bookstore. We bought more books than we should have considering that this was the first day of the trip.
We ate at a Chinese Dumpling House. The food was good but nothing unusual. Most Chinese restaurants are highly acclimated to American tastes and the ones that have acclimated have done so in pretty much the same way. There was no sea cucumber on the menu, that sort of thing. You might almost call the menu Bowdlerized.
After the meal we returned to the Robinsons and talked and saw more of their cats. Some of their cats are very short-haired. They are very dainty and look like Egyptian statues come to life. The conversation eventually turned to the Middle East. Jack is very hawkish. I don't even want to say what his idea of a good plan was.
We returned to the motel and went to sleep listening to the History Channel.
06/04/02 Pittsburgh to Beloit, WI
Awoke about 6AM. At seven we had breakfast. It is nice and convenient that breakfast is included with the room, but there is not much protein. I am ambivalent about this service.
We tried to put on the radio the local classical music station. Ratz. Fund drive. Classical music is in real trouble in this country. It is rare that anyplace has more than one classical station. New York used to have three. Now they are down to one, WQXR. They have a lot of commercials. The college stations are non-commercials which means that all the irritating messages are saved up for their giant beg-a-thons.
After we stopped for gas I took over the driving until lunch. In Montpelier on Interstate 80 we stopped for lunch. I had a ham and cheese sandwich. Maybe the third I have ever had. It was fairly good.
Just past the Indiana border we finished the first third of NEEDFUL THINGS and switched to a radio version of THE TIME MACHINE.
That is almost two hours. It keeps us occupied through Gary, Indiana. I guess that is the home of US Steel and the Interstate goes right through it. It smells like a polluted and not very pleasant town.
Chicago welcomed us with very dark skies and a real downpour of rain. Just a little lightening. The roads are really clogged, as usual around Chicago. There is a sign that says "Congestion continues thru Van Buren." No. Congestion has continued SINCE Van Buren.
Two hours later we are out of Chicago itself but not the Chicago area yet. There is something about this place that is one traffic jam after another. We have gotten near Rockfort, but are in the middle of nowhere and there is a traffic jam. The people going in the other direction, are laughing at us because they can move and we can't. They will learn. They are going plop INTO Chicago. They are going to be just as bogged down as we are in a few minutes. In the meantime we are getting out. The Chicago area is the automotive equivalent of flypaper.
OK here is the story on the traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. It is not really in the middle of nowhere. It is at a toll booth that is in the middle of nowhere. Illinois wants to exact forty cents from every car even if you have to wait an hour in line to pay it. It is the modern equivalent of having everybody return to the place of their birth to be taxed. Now we are through the tollbooth and immediately on the other side is a new traffic jam. The toll was 40 cents which Evelyn points out is a very difficult amount of money to make in change. Next month it goes up to 44 cents or two pages of S&H Green Stamps. But you are not allowed to throw the green stamps in the coin urinal.
Ah, the ultimate cause of the traffic jam was one place in the road that had lousy drainage. Everybody was funneled to the side of the road where the water was a mere six inches deep. Evelyn lost about 90 minutes. I lost about 90 minutes. That is three people-hours in our car alone. If 600 cars got slowed down that much that is 1800 person hours. That is more time than a person puts into work in a year of their life.
Well, we must be in Wisconsin. The signs advertising stores say "Cheese! Fireworks!" Where else do tourists get excited about cheese? Or at least where do the locals hope that tourists will get excited over cheese? That is the spin they have put on tourism. There is no point in complaining about it now. That would be like crying over spilt milk and why cry over it when you can let it sit there and sour to perfection to make cheese?
Well, we will spend the night in Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit is French for "Beautiful Oit." And indeed the oit is just spectacular. We picked the Comfort Inn. Let us say that for reasons of my own I was very anxious to get to the room and its plumbing quickly. It took forever to get the clerk to come to the desk and then we got an extremely talkative clerk. We asked for the AARP discount and she really did not believe we were old enough to get one. It is a little hard for me to believe myself. Finally we got the key and I went straight to the room. Only to find the room was a total mess. I gritted my teeth and went back to the desk. They gave me another room. This one was OK.
Evelyn had seen the billboards for an Italian restaurant called Fazoli's. She wanted to try to find one. It turns out it was just across the street from the motel. But--Surprise!--it was not what we were expecting. It is really a fast food restaurant. The food is cheap and everything is pretty good but the quality of the Italian food. The food looks like it is from a fancy Italian restaurant but it just does not have the quality. I had a Chicken Cutlet Parmesan over spaghetti, but I am sure it was frozen, thawed, cooked, and served. It was the quality of grocery store frozen food. The peripherals were better. They serve some pretty good garlic soft breadsticks. For beverage I got the lemonade Italian ice. Pretty good but it tends to lead to ice cream headaches (AKA brain freeze). But it is good and cold.
After we stopped at a Walmart to see if they had any good deals on DVDs. Nope.
Back to the room. We worked on logs. History Cannel had two documentaries, one on the Manhattan Project and one on the NSA and code-breaking. The latter was about history AND mathematics. What could be better? The enemies were fighting a different sort of war than we were. They didn't know or did not fully appreciate that we had opened the battlefield to mathematical analysis. It made a big difference.
I have brought a bunch of articles with me on my palmtop. At home every morning I read the web. I read editorials from all over the world using several sites that track the most relevant news and editorial issues.
Frequently rather than read an article or editorial at that moment I will copy the text in the PC cut buffer and past it into Word. I then have macros to format it nicely for the palmtop with one or two keystrokes and to drop into a directory I use as a loading dock. At the end of the session I will load them onto my palmtop where I will later read them with Vertical Reader.
One problem. It is the same problem as with collecting books, I don't always get to the reading. I have been reading these in the morning when I get up. I read an old article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. Apparently the 9/11 hijackers used some pretty standard web sites to make arrangements for their mission. He talks about how web technology is making things easier for the wrong sort of people.
This is something I have been saying for years, frequently in my editorials. Technology tends to empower the individual. This is pretty nifty when we are the individual. But you run the risk that you are empowering everybody in the society, including the people who will use that technology against you. Sometimes disastrously. So technology may be a bad thing in some ways. That was how the Japanese felt when in the 1600s they had a bunch of samurai warriors as the chief means to power and then the foreigners introduced the gun. Suddenly any fool could kill a samurai. That was not good. It overturned the natural order of society and probably not for the better. Japan attempted to shut out technology and change and managed it for a couple of centuries. By then they were too weak to resist it. Change is going to come and we have to keep up. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, but we have to face it. Nuclear weapons are an empowering technology. It no longer takes a whole lot for any small group to fight like a super-power. That is a scary thought.
I left the TV on sleep cycle and went to sleep listening to the latter.
06/05/02 Beloit, Wisconsin to Fairmont, MN
I was up at about 5 AM. I did some reading before Evelyn got up.
I turn on the TV to get the news and it is an ad. "CNN has it first," they say. After about six minutes all they have had is ads. I must have caught it at the wrong minute. Many of the ads I have not seen before. I guess that is what they meant by having it first.
As we go out I check I have the room key. It is one of these computer card keys. They used to be just cream colored plastic cards. Now they are selling advertising on them. The key to my room is a plastic ad for Gino's Pizza. Boy am I getting tired of seeing advertising all day long in clever new places. Years ago I got cable TV because I was tired of all the advertising on commercial TV. Now as soon as you turn on the TV it defaults to having a cable station that is mostly advertising. They are even running ads at the bottom of the screen during programs. Nowadays kids in school get it in right in school. We have sold off chunks of the school day to Madison Avenue. No wonder people are starting sex earlier and earlier. You have to do something interesting when the commercials are on. Novels like THE SPACE MERCHANTS by Pohl and Kornbluth had the future pretty well pegged.
The motel provides a better breakfast than yesterday's motel. Still not much protein. Both had bagels. These were Otis Spunkmeier bagels. (They make sure you know the brand name.) Otis probably knows a lot about making cookies, but when it comes to bagels he knows little more than the shape. Like Einstein Bagels these are just rolls in the shape of bagels. However bagels are supposed to be tough. These certainly are not. What makes bagels have the right consistency is boiling the dough before baking. No boil, no bagel. Otis passes off toroidal rolls as bagels. Sorry, Otis you haven't a clue on how to make a bagel.
The day is gray. I take the first spell driving. We pass a hill with an interesting rock face. The first we have seen. Actually there is an impressive formation of rock towers that looks almost like Indian Kachina dolls.
Several times in Wisconsin we find places where the road is brought down to a single lane with red cones. They can go on for miles. The claim is that for road work, but there is nobody working on the roads. There isn't even anybody putting down cones. There is nobody. I probably just caught them at a bad time. You don't really expect anybody to be doing road work at 10 AM on a Wednesday morning, I guess.
What started as a gray day has become very pleasant and the Wisconsin countryside is nice and green. We cross the Mississippi into Minnesota. The rock faced hills seem to have been an anomaly. We are back to gentle hills and farmland. The Mississippi River should be called the Missouri down south, not the Mississippi. There is a lot more of the river that is Missouri but not Mississippi than there is that is Mississippi but not Missouri.
The land is getting flat and it seems to be solid farmland. Most of these farms have eight or then silos. The buildings are almost all painted white. We should start seeing Lutherans any time now.
We pass Rochester and see the Mayo Clinic which started as a family practice for William and Charles Mayo and then just got out of hand.
As we come into Northfield, Minn. we pass the world headquarters of the Maltomeal corporation. Yup, that cooked cereal comes from Northfield. The motto of the town is "Cows, Colleges, and Contentment." But the real claim to fame is all about a crime that was committed here.
Northfield, Minnesota was pretty much the end of the successes and the beginning of the end of the James and Younger gang. Or more accurately it was the beginning of their downfall. Or even more accurately it was their downfall. On September 7, 1876 the gang entered town prepared to rob the bank. This was to be a piece of cake for them. They were not from these parts but they knew population was pure hayseed. The gang strategy was to swoop down on the town and the dumb clucks would just sit there dumbfounded while three of them flew into the bank, grabbed up the money, and ran. It wouldn't hurt if the town had some sympathy for the James brothers, which frequently was the case. What they hadn't counted on was that this town was not so much made up of hayseeds as deer hunters, Indian fighters, and civil war vets. These are not people who were easily spooked or easily parted from hard-earned money. And they had no sympathy for the James brothers. This is kind of a no-nonsense part of the country. The gang had not figured on that. I think people who live through cold winters have a different philosophy of life. They are a little more used to hardship and perhaps a little sterner. The weather makes them a little bit hard-nosed, at least when it comes to bank robbery.
The eight outlaws hit the town in three groups. Two groups made noise on the street to scare and startle the townsfolk. (It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect it just got a bunch of guns aimed at the robbers.) Meanwhile a Frank and Jesse James and Charlie Pitts entered the bank and threatened the three bank employees, the only ones in the bank. Then the snatch and run bank robbery turned into a mess. Jesse James was nearly locked in the safe by J. L. Heywood, a cashier. In the ensuing fight Heywood was killed. The gunfighting moved to the street. Rather than panic the town people coolly loaded their guns and coolly fought back from buildings. Another citizen was killed, Nicholas Gustavson, probably because he did not understand English and did not understand when the outlaws said to clear the street. But also killed were two of the gang, Clell Miller and Bill Stiles.
The six survivors from the gang were all injured, some badly. They did get out of town, however. People from all over the state mobilized to find the fugitives. It is surprising that the effort to capture the gang was not more successful. More than a thousand people were mobilized to catch men that were so badly injured they could travel only four miles a day. The gang had to face the issue of dragging along the badly injured members or abandoning them. The Younger brothers stayed together and were all caught. There is no record of exactly what happened on that retreat, but Cole Younger had a real hatred for the James brothers in the years to come. Only Frank and Jesse made successful getaways. This was the end of their careers as criminals, nonetheless.
The town has turned the bank into a museum of the robbery. And as long as they had a museum that people wanted to see they also made it into an exhibit of the local Girl Scouts. I rather suspect most visitors are more interested in the robbery than in Girl Scouting. There is a ten-minute tape about the robbery and the annual reenactment.
After the museum we had lunch at a sandwich place across the street. I had chili (a little soupy) and lemonade (made from a powder). There was also a used bookstore with a very good selection of older science fiction.
We continued on to Fairmont where once again we are staying at a Comfort Inn. I am not going to go on a spiel here, but they seem to be a chain we like. We got in about a quarter after five, but we are neither of us hungry yet so will spend time in the room.
For dinner we went to a restaurant called The Ranch. I got broasted chicken. Back to the room and reading and History Channel.
06/06/02 Fairmont, MN to Rapid City, SD
I turned on CNN for headline news. I notice a change in style. Rather than being business-like the commentators are now making little comments to each other like local news stations do. The idea is to have a commentator with personality. Well they only have two or three stories of what I consider to be serious news anyway. It takes them five minutes to get through the serious news before they get to the "candy news." Now they can take up some of the time with cutesy commentators. It is one more reason to get my news from the PC and the BBC when I can. The idea seems to be to turn news into light entertainment. Well not quite true. They figure if you are intellectual enough to be interested in the real news they can pass the message to you in writing at the bottom of the screen. The bottom of the screen can tell you there has been a major terrorist attack on Washington DC while the main part of the screen has their current anchorman modeling fashions made from garbage bags.
Breakfast was not very good at the Comfort Inn Fairmont. Some are a lot better than others. This was a poor one. There were not even enough tables and the choice of food was poor and mostly starch and fat.
As I drove things started going wrong with the car. First the car was pulling to the right. The LED clock on the car gets dimmer at night, but it was doing it in the day time when it really shouldn't. Later we also found the glove compartment jammed somehow and would not open all the way up. I won't keep you in suspense. None of it was serious. The glove compartment was stopping on a binder right under the glove compartment in plain sight, but not in an obvious way. The clock had a problem just because the State of New Jersey sticker was eclipsing the sun and the angle of the sun was just right. At least we think that was what it was. As for the pulling to the right, that was just how the road was subtly banked. At 70 mph the effect was more obvious. All the problems went away. Life is good.
And on to South Dakota. It is clear very quickly that tourism is big in this state. There are a lot more tourist billboards. We stopped at the information center and said howdy. Minnesota is still easterly enough that you say hello. In South Dakota you say howdy. Besides getting some tourist info we got the tourist tapes. This is a series of four audio tapes that tell you what you see from the roads. The set of four coast $20 used. If that sounds steep, they are always willing to buy them back for $15. You have a guide for $5 keyed to where you are on Route I-29 or I-90. The tapes turn out to be OK, but there is more emphasis on that Sioux Falls has an art center and less on state history than I would like. It is a lot of ads for tourist attractions.
They tell you a little about the Louis and Clark expedition. The tape says that the land looks a lot like it did in those days. I was just thinking how hard it is to see what they saw since the land seems to be all fenced off farmland. I guess it is all relative.
I should say something about the Louis and Clark Expedition. In 1803 commissioned his secretary Meriwether Lewis, and another adventurer William Clark to search for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific. This would be a dangerous journey made somewhat more dangerous by the fact that it was really a spy mission. The lands to be explored was land that France claimed to own. Their claim was based on having purchased the land from Spain. Spain had title to the land because when they found it there were no other Catholics who claimed the land so of course it meant the land belonged to them and they could sell it. Spain put one proviso on the sale. They were not supposed to sell the land to the Americans. But France needed money for some project they had in mind that involved conquering Europe. A Mr. N. Boneparte sold the land to President Jefferson. He did not sell it to America because the President had no authorization to buy it from Boneparte. Jefferson realized it is easier to get forgiveness than to get permission. He just sort of took the money and bought the land. (This is from me, not the tape's account which is less irreverent.)
When they want to talk about history on the tape they have an actor read the part in an affected old codger voice--a sort of pseudo-Walter-Brennan.
We went to see the falls for which Sioux Falls is named. They are in a park, Falls Park, very near the stockyards. The falls looked impressive in the picture at the tourist office, but at no place does the water seem to be falling more than twelve feet at a time. It is more a set of cascades. This is a nice view, but it is not majestic.
The scenery is starting to look like flat prairie. This is the territory of Ole Rolvaag's GIANTS IN THE EARTH. The area was settled by such Swedes as well as Czechs and Germans.
There are a lot of billboards for Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. The king of the billboards is Wall Drug. They are all over. Also the Gutzon Borglum Story. I guess that is a museum.
What is the Corn Palace? In Mitchell the big auditorium is decorated with large mosaics made of ears of corn. It is the continuation of a tradition over a century old. A building was built for the 1892 Corn Exposition that was to look like a Moroccan palace, but the exterior was ears of corn making geometrical patterns. This was to counter comments made by Louis and Clark that this area was desert and suitable only for bison grazing. The first palace was an ostentatious use of the corn that grew here. The decision was made to build another and more permanent Corn Palace as a permanent part of Mitchell. The current Corn Palace is covered with 275,000 ears of corn. Pictures on a different theme each year have replaced the geometric designs.
Local farmer Dean Strand grows all the corn used to decorate the palace. There are ten different colors of corn. Milo, rye, and wheat are all used to decorate. So are corn husks. Each ear of corn is cut in half the long way and attached to an unprepossessing wooden backing. Local artists design the murals and decorate them as paint by numbers, only it is not painting. Decorating has a $30,000/year budget. They claim this is the World's Only Corn Palace. I wonder if that is true. How do they know?
We continue west on I-90. We stop in Chamberlain for lunch at Al's Oasis. They seem to specialize in buffalo burgers. I order one and so does Evelyn. It was OK as a burger. Not rare as I asked, but nobody seems to want to make burgers rare. Buffalo burgers are not as uncommon as all that, though. The diners in New Jersey seem to have them. It tastes like beef and has less fat than turkey has.
As we travel further west there is more prairie. We move from Milchig South Dakota to Fleishig South Dakota. (If you don't get the joke, don't let it bother you.) Dairy farms give way to cattle lands. People here get their protein less from milk and more from meat.
The set of billboards by the road gets more and more numerous and all are for tourist attractions. There is 1880 Town, The Ranch Store, The Badlands, The Petrified Garden, The Reptile Garden, and Wall Drug. Then there are the signs that say "Help manage wildlife. Wear fur." This is a new definition of manage. It is more or less how the Nazis wanted to "manage" the Jews.
We could have gone to Wall entirely on route 90, or we could go part of the way through the badlands. Since we had a Golden Eagle Pass to National Parks, we did the latter. Still today would not be our official visit to the badlands. Suffice it to say they are spectacular canyon-like rock formations.
The badlands are extremely dry. Evelyn and I felt thirsty just driving through. This is not an uncommon experience and it the basis of the success of one of the weirder businesses in the world, Wall Drug. Wall Drug is located in the town of Wall, named for a natural formation in the badlands. Dorothy and Ted moved to Wall in the 1930s and opened a one room drug store. It was only modestly successful. They had ice used as a refrigerant as part of their business. The ice would melt and they had a lot of drinkable ice water on their hands.
Dorothy would see the tourists coming down out of the dry badlands, rushing to someplace cool where they could slake their thirst. She suggested that the drug store give away the ice water to whomever wanted it. Ted found a boy and the two went out to put up signs offering free ice water at his drug store. When they were done they returned to the store only to find it crowded with thirsty tourists. It was an accident but it was a marketing dream.
70 years later there seem to be in South Dakota more billboards advertising Wall Drug than there are bison. (Well maybe not but they are a lot easier to find.) Wall Drug is the size of a small shopping mall. They still offer free ice water (actually the water was not that cold but there were buckets of ice and you could cool it yourself if you had patience). There is nothing in the drug store you might not find in some other drugstore, but you would never find all this in any other single drugstore. I saw no pharmacy, however, so you can't get a prescription filled (unless I missed it).
They have a restaurant, an ice cream counter, a playground in the center, and some more goofy things. Among the goofies is a full sized articulated tyrannosaurus head that looks around and moves a little. Then every 15 minutes it turns savage and opens its mouth and roars a few times. They have a robotic cowboy band to entertain. The place got a million and a half people visiting in 1996. That is pretty good considering it's a drug store.
We passed Ellsworth Air Force Base. They have an air and space museum. I think underneath the base is the famous Ellsworth Bunker.
At Rapid City we found our motel, the Lake Park Resort Motel. We have wild geese and a lake in our front yard.
Dinner was at a family restaurant called the Millstone. It is sort of on the order of a Denny's. With the time change it had been a very long day. We were on the go for 14 hours or more.
More log work and History Channel.
06/07/02 Rapid City Area: Crazy Horse Memorial
I woke up early and could not get back to sleep. At about 5 I got up and did some writing.
Breakfast was at the Millstone, the same place as last night. In fact there does not appear to be any place else in town that is a good choice for breakfast. I had eggs and biscuits and gravy. No place that I have lived has that been a standard on the menu of the local restaurants. Somehow when I travel I have gotten a taste for it. For the benefit of New Englanders what they call gravy is more accurately a "white sauce" which even more accurately a gray sauce. It has bits of ground pork. It is served over biscuits. It does not sound like it would be so good, but it is. I learned to like it on a business trip to North Carolina. It seems popular in the West and the South, but you rarely see it in the Northeast.
The road to the Crazy Horse Memorial leads up hills thick with evergreens. It is a very strange change of pace from the desert-like badlands. Here it looks almost alpine. We climbed into the Black Hills headed for the town of Custer and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
You can get tickets for the memorial and the rodeo for $7 or just for the memorial for $9. For reasons not clear the inclusive ticket costs less than the ticket for just the memorial. As long as they are paying me to see the rodeo, I might as well.
The visit to the memorial starts with an orientation film. The memorial was the idea of the Lakota Sioux elders. Standing Bear asked Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced "CORE-jock Jewel-CUFF-ski") to carve a tribute to Crazy Horse, the man who defeated Custer at the Little Bighorn, out of the sacred Black Hills. Ziolkowski was a sculptor on the Rushmore Project. The elders asked him if he wanted to carve his own mountain. What an opportunity that was.
The Sioux believed that Crazy Horse had strange mystical powers. This would be the biggest statue in the world and would be carved from the mystical Black Hills.
The project started in 1938 and by 1998 they had completed the face. This is not to minimize the amount of work done. The entire statue of Crazy Horse on a sane one will be 563 feet high. The head alone is 87 feet high. (That is five or six stories high.) The figure shows Crazy Horse sitting astride a wild horse pointing forward and saying, "My land is where my people lie buried." A huge amount of rock has been removed already. It is like trying to empty the ocean and already having pulled out enough water to fill Lake Erie. Unless technology speeds things up considerably the statue will not be done in the 21st Century. I think the vision may die before the statue is complete.
On top of this (and it is a long way up) nobody knows what Crazy Horse looked like. Korczak Ziolkowski was guessing based on what other Lakota Sioux look like, apparently under the assumption that all Lakota Sioux look pretty much alike. If Crazy Horse were to return from the dead he would probably not even recognize himself in his own statue. In any case the head may not be right but it is big. The heads of Rushmore would fit inside the head of Crazy Horse or whoever.
Ziolkowski had 10 children and had them all working on his mountain at one time. He is dead now but seven are still working on the sculpture.
The visitor center has displays of the mountain carving work, of Sioux art and culture.
At about noon we got some hot dogs and chili. They had free coffee at the snack bar. Lots the restaurants have something free as a come on. I guess they are following the Wall Drug tradition.
After lunch we wrote for a while then headed up to the rodeo. We were there about an hour early and sat on the bleachers watching the cowboy types gallop horses around the arena. Every once in a while they would herd cattle across the arena into a stall.
It is an outdoor arena, basically just a fenced in area. There are some wooden beams to sit on and some bleachers.
At about 15 minutes before the start they clear the arena. The loudspeakers played country western music for the crowd. Stravinsky just would not due for this occasion. Then comes 15 minutes of introduction of people present, talk about rodeo, and the Star Spangled Banner before they got to the real festivities.
First were the bucking horses. The first horse bucked his rider in about four seconds. I couldn't get the binoculars to my eyes fast enough. The second rider lasted almost twice as long. The third one broke something, but not the horse. The fourth stayed on until the buzzer. The score was 3 to 1, horses leading cowboys (an interesting reversal). Fifth rider was another washout. The sixth also stayed until the buzzer, got kicked off but could not get his hand free. He was dragged all over the arena by a vengeful horse. The claim was that the rider was OK. I guess the show must go on. During the action a bunch of people from the crowd had run forward to try to help if they could, and some got injured helping. Six riders so far and three nearly got killed.
Calf roping went better. The rider has to rope the calf, jump off the horse, grab the calf, turn him over, and tie the feet together. One guy was nearly in trouble as his horse pulled on the rope at the same time the calf did. He was almost cut. A bunch of the ropers are missing the calf's neck. Sounds good to me. Save the calf a stiff neck.
Every once an a while a rodeo clown breaks in with a vaudeville-style joke. I turns out this guy was considered to be a really good clown, but the jokes were very old and painful.
Steer wrestling has a guy chase a steer on horseback and jump from the horse and flip the steer to his side. Sometimes the cowboy can't catch up with the steer. Sometimes the steer throws the cowboy. Sometimes the steer bounces on his side and jumps up again. They let him leave the arena then. He trots away with a look that says, "What the hell was that all about? I've been in my share of bull shit in my time but this thing takes the cake."
There are ads for things like insurance and smokeless tobacco. Each has a flag and when the time comes for their ad the announcer delivers it and a female rider goes around the arena with the flag. There is something weird about a cowgirl with a banner for insurance.
Next is women's calf roping. Women don't have to tie the calf. Roping is enough. The ladies and the calves prefer it that way. The calves run as fast as they can right for the exit and they generally know just where it is. They don't like the arena. The men also have a breakaway roping event, but they have steers, not calves.
A roper is from Pierre. Here they pronounce it "Peer."
I have to admit that most animal sports I don't care for. I don't see much sport in cruelty to animals. The rodeo isn't perfect, but it does not appear to be overly cruel either. In breakaway roping the animal just runs across the arena. Coming from someone who gets bored with football and baseball almost instantly, rodeo is a more interesting sport.
The Bell Race has women riders run a loopy path in the fastest time. The second bull in bull riding bucked his rider then refused to leave the ring. It took him several minutes to get off-stage.
The last event was bull riding. This is where men ride the Brahma bulls. The nice thing about that event is I was sure of getting an action photo if I just waited. Everyone gets thrown. A Brahma is one mean stack of roast beef.
If there was more evidence of pain to the animals I might have been a little more negative. I wouldn't want to go to a Spanish bull fight. My high school Spanish book had pieces about bull fighting and talked about the people "who make the mistake of feeling sorry for the bull." That is a mistake I myself would make every time. But almost all of rodeo seemed to be just roughhousing with cattle. If it ever got worse than that it was happening behind the scenes.
It is about an hour's drive back to Rapid City. There is a restaurant right on the grounds of this resort/motel that is considered one of the best in the area. It is the Canyon Lake Chophouse. We went for dinner. We saw their menu when we registered and it looked good. Evelyn was looking forward to pistachio-encrusted chicken breast. I had a half order of barbecued beef ribs. I got the better of the two dinners I thought. Pistachio encrusting is a little bit better than breading, but not so much worth the cost. The ribs were cut in quarter inch thick strips across the rib so you had little islands bones in the meat. It made it possible and even easy to eat them with a knife and fork which I think they preferred you do. At the end of a day a half order was sufficient.
Evenings have been rather empty.
About 9 PM I found myself falling asleep on my reading. Evelyn had been
asleep since about 8:30. I decided to pack it in.
06/08/02 Rapid City Area: The Badlands
I was up about 5AM and breakfast was at the Millstone.
Right outside the restaurant is a bank. They have a sign that gives the time and the temperature. The temperature is off by about six degrees and the time by two minutes. I know the latter because I keep my watch pretty close to spot on. The inaccuracy is pretty standard for banks here and at home. I guess when it comes to figures banks are pretty casual. They live by a philosophy of "Close enough." You would think that that sort of attitude would hurt customer confidence in the bank, but apparently it doesn't.
Over breakfast we discussed how many religions seem to have journeys involved in their origins. Judaism has the Exodus, Mormonism has the journey to Utah, Islam has the Hegira. Jesus fled to Egypt. I suppose you could say Buddha traveled to the forest.
Well, today we visit the Badlands again. This time it is more serious.
Lots of places are called badlands throughout the West, but this area is the original. It is an area of 6000 square miles.
This area seems like a clay desert, but the category of topography is officially called "badlands." The place looks like some of the deserts of Utah and Arizona with canyons and strange pointy spires. We stopped at several lookout points beside the road then made it to a geology walk. There we learned the origin of this strange alien landscape that in places looks more appropriate for the moon. Mud and clay was down from the mountains as much as 75 miles away in the Black Hills. Sometimes vegetation would even grow on top. Then floods would come and cut through the clay. This is why it looks so much like canyons, it was cut with the same tool, water. Floods come depositing clay and cutting through barriers already built. Sometimes there would be a tougher layer of mud and sand and it would not dissolve as well in water. This would leave a fin or platform around the spires. When vegetation grew on top and was flooded it would decompose and the bits would soak into the clay. The iron would turn layers red. There would be vertical breaks in the clay due to plate tectonics. There would even be volcanic deposit from volcanoes at some distance. The clay erodes half an inch to an inch a year. The sandstone erodes maybe an inch a century.
In this area 100,000 acres were designated as a National Monument. Later it was expanded to 250,000 acres. It is not desert but arid with only 16 inches water per year on the average. Usually there are nightly thunderstorms, but not this year.
Things are very impermanent in the badlands. In 1959 the US Geological Survey set up metal disks embedded in concrete and embedded the concrete on hills near the Dillon pass. They were to stand as permanent reference points for surveying. By 1970 the hills were eroded down about a foot and the permanent reference points lay loosely on top of the hill where they just needed to be picked up to be moved. The land is unusable and the water undrinkable. Mountain Man Jedediah Smith came to the badlands and had his men drink from the bad-tasting waters. The result was diarrhea followed by dehydration. As an extreme Measure to save them he buried them in sand up to their necks to preserve moisture and then went off to find drinkable water outside the badlands. It saved their lives.
To some extent the badlands are like tar pits. The mud covers over fossils and preserves them. Frequently little digging is required here, however. Instead erosion can clear the way down almost to the bedrock. A twelve foot fossil turtle was found in the badlands. Even older are baculites, very early shellfish that look like elongated squid ice cream cones. Champosaurus, a post-dinosaur reptile like a crocodile are also found. Fossil hunter Ferdinand Hayden was captured by hostile Indians in the process of collecting fossils. Here he was with a fancy coat, and he was filling his pockets with useless rocks. The Indians assumed he was crazy. Their custom was to respect the insane so they let him go.
Indians tended to avoid the badlands as being useless for anything and really ugly to boot. Then by a peculiar trick of fate, it was just these lands that were generously "reserved" for the Sioux in the reservation system. Of course they didn't have to stay there. They could have been moved to different lands. All they had to do was find gold or oil in the Badlands and the accommodating US Government would have happily moved them elsewhere. They were placed in these ugly lands after the 1876 settlement.
We also heard a lecture from the same guide we had that morning, Michael Soures, on the bison. The bison migrated to America over the land bridge from Asia. This was about 300,000 BC and the bison was a bigger meaner variety called bison priscus. It was 9 feet tall and it adapted to running as part of its lifestyle.
Accounts of early European explorers talk of incredible bison herds. You could travel for a day and pass nothing but landscape thick with bison. You hear tales of how the bison once could be seen covering the prairie from horizon to horizon and then the white man killed them almost to extinction. That is true, but apparently that is not the whole story. What you do not hear is that the white man was also responsible for those huge numbers. Before the white man came there were nowhere near that many bison. That was actually a bison infestation.
Even in prehistoric times Indians were pretty good at killing bison. They used spears or drove bison off cliffs. Indians killed a lot of bison and frequently wastefully. That kept the numbers of bison down. White man came with European diseases. For various reasons Indians were more susceptible to European diseases than Europeans were to Indian diseases. While there were some European attempts to wipe out the Indians intentionally, luckily the Europeans were largely incompetent at the villainous task. European diseases were far more effective and largely inadvertent. Wiping out the Indians, albeit accidentally, was good for the bison.
Besides disease bison had only two predators, bears and man--mostly Indians. With disease wiping out the main predators, bison multiplied like rabbits. That was when the population soured. Then white man hunted the bison until their numbers were smaller than before. They hunted them almost to extinction. They were the chief source of protein when the railroads were built. They were also killed off as a means of controlling the Indians.
The bison provided a great deal for the Indians. There is a lot of meat on a bison. Actually, there is not much on a bison that there is not a lot of. As Mike told us, a bison has a head the size of a dishwasher. They weigh about 2000 or 2500 pounds. They can run at 35 miles per hour. Stopping them may be a little tougher. For all this they have very little intelligence. They are about as bright as sheep. You get a beast that massive and strong and fast with so little brain, look out.
Starting in the 19th century attempt were made to preserve and bring back the bison. General Philip Sheridan, who previously took part in the slaughter of bison now put army into Yellowstone Park to preserve and enforce preservation of the bison. Later in the 20th century a project was initiated to save the bison.
We stopped by the "Pig Dig." Ten years ago some photographers found some fossil bones in a field in the park. They reported the discovery and some trained people went to the site to spend a couple of days to get the fossils. But the more they dug the more they found. It is speculated that this was a watering hole with mud that it was easy to sink into. It became like the La Brea pits. Ten years later the two-day dig and the discoveries go on. Found have been mesohippus (a precursor of the horse), titanotheres (a rhino-like animal with a big Y-shaped bone on its snout), and oreodonts (which look like boars). I wonder if their teeth look like cookies.
From there we visited what they called a "Prairie Dog Town." This is just a field full of prairie dogs (and two bison). A well established town will have a really complex underground structure including rooms for sleeping, rooms for food storage, and latrines.
Meriwether Lewis called prairie dogs "barking squirrels." And they certainly did bark. Eventually, because of the barking, they were called prairie DOGS. I was about 12 feet from one and he just stood his ground and ignored me. He seemed to be barking to another prairie dog at some distance who only occasionally barked back. This one barked about two times a second the whole time we stood there. Each time he did he thumped his back with his tail. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. I thought he was ignoring us but he stopped when we went away. I would have liked to get closer but did not want to frighten him.
Elsewhere a woman had gotten up about three feet from one and the prairie dog was not spooked. As I walked a little closer her husband said, "It's a nice animal." I agreed. As I got closer he asked where we are from. "New Jersey." "Your name isn't Leeper, is it?" I allowed as how it was. It turned out to be Greg Bole who had just gotten his Ph.D. in biology and was moving from Philadelphia to Vancouver. We both used to review films on the Usenet. (I still do.) I went to Philadelphia once or twice to see films with him. I think we saw MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and SCHINDLER'S LIST together. He and his wife Kristen and his Welsh Corgi were traveling across country and we just happened to meet over the same prairie dogs.
After that we headed back toward Rapid City. We stopped at Ellsworth Air Force Base to see their Air and Space Museum. I failed to see anything I thought had to do with space. Of course some of the rooms were empty so that might have been the space, just empty space. Oh, there was one exhibit of reconnaissance photos. Those were taken from the Eros satellite. That might be the space part.
The collection of exhibits is not a very big one and many of the items are not of general interest. Others are as uninspired as a collection of department store mannequins in air force uniforms. As Air and Space Museums go, this one is rather minor. It is, however, the only place in the country that has a Minuteman Launch Control Center. That is a separate tour for a price. However Tucson, Arizona has a Titan Launch Control Center we just saw recently and I suspect there is a lot of overlap. I do have a question. According to the tour guides, if the orders came to launch there was a complex protocol to guarantee that they launch. The same protocol ensures that they do not launch if the order does not come. That tells me that they follow orders with the reliability of electrical components. That is probably good. But the question I have is why have humans there at all. Electrical components would be more reliable.
Outside they have forty or so planes you can see close up. They have a Corsair, a B-52, a Huey helicopter, etc. etc. What looks to be a B-1 bomber is a 2/3 fiberglass model. A B-52 deserves better care than they have been willing to give it. That is a plane that has been a major part of our arsenal since 1955. Think how old that design is, 47 years at this writing. A plane that old in 1955 would have had to been introduced in 1908.
They are, however, not well maintained. The B-52 has become a pigeon roost. you might think that allowing them to keep their nests in the plane is a professional courtesy to fellow fliers. Au contraire. For a museum dedicated to the men who risk their safety flying I was rather surprised at how loose they were with symbolism. All over the floor there were dead moths and moths trying to fly and crashing back into the floor. Not an auspicious image.
I have this tendency to pun when we go to museums. Toward the end we had three more planes to see, and I promised to make no more puns the whole rest of the visit. All of three planes. The second to last plane was called a Talon. It was too much temptation. Evelyn could see I was in pain and kindly released me from my promise. I explained that when the plane went missing they sent out Talon Scouts.
Some of the music we listen to as we drive is music we brought with us on cassette. Most of that is music from Western films. The radio has a pitiful selection. The best thing on is a country and western station. As we listen to that station I have taken to telling Evelyn that I get psychic vibrations. I can tell the subject of the next song. I claim the spirits tell me the subject is going to be love. 95% of songs on country western stations seem to be about love. Usually love gone wrong. "Blue eyes crying in the rain" sort of songs.
Coming out of the Air Force Base I thought I had missed my bet. The song was about Frank and Jesse James. Heck, it was a ballad about the old west. In the song they asked why these two robbed trains. Then the song got to the chorus. "It's just what I do when I can't get no lovin'."
There was an interesting song about a guy who got 99 years in jail for killing his wife's lover. He makes friends with the warden and gets the cushy job of taking care of the warden's bloodhound. This bloodhound was terrific at finding escaped convicts. The prisoner sneaks out a piece of mail asking a cousin to buy a good looking female bloodhound. He gets the female and introduces her to the Warden's dog. The two bloodhounds courted while the convict escaped. He concludes love got me in and love got me out.
Dinner on a whim was at Sanford's Cajun restaurant. The food was unhealthy and tasty. It is one of these places where the decor is chaotic, eclectic, and densely applied to the walls. Rather than napkins they have paper towel dispensers beside each table like floor lamps. The bases were old hubcaps and the pole was plumbing piping with a t-joint at the right place. Then there was a roll of paper towels on the pole and held up by the t-joint. The shades for the lights were inverted galvanized washtubs. The rest was all that nutty. They had a sort of good old boy wackiness in the clutter everywhere. The silverware was intentionally mismatched. I had Cajun soup and a catfish sandwich.
After that it was back to the
room to work on the log for a couple of hours, then watch a double feature
of BREAKHEART PASS and HOUSE OF DRACULA. They were seasoned by a nice electrical
storm. This part of the country has great electrical storms. This was not
a first class one however. There was lightning every one or two seconds
at the height, but only about five or six real arcs. Rarely was there thunder
with the lightning. Obviously the storm was centered too far away.
06/09/02 Rapid City and Deadwood, SD
I like the way the West is all spread out. There may some trouble places in uncrowded regions of the world, but none come to mind. It's the tight little places where people get on each other's nerves.
Breakfast again at the Millstone. I had Eggs Benedict, Evelyn had biscuits and gravy.
Our destination today is Deadwood. This is the town where Calamity Jane lived and Wild Bill Hickok died. Maybe I will find out why Calamity Jane is so famous. (Both are false names. They were really James Butler Hickok and Martha Jane Canary.) They are the two most famous people in Deadwood's infamous history. But Deadwood has a notorious history like Tombstone or Dodge City.
In 1874 General George Custer was sent to fortify against Indians the region of Deadwood, South Dakota. His troops did a little exploring and found gold in the rivers. Suddenly Deadwood was no longer so isolated it needed fortifying. Prospectors came from all over to pan French Creek for gold. Wild Bill Hickok, a former lawman and a gambler abandoned his new bride and came to Deadwood to gamble. The locals hoped that his presence would bring some law to what was essentially a wide-open town. It was not to be.
Wild Bill was shot from behind playing cards in a Deadwood saloon, The #10, on Wednesday, August 2 1876. He was shot by Jack McCall. McCall claimed variously that Hickok had shot his brother or had cheated him at cards. Neither reason seemed to be true. Hickok had enemies in town and it might have been a conspiracy or it might have been just a shortcut to fame for McCall. This incident is called a gunfight, but the gunfight had only one shot and lasted just a fraction of a second. McCall was tried and found innocent. He had friends on the jury. He then fled to Nebraska where he bragged of his jury tampering. Nebraska turned him over to South Dakota authorities who tried him a second time for a crime for which he had already been acquitted. They found him guilty and hanged him.
Calamity Jane has been played in the movies by people like Mae West, Jean Arthur, Jane Russell, Kim Darby, Catherine O'Hara, Yvonne de Carlo, Ellen Barkin, and Doris Day. The real woman was big and horsy in multiple ways. She looked and dressed like a man. She slept with a lot of men for love and/or money. She smoked, chewed tobacco, drank, fought, and cussed like a man. Or worse. She signed on for a hitch in the army, but got kicked out for skinny-dipping.
Calamity used to tell whoppers about her life and many were believed. She may or may not have been friends with Hickok. If she was friends she may or may not have been intimate with Hickok. In any case, people believed her that they had been lovers and when she was dying she asked to be buried next to Wild Bill. She was.
Our first stop of the day was Hickok's last stop ever. The Mt. Moriah cemetery's most famous interee is Hickok and second place goes to Calamity Jane. Positions three to 107 go to yet-to-be-named contenders. You pay to get in and get a map that takes you on a tour of the cemetery to see graves of people you never heard of and mostly don't care much about. They may or may not have been nice people to talk to when they were alive, but they are boring now. One grave is on the tour just so you can see the nice carving on the tombstone. There is a separate Jewish section that the Jews can tell themselves is the highest part of the cemetery and people who don't like Jews can see as the toughest part to climb to. Life is what you make it. I guess so is death.
There is currently some sort of convocation of motorcyclists in this area. It is called the Sturgis Rally and it really isn't until August, but Wild Ones from all over are already out in force. Everywhere you go there are Harleys and black leather jackets. Some of the riders seem a little long in both the tooth and the saddle. They probably grew up on Marlon Brando and THE WILD ONE. Most towns consider bike gangs a scourge. Sturgis makes them a tourist business.
After visiting the cemetery we drove into town and went to the visitor center were we saw a short film on the history of Deadwood. One thing I learned is that Deadwood burns really easily. The town has burned down several times.
We walked around the town looking at casinos--they have legalized gambling in this town--and stopped in two different saloons where Hickok was shot and killed. How is this possible? The #10 Saloon was physically moved to a new location. Now one has the spot relative to the building, another has the spot relative to the earth below the saloon. Ah, capitalism.
The Celebrity Hotel has cases of props and costumes from films. Among the films are WE WERE SOLDIERS, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (they have the Astin Martin), MOONRAKER, QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, STARSHIP TROOPERS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, TERMINATOR TWO, PREDATOR, THE SHADOW, INDIANA JONE AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, DIRTY HARRY JURASSIC PARK, UNFORGIVEN, BEN HUR, GLADIATOR, THE COWBOYS, AIR FORCE ONE, FORREST GUMP, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, RED PLANET, GOLDFINGER, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and Tom Hanks high school yearbook. (He looks strange in long hair.)
They also had a display for a film called WILD BILL. I was only vaguely aware that there was such a film. It struck me that we had a VCR with us. Evelyn brought some documentaries about Custer and Mount Rushmore, and a few trip-theme films like NORTH BY NORTHWEST. I suggested that we could rent WILD BILL and see it to cap off the day. I think we will do that.
A bumper sticker I pass says, "Eat beef. The west wasn't won on salad." The impression I had was that beef took a long time to come along to this area. Settlers lived off of plants and game. Those who ate beef fell in two basic health categories, those who got a lot of exercise and those who died young. And those categories weren't necessarily disjoint. Some who died young were found with their ropes around someone else's calf.
We drove back to Rapid City and found a Hollywood Video. No they did not have WILD BILL, they told us. They were not aware of it themselves, but they did have the film WILD BILL. Where we are in New Jersey videos cost about twice what they do here to rent. They cost us about $4.50 and we get to keep them about twice as long. For a DVD with a lot of supplementary material the extra days can be useful, but usually it is a waste of money. Basically we are effectively forced to rent the film twice, twice as long and twice the price. I rent films less and less because of the high cost and the low cost of owning them. Many of the classics you can get on DVD in the $9-$16 range. Particularly from places like Costco. And Blockbuster has really lousy selection of more intelligent films. They specialize in let's-see-'em-naked and blow-'em-up-good films. They are particularly weak on thoughtful material and films more than five years old. Now they are advertising that you don't want to buy a film you will only want to see once. And that sure is the kind that they carry. But those I can get off of cable. I hope the advertising indicates they are feeling the pinch. They deserve the pinch.
Next it was to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Museum of Geology. This museum has a nice summary of geology in general and locally in specific. They have a good collection of fossils and minerals. The center-piece is two skeletons of marine reptile fighting. One is a plesiosaur and one is a mesosaur. I wonder if the selection has anything to do with the fact the explorers see just those two animals fighting in Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, one of the rare science fiction books on a geological theme.
We went back to the room to work on the logs a little and then to see the film WILD BILL. The film was a little more accurate than previous films I had seen. Certainly it was closer to the truth than was DeMille's THE PLAINSMAN. The odd thing was that it was about half truth and half fictionalized for film. But what Walter Hill took of the true story was pretty interesting. And what he invented for the film was almost all misfire. There are stylistically boring opium dreams supposedly Hickok had. There are long dull conversations. The look of the film is too accurate to be fun. The real Wild Bill Hickok looks like a real slob. They have prettied him up somewhat. The same is true of Calamity Jane. Some people would be turned off of a film in which they looked like the originals. Films rarely want to show people who in the real world would have below average attractiveness. The only film I can point to that did not follow this rule is BARFLY.
After the film we went to dinner at a small pizza place recommended by Triple-A. It is called Piesano's. We were there about 4:30 and they did not open until five so we drove up the Skyline Drive and stopped to take a closer look at five cement dinosaurs, put in place by the WPA back in 1935 in the Depression. They overlook the city. The centerpiece is the Brontosaurus. He has his tail dragging on the ground, but in 1935 they didn't know any better. (Someone finally asked why with all the dinosaur tracks we have is there no impression of a tail being dragged. It is because dinosaurs must have lifted their tails like lizards do. A schoolchild should have seen it. Dinosaurs could not have dragged their tails.) The odd thing is that they had the correct head. In 1935 they thought a Brontosaurus had a rounded face. That was an error. They must have copied something like a diplodocus head. We now know that is the right head. The WPA artist had the right head for the wrong reasons. This might have been the only Brontosaurus model in the country with the head right. They had five dinosaurs on the hill: a T-Rex, a brontosaurus (actually an apatosaurus), a stegosaurus, a triceratops, and a anatotitan. The latter is a local discovery looking a lot like a hadrosaurus. At the base of the hill, by the gift, shop were two more. There was a dimetrodon (which they do point out was not a dinosaur) and a protoceratops (which is a dinosaur, but they did the legs wrong (out to the side like a lizard) so it did not look like a dinosaur.
After that it was late enough and we headed for dinner. We each got spaghetti. The food was OK. Evelyn didn't think it was great, though other patrons seemed to make a fuss. They serve their garlic bread with a layer of melted pizza cheese, something I had never seen. When the check came (in a standard leatherette folder) it had a take-out menu with the check. I opened the takeout menu and saw a dead moth inside. Uh, not as a dish. A real dead moth. There are these moths all over. I will say more on the plague of moths later.
Then we headed back to the room and sat out front to work on logs and watch the geese. I should say something about Lake Park Resort Motel where we are staying. We are paying about $62/night, but the place must have been designed to cost a lot more. Our room faces a big beautiful pond with ducks and geese and people out paddling boats. The place is really very nice. The room has a unit that combines stove, refrigerator, sink and cupboard in a single piece about the size of a dishwasher. Evelyn points out that the food seems really cheap here. There is a fancy chophouse across the parking lot from out car. We went and my meal cost $11.99 and Evelyn's was $15.99. Compared to prices at home that is a real bargain. It is not as cheap as our recent trip to Vietnam was, but for the US it is peanuts.
I after more writing went to bed
with the John Ford film THE HORSE SOLDIERS, Ford's only Civil War film..
06/10/02 North Dakota: Bowman and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park
I slept in. Almost to 6 AM.
Evelyn has been anxious for years to see North Dakota. She wants to be able to say that she has visited all fifty states and this was a much-needed state in her collection. The problem was that North Dakota has very few visitors. Just about the biggest tourist attraction of North Dakota is that it is near South Dakota. Also it is a must for all you "visit all the states completists." The simple fact is that while South Dakota makes a big effort at tourism, centered around Mount Rushmore and to a lessor extent the Crazy Horse Memorial, North Dakota has very little to attract tourists and makes much less effort. I sent for the tourist packs of each of the state and joked that North Dakota has a pamphlet of tourist attractions. That turned out to be not far from the truth. Really their list of tourist attractions is much more modest. Tourism is just not a big industry there. Most of the attractions are things like a giant cement bison. (They still call it a "buffalo" in their tourism material.) In South Dakota dinosaurs of the same scale are almost a throwaway.
We have heard that there is an eclipse coming. Yesterday afternoon we were looking for signs of the solar eclipse. It was not obvious. If we had seen signs it would have been surprising. The problem it turns out is that the eclipse is actually today. I think it will be visible from this part of the country but nowhere near full. Another question is how to observe it without destroying our eyesight.
I think the area is suffering a real plague of moths. You drive and they just swarm in front of the car. They make quite a mess also.
We head for North Dakota. On route I-90 people pretty much obey the speed limit. Of course it is 75 mph, and if you go any faster you risk death or serious disfigurement. Just going at the speed limit can be a harrowing experience.
We have gotten away from the tourist zone so there are suddenly no billboards. I think that billboard is the South Dakota State Flower. There are certainly a lot by the side of the road for a relatively few tourist attractions.
I commented to Evelyn that descriptions of Wild Bill Hickok say he was such a handsome man. And there are plenty of photos of him and he looks disgusting. He has dirty-looking, unkempt, stringy hair longer than shoulder length and a droopy mustache. I tell Evelyn that today he would look like a homeless alcoholic. Evelyn points out that is exactly what he was.
We head north on Route 85, a two-lane road that heads straight through open range and prairie. You pick a speed as a multiple of five and by doing so you choose who you have a long-term relationship with. I picked 75. I pass the people going 70. The people going 80 pass me. A white pickup just behind me also picked 75. He is there at a comfortable distance for about 90 minutes. I start to feel friendly with him just because he is always there. I see him close up only once. Eight deer cross the road. I pull to a stop to patiently wait. The white pickup seems equally patient. He concurs with my decision to stop. I don't know where the deer can go on the other side. There is a four-foot high fence. They slowly walk to the fence and gracefully spring over it. That's a barrier for cows. A deer treats it like we treat a speed bump.
We see signs for Redig in 20 miles. When we do pass through the town of Redig we hardly notice it. It can't be more than four buildings. We see a UPS driver coming the other way. They must lose money delivering on a road where it is 20 or 30 miles between towns.
After visiting some of these museums I am reminded that there is a word I just hate. That word is "reservation." It is such a nasty hypocritical word. We told the Indian, OK, we are going to take all this land and manage it. But don't worry. We have reserved a special place just for you. And what makes it special, this land we have reserved for you? None of us want it. If someone did want it we would have reserved someplace else for you. And if in the future someone else wants it, we'll move you. The word "reservation" implies you have done them a service instead of merely chasing them off their own lands.
As we go on the tape we rented gets a little better. There is less talk about the local civic center and more history.
We get to Bowman and with a little effort find the Prairie Trails Regional Museum. This museum mixes history and natural history. There are exhibits of the cowboy way of life with brands used to brand cattle from the major ranches. Now the cattle would have been just as happy with a little dot and happier still with their ranch's identification being no brand at all. But they didn't get a vote. At least nobody tried to brand their cattle with their signature. They showed rodeo heroes and equipment for on the trail. The latter included a Sears Perfect Fireless Stove it used hot concrete rings rather than fire. Another exhibit had many kinds of barbed wire, maybe 60 kinds. There was not a lot of equipment for each subject, but what was there was interesting. There was a mockup of a very small homestead, showing the shack's contents with table, a gun on the wall, a bed, etc.
The display on Indian history has the usual arrowheads and spear points. There is a piece on petroglyphs. Another part talks about how the Indian population was nearly wiped out by European diseases like smallpox. That is true, but it is what the British call "death by misadventure." If a friend of yours catches your cold from you, you are not exactly innocent, but you are not really guilty either. There were a lot of scum who murdered Indians. Before the Revolution Lord Jeffrey Amherst murdered Indians by intentionally infecting them. But the vast majority of Indian deaths were completely unintentional. Chief Four Bears is quoted as blaming his friendship with whites for the death of most of his tribe. The real villain was ignorance of how disease works. The majority of Europeans should feel regrets but not guilt in my opinion. Of course there were enough genuine murders of Indians also.
The museum has a section on paleontology. In a window there were two paleontologists trying to clean off fossils with fine tools. We talked to them about recent discoveries about dinosaurs. Tracks have been found where a tyrannosaurus wheels on one foot. Birds cannot do that but people can. We talked a bit about dinosaur communication and a gap in the fossil record so that for a long stretch of time there is no idea what animals there were.
There was a section on the common tools of the early 1900s. They had a linotype machine. The keys were in a strange order. It is not like our order on our keyboards. It went:
They had musical instruments, an Edison phonograph, hospital equipment, the tools of a beauty parlor including a weird device for curling hair.
There were posters up for Prof. Hoffman, the magician. The famous Professor Hoffman, the toast of Europe, had brought his world-renown magic show to Bowman, North Dakota. Gad, what an opportunity to partake of global culture. You would think just his show would be enough, but on this star-studded bill they also have Tiny the dancing dog. Also Abie Cohen, the comedian, a very funny Jewish-looking man. And to cap it off there is Jones and Sambo. Jones is probably the straight man and he plays with Sambo, the funny Negro. Yes all the excitement of sophisticated European entertainment had come to Bowman, North Dakota. Cultured entertainment for a less refined time.
Lunch was at Big J's in town. I had Polish sausage with sauerkraut. Then we headed back out on the road.
There is a stove by the side of the road with the oven open. A sign next to it says "Open Range."
All of a sudden our nice drive stops. They are doing road construction and we stop and sit and sit and sit and sit and sit. It is better than 15 minutes before we can move on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only national park named for a person.
We arrive and stop in the visitor center. There is a small display and we go to a film about the park and a lecture.
Theodore Roosevelt loved the badlands of North Dakota. Roosevelt had been a sickly child and had moved to the badlands for a while to build his health. On the grounds are his home when he lived in North Dakota. It had been moved from its original location. Roosevelt was at once our most intellectual and most childlike of Presidents. He never read less than a book a day and when he had the time he read three a day. He read at a rate of 2000 words a minute. He would sit in a rocking chair and rock so violently he would move around the cabin knocking things over, totally oblivious. He wrote something like 50 books. This park was created in 1948 in the North Dakota Badlands that he loved.
We asked if they knew what time the eclipse was. The ranger said it was at 5:20 PM. The cashier at breakfast had said 6:20. Whom to trust?
We start to drive the circuit. This is much like the South Dakota Badlands, but there is more wildlife.
There is a stop at a prairie dog town. (Calling it a "town" sounds like a cutesy name, but that really is what it is called.) There is a mother there with four kids in the 6-year-old range. Perhaps it is a birthday party. There are only three prairie dogs for all of us to look at. Not so great a prairie dog town. The mother packs off the four noisy kids. Now that makes a difference. It is like three minutes before there are fifty, maybe a hundred, prairie dogs out barking at each other or seeing what is going on. They stand to look around like meercats. They seem very intelligent and very cute. They are probably smarter than the bison we see just a few dozen yards away. There is a herd of bison there. As I said I think that bison are about as smart as a sheep. But with so much muscle it is like a sheep with a machine gun. A bison is nine feet high of muscle and sinew. The park wars to not get close to them and I think I agree.
So we continued around the park loop. We got some nice and fairly close views (and photos) of bison and prairie dogs, but that was pretty much expected. We were lucky enough to see a coyote, a badger, and an eagle. No pronghorn this trip, but we had seen one at the South Dakota Badlands.
At 5:20 we tried to see the eclipse. How does one do that? I use my binoculars. I certainly don't look through them. I take a flat surface, the back of my palmtop, and focus the image of the sun on it. It is easy to do just looking at the shadow. Voila, I am using the binoculars as a camera obscura and I get an image of the sun on the palmtop. (It is like looking at the sun with the binoculars, but using the flat surface instead of the eye. It does not focus sufficiently to get heat but you do get an image easy to see.) The eclipse actually started not at 5:20 but at 6:20. The cashier was right. Evelyn was driving but I tracked the eclipse and she occasionally stopped the car to see the image. The last solar eclipse I saw was in college. They had set up a special place to observe. I hadn't realized it took only a pair of binoculars and a piece of paper. This time I set up my own observatory.
The eclipse was not the only interesting sight on the way home. At one point we passed five or six young foxes sitting by the side of the road. We stopped and turned around and watched them a little longer. There also was a turtle better than a foot long crossing the road.
We stop for dinner in Bowman. It will be too late when we get back to Rapid City. I have a patty melt and fries.
On the way back there is a lot of wildlife on the road. We see at least two deer by the side of the road after dark. A big rabbit runs in front of the car and barely avoids being hit. We miss it by a hare's breadth. It picked just the most dangerous moment t cross. I wonder if it needs a car to come along with headlights so it can see its way.
We got back about 11:15. We had
been traveling since about 6:45 this morning. We had covered about 525
06/11/02 Rapid City Area: Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park
Well, we have been traveling for better than a week. Time to do laundry. One of the few things that cause friction between me and Evelyn, such as it is. This is something I should be able to do. Evelyn wants to do it herself. I think that is unfair to her. She does so much of the niggling little things already. We do have quarters. Yesterday after dinner in Bowman I got myself dessert in the form of a can of lemonade from a machine. It was 50 cents, I put in a dollar and got $1.50 change. If I was dealing with a human and I was undercharged, I would return the difference. There is no way to do that with a machine. Frankly in these days of super-electronics I don't understand why vending machines are so poor at counting money, figuring change, and making change. Anyway my laundry will be paid for by the Coca-Cola Company. Thanks, guys.
Yesterday we check the laundry room on our way to breakfast and it was open. Today we went at 6:30 and discovered a sign that says it opens at seven. We are currently waiting around.
At 7 AM we try again and find the door still locked in spite of the sign that says it opens at 7. I go for the manager. His office also has a sign that says it opens at 7. Must be the same seven that the laundromat opens. Walking back a Tom Skerritt type sees me and asks if I want to check out or am I trying to get coffee. I tell him what I am there for. He comes with me to open the laundromat. When we get there the inside of the laundromat looks like a moth hatchery. There are moths all over trying to get through the window and doors. I ask him if this is typical that they would have so many moths. He has been here ten years and never seen it so bad. I suggest it is the unusual weather. Meanwhile he goes after the moths with a fly-swatter. I tell him not to kill them on my account but he goes right on talking and killing. I tell him that it is a good touch that they have a box of books to keep people entertained while they do their laundry. They are mostly old hardbacks and Readers Digests from 1994. Five minutes after he leaves there are six or so moths flitting at the window to get out. (One measure of the moth problem is that I want to be the one pumping the gas when we stop. It's better than cleaning the windshield of moth parts.)
I try to do as much of the laundry as Evelyn will allow, but she still wants to captain. At least I can fold and keep her company. I hate it when I accidentally drop the laundry on the floor with so many dead moths.
French Toast for breakfast at the Millstone. Evelyn had chocolate chip pancakes. They came with a bucket load of whipped cream and melted chocolate chips on the top. It is a little like having fudge-cake for breakfast.
Today we see Mount Rushmore. As we arrive at the area we pass a site where they filmed NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Great film. I am sure if you want to maintain a low profile while you steal government secrets, there is a better way to do it than to have a futuristic home at the top of a National Monument.
Mount Rushmore gives new meaning to the name "George Washington Carver."
We got to Mount Rushmore. They have a choice of two ticket prices for parking. Either you can pay $8 for an annual ticket good to park all year. Or for free you can park someplace else and hike in. Except there is no place else to park. The all-year ticket is great for people who plan to come to Mount Rushmore every Saturday this year. That isn't us. The park somewhere else and walk ticket is great for people who want to walk ten miles to see Mount Rushmore. That is even less us. We paid the $8 and give the lady an insincere smile.
Almost immediately on arriving there was a tour that takes you to the base of the hill. The lecture was five roughly equal parts telling about Mount Rushmore, and each of the four Presidents depicted. Did you know that Lincoln was President of the Union during the Civil War? It was full of tidbits like that. Yawn. I guess they get a lot of foreign visitors.
I think this place is best designed for people who come every week and still can't figure who Lincoln was.
After the talk we continue around the circuit of this path. At the "Artist's Studio" we see the original model that was used by Gutzon Borglum, the artist who designed Mount Rushmore, for the sculpture. The heads are six feet high rather than 72 on the rock face. The shape was transferred to the hill using a pantograph sort of scheme where an inch becomes a foot.
Mount Rushmore was created as a treasure over the years 1927-41. It was created by the internationally known sculptor Borglum. Borglum got a taste for making oversized sculpture when he was hired to design the mountainside relief of Robert E. Lee at Stone Mountain, Georgia. And the authorities there got a taste of dealing with this temperamental and uncompromising artist. When they got fed up with the arguing they started looking for a new artist to complete the work. Borglum got wind of this and destroyed the models he had made for the project, basically sabotaging the work in progress. Then he headed for home with a posse on his heels. The posse had to stop at the border and there was nearly an interstate incident.
In South Dakota, a man named Doane Robinson had a similar idea to make a huge sculpture like Stone Mountain and wanted local folk heroes carved on a mountain top as a tourist attraction. He contacted Borglum. Borglum thought it would be a good idea, but said it should be figures of national interest. It was the first of many disagreements. Robinson gave in. He usually did.
Robinson had chosen a mountain, but Borglum thought it was not the best one to choose. Borglum went searching for a mountain and settled on the granite mountain Mount Rushmore. It was named for Charles Rushmore who came out from New York looking for metals. Rushmore tentatively named this mountain for himself. It was unofficial and Borglum was going to change it, but Rushmore pledged $10,000 to the project and the name stuck. All it takes is money.
Borglum was constantly plagued with poor financial planning and funding problems. He always deeply underestimated the funding needed for completion. Many times the project was shut down and continued months later when Borglum found funding. Borglum's own workers thought he was nuts and never thought the project would work, but remained loyal and always came back when there was funding, saving training costs.
Borglum used a technique known as pointing for copying his studio model at 1/12 scale onto the mountainside. He put a circular disk on the head of the model and one on the mountain in exactly the same place. He would put a stick on the studio disk from the center of the disk out to the edge and drop a plumbline until it touched the face. He would record angle, distance from the center of the disk, and distance down on the plumb-line. In math these are called cylindrical coordinates. He would multiply both distances by 12 and go out on the mountain and try to reproduce the studio sculpture. Sculpting the mountain was done by drilling holes in the rough granite face, precision dynamiting, and then using jackhammers to exactly reproduce the dimensions from the pointing process. Borglum would ask the workers can you see the faces? The answer was always "no." Borglum would say, "you will." The men had to be dedicated. They had to climb up 760 steps up just to punch in to be paid. Then they would hang out in boson chairs hundreds of feet in the air and lift 75 pound jackhammers to work. Borglum had his own way of doing things but was very tolerant when people who did not work for him disagreed with him. Any worker who did disagree with him quickly became someone who did not work for him.
It's not like Borglum was always right. Two years were wasted putting Jefferson's head to the left of Washington's. Borglum eventually found the rock was not right there. Jefferson was re-carved to the right, but then a soft vein in the rock would have weakened Jefferson's nose. Instead the head had to be recast looking higher to lift the nose above the vein. At the site you hear that granite erodes so slowly that this work will last 10,000 years. The dirty little secret is that Lincoln's giant nose is perilously weak.
Borglum intended a huge carved scroll to stand at the far right telling of these men. He asked Calvin Coolidge to write the inscription. Coolidge labored for a year on it and gave it to Borglum. In typical Borglum fashion, Borglum rewrote it and released it to the newspapers as Coolidge's work. The two men hated each other after that. The idea for the scroll was later scrapped when Borglum decided the rock was not right.
Borglum had to constantly beg funding from congress and repeatedly close the operation when money ran out. Borglum died on one of these treks to Congress in March, 1941. Borglum's son, Lincoln took over. My opinion is that rather than completing the monument, Lincoln Borglum was given the task of removing outward signs that the monument was incomplete. The final cost was actually only about one million dollars.
I think that Gutzon Borglum chose a really good time to die. After 14 years of Gutzon's management the work was nowhere near done and would not have been for years even if there were no war. Lincoln finished the work just six weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The war would have destroyed the project. The Borglums needed their stable of trained workers. They would all be sent to war. Some would be killed and many of the survivors would have new plans in a very different economy. Nobody knew they had a December 7, 1941 deadline, but they really did. After 14 years they made it with six weeks to spare.
Mount Rushmore is the largest sculpture in the world. 2,700,000 visit it each year. The Washington head is 60 feet high with a nose is 21 feet high and the mouth is 18 feet wide. The Presidents have heads commensurate with giants 460 feet tall.
We went the Visitors Center. It is designed like an arc of a circle so the monument is always visible and because there isn't much else to look at outside. There is a constant sound of thunder in the center. This comes from an exhibit that has films of blowing pieces off of the hill with dynamite. They are activated with a switch made to look like a dynamite plunger. The plunger is insulated from the general public by a thick rotating layer of children.
There is a display of dramatic pictures of Rushmore to the music of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." That is irritating. After all there is plenty of music to honor Presidents. "Hail to the Chief" is one melody. How many fanfares does the common man get? I think this is pretty well it. To use it for such uncommon men is out and out thievery.
Mount Rushmore is not really complete, of course. It was supposed to have a lot more carving. If Borglum has had the money and time not only would Washington have had a coat with three buttons, Borglum would have given him two pair of pants.
From there we headed to the Iron Mountain Road. This is a scenic drive through a forest thick with Ponderosa pine. The drive winds through tunnels dug through pieces of the mountain. The tunnels are all angled to frame the Mount Rushmore Monument. The is a curlicue in the road to get up to each tunnel. These are called Pigtail Bridges. You weave your way among tall pines. We pass bison milling across roads. This must be a good season for them and they seem to be in a relatively pleasant mood. They do not charge cars. You want bison to be in a good mood. You, however, do not want them to cross the line over to jolly. When the bison get jolly and playful you do not want to be around.
As we drive there are a lot of nice pines, but there are also a lot of tree trunks down, particularly high on hills. We were considering if they had recently had a fire. Then we saw signs telling us what had gone on. These were the remains of the Galena Fire which was started July 4, 1988 by lightning. There were 16,788 acres burned.
(I wondered if I had heard about this fire. I must have. Even as I write this I am hearing there is a huge and disastrous fire happening near Denver.)
We accidentally drove into Custer State Park early than we had intended, but we bought our week pass anyway. We would have to eventually if we were to see the park.
We went into the town of Custer for lunch at the Chief Restaurant. Everything in the area seems named for Custer. After all his big failure was in Montana. In South Dakota his troops found gold. That makes him a local hero. I had BBQ Brisket. For desert I passed on the Coconut Custer Pie.
Back to Custer State Park we drove through looking at animals. Longhorn cattle, mule deer, prairie dogs, and pronghorn were among the attractions we saw. Then there is a rock formation that the road goes right through. They must have been fifty or sixty feet. They are called "needles."
Visiting this area seems to be really riding the high country.
The bison sort of herd over the road. When you need to pass them they are very sanguine and step out of the way in a very human sort of gesture. Maybe they are just afraid of the car. They are not noticeably clumsy. We did see two male bison head to head in push-of-war. They probably were showing off for a cute bisonette. We heard a couple of male bison making strange sounds. It sounded like "Buffalo girls, won't you come out tonight? Come out tonight? Come out tonight? Buffalo girls, won't you come out tonight? And dance by the light of the moon." I didn't want to be around if they said yes.
Whatever the process, however, it works. We saw a bunch of mothers with calves in tow. Some of the bison were rolling on the ground to scratch off their winter coats. We saw some wild burros begging to be domesticated or at least fed.
They have signs telling what films filmed nearby. We pass one site where HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE LAST HUNT, and THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE
Another site had TOMAHAWK, WAR BONNET, and CHIEF CRAZY HORSE.
As we travel we listen to a radio station billing itself as the voice of the Lakota Nation. If so the Lakota Nation speaks in 50s and 60s rock and roll songs. Hey, that's cool. You might notice that Lakota and Dakota are spelled almost alike. They are actually variants of the same word.
We drive for an hour or thereabouts and are back at the Rushmore Monument. We are waiting until 9 PM for the nightly lighting of the monument and the feeding of the mosquitoes. (Actually not. I thought there were mosquitoes around, but I was wrong. The place seems blessedly free of them.)
The presentation starts with thunder from a cloudless sky. It seems sort of Biblical. A ranger talks about ten minutes about how he grew up in this area and how much this monument has always meant to him. He talked about how he had met someone who had been traveling in the Black Hills and had actually met Gutzon Borglum. (Wow!)
They then had a documentary made by the Discovery Channel about Rushmore and its meaning.
In spite of how revered Mount Rushmore is and how everybody treats it as a great symbol to the world I am somewhat ambivalent. This action of sculpting an entire mountain is, I can't help but feel, more a stunt than an art form. It takes a kind of vanity that has not been present in national leaders since the time of the Pharaohs. It is not that I do not believe the Presidents should be respected, but I do not think this form of extreme overstatement reflects well on them.
We got back to the room and there are at least three moths better than an inch long flitting around. They seem to have no fear of humans and frequently fly around us and around food.
Evelyn took a shower and came out saying she may have "saunaed" one to death. It was laying on its back in the sink.
06/12/02 Rapid City Area: Mammoth Site and Wind Cave
The dead moth in the bathroom recovered and was flying around the bathroom making a pest of itself. I suppose I could kill them like everybody else does, but I have philosophical problems with unnecessarily killing for convenience.
I turn on CNN. They are talking about goggles for dogs. I think CNN's new motto is "They're all slow news days."
We were discussing the difference between a National Monument and a National Park. There is also a National Landmark, a National Historic Sight, and a National Battlefield. Evelyn asks what Washington Monument would be. I suggested it would be a National Pointy Thing.
It was about a 90 minute drive to the first site of the day, the Mammoth Site.
What happened was the fault of limestone. Water dissolves and washes away limestone. An underground stream did a real number on some limestone underground. A cavern was formed in the limestone. The weight of the ground was too much for the limestone to support. Then it collapsed. There was a big sink hole with nearly vertical sides in the ground and the force of the water below pushed up water into the hole. Probably some rain filled the hole also. Water attracts the thirsty. They may gingerly come to drink by the side, but some fall in. Some may jump in without a lot of thought how they will get out. But there are those straight sides and many cannot climb out. They remove themselves from this predicament the same way we all eventually remove ourselves from all our predicaments.
As mud oozes in from surrounding dirt the remains of the dead, some of which are mammoths, are covered. The mud hardens even harder than the surrounding ground.
The mammoths died about 24,000 BC. In 1974 someone digging the foundation for a building found a bone. He told his son, a science major in college. The boy thought it might be a mammoth bone. He reported it to a local museum and it turned out this was a very good site for finding bones. But the town was smart. They could have had a University dig out all the bones and get all the credit. Or they could hire their own paleontologist and create their own museum. Clearly being this close to Mt. Rushmore they could make a good business case for making their own museum. With contributions and fund-raising events they paid for their own museum to be built. Dr. Larry Agenbroad, professor of geology at Northern Arizona University led the excavation. He now leads this museum.
The remains of only 3 woolly mammoths (10 feet tall) have been found in the excavation but many of the larger Columbian Mammoths (13 feet tall) have been found. A building was built around the site with walkways to get visitors up close to where the excavation is done. Another part of the building is museum.
There were the remains of 38 species found. Every mammoth found was a young male. It is thought that they were ostracized and became rogues. Elephants have a matriarchal social structure. Males would get cast out and would have to fend for themselves. They would need water and denied the herd's sources they would fall prey to the inviting but dangerous water holes. They have found 1-3 mammoths trapped every ten years. The material we see in the dig is actual bone, not petrified bone.
The diggers give the mammoths humorous names sometime. One found without its head was called Marie Antoinette. When it proved to be a male he became Murray Antoinette. It was suspected that the head was carried off by a scavenger. One such scavenger was the Giant Short-faced bear. It might have gotten to the head at the shallow end of the sink hole. Another specimen whose bones were separated was called Napolean Bone-apart.
The giant short-faced bear is another specimen found. It is a big bear that could reach 15 ft 4 inches up a tree.
We explored the museum and even got a short tour of the lab a level down in the museum. Dr. Agenbroad was taking a group through and invited us to join.
Our next stop was Wind Cave National Park. There they have three or more tours to choose from. We selected the Natural Entrance Tour. This is considered the most complex cave in the world. Under an area of one square mile there are at least 94 miles of cave passages. It was the seventh designated National Park.
The Indians in this area had a sacred place they did not explore. They thought of it as the place where the living earth breathed and decided to leave it alone lest they anger the earth.
In 1881 Tom Bingham found a hole in the ground that seemed to blow out air. It blew out sufficient to blow his hat off. He brought other people to see it and this time the hole sucked his into the hole and it has never been found. Crawling into the hole a large cavern was found. The in and out breathing was an equalizing of the barometric pressure between the interior of the cave and the exterior. This cave really has only one natural hole and because of the volume of air that has to be equalized with the outer atmosphere, a great deal of wind has to come out that one hole or flow in due to changes in outside barometric pressure. Early explorers were amazed to find strong winds in the cave.
In 1890 a mining company hired Desse McDonald to find ways to exploit the mineral content of the cavern. His son Alvin McDonald explored the cave and mapped a large piece of it and set up a thriving business taking people into the cave by candlelight and seeing the very unusual formations. Locals would dress up in their Sunday best to go crawling underground. It became sort of the social "thing to do." Alvin would lead people down the dark cold hallways and they loved it. This in spite of his youthful enthusiasm leading him to occasionally leave visitors abandoned in the cave as he went off to explore new parts.
Eventually there was a fight over ownership of cave and who really had the right to take people into the cave. The US Government got involved settling the dispute and by an odd coincidence it turned out the US Government said it owned the cave--in the name of the public. It would be opened as a National Park.
We took a tour, but there was not much information since there were only a few room large enough that we did not have to go single file.
The tour had started outdoors in a rocky ravine where the little hole is that the cave is known for. After that you enter the cave with a bit of a surprise. To maintain air pressure you enter through a revolving door. It seems somehow very out of place. Following that you go down a long, long stairway.
This cave has the greatest number of a particular limestone formation called "boxwork" because it reminded people of a post-office box. Actually it looks like a honeycomb created by bees that used all irregular shapes rather than hexagons.
The limestone forms in flat sheets or blades that form boxes, though not so rectangular. They also look like the packing material for crystal glassware where each glass is in a separate partition. This forms because the rock above is under pressure and shatters with cracks going in all directions, but it still stays in place. Then limestone drips and slowly extrudes through the cracks. Sheets form under the cracks making compartments.
Other formations are called popcorn, frostwork, and dogtooth, but the boxwork is the strangest and most interesting.
We followed the tour which was a lot of tight squeezes. There is an elevator to take the tourists back up to the top when it is over. There is also an exhibit of the history of the cave.
Following this we drove back to the room, and then to what they call a "chuck wagon dinner." This is sort of a small dinner and a show. The dinner is chuckwagon style with everybody going through a line. Then there is a show of cowboy singing and so-called cowboy humor. Cowboy humor seems to break into two categories with just a little less than half being about beans and flatulence. There was a whip demo, but it was very hard to see because it was given by the drummer who was about four feet high. Since people are sitting on about an acre of picnic tables all neatly lined up and since the demo was not elevated above floor level, and since we sat near the back of the crowd due to late registration. visibility was poor.
The sorts of songs they sang were "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," and "Cool Water." Sure bets. I think they wrote their own humor based on jokes readily available, in public domain, and proven by time. The whole event was about two hours long. We shared a table with a family whose little girl was five years old today. At first talking with them we did not click, but I folded some origami for the girl and they seemed to really like that. They were very friendly after that.
Back at the room we watched NORTH
BY NORTHWEST. It has, of course, the finale on Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock
got the topography wrong. Stone Mountain, Georgia is a cliff face, but
Rushmore is not. Grant and Saint run from Mason and Landau through a forest
and find themselves on a Cliffside with the monument. There is no forest
at the top of Rushmore. Rushmore is a carved spire.
06/13/02 Rapid City, SD to Cody, Wyoming
As our last night in South Dakota (going this direction) ended I woke up and wrote for a little while in my log. When Evelyn woke up we packed up the car. We checked out. I gave the woman my credit card. She said that usually there is a moth swarm every seven years, but it had been 11 years this time and the swarm was bigger. Meanwhile the machine would not complete my credit card transaction. It came back with the helpful message CNU. The woman had no idea what that meant. I suggested it stood for "Computer Not Up." I would have thought it was just saying good-bye if it had said "BCNU." Rapid City is actually kind of a nice town to stay. There are a lot of restaurants and we really did like it. I almost hate to leave. But our Destiny calls. We want to make Cody today.
We go for our last breakfast at the Millstone. I order waffles. Last time I got a normal circular waffle in four quarters. This one is a different pattern. At the center of the waffle is a three inch high Cross of Jesus. God what Chutzpah! This is indeed the last time I eat at the Millstone. (PS not true.)
As we drove west we saw ads for the Black Hills Passion Play. Boy, this place sure is Christian! I asked Evelyn what would be a White Hills Passion Play. I suggested "The Sound of Music."
Evelyn tried to take the pass to the Custer State Park off of our windshield. It is stuck with glue that does not come off easily. It will probably have to be scraped. Now that's really tacky. Does everyone who visits Custer State Park have this problem?
Driving on the highway is fairly pleasant. The one problem is that so frequently there are spots where they have closed down half of the road potentially to work on it, but they rarely do the working. The half of the road just remains closed. Apparently there is a resistance movement that would just leave the roads to their fates. At just about every one of these lane closings they have a protest sign. They copy the style of the signs that warn that the road work is coming up (making it look official) and put them at the end of these stretches. They say "End Road Work." I don't think people are convinced, but I can see why they feel that way.
After about 60 miles we pass into Wyoming. The topography is prairie and some trees. We gas up in Buffalo and I give the car over to Evelyn at a gas stop. The town has some brass statues commemorating the Johnson County War between small and large cattle ranchers.
The ground goes from prairie to hilly with rocky ground and lots of tall pine, probably lodge pole. In the distance are snowy Rocky Mountains. Boy, is this ever Wyoming! Wyoming? Why not? We are now in the Bighorn National Forest.
There are even patches of snow. Summer is in a little over a week. We are up above 9000 feet. The temperature is 40 degrees. We pass kids playing in snow. Other places there are big deep blue lakes rimmed with pine trees.
I start to take pictures of the huge rock cliffs. Then I think what is the point. A little picture can't do justice to these rock formations. Maybe I can get a picture of a Winnebago skirting the side like a chipmunk. I have been to Alaska and I have been to the West and the West has the most beautiful scenery in the country. Alaska is supposed to be the best, but nothing matches the West from New Mexico to Montana. I can try to create images in your mind with writing. Forget it. I can't describe it. Go.
Then suddenly the rocky area just stops. We must have left a canyon.
We drive into the little town of Ten Sleeps. It is so named because the Indians would take a 20 day trip in their normal migration. Ten Sleeps was the midpoint. I guess the kids used to ask "Are we halfway there, Daddy?"
With all the disadvantages I don't think I would want to live someplace like the Western prairie. But there really is something that feels right about it. It feels right in a way that our cramped cities and towns with their traffic problems do not feel right.
Evelyn suggests we stop for a soda. I point out we are right near a coke machine. No, she means there is a store with a soda fountain. You know, I don't think I have ever been to a soda fountain for ice cream. I had been to ice cream shops like Friendly's, but never to an honest-to-gosh soda fountain. I am not sure I could even find one in New Jersey. I had a Huckleberry ice cream shake. Evelyn had a root beer float with chocolate ice cream. The store was dense with souvenirs, Indian souvenirs, rocks, candy, joke shop jokes, etc. Not much happening in what seemed like a sleepy little town.
We drive on. Thermopolis seems a little less Spartan.
Eventually we get to Cody, Wyoming and a surprise. The Comfort Inn has no rooms. No room at the inn. I think there is some sort of arms show in town. The guy at the desk suggests we ask a woman sitting at a table in the lobby. She rented cabins at Buffalo Village just behind the Comfort Inn. The woman found us a cabin we could keep for three days. So far it is decent. She drove us to the cabin and to the office on a golf cart.
Dinner was at a Mexican Restaurant, La Comida. We each had a good dish. Mine was $6.95, Evelyn's was $7.25. Evelyn had a beverage and the total with tax and tip was $18.39. It helps that the tax rate is only 4%. I had something called a Pachugo. It was chicken chunks and sauce and melted cheese on a bed of Mexican rice. I liked it. You can't beat the price.
Right across the street there is a business renting quadricycles. It looks like a surrey with fringe. Each person who sits in it can pedal. Very picturesque.
After dinner we walk around the main street. There is some sort of actor skit going on and we watch a few minutes of that. Cody seems like a nice little town.
From there it is back to the room to log write and to watch a documentary on Navaho Code Talkers. The film WINDTALKERS opens tomorrow. During WWII the army used a code that only Navaho could speak. However in the world there were only about 40 non-Navahos who spoke Navaho language. None of those were Japanese. It sounds like the code was pretty simple once you know Navaho. Maybe it was just a little more complicated than a newspaper puzzle, but it was kept secure by the rarity of Navaho speakers. The Japanese actually figured out what was going on and captured a Navaho who was not a code talker. They tortured him severely to translate the code, but to him his fellow Navahos were speaking gibberish. Had the Japanese analyzed the gibberish it sounded from the documentary that they probably could have broken the code. At least they could have if they knew English. But they had nobody who spoke Navaho and English and who had solved the puzzle. In addition the code talk was laced with special code words. The Navaho word for "Crazy white man" was used for Hitler.
There also was a fairly amusing
documentary on the contents of the government flying saucer files, recently
declassified. The theory is that the government has been playing down and
trying to hide evidence about UFO hysteria. According to the History Channel's
experts examining the file, the CIA has been intentionally stirring up
UFO-hysteria. There were a number of spy projects like the U2 spy plane,
huge spy balloons intended to monitor Soviet detonations, investigations
of the feasibility of parachuting from heights like 100,000 feet. Civilian
observations of these experiments had to be discredited. The UFO context
was tailor-made. But like spiritualism, even though the founders have been
discredited, the belief goes on.
06/14/02 Cody, WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
We had breakfast at a small bakery in town. I had pancakes and eggs.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is five museums in one complex with one entrance and one entrance fee. I suppose you could consider it one big museum divided into five sub-museums. After all you cannot pay admission to just one. You pay $15 and you can see as many as you like. The museums are all devoted to aspects of the West. There is a museum devoted to William Cody himself, one of the Plains Indians, one on natural history of this area, a museum of Western (as in cowboy) art, and one of fire-arms of the West. We have two days to see them all. They stamp your hand so you can exit and come back in the next day.
The Buffalo Bill Museum is a biographical display of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody's life.
As with most American heroes there is a tendency to be cynical about Cody these days. I remember Robert Altman's film BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS painted him as a scoundrel, a self-agrandizer, and an opportunist. They is little of that interpretation in Cody, Wyoming. The town's namesake is treated as a genuine hero. Cody was a bison hunter, but was bison hunting responsible for the bison population dropping from several million down to only 30? Oh, heavens no. That was climate and over-population. Cody LOVED the bison. That is the local attitude.
The display starts with three timelines in parallel. One is Cody's life. One is US history. One is World cultural history. Cody was born in 1846. He grew up with horses and guns.
He spent some time in the Yukon for the gold rush. He returned home to ride with the Pony Express and rode with the Jayhawkers in bleeding Kansas. After fighting with the cavalry on the Union side in the Civil War he went out on the prairie to work for the expanding railroad. In 1868 earned $500 month supplying meat.
He acted as a scout and guide in fighting Indians. For one battle he got the Congressional Medal of Honor. He turned this fame into a career first by acting in stage plays reenacting his exploits, then in his own Wild West Show. He was a favorite dime novel hero and the hero of pulp stories around the world told with more enthusiasm than historical accuracy. Eventually he retired and died January 10, 1917
They have saddles on display including one you can mount to get the feel. The sheepwagon, a sort of Winnebago of its day, complete with cupboards, bed, and coal stove. There is a chuck wagon. You can see a collection of spurs, bits, and stirrups. Then there is clothing. This stuff is all pretty general, since this illustrates a period before anybody knew Cody would become special. There are also some Civil War souvenirs.
Eventually you get to mementos of Cody's show days. He used to print up garish posters weekly showing himself as the brave, perfectly proportioned hero of the West. They have an incredible variety of these posters. One poster shows Cody and his accomplishments and Napolean and his accomplishments which don't seem to stack up. Napolean looks short, fat, and unhappy. Cody is tall, handsome, and staunch. A repeated theme on the posters is the beautiful woman held captive in the Indian village showing tears of despair. But wait. In another part of the poster we see Cody arriving in his fringed buckskin suit, a long gun in his hands and a wide brimmed hat on his head. Cody always dressed this way.
You might think that the Indians would resent always being made villains. But it is claimed that they knew Cody as a true friend. As he said, "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government." When asked for his solution to the Indian problem, he said it is to "never make a single promise to the Indians that is not kept."
There is a display of dime novels with the great Cody as the hero. The pulp adventures of Cody are almost as garish and overblown as Cody's own posters of himself.
A 15-minute film shows Scenes from Cody's Wild West show. This is pieced together from films from the Edison and Vitagraph studios. Not much detail is possible as the films have lost their contrast, but you see a lot of cowboys and Indians parading and running around. Annie Oakley, who traveled with the show, also has a small exhibit.
Someone named Redick who also was in the show had a show saddle that weighed 105 pounds. I guess this was a different time when horses were horses.
They have the Medal of Honor awarded 1872, revoked 1917 because scouts are not considered military. It was restored in 1989. Of course Cody was not around to celebrate. The legend of Cody was in large part responsible for popularity of the West in fiction. His posters and his spiel may have been self-aggrandizing and people may not have believed it, but they loved it just the same.
In the same museum is an exhibit of the writing of General Charles King. King wrote books of high Western adventure and noble heroes. King, who lived from 1844 to 1933 wrote over 60 adventure novels in Victorian, virtuous, action style.
Also there is an exhibit of the Ute Indians. Along with the usual pots, they had playthings like cards, juggling balls, dice games, and a shinny ball and with sticks. This seems to be a game with equipment like jai alai. There were a bow and arrow, some war bonnets, and cradleboards for carrying the young.
There was a description of the Bear Dance done in spring and representing the renewal of life, the female aspect, and fertility. The Sun Dance represented the male aspect, heroism, and was done in the summer. They tell a creation myth. Sinuav, the Creator, lived alone in the world with coyote. Creator told Coyote to take a bag to a special place and open it there, but not to open it before. Creator would not say what was in the bag.
Coyote took the bag and was transporting it, but got curious what was in the bag. He opened the bag to find it was filled with many people with many languages. They almost all escaped and became the people of the world. He took the bag to the promised destination and let the last few go and they became the Ute.
This is a good lead in for the Museum of the Plains Indian. The plains go from Rockies to Mississippi, from Canada to Texas.
They tell you of the life style where the men hunt. Agriculture is done pretty much by the women. There are some nice computerized displays that allow the visitor go into a little more detail on the subjects hearing the testimony of Indians.
They talk about using dogs as (generally unwilling) pack animals. There is description of how every adult in the village helps to raise the children. I guess it takes a village.
I won't go into detail about their exhibits. They are fairly typical. As we were walking out they had an exhibit of guns the Indians used. A man was saying the Indians had repeaters, the cavalry had single-shot. His wife said in an irritated tone "that's the way this country does things." It struck me as an insensitive comment. I guess giving the cavalry better guns is better to her mind.
Evelyn was not much impressed by the Indian museum. I am not generally fond of Indian museums because they have a lot of the same artifacts or I am insensitive to the differences. I thought this was a better than average Indian museum since it got a lot more into thought patterns and philosophy. And it had more of their experience. It was a lot better than seeing a bunch of arrowheads and pots.
We left the museum for lunch. We went to a local taco chain. I had a taco and a bean burrito. It was just a quick break and then back to the museums. The black lights let us in. They had stamped our hands and the process worked.
The Draper Museum of Natural History has been just open to the public for about two weeks. Already a bunch of equipment is out of order. Some exhibits are not complete yet. I found the museum attractive but not really interesting; too many of the exhibits have little more information than can be found in a book. A museum should be more engaging. Even the more interactive exhibits were no more imaginative than here is a picture of an animal. Press a button and you can hear its sound. For that matter they don't even mention bison/buffalo in spite of the fact that the museum complex is named for the animal. They figure you can see bison in the Plains Indian Museum. Of course they have nothing about the natural history of the bison. There is no information about pronghorns either.
I guess what bothered me most was what seemed like their conservation message was blunted by deference to the livestock lobby. Any other natural history museum I have ever been to has said that wolves are a part of nature and should remain in the eco-system. Here they say "some think that wolves should be preserved and some think that they are bad for livestock." Pretty much the same thing was said about grizzly bears. I have never seen a natural history museum so open to tampering with nature. I don't know if the livestock lobby is exerting pressure or a dose of reality.
There also was a small exhibit of guns. They don't have bison because you can see them elsewhere. I guess they figure there is nowhere else to see firearms than the natural history museum.
The real problem is that most natural history museums have something that tweaks the imagination. This one just didn't do it for me. Not every museum needs something on astronomy or paleontology or even interesting rocks. But you need something to get the juices going. This one just start out trying to convince visitors that the study of natural history is good, but they do not make it exciting.
After the museum we returned to the car. We visited the local used bookstore. It was of some interest and quite large, but it turned out a lot of it was romance novels.
Back to the room for a little reading and writing. At 6:30 we headed out to the local movie theater to see THE BOURNE IDENTITY. The film had been adapted for TV in 1988. A man who has lost big pieces of his memory discovers he is a very dangerous man. There are some major holes in the plot. A capsule implanted on his body gives him important information to make the plot of the film work, but even when it is all over we still have no idea why he had that capsule. The film is advertised to have a big car chase, but it didn't do much for me. There are several really loose ends that damage the plot. I am not an expert on brain function, but it seems odd to me that he has lost pieces of both long-term and short-term memory. That seems to imply two separate injuries. But don't quote me. Overall, just a mediocre script.
After the movie we went for a
bite. I had chili, Evelyn had a piece of pie. Then back to the room.
06/15/02 Cody, WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
I put on the news early on. They are having a conference about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. They are talking about expelling the offending priests from the clergy. Perhaps they should stay in the church but be kept from the public. How about making them Leg-hold Trappists? They are saying they may adopt a zero tolerance policy. That makes me wonder. Can someone tell me what their alternative non-zero tolerance policy would be?
We went to a place called Granny's for breakfast, the same place where we ate last night. They are really crowded on a Saturday morning. I ordered a short stack of pancakes. It came short but wiiiide. The pancakes are eight inches wide. (Evelyn pulled out a measuring tape. I sort of melted into my seat.)
After breakfast we headed back to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. My hand stamp still works in spite of the shower I took this morning.
Our first museum today is the
Cody Firearms Museum. I am not that interested in guns but the first museum
you visit in this complex casts $15 and any or all of the rest are free.
This museum is our fourth museum so it is free. It gives a summary of the
history of firearms in the West.
On the way in we see mini-exhibits of Joseph Henry Sharp and his Indian paintings. Another exhibit is on the rodeo. It has the definition and rules of the various events. It has a TV showing rodeo. Rodeo is very popular in Cody. May through September there is a rodeo every night.
On to the firearms museum.
The exhibit opens with the Gatling Gun. This is a gun designed in 1872 to save lives. Gatling reasoned that if you could give a single soldier the fire power of several people then you could put far fewer soldiers on the battlefield. This tells us just about what Gatling's intelligence level was. He was smart enough to design a near-machine-gun that would rapidly fire bullets. It is actually a repeating rifle battery, but it is effectively a machine gun. At the same time he was stupid enough to believe the army really would put fewer soldiers on the field. Instead, like Nobel, he just succeeded in making warfare more deadly.
There is also a display of guns used filming TV series Johnny Ringo, Bonanza, Annie Oakley, Bat Masterson, Gunsmoke, and Have Gun Will Travel and the film WINCHESTER 73. This was all warm-up. The main part of the museum is a collection of guns showing the incremental improvements.
Every kind of invention has an ultimate. When the first cave painting was drawn on the first cave wall the technology of reproducing mental images was striving for some sort of electronic telepathy. So far we have motion pictures as about the best transference of mental images. We have gotten there by a series of small improvements.
Much the same is true of firearms. The ultimate is probably pointing a finger and an enemy falls dead. This museum tracks the technology from the blunderbuss to the modern hand revolver and the modern automatic rifle of war. The museum traces the development to breech-loader, to percussion ammunition, to repeater, etc. Incremental improvements move guns closer and closer to the ideal. This museum examines the evolution of the firearm as well as the role in history.
They have a film telling you about the role of the gun and outlining the various improvements.
The guns went from flintlock muzzle-loaders like the Pennsylvania rifle, to percussion breechloaders which were quicker to fire and more reliable. Then they went to cartridges which were much more convenient.
They compromise with the Cody museum's claim and say that firearms hastened the end of the bison.
There is a typical colonial gun shop where guns were made in three components: the lock, the stock, and the barrel. There are also reconstructions of a hardware store and a machine shop.
They have a sort of percussion trap gun. It is used (get this) to protect watermelon patches. It automatically finds and fires at invaders in the melon patch. Now that is scary.
The exhibit says that Western films tend to exaggerate the violence of the old West. Once a town was founded the lawless interval was usually under two years and sometime just months. After that they settled down and were civilized. Then again they consider being civilized can include setting deathtraps in watermelon patches.
Of interest is an account of how Colt specialized in revolvers and Winchester in lever action. Each tried to venture into the other's specialty, but they eventually agreed to both desist. Toward the end they start displaying guns grouping by manufacturer. There are also computer displays of videos of rifle production.
Looking at one of these rifles reminds me a little too much of my old company Lucent. When you aim too high, the stock drops.
Another feature is their collection of gun-related calendars. Most are people having good times with guns. Union Metallic Cartridge calendars featured pictures of cute little children with guns. For example one shows a little girl five or six and some hunting hounds. The girl is holding a rifle. Hmmmm. It was meant innocently, but we would know better today.
When you get to the end of the exhibit there is an elevator and a sign that says "you have just seen 1500 guns. 1200 more are on display downstairs." Oh boy!
This is a surprisingly interesting museum considering I do not think I have that big an interest in firearms. However eventually you just get tired of seeing more and more guns.
The Whitney Gallery of Western Art is our final museum of the complex. I took a lot of notes to describe it here in the log. But, you know, there are other things I want to write about and describing art without being able to show it to you is a foolish waste of time. So I intend to be brief.
N. C. Wyeth, father of famous artist Andrew Wyeth, has some great book illustrations on display. There is some of Carl Rungius who proves in his "Throwing a Steer" he does not know a steer from a bull. There is a room devoted to Charles M. Russell. There is a nice sculpture by Solon Borglum of a man on bucking horse. It looks a lot like the work of Frederic Remington. One of the interesting pieces by Remington is Coming Through the Rye. The subject is four horsemen whooping it up. Remington studied the photography of Muybridge to learn what a horse looks like when all its feet are off the ground during a gallop and he uses that in the sculpture.
The better sculptors give the horse expression as well as the rider. Solon Borglum does this with his sculpture of Bucky O'Neill. It is much like some political cartoonists put small characters at the bottom of their cartoons to add additional comment.
A guard stops us (in a friendly way) wanting to know about palmtops. He had seen us the day before with palmtops and was curious. We explain what they are.
A few minutes later a second guard stops us to ask about the computers and we talk to him for about 20 minutes. He talks about taxes, Wyoming, politics, retirement, and a number of other things.
As we continue on a woman looking at a painting of a bison opines that it must be the ugliest animal. Evelyn says she thinks the ugliest is a walrus. Another woman says it is a hippo. At the Topeka zoo I saw a baby hippo swimming for the sheer joy of swimming. Now that is a beautiful animal. That was the widest happiness I have ever seen.
We stopped for a cool drink before continuing on. From there we went to the upper level of the museum which it turned out was just a mezzanine. It was contemporary western art. Tom Palmore a very nice mountain lion with glassy eyes. You could make out each hair on its face. Out to Lunch showed wild bears eating a human picnic lunch. Another piece showed a cowboy with a dachshund. I came up with a better title than the artist. I would call it Get a Long Little Doggie.
Outside they are having a big event that they call a Powwow. This is a archetypal public event. It is supposed to be a public performance of traditional Indian dances. That was probably how it started years ago. But a lot of people come to buy from Indian crafts dealers and to buy Indian food. With absolutely no knowledge of each other the Cody Powwows will follow the evolution of the Greek Festivals in New Jersey. I am sure they started the same way as performances of ethnic dances for the public. Next they allow venders of ethnic materials and foods. Soon more people are interested in the venders than in the cultural side. Eventually the organizers bring in carnival rides. The ethnic dances still go on in a tent that is out of the way and a few people wander in. But it really is a sideshow of the big carnival. The Powwow is well on its way to being like this. The same evolution probably happens with different ethnic groups around the country. It is a form of convergent evolution.
Our last event of the day is the Old Trail Town. This is a poor man's open air museum. It is a small town made up of buildings found elsewhere, all from the last quarter of the 19th century and from this area. Unfortunately the season has not started yet and most of it is still locked up. Some of the buildings were probably fairly cheaply obtained, some have historical value and were probably a little more expensive. A saloon and a cabin were used by the Hole-in-the-wall gang including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
There is a one room museum of mostly abandoned old equipment like a mine car and a miner's pan. There are old guns including a buffalo gun.
One case is devoted to a dime novel artist. Nick Eggenhofer illustrated Every Week Western Story. Every issue claimed "Big Clean Stories of Outdoor Life" 15 cents. Titles were like Thunder Moon--Paleface and its sequel Thunder Moon--Squawman. Eggenhofer was actually one of the great pulp writers and artists. He did all sorts of pulp art, but mostly Westerns.
There is a jacket of fringed buckskin. There is also what a visiting professor is telling one of his students was the oldest fishnet in North America.
What is it doing here? Well how much demand can there be for the oldest fishnet in North America?
One of the locked buildings had--I peeked--in the window, a two-headed calf stuffed. There is also the grave of Jeremiah Johnston. There are lots of old rusty falling-apart buckboards.
There also is a small graveyard. Buried there is mountain man Jeremiah Johnson. There was a film about him with Robert Redford. I have never seen it. I guess I am curious and we may get the film locally.
We had a nice dinner Bubba's BBQ. They let us share a rack of ribs. It was big enough for both of us. But what was impressive was that the barbecue was perfect and so was the sauce. I wouldn't know anywhere to get such good barbecue in New Jersey.
After dinner we had stopped at Wal-Mart for film and few other goodies. They have the film JEREMIAH JOHNSON. What the heck. We can see it some evening. It counts as being trip-related.
The evening was a lot of writing.
In the background I put on a movie with the inauspicious title ATOMIC TWISTER.
A series of tornadoes menace a nuclear power station. It was not very good.
06/16/02 Cody, WY to West Yellowstone, MT
Well last night I wrote an article about film. Then in a moment of clumsiness I wiped out the file. This morning I re-wrote the article. Actually the rewrite might have been a little better.
We waited until about a quarter to 8 to call our parents and wish them a good Father's Day.
Back to Granny's for breakfast. I will have an omelet. (At this instant I am waiting for it to be delivered.)
OK, that was pleasant.
We are now headed for Yellowstone on Route 20. After winding around and sometime through rocky mountains. Then along some ranch land in the shadow of huge mountains. You look at a mountain and it looks huge. But you get used to looking at huge. Then you look at the base and wonder why does that ranch house look so tiny. Then you realize that mountain is a lot bigger than you thought.
In Australia I went to Ayres Rock and it was reasonably impressive. But tourists could reasonably climb it. Every turn in the road takes you past rock mountains that are too high for anyone to lightly try to climb. Gad, what majestic country. Here the spikes of rock stick up from among pine forests and the really big hills in the background are capped with snow five days from the longest day of the year.
There is a rock in the road. I would take it for a souvenir, but if everybody did that this place would be stripped in a few million years.
We have been driving through the Shoshone National Forest. We enter Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Now it is supposed to get REALLY scenic.
Ah, what a labor saving device the park is. Point the camera anywhere and shoot. Of course don't expect to get all the beauty in unless you have a lens from the planet Krypton.
Breathing is noticeably harder than in New Jersey. We are about 8600 feet. We drive along listening to the Dvorak New World Symphony. It goes well with the scenery. Lake Yellowstone is big, but not so big you cannot see the far shore.
We stop at a visitor center to get a list of trails. We start on Pelican Creek. This is an easy one mile trail. We see wild animal scat (oh boy!) and one live bird. It looked a little like a robin, but I think the breast was a little more yellow. There is a bird called a yellow-breasted chat, a warbler, and that was probably what we saw. Not really exciting. Bears are supposed to be a constant threat. No sign of them, however. As we leave I tell a group just getting started on the trail that I have swept it for bears and they should be safe.
As we drive along we are following a nice green river. It looks like it is just off the road. We pass some rapids. I suggest we stop. It is just a short walk and some beautiful rapids, LeHardy Rapids. I am not sure it is worth the effort to climb the boardwalk to the top of the rapids, but we do. Luckily. There really is more to see. The water is full of 18 inch trout. They are Cutthroat Trout swimming upstream. Every minute or so one gets inspired and tries to jump the falls. The ones who break free of the water rarely make it. You see them hit the falling water and get washed back. But they keep trying. You also see a bunch milling around in a backwater until they psyche themselves up or their number is called or whatever. I have no idea how fish decide who waits in the waiting tide pool and when is it time for a fish to go for it. If I had a net I would have netted them and dropped them on the upside of the waterfall. But that would have probably been unfair to the fish who do manage to swim up a waterfall under their own steam. (How DO they do that?)
We got to the Mud Volcano and joined a tour already in progress. The volcanic activity in the park is due to a tectonic plate moving over a hot spot from beneath. It burned holes right through the plate. Hawaii was formed in much the same way. This part of the park had geysers of mud in the past. Now it seems to have bubbling mud pools with hydrogen sulfide gas bubbling up.
The guide says that two-thirds of geothermal "features" (sites demonstrating hydrothermal properties) of the world are in Yellowstone Park. It is an active, though no longer an erupting volcano. The volcanoes in the park last erupted 640,000 years ago. We measured the temperature of one bubbling mud bed and found it to be 189 degrees F. That is nearer to boiling than it seems since we are high up and the boiling point is something like 199 degrees. The bubbling is not boiling as it is often thought but the release of gas. Trees around some of the pits are dead with the pits having literally cooked their roots.
This is a land in constant motion. You cannot be sure what is safe and what is not because the hot stuff below is daily finding new places to force its way up. This may not be an erupting volcano, but it really is an active volcano. Just recently steam was seen coming up through the parking lot. It was discovered there was a sinkhole underneath. A column of dirt maybe seven feet wide dropped about four feet. The hole is now fenced off, but it continues to spread. Nobody is sure how deep is the lost material.
Afterward we headed out to our hotel. On the way we saw moose and bison. Continuing along Route 20 we see some more forest area. Much of it is burned out from the 1988 fire, but new growth is popping up. There is also the occasional Godzilla-sized cliff face.
We enter a new state. Montana. And we get to the town of West Yellowstone. It looks like the modern equivalent of a Western cow town. We have to find the Stage Coach Inn. We see a sign for a restaurant of that name. And behind it is the Inn apparently. We drive into the inn and it is a motel that looks like it has fallen on horrific days. There is a blanket for a curtain in one of the windows. What a dump this place looks like! I tell Evelyn we should go to the restaurant and investigate from there. I bet they have a new hotel in that place and kept the name. Yup. They must own both the main building and the motel in back. One odd note on checking in. They have only one key for the room but tell us there will be a second key for us "later." You would think they would tell us how much later.
I don't know what they are doing with the ugly back building, there are no cars. The room we got in the front building is antique but comfortable. Actually it looks like an old room refitted with all (or at least most) of the modern conveniences. It is a real relief. The set of conveniences seems to have become fairly standard. So far every place we have stopped has had most of the of the standard cable stations including the History Channel, CNN news, and the Sci-Fi Channel. While I might find fault with some of these, they are useful. I am particularly fond of the History Channel which frequently has documentaries relevant to the trip and, hey, history documentaries would be of interest in any case. Before dinner we watch a documentary on the Discovery Channel called "Unfolding Universe." Most of what they have to say I have heard in the past, but for the first time I hear that the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are on a collision course. I hadn't heard that before. It will take seven billion years to happen, but it still is worrisome.
We have some confusion looking for dinner and finally pick a pizza place. Our evening activity is seeing JEREMIAH JOHNSON, the film about the man whose grave we saw yesterday. It did not do much for me or Evelyn. It was quite slow and in the end seemed rather pointless.
06/17/02 West Yellowstone MT: Yellowstone Park
I read an article about the Scopes Trial until Evelyn wakes up. As I dress I put on a documentary about Rogers's Rangers in the French and Indian Wars.
Breakfast is included and I have a bagel and a muffin. The hotel is very much styled to look like old Western hotels with a big staircase, a lot of wood paneling, and mounted heads in the lobby. Last night I tried to use the lamp next to my bed. It did not work. I tried pulling on the cord, just in case and found it just hadn't been plugged in. Sure enough it was unplugged. I didn't want to wrestle the bed so left a postit on the bed requesting the light be plugged in. On the way out we asked for the other room key that had been promised "later." It would be made today and we definitely could pick it up tonight
The entrance to the park is right outside of town. It is still 17 miles to get to much of interest in the park, but the scenery is nice.
I am amazed that 2/3 of the volcanic features of the world are in one park. However, I might call many of them not so much features as bugs.
We get to Yellowstone Lake about a half hour before the nature walk we have chosen. We talk to the guide. There are two old and ornery bison that have been sighted on the trail and that may affect the walk. (PS We had no firsthand experience of bison hostility the whole trip.)
Animal populations of the park (very approximate guesses):
250-600 grizzly bears
5-600 black bears
This is a geyser basin. New features form all the time. They have here still alive all of the big animals that were here in the 1400s: bison, elk, moose, etc. There are also 300 named geysers. Also there are calderas and sub-calderas.
What are Calderas? Imagine a pie baked without cutting holes in the crust. The pressure builds under the crust until it pops shooting out pie filling. Then the crust collapses. It goes from convex on top to concave. That is what can happen in the ground a crust on top is blown up, pops, and collapses. The collapsed remain is a caldera. The entire park is a giant caldera formed 630,000 years ago. The cap popped with a force about 1000 time the power of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Fire, rocks, and ash shot out--240 cubic miles of debris--and pieces have been found all over the continent. The crust fell down creating a pit 50 miles across and a mile deep. The same process on a smaller scale created a caldera near the lake in Yellowstone about 10,000 years ago. The caldera filled with water from the lake and became what is now called the west thumb of the lake. There is actually a geyser basin in the lake, but the water above hides it.
This was the world's first National Park. It was originally administered by the Army before there was a National Park Service. (These are all little facts from the ranger's talk.)
To create a hydrothermal event like a geyser you need heat, plumbing, and water. Heat comes from a pool of magma about six miles down and something on the order of 3000 degrees F. The plumbing comes from cracks in the rock between. The water come from rain, percolates down to the hot stuff, turns to steam and pushes its way back out. A water molecule takes about 500 years from falling as rain to squirting back out. The pool is fed by a single plume of magma from down below from a hole in the tectonic plate. There are only two places where there are hot spots like this, the other being Hawaii. If the water comes out as steam instead of liquid water you have a hissing steam vent called a fumarole.
I asked about the Continental Divide. The guide could tell me what it was (the dividing line between easterly flowing rivers and westerly flowing ones. But he could not say why it is drawn as such a crooked line. I suspect it is sort of relative maximum curve of the high point of the mountains along the dividing line.
Hot pools are another feature that looks deceptively pretty. They look like very clear pools of water but they have temperatures around 180 degrees. Here that is near boiling. At these high elevations the boiling point of water is 199 degrees F so the water in the pools is near to boiling.
In at least one case a tourist's dog who loved water was enticed by the beautiful clear pools and met an untimely end jumping in. Trusting your instincts can be deadly in this strange volcanic world. We passed by such an enticing pool called Black Pool. It was a beautiful green. Why was it called black? It had actually been black due to algae. But then there was a large earthquake and the temperature of the inlet water increased and killed the algae. Now it is green. The pools are often surrounded by material of vibrant color. These come from similar algae that is tolerant to the high temperatures.
Trees too near the mineral pools often can live long periods of time. Then the minerals around their roots change to something poisonous and they die.
The heated water sometimes can find paths to the surface as liquid water, but they are paths too constricted to peacefully make pools. The water comes squirting out with great force. These are the park's most famous feature, the geysers. Some squirt very hot water hundreds of feet in the air.
Within the pools are organisms, particularly bacteria, called "thermophiles." These are microbes that can live only in the very hot water. NASA is analyzing them and theorizing that this may be how life first started on this planet. One has yielded new tools for eating petroleum from spills. This is the thermos aquaticus (literally meaning it lives in hot water).
The guide points out where for a while there was a gas station right in the park to make things easier for tourists. The people who ran it were living on borrowed time. It turned out that the temperature of the ground was just a bit above the flash point temperature of the gasoline in the underground tanks.
After that talk we drove around looking at the features of the park and then drove to Old Faithful. Before seeing the geyser we had lunch which featured a summer sausage that we had gotten as Chanukah gift from an uncle. We saved it for this trip.
After lunch we went to see Old Faithful which we timed to have only about a 20 minute wait. It erupts every 60 to 90 minutes. This is the most famous geyser in the world. It combines spectacle with predictability so people can see it do its thing easily. The park rangers have a mathematical formula with parameters like the length of the spray, the height of the spray, the volume, etc. It gives them a fairly accurate prediction of the next time the geyser will let go. This time is then posted.
Old Faithful is a funnel into the ground that constantly steams. One might almost think that it is always erupting. But it does more than just send out steam. When it erupts it starts slowly. You see water splashing over the top of the funnel. It might even shoot a smaller geyser of water into the air. But then it seems to calm again. Perhaps it is just being dramatic. It just wants you to know what is coming. Suddenly it is like a fire hose spraying into the air. It sends up a column of water 100 to 200 feet high. That lasts from a minute and a half to five minutes and by that time as much as 8400 gallons of water and silica have spewed out. While we were waiting the Lion Geyser behind it also erupted. I don't know if that is typical or coincidence.
Every eruption brings 65 pounds of silica dissolved in the water with it. I am told that if you get silica water on anything glass, it will bond to it so be careful of glasses, cameras, and binoculars.
There is a circuit path to follow after seeing Old Faithful. It takes you past so many features, hot pools, geysers, fumaroles, etc. That the thrill begins to flee. We spent hours. Half an hour was spent just at Grand Geyser which refused to spume. But even here the landscape is uniquely Yellowstone. If you saw a picture of four Presidents on a mountain you would know it is Rushmore. Just as unique is the look of this land in the geyser area. The ground is white and there are these foggy, misty patches over it. I think the Indians called this place the smoky land and that really is what it looks like. The white substance is called rhyolite. It is a mineral brought up by the geyser water. We walk for an hour or so on this walk.
Afterwards we walked back to the grounds in front of Old Faithful. We went to an ice cream shop that was extremely generous and gave very large portions. The owner seemed to love his work. He came around to tables excitedly with samples. Everyone just HAD to sample his new Rum Raisin ice cream. We ate and talked to a couple at perhaps a little greater length than we had to. The husband was really into fishing. After that he talked about his career in computer engineering.
We were kind of exhausted, but we still drove to other sites including Black Sand Basin had some very active geysers. We take the Firehole Lake Drive and Firehole Canyon Drive. You see trees that have fallen over and there are no roots to them at all. They have pulled in the silica of the land into their roots and it has poisoned them. The root systems just snapped off and the tree fell over. You may think of this as a place of heavenly beauty or of hellish ugliness about as bad as nature can create for itself. Certainly there is a fascination with seeing what volcanism has done to this ashen land.
The canyon drive which we take on a whim threads us between cliffs hundreds of feet high, separated by a rushing river with cascades and rapids. It was worth the diversion.
It took better than an hour to get back to the West Yellowstone. Looking down on all of this scenery as you exit is Mount Lion's Head. It is must be 2000 feet above the park. Its snow covered peak looks like something out of a Magritte painting. The road to the west exit perfectly frames the symmetrical peak with symmetrical pines on either side of the road. I guess it was an artificial touch with all the natural sights, but it is a pleasant one at the end of the day. Incidentally the park is in Wyoming but the west entrance is in Montana.
Back at the room the postit had been removed, but the lamp not plugged in as requested. I wrestled the bed and it turns out they are short one outlet. They have two outlets for two lamps and a clock. Evelyn does not use her lamp so had me unplug hers to plug in my lamp. On the way out for dinner we tried to pick up our second room key promised to us the previous day. It had not materialized. I guess it is a minor inconvenience, but Evelyn would like a key.
We have our first inconvenient rain on the trip. Storms can blow up very quickly in this area. The temperature can drop more than 40 degrees in an hour.
We pick a restaurant recommended in Triple-A, Alice's Restaurant. Evelyn orders trout and I order Spaghetti. The spaghetti was a lot easier to eat than the trout was. One nice thing about Montana, no sales tax. (PS while there is no state sales tax some towns charge it. West Yellowstone has a 3% tax.)
Back at the room I read and worked
on the log.
06/18/02 West Yellowstone MT: Yellowstone Park
On TV this morning they were interviewing Tom Cruise about his new film MINORITY REPORT. They asked him what it was like to work with Steven Spielberg. He said Spielberg was the greatest. It was like working with Wayne Gretsky, with Michael Jordan. He listed about four sports stars. He talked about how important the film was since the premise, people being able to see the future like psychics, is something we will likely have. Suffice it to say he comes off much less intelligent off screen than on.
Breakfast at the hotel. I have granola and a raisin bagel.
We head out for the park about 8:30. The day is gray and drizzly. Today is our first day with really ugly weather. Usually we listen to music from Westerns. Today the music that came up is from Universal horror films. In specific we have the score to THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. At first this seems like a very poor match to driving through the mountains surrounding Yellowstone. I quickly decide it is much better than something like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Where is the novel FRANKENSTEIN set? In the pine forests of Switzerland. Not all but much of it. It is about the discovery and use of arcane energies and forces of nature. That is what a lot of what Yellowstone is about. On top of that the brooding weather goes well with spirit of the Frankenstein movies.
We drove the northwest edge of the caldera headed for Mammoth Hot Springs. By 10:30 the rain had stopped and it was just partly cloudy though it rained on and off all day. We took a few side paths and had to sit for about 15 minutes at one long road wait. Much of the road was poorly paved and no fun in the ugly weather. The rain overnight had cleaned much of the road dirt off the car only to replace it with mud.
We were a lot higher up but there were still volcanic phenomena. Roaring mountain looks like a giant steaming hill. We stopped and got a shot.
Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the few active travertine terraces in the world according to the brochure. I had to climb up one barefoot in Pamucale, Turkey. Volcanically heated water percolates through limestone. It leaches out some calcium carbonate that stays in solution until it rises to the surface and cools and hardens quickly. The calcium carbonate can then precipitate to form rocky layers of what is called "travertine."
(See http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ destinations/enlarge/283.html)
My sense of wonder extends all around travertine terraces, but not directly to them. To me they just look like dirty snowy hills and I had enough of those (the hills) in Massachusetts. They are whole hills covered with calcium carbonate from hot springs that have dissolved limestone. They leave the residue in a series of formations on the hillside. Pools of water have rims like large circular trays. In Turkey you have to climb barefoot, which can be pretty painful. Here they had a boardwalk with stairways so that you could walk all over the hill. You can feel the texture. Warm water runs over the smooth limestone adding layer after layer.
We lost a lot of the effect of the scenery just because the clouds kept graying out the scenery. The snow capped mountains seemed drawn against the sky and then carelessly erased at the top. We passed Undine Falls just a short walk off the parking lot to the viewing deck.
Wraith Falls is another side trip. It should have been an easy climb, but it was tougher going than we were expecting. The combination of rain, and scrambling over pea gravel was more effort than the trail was rated. We each slid multiple times and Evelyn actually fell. On top of this the waterfall was more like a runoff than a falls. The high altitude seems to be affecting me also and very little effort leaves me panting.
Further down the road is Petrified Tree where a tree turned to stone. Near Petrified Tree a moose has been spotted. The road is barely two lanes and no shoulder and people are parking to take pictures. In the rain it is really causing a traffic jam. I think when the moose feels irritable he sits by a narrow road and causes people trouble.
We parked to use a restroom. I have to say that I try to avoid using outhouses places where there is no water. When I first moved from Michigan from California the first thing I had to do was answer the call. The second was to puke. Michigan made a lousy first impression on me. Yellowstone maintains restrooms a lot better.
We stopped at a store to pick up lunch stuff. We found a (wet) picnic table and had juice, pepper-jack cheese, and finished the summer sausage. OK, it was less than healthy. I whimsically told Evelyn that it had all the basic food groups. Where is the vegetable she wanted to know? In the pepper-jack cheese.
We arrive about 2:40 for the 3 PM South Rim walk at Uncle Tom's Trail. This was our third ranger walk and the least like the other two. There were five or six young kids and the ranger aimed her presentation more at them than anyone else. There are two water falls one sees below walking down the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The upper falls 109 feet. It can dump as low as 5000 gallons/sec in dry periods, but now it is closer to 63,500 gallons/second.
As we walk through the woods Kate, the guide, identifies for us where bears have pawed trees and where porcupines have chewed bark. She identifies the trees and gives mnemonic devices for remembering their names. That at least is useful if we can remember the mnemonics. Basically the walk follows the river. We finish with a second waterfall on the same river.
After the talk I told the ranger to ask this question to her visitors. She gave us the rate at when water fell over the first waterfall in gallons per second. Did the second waterfall look like it would be spilling water faster or slower? She started to say it would depend on the width. Then she saw it. "Shouldn't they be the same?" Actually they should be very close. It is the same water falling over both waterfalls. If the volume of water is neither increasing nor decreasing in the interval between the waterfalls the rate will have to be exactly the same. There is some water lost to evaporation, some water added from the walls between the falls, some that may e lost to streams escaping. But it won't be much. The two falls will be dumping water at very close to the same rate.
Our last stop in the park today is Artist Point. It offers a commanding view of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. You see the Lower Falls and the valley. It is a tremendous rocky view.
The drive back was fairly typical and we saw some kind of elk and a few other animals common here. It took over an hour, mostly because the road was being repaired. In town we had dinner at sort of family restaurant. I had an open turkey sandwich and Evelyn had chili. The table was poorly made and tended to rotate when you put any weight on it.
After dinner we did some gift shopping for the guy watching our house.
We tried the local Bookworm Bookstore. They have new and used books, but the prices on their used books are about three times what they would be back at home. Books that would not even sell at home cost seven or eight dollars. 1992 calendars sell for half cover price. A book club edition of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy should go for about $5, not the $15 they were charging. We left without buying anything. There is apparently not much competition here. The Internet would be a real boon to book buyers here.
Back to the room we worked on
logs with the TV on in the background.
06/19/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Parks.
We go out early. Better to get today done as early as possible. Breakfast downstairs is a lot like yesterday's. Granola and a bagel. Orange juice instead of grapefruit.
Getting gas yesterday the guy said that today would have weather a lot like yesterday. Ugly. So far it is just a bit of cloud, so perhaps we dodged the bullet. (PS Mostly sunny all day.)
I drive to the South entrance of Yellowstone to cut across to Grand Teton National Park. It is a surprisingly long drive considering it is all in one National Park.
They say there are two seasons in the Tetons. They have winter and they have a few weeks of muddy run-off. I think we are in the muddy run-off season.
Yellowstone and the Grant Teton National Parks could easily be confused with being one single park. There are only about eight miles apart on a scenic road that is easily pretty enough to be park land. I don't even remember any turnoffs. Your admission price always covers both parks. There is no check on going from one to another. The Teton Park features mountains like at the outskirts of Yellowstone, only they are perhaps taller and more majestic with more snow. We got a great shot across Jackson Lake, but you can get a majestic shot of the mountains from just about anywhere in the park or at least near anywhere. The mountains look so pointy you would not want to sit at the top.
We stop to see the first visitor center. The visitor center has another Indian artifact exhibit. Clothing, that sort of thing. It is to honor the Indian. I guess we put his things in museums and the Indians themselves we put on reservations. Frankly I think all these Indian museums don't do Indians much good.
I buy a book on the intelligence of ravens. There was a fascinating episode of NOVA on raven intelligence. New Jersey has a lot of them and they probably merit some study.
This area was formed only 10,000,000 years ago when the ground subsided creating a large flat valley. (Most of the Rockies have been there maybe six times as long.) At one point this sort of valley was called a hole by fur trappers. The snake river is as windy as the name implies and it snakes through the valley. This valley is called Jackson Hole. In the distant past in a terrible earthquake the land subsided and the mountains were pushed up. But then the mountains started to change.
Imagine you have an encyclopedia on a shelf between bookend. The top is relatively flat. Now imagine the bookend slips a little. Now the top edge is not so even any more. It is more like saw-toothed. The top of one book may run into the side an inch done on the next book. This was how the Teton Mountains were formed. Fissures in the ground broke the ground into slices and unequal pressure caused the slices to lean. Layers of rock were stair-stepped. So you have the mountains way up there seen from all over the valley. 80% of their 7000 foot height is really valley subsidence, the rest is them poking up.
There is a tee-shirt for overly-endowed women that says "See the Grand Tetons." That is actually less of a pun than was intended. The French fur-trappers in 1819 dubbed the mountains The Three Breasts or Les Trois Tetons.
Actually the first white man to see the mountains was probably John Colter of the Louis and Clark Expedition. David Jackson was a fur trapper in the late 1820s and it for him the valley was named Jackson Hole.
Not surprisingly the animals you see are much the same as at Yellowstone.
We pull into a parking lot to see the Mountains and coyote walks across in front of the car. Coyote is just minding his own business, probably looking for mice. All these tall two-legs stare at him. He just ignores them. He finds something and chews it.
We continue on and there is another visitor center. We see a display of the local animals and a slide show. I buy a gift for a friend. I complimented her chutney once and she has given me a jar a year since. It is every bit as good as the (Asian) Indian chutney we can get in the US and I figure I owe her.
We stop for lunch at a turnout facing... The Grand Tetons. I comment to a photographer that you get the same picture all over the park, you just have a variety of scenery at the base.
Nearby we see the small ranch house of J. Pierce Cunningham. It is only three room, the center one open. It is about seven feet high to the top of the dirt roof which needs weeding. So much for this country being built by tall men. There are supposed to be brochures for a self-guided tour but they have not been replaced.
The squirrels come out and serenade us. The house is built in the middle of the squirrel equivalent of a prairie dog town. The squirrels stand straight up like prairie dogs and they call to each other with a pulsating two second tone, almost like a bird call. They have only small tails. One advantage of the East over the West is that our squirrels are better looking.
Grand Tetons seems like it is just a free add-on to Yellowstone Park. It is the nice mountain part of the park.
You always know where to look for wildlife. There is a crowd of tourists standing around staring. If it is by a road the place will look like an extemporaneous parking lot. Under these conditions we saw a mother and child moose just off the road on the way back. It must be uncomfortable for the moose to have all these humans staring.
We walk around Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone. It is a hydrothermal basin. They have the hot pools like we saw two days before, but some are not so clear. A cool breeze blows hot steam so you go from hot to cold and back in rapid succession. There is the smell of sulfur. You can tell the temperature of the water just by looking at the color around the pools. The thermophile microorganisms have colors based on temperatures. The hottest water turns them yellow or colorless. Not quite so hot turns them orange, brown, and green. The shape of these pools changes even overnight.
At about 3:30 we head for home. This will give us some time to do some laundry. Just off the road a geyser shoots steam better than a hundred feet into the air.
It takes about 45 minutes to drive back today. That is a lot less than yesterday. The weather and roads are clearer today. Evelyn did the laundry when we got back. I offered to help, but she turned me down cold. Instead I read.
For dinner we went to the Filehole Grill. It was recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide. We ordered a half chicken and a quarter rack of ribs, both barbecued. Chickens are very big here, I guess. Looking at it, it was a half chicken. The ribs were pretty big also. I thought there would not be enough when we ordered. A half chicken is enough for two people by itself. With a quarter rack of ribs we ordered way too much. The flavor was great. There were some small things wrong with the meal. My corn on the cob came cold like from the refrigerator. The chicken skin was like mylar. You could not cut it with a knife and fork. I bent the fork trying. But the flavor was great.
Afterward we went to the other bookstore in town, The Book Peddler. Used books were at much more reasonable prices but they had a very small stock. We saw both bookstores and did not buy any books.
At the room I put on a movie and
worked on my log.
06/20/02 West Yellowstone, MT: Yellowstone Park
I woke up coughing a bit. Two things I have noticed about this country is that the air is thin and it is dry. It takes less exertion to leave me gasping for breath here than it would at home. And both Evelyn and I are coughing.
There is a commercial on TV about how a company is headed by people who take risk where it is important to do so. They show these one of these people taking a risk as a child. What is his risk? When nobody else will do it he is timidly answering a question in math class. Well, if that is what builds character I am loaded with the stuff. I thought math classes were my easiest classes and the teacher could not shut me up. This company is trying to convince me that they are intelligent, but wow! math class is really tough. At the age of that I wanted to answer EVERY question in math class. I would have liked to get up and teach the class.
We stopped on the drive into Yellowstone to see what Evelyn thought was a bear facing left. Then a tail swung where his nose was supposed to be and we realized it was a bison facing right. Hard to tell apart. There was a time when Yellowstone was known for bears you could feed. In the 70s it was decided that it was bad for the bears and that they would stop feeding bears--over one night. Many of the bears had become professional tourist bears. Without notice they were thrown out of work. Some got rather unpleasant since bears do not handle disappointments well. Two hundred had to be terminated with extreme prejudice. These days you almost never see bears. They are there some place, but really hard to find. (PS Not one bear did we see in Yellowstone.)
We take the Fountain Paint Pot walk. Clepsydra Geyser shoots water 12 feet in the air and steam probably 100 feet. It is the most impressive sight of this walk. The name is a little hard to pronounce and remember. If we come back in ten years it will be a lot easier. By then it will probably be the Microsoft Geyser.
A woman looks at the white surface. "Are these minerals good for anything?" Well, actually they are. They are rhyolite quartz and feldspar. And they are good for making a park in Wyoming a showplace that attracts people from all over the world. It is interesting to see your earth's core at work.
We see an unlabelled burn spot with steam coming out and grass fairly near. That may not have been there when first visited the park a few days ago. This ground is active and there are new features all the time. There may be almost too many features.
I am not going to describe in detail the Midway Geyser Basin. I have described geysers and pools. These are examples. The volcanic features are a lot like the bison. The first sixty or so are really impressive. By the fourth day you are really blase. "OK, its a hot pool and the rings around it are microbes. So what?"
Actually I should say something about these microbes and how they fit into things. There was a time when there were two different kingdoms of life. There were the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. Now we know that there are really three kingdoms. That does not seem too startling. But then things start to get a little weird. It turns out that plants and animals are in the same kingdom. Bacteria are one line of descent, Archaea microbes are another line of descent. The microbes that color the pools are archaea. Some can live in very hot environments, in fact require it. Others cannot. But they are not our line of descent. The third line of descent is Eucarya. And pretty much everything we used to consider life is Eucarya. Plants are one major branch point. The other branch is fungi and animals. Yes, a mushroom is closer to being an animal than to being a plant. These microbes that color the pools are really very different from us.
At a bridge to Midway we see a family of six geese. Mom and Dad seem to be teaching the young geese to swim in rapid water. They step into the water near the bridge where the water runs quickly. The parents cheat and stand on underwater rocks. The kiddies cannot reach the rocks and have to kick their feet. Eventually they all are pushed downstream. They then walk to shore and waddle upstream single file with a parent in the lead and at the end of the line. Upstream about 25 yards from the bridge they again hit the water.
The centerpiece of the Midway basin is the Excelsior Geyser. It looks like it spits up a lot of steam now but on 9/14/1985 it erupted for 47 hours. It used to shoot water 300 feet high. Geysers can be broken into two categories, but you shouldn't let them catch you doing it. There are cone geysers and fountain geysers.
Two days ago we visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Today we go to the North Rim. This time we go mostly to the scenic lookouts. You stand on the edge of a big V-shaped canyon and look down if you dare. The canyon has the unusual cross section since it was cut by relatively few floods. A better worn canyon would be V-shaped. The gorge is 1500 feet deep and is a nice golden color in the daytime. It is a breathtaking experience, not so much because the river is 1500 feet down but because you are 9000 feet up.
We get eagle eye views from Inspiration Point and Grand View. Both aptly named. We see the view, we talk to some people, and we try to catch our breath.
I am here in a photographer's vest and an L L Bean hat. Two different people have asked me if I am a fisherman. I guess that is what the two look like together, a fishing outfit. Believe me, fishing is not my sport. (I guess it is boomerang throwing.)
Lunch was at the visitor center. We bought a small sub, some baked potato chips, and soda. We took a look at a local bookstore but did not buy. There is also a visitor center museum on the history and habits of the bison. At one time there were tens of millions of these ugly brutes in North America and not one looked cute enough to get a date on a Saturday night. The animals were narrowed down to a population of a few thousand before they started to be protected. Now there are about 3500 in Yellowstone.
Bison are not allowed to leave the park. That is because some carry brucellosis, a cattle disease. Montana is a brucellosis free state. They maintain that condition by killing any bison who wander into that state.
A bison is an impressive animal. It is able to run just minutes after birth. It generally has no natural predators. Any animal that goes after a member of the herd gets the horns, so to speak. They have a tape to show what happens when people get too near to one. One guy was thrown quite handily into the air. There is a lot of muscle in that neck.
Yellowstone was discovered in pieces. The Norris Geyser Basin was discovered by Joe Meek who called it a land of fire and brimstone. Of course we know it was just one more geyser basin. It is a basin of yet more hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots, and of course geysers.
The Steamboat Geyser erupts in intervals that can be four days to 50 years. When it does erupt it sends water 270 to 360 feet into the air, the highest of any known geyser.
There were several other features. But for a few specifics the descriptions would be redundant. We joined the last part of a nature walk.
On the way back the ranger identified a Cow Elk giving birth near the trail. The ranger said to stay extra distance because the new mother would be particularly aggressive. In the 1950s Yellowstone promoted itself as a park where people could have experiences coming in close contact with animals. I don't believe they had a terrible safety record at that time. These days they make sure the visitor knows not to have any contact with any animals. Stay 25 yards for any animal. For a bear, make it 100 yards. We saw bears on the Skyline Drive in Virginia. We saw no bears at all in Yellowstone. Five days, not one bear seen. No wolves either. I am not saying we should have or that it would have been good for us or the animals. Just do not consider seeing these animals to be a feature of the park.
We drove back to the hotel and walked to The Three Bears restaurant, recommended in Triple-A. The three bears on the sign were our first three of the day. I was not really anxious to eat there, expecting that one third of the dishes served would be too cold and another third would be too hot. It was a bit pricey for what we got, but the food was OK.
Walking back we saw a helicopter overhead. To our surprise it flew low right over our heads, preparing to land. Apparently a new clinic opened in town. It was right across the street from where we were walking. A woman who had heart surgery went to the clinic and was judged to be in bad shape. An ambulance could have taken her to the nearest hospital, but that would take two hours. Hence yon helicopter. A medical emergency and the clinic still had a gay Grand Opening sign in the window.
I wondered whey every street corner had a strange tilted metal box. It turns out it is a bear proof trash can. It locks and you have to unlock it to throw out trash.
Back to the room and, yes, logs.
That is part of the point of keeping logs. There is always something to
06/21/02 West Yellowstone, MT to Twin Falls, ID
OK our usual breakfast at the Stage Coach. We loaded the car and headed for Idaho (inspirational State motto: "Famous Potatoes"). We follow Route 20, two-lane blacktop. This looks almost like desert. There is a lot of empty land. We pull a little way off the highway to see Atomic City. It seems the first breeder reactor in the country was built around here. In fact that is where we go next. But all the atomic scientists were going to need some place to live. Atomic City was going to hitch a ride from super-science into the future. It never worked out that way, sadly enough. There are a handful of houses that might have looked really modern in the early fifties. There is a gas station and a post office and maybe 10 houses.
As we drive on we get to EBR-I (Experimental Breeder Reactor 1), the country's first breeder reactor. It is now managed by INEEL, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. This reactor came on-line on Thursday, December 20, 1951 and continued generating power until 1964. It is called a breeder because its process creates plutonium which can be used to fuel the reactor.
Natural Uranium is 99% U-238 and 1% U-235. U-238 can be turned into plutonium using as fuel U-235 and/or plutonium. You start with a chunk of natural uranium. By the time you use up the U-235 present, you have enough plutonium to use instead. So you use that, and create more plutonium. So you are generating energy and what resource are you depleting? Eventually you are depleting only the U-238 you have. But to say you are depleting it is misleading. Because E=MC^2 and C^2 is huge the lost mass is so tiny as to be negligible. I am not sure if there is a problem with U-238 diminishing and being replaced by plutonium.
The reactor and electricity generating facility is smaller than I would have expected. I have known of personal houses as big as half as large. I am used to energy plants being a lot larger. The plant was built in the 50s and was SERIOUS BUSINESS so everything in the building is as close to gray as they could manage. For a long time it was assumed that gray was the color of seriousness and any other color is frivolous. In the Soviet Union they were very serious and even soda vending machines were gray. Gray sends the message "We have important work to do. We are not going to waste any time at all thinking about color." I think IBM were the ones who introduced the first non-gray computers and used their company color of blue. Today I think they would make the place brighter in more stimulating colors to help people dealing with nuclear materials to stay awake.
The reactor is declassified and has the nuclear materials removed so you can go all over the building on three floors. You stand right over the pile, in the control room, etc.
They have some Waldos to try manipulating blocks. I am not sure, but I think I did better than Evelyn. Evelyn is a hard woman to outdo.
As you leave you see photos and headlines from the reactor's history. "Idaho Falls selected as headquarters for atomic reactor station". And the poorly phrased "Boom will raise problems." As Atomic City illustrates they needn't have worried. There was no boom of any kind.
In the 50s there were experiments with nuclear propulsion for aircraft in the 50s. It was a poor idea since the planes could not lift enough shielding to make it safe. Kennedy canceled the project. But there are two prototype engines outside and a little of the story. They called it the Heat Transfer Reactor Experiment and hence the engines are HTRE-2 which was fired up in July 1957 and ran 1353 hours. In 1959 HTRE-3 ran 187 hours. The two assemblies are there.
For lunch we stop in Arco at Grandpa's Southern Bar-b-q. It is hard to think of this as a restaurant. It is more like a paying picnic. It is at a private house with three picnic table in the front yard, another on a deck. As I walk up a medium sized dog greets me, anxious to be friendly and lick an unfamiliar hand.
I would say it was good BBQ but not perfect. Maybe a B+. The sauce was a little thin. I had a question for Evelyn. Would she prefer the meat on the bone or off. She prefers off. I prefer on. Th9re is something primal about chewing meat off of a bone. Evelyn is not very primal. She must be secondal.
Arco, Idaho has a lot of historical markers, all about atomic energy. In 1955 Arco became the first city powered by atomic energy. Elsewhere in town you can get your car an Atomic Lube. Still atomic energy did not made make Arco what anyone would call prosperous, unless by contrast to Atomic City. Arco is sort of the Bride of the Atom who was stood up at the alter and still wistfully dreaming of what once seemed to be.
We made a sort of half-hearted visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is another park that shows volcanic effects. The Snake River Plain was formed by a hot spot moving under the tectonic plate punching holes, much like Yellowstone and Hawaii. There are calderas that are 16 million years, 14 million years, 13 million years, 11 million years, 10 million years, 6 million years, 4 million years, 1 million years, and 600 thousand years old. Since the last eruption there have been eight minor eruptions. Those have created a set of lava beds.
Lava comes in two types. There is pahoehoe (pronounced pa-hoy-hoy) which is nice and smooth. It is the cooled remains of relatively pure lava. Frequently the outside will cool and the inside will keep flowing. This will create hollow tubes like macaroni. Sometimes the lava will not be as smooth and will carry with it semi hardened pieces. When it cools it will have a rough surface. This is called a'a lava (pronounced ah-ah). When an eruption occurs the early lava is comes in tall fountains like geysers. The later lava is in splatter cones.
We walk around the visitor center. They have explanations of the site. They have sound and picture shows explaining the area. You see some exhibit of the ranger responsibilities as you walk around. Among other things they monitor ozone in the air. No doubt they have to look carefully for signs of renewed volcanic activity.
The temperature on the lava beds is about 90. When we left this morning it was 49.
You follow a path around to at least a dozen different lava fields. The scenery, while natural, is not particularly attractive. Imagine a field with a hardened surface then plow it up with a plow five times the standard size. Now somehow petrify it. That is what the lava fields look like. Many are a devil's food brown.
We take a scenic drive on the Sawtooth Trail. It is a nice drive with mountains in the background. The mountains are velvety, covered with vegetation to the top. That makes them less majestic than if they had rock cliffs, but they are nice. The town of Hailey looks nice at first glance but it is intentionally touristy instead of authentically quaint. Buildings have false fronts to make them look older than they obviously are. The concept of bagel and latte shops from the late 1800s seems cloying. Out of town there seem to be several ranches with big front gates. They too are not too believable since they are too close together. You do see cattle grazing. One calf takes an afternoon milk from patient Mom.
Now we are in Ketchum. It is a fancier version of Hailey. Actually it is probably a less fancy version of neighboring Sun Valley.
There is a cemetery. Ernest Hemingway's grave is there. We looked for the grave. We did not find it. The afternoon sun was hot. Someone in town would know. There was a visitor's center. We went there. I was right. They knew where it was. It was toward the back. It was left of center. It was death in the afternoon. It was a flat slab. We had found it. It felt good. Dark clouds hid the sun. The Hemingway Memorial came next. We had instructions. We found the place. A sign said "private function." The sky darkened. We left. A cold wind blew.
We headed off for Twin Falls, Idaho. That took a long time and we get to the Days Inn at about 7:30. There still will be hours of light. This is the longest day of the year. Evelyn and I make that sundown is at 9:18.
We go for dinner and I have a bowl of chili and a salad. Evelyn has a salad. Back at the room we watch a documentary about Elizabeth Custer and the Spencer Tracy film TORTILLA FLAT.
06/22/02 Twin Falls, ID to Bozeman, MT
A note for the motel industry. Light switches should be colored to contrast with rather than blend into their background. People unfamiliar with your layout may have to search for them in low-light conditions. This is particularly true in bathrooms.
We had some time in the morning so from 7:30 to 8 we watched the new documentary on the making of THE WIZARD OF OZ on Turner Classic Movies.
Breakfast comes with the room, but they have a really tiny breakfast room with two tables. And the motel is full. We go down to eat. It is real chaos and hard to get a complete breakfast with everything running out and long waits for it to be replaced.
We are discussing if to stop at the Idaho Potato Expo. It is probably the world's largest museum devoted to the potato. The admission is $3 per person but everybody who comes gets a free potato. This way every visitor becomes part of the grand history and tradition of the potato. But I don't trust my luck. I am afraid I would arrive on little new potato day. Either that or perhaps they would say only one potato per family. I bet Dan Quail hasn't seen it. They have the world's largest potato chip and the world's largest Styrofoam potato. All this according to the Triple-A book. And I thought the attraction in Idaho were small potatoes.
We pass a billboard in a stretch of road under construction where it is tough to drive in the narrow lane and cars are going 70 miles per hour. The sign has a quote from the Bible. It is about six lines long in what is smallish print for a billboard. Now, I think that's a hazard.
Evelyn decides after my jokes she HAS to see the potato Expo so by 10:50 we make Blackfoot and start through the museum. Why is Idaho perfect for potatoes? Short summers are hot in the day and cool at night. The soil is also right.
The museum is actually small. Evelyn expected more just because of the name Expo. Me, I did not have high expectations. The museum is broken into four rooms. The first is on the origins of the potato. It originated in the Andes about 200 BC. They used to freeze and thaw potatoes over and over until not even bacteria would attack them. They would get Chuno, a sort dehydrated potato product. There is a legend of tribe that got potatoes from the gods. They ate them and found them to be good. They fed their enemies the greens. This killed the enemies. Potato leaves are deadly, by the way. They are in the same family as Deadly Nightshade. The family also includes tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant, punk rockers, and chili peppers.
The potato we think of as the Idaho potato is the Burbank Russet developed by Luther Burbank.
The second room talked about making potatoes into food and novelty connections. There talked about shape defects that will cause a potato to be processed rather than sold in stores. Some potatoes have deformities like knobs, cracks, and bottlenecks. Some will have a cavity at their center.
There is a copy of a letter sent from the governor of Idaho to Dan Quayle, generously offering that Quayle can spell the name of his state's prized product any way he wants but reminding him first that they should be Idaho potatoes and, second, that there is no "e" in Idaho.
They have a 14"x25" potato crisp, the largest in the world. The potato chip industry sued the makers of potato chips from potato meal claiming the new type of chips could not be called potato chips. The judge ruled that there is nothing so sacred in the name potato chip that it cannot be applied to the new style. Still to avoid confusion the new style has taken the name potato crisps. This may add some confusion in Britain where what we have always called potato chips are called potato crisps. I don't know what they call the new chips made from potato meal. It is probably too much to hope for that they need no name because they have been spared this delicacy.
There is a room showing a potato cellar, and finally a room showing potato processing equipment. You see cutters and sorters and pickers with the brand name Spudnik Potato Equipment. A sign explains in painful detail the joke of the name Spudnik. I have seen museums with spellbinding exhibits and this isn't one of them.
One last room off the gift shop shows a video film of grocer who does not respect potatoes enough magically being whisked to Idaho to see the wonders of modern potato production. Did you know they x-ray every potato for imperfections?
The same room had a model of a team of Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon of potatoes. I suggested these were the Spudweiser Clydesdales. Evelyn asked the woman who ran the museum the name of the local football team. It is the Bronco. Evelyn said it should be the Spuds. I suggested the Tator Tots.
Evelyn thought it would be funny seeing a museum to the potato. I was skeptical. There was too much chance they take the subject seriously. It turns out they do. They even put it on their license plates. The potato we get for visiting is a carton of potato flakes good only for making hash browns. Frankly, the hash brown is not the most interesting use of the potato.
There was no mention in the whole museum of knishes or even latkes.
For lunch we stopped in Rexberg and ate at a Melina's, a chain Mexican restaurants. I ordered a tamale and a chili relleno. Since the place seems closer to a Chi-chi's than a Taco Bell I thought it might have OK Mexican. The two came and they looked identical. Each came in a separate casserole dish with a little packet of food in the middle of the same yellow sauce, content a mystery. The chili in the chili relleno could be detected by eye but not tongue and was wrapped in a bread-like coating. At least the tamale was the right sort of materials but it did not come wrapped. It was meat wrapped in corn meal. The food was not very good. When the bill came it was written on the back of somebody else's bill to save money. They tallied $1.25 low. I corrected it.
At 3 PM we passed again through West Yellowstone, but did not stop.
We drive through Gallatin National Forest. More beautiful rock cliffs. They are huge. Some are rounded against the sky, some are sharp. The nature looks so unspoiled. Your eye goes down the cliff side to the water below. There is a river running and it all dies. The first eyesore. This virgin river has been despoiled. There are rubber rafts and ugly people in wet-suits paddling them and scaring the trout. Down the river a mule deer is frightened by the noise and the sight and runs away. It is the first sign that the beauty of nature is going.
We are approaching our goal, Bozeman Montana. There seem to be three motels to choose in Bozeman. There is a choice of three motels. There is a Motel 6, a Royal 7, and a Super 8. We just want an average place so I add them up and divide by three. I get 7. We stay at the Royal 7. The toilet is slightly broken. Every few minutes it fills for a minute. It probably has a leak. We go to the local grocery, but do not buy anything. It probably is not even worth reporting. This is Saturday. They would not fix it until Monday. We will be gone by then.
In the room we work on the logs. We intend to see a film, but we are not sure which. MINORITY REPORT is at 7 and WINDTALKERS at 7:15 so we will see MINORITY REPORT. A review follows:
CAPSULE: Steven Spielberg adapts a story by Philip K. Dick to create a marvelously faceted yet incredibly dark vision of the future. Murder has been eliminated by use of mutants' psychic powers. Minority report is fast-paced yet still full of ideas. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)
When most science fiction films are set in the future the approach is simple. You have funny suits for the men, revealing fashions for the women, throw in a funny-looking car here and there, and show as little of the world as possible. That last part is desperately important. Think how much explanation phrases like "dot-com failure" would require to make it understandable to a 1950 audience. Seeing an accurate view of the world 52 years from now would be confusing and demanding.
Steven Spielberg has been accused of making manipulative and heavy-handed films that are just a bit simplistic and spell things out for the viewer. Certainly nobody can accuse MINORITY REPORT of being simple. In it Spielberg has told a story 52 years in the future that is every bit as complicated and demanding as being dropped into the future would be. This is a genuine piece of future extrapolation. Even written science fiction set in the future does not require this degree of thought about the future because written science fiction does not allow the reader to put his head into a scene an look around at the world the way a wide-screen movie does. While some of Spielberg's future seems altogether impossible (e.g. psychic elimination of crime), and some seem more than 52 years away (cars adapted to highways that that are vertical for long stretches), Spielberg had taken head-on questions of where computing is going. What will advertising be like in 52 years? What will language be like?
The year is 2054. It has been six years since a murder has been successfully committed inn the Washington DC area. Why? Because three mutant psychics, precogs they are called, kept in a state of constant sleep as their minds are probed see all potential murders before they happen. The police get this information in time to avert the killings. But apart from the constitutional issue of prior restraint, there is always the question of how one knows for sure the averted crime really would have happened. Tom Cruise plays John Alderton in the police Department of Precrime. He will have reason to doubt the system he enforces.
Philip K. Dick raised these issues in his novelette "Minority Report." The point of Dick's story was that knowledge of the future changes the future so that multiple precogs could see multiple alternate futures. Apparently even Spielberg thought that would be a tough concept to transfer to the screen so he simplified the concept and the importance of the "minority report" from which the film takes its name.
MINORITY REPORT is not just a summer fluff film. It is hard work to follow everything that is going on and to pick up all the interesting details in a world where the cartoon characters on a cereal box actually dance and sing. MINORITY REPORT is the most detailed creation of a future society since BLADERUNNER, which incidentally was also based on the writings of Dick. Here Spielberg uses the ideas of Dick, the pacing of an Alfred Bester story, and the cynicism of Frederic Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. The intelligence flags only near the end with Dick's ideas being replaced by a more cliched plotline. The payoff is not the end of the film but a shank that is dense with ideas.
Spielberg greatly controls the images on the screen. Scenes are intentionally too complex to be understood on one viewing. To create a distancing effect he turns way down the color values so the visuals are halfway between color and monochrome. It is a mood device and works to reasonable effect.
This is a long film that that is hard work for the viewer. It makes few concessions to explanations. At one point a character says "I'm tired of the future." The casual viewer may feel the same way. Or he may just ignore the details and see this as an action film. I rate MINORITY REPORT a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Minor spoiler....Minor spoiler....
Dick assumes that psychic powers are not perfectly precise and as a result three psychics are used and what at least two see is assumed to be true. By saying that there is a lead psychic and by assuming she is right even when the other two disagree he is saying it is really unimportant to have the other two.
Another problem, with all the effort put into this film, one very simple check was not done. There is a reference to a poll on Tuesday, April 22, 2054. That will be a Wednesday.
After the film we stopped at a restaurant next to the motel for a late dinner. It was a pie restaurant so I had Chicken Pot Pie. Evelyn had chili.
Then back to the room to work
on my review.
06/23/02 Bozeman, MT: Museums
Some reviews take a long time. This one rolled out fairly quickly. I had it in semi-finished form before breakfast.
More strange plumbing. The shower is controlled by a dial. Turn it to the right and you get cold water. Turn it to the left and you get hot water. So which way do you turn it to get a mix of the two? Turns out you have to turn it around 180 degrees.
The motel supplies coffee and doughnuts in the morning. I don't drink coffee and the doughnuts did not look good so we went back to the same restaurant as last night. I had eggs and pancakes. Something Montana restaurants seem to do is put a carafe of water on the table. I wish our restaurants would do that.
Our first activity today is to visit the Museum of the Rockies. This was founded as a museum for the Montana State University. Now a kid just flips the switch and the show gets run without human intervention. All of this makes the show of less interest than the ones I remember. This particular show is just a sort of visit to each of the planets looking for places where there may be life. The format is a radio show and we are guided by three supposed radio personalities. Too much time was wasted on the personalities talking to each other in a manor intended to be humorous. I would have liked more scientific content and fewer jokes. I guess this is the Sesame Street approach to teaching.
The walk through the museum starts with a short set of exhibits on things like energy cycles and the age of the planet. Then there was some on the origin and structure of the planet. Next comes geology and plate tectonics. This leads into life and the first really big extinction. This was 270 some years ago and was bigger than the extinction that killed the dinosaurs. However this one led to the age of the reptiles rather than ending it.
This of course leads to their big money exhibit, the dinosaurs. Any museum that wants to make money has a big exhibit of dinosaurs. These Mesozoic giants grab people by the imagination. That is how to make a profit for the museum. This exhibit does not even have that much in the way of skeleton or even skeleton molds. They have displays of mockups of the dinosaurs, flesh and all. They have some duckbills, some raptors, some flying dinosaurs, and some motorized triceratops. Their paleontologist is Jack Horner, probably one of the three best known dinosaur paleontologists in the country. I have one of his books, DIGGING DINOSAURS. His specialty is the social life and behavior of dinosaurs. One exhibit shows differences in illustrating dinosaurs from the 1840s to the late 1800s to the present. This must be popular. Several places labels have been rubbed off of displays.
This goes into an exhibit of mastodons, mammoths, and megafauna. From there is an exhibit of Indian artifacts including tools and beadwork. It is my opinion that these people should have social justice, not another museum exhibit right next to the dead mastodons.
Next they get to the American West and the setting of Montana. It goes from pioneer days up to WW-II. After that there is an exhibit on navigating and the tools used.
This latter starts with example of how you can get lost. They give an example. They have built a walk-through maze. That seems to be a popular form of entertainment these days. We have seen two or three and seen others advertised. They have a very clever exhibit on different map projections. They have a little plastic globe with the continents drawn on as lines. There is a little lightbulb in the center. You wrap a plastic sheet around the globe and it projects a Mercator projection on the plastic. Next is an exhibit on the life of a Montana settler. With more participation exhibits they have a sort of game in which the visitor goes through the life of a settler with advantages and hardships. In an outdoor museum you can tour an actual Montana homestead as it would have been in 1890s.
Unrelated to that museum is the Compuseum, a small museum to the origins and equipment of computing. The history of computing is much tied to my own history. I saw computing equipment that I have used since I was age four. The visit starts with a film on the history of computing. Illustrations are taken from things at the museum
There is on display a toy adding machine and an arithmetic quiz machine that uses a rolling tumbler like a slot machine. I had both as a child. They have the Chadwick Calculators I used as a teen. This has slides but is essentially an abacus. There were also the IBM card sorters and line printers I used in a high school summer program. There is a TTY 33 terminal I used in college. On and on in amongst a bunch of equipment I never used are pieces I used throughout my career. The museum follows the history of computing through many of what appear to be totally disconnected strands like the Gutenberg press and the invention of the telegraph. I am not sure what the Lewis and Clark Expedition had to do with the invention of the computer, but in this part of the country if a museum does not have either Indian artifacts or a mention of Lewis and Clark I think it can legally be shut down by the government. Perhaps they confused the Corps of Discovery with the discovery of core.
For a mid-afternoon lunch we go to Santa Fe Red's. It is a local Mexican restaurant. I have seafood enchiladas.
Math puzzle: We re-divide the money we have by pooling all the bills and sorting them highest to lowest. Then we deal out the money, alternating bills to me and to Evelyn. I get the top bill, she gets the second, I get the third, and so forth. When we are all done how different can the sum of the two stacks be? If you have the facility, prove your answer. Assume that neither of us has a bill greater than $1000. I always do. Answer after the following film review.
We returned to the room where I worked on my log. The local Public Radio station was running an episode of the Goon Show for background.
At 7pm or so we went to the local theater.
CAPSULE: John Woo's WINDTALKERS is based on the true story of Navaho code talkers. It is an attempt to make a standard "minority in the military" war film with Woo's brand of violence. The real code talkers deserved a better tribute. This disappointing film is an example of a good story avoided. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4)
OK. First things first.
1) The Navaho code talkers are heroes. In addition they really were cheated of the honor they deserved. I am not arguing that.
2) I would like for them and for all Navaho to like this picture.
3) I would like there to be a good film about the Navaho code talkers contribution to the Pacific war.
4) This is not that film.
There is a very standard "minority in the military" plot. The members of the minority join the unit. They are mistrusted a little by all, but especially by one particular bigot. In the heat of battle they go beyond the call of duty to protect even the bigot. In the end they have won the respect of their doubters and have proven themselves. In the 1950s it was a very moving plot. More recently we have seen it in THE TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN and MEN OF HONOR. When WINDTALKERS claims to be based on a true story they mean that there were really Navaho code talkers. and they really made an important contribution. They have told the standard plot with code talkers as the minority. WINDTALKERS is an attempt to use John Woo's stylized violence in a standard "object lesson" war film plot. The code talkers were the chosen and fungible minority.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN opened the way to show battle more realistically in film including that it be more violent. It seems to make sense to have John Woo direct since his films are known for their staccato violence. The problem is that his films are the wrong sort of violence for a realistic war film. It is dramatic to have an explosion with an actor spring-boarding in the foreground to look like he was caught in the explosion. A soldier may have even seen it happening once in his career. In this film it is used many times to dress up explosions. Merely making a battle scene more violent does not make it more realistic.
During World War II the most useful encryption technique for tactical use in the field was Navaho Code Talk. It was a double code, one half of which used the Navaho language, one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. There were about 24 non-Navahos in the world who knew the language. Navahos developed the code and could be quickly taught it. For anyone else it was useless gibberish. The Japanese could capture Navahos, but if they didn't know the other half of the code, even under torture they could not decode it. Messages in the code could be sent over open radio channels without eavesdropping or forging. The story of Navaho code talking is fascinating and remains to be told in a film.
The pairing of a Navaho with a particular Marine partner, central to WINDTALKERS is a fiction according to the actual Navaho veterans. While "wind talkers" may sound better than "code talkers" there were a lot more wind talkers than code talkers. "Wind talk" is a literal translation of the Navaho word for radio.
Adam Beach plays Ben Yahzee, a Navaho Marine who was trained to be a code talker. Nicholas Cage plays John Enders a Marine with a badly and painfully injured ear and survivors' guilt assigned to guard Yahzee's code. His highest priority is to keep the code out of Japanese hands even if it means killing Yahzee. His fear of the possibility of having to kill Yahzee he hides with a blanket of affected distaste for Yahzee. Together they go through the battle of Saipan and each discovers the other's meddle.
John Woo superficially glosses over what should have been the most interesting parts of his story to get to cliched drama and stylized violence. He was the wrong director to tell the story of these heroes. I give his film a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +0 on the -4 to +4 scale. (Much of the historical information is based on the History Channel program "History vs. Hollywood: Windtalkers")
When the film was over we returned to the room to watch said History Channel program "History vs. Hollywood: Windtalkers."
And for the answer to the math problem, the greatest difference possible is the value of the largest bill, in this case I said the largest bill is $1000, so that is the greatest possible difference. The problem gets a lot simpler when you realize that any denomination that the pool has an even number of will get split evenly between us, so may be assumed to be zero. By the same token if we have an odd number of some denomination, it can be assumed to be only one of that bill. So we may assume that in the final pool every bill is of a different denomination. There is a really nice pictorial proof I cannot show here. You can also do it by induction on the number of bills, still assuming the bills are dealt in decreasing order and that there is one of each denomination present.
First step: If there is only one bill, the final difference will be the size of that bill.
Induction step: If there are an even number of bills and before handing out the last bill the person who got the first bill was ahead by less than the value of the largest bill (by assumption), the last bill will go to the other person. That decreases the first person's lead even more.
If there are an odd number of bills the net effect of the last two steps will take some away from the first person's lead and then restore only part of that lead back. The two steps will have a negative total effect on the first person's lead.
06/24/02 Bozeman, MT to Buffalo, WY
Breakfast at the same place. Eggs and toast. We were on the road by 7:50. As we drove I finished up my review of WINDTALKERS.
We make a quick stop in Billings for soda and tape for a temporary palmtop fix.
Ahead of us on the it looks like two grassy areas at the two sides of the road form an arch over the road with just a small gap in the middle. Heat waves on the road make it exactly reflect the color of the sky so they look like sky. The road looks like it reaches several feet short of the height of the grassy margins. In fact the grass looks like mandibles reaching over the road.
Pompey's Pillar is a National Landmark. It is the one known remaining vestige of the Lewis and Clark expedition. On the return trip the dynamic duo split up. Clark climbed a hill to look around. While he was up he carved his name on a rock. Before the expedition there had been only one European in this area. He was a trader named Laroque. Laroque offered to join the expedition on the way out, but Lewis and Clark turned him down figuring the information they gathered was classified.
They have a wooden scaffolding at the rock and a $3 usage fee to use the scaffold to go up and see the Clark signature.
From there it is not a long drive to the Little Bighorn. We entered the park and went to the visitor's center. There is a display with a timely of events related to the battle.
The first thing that attracts my attention is a painting, "Call of the Bugle" showing not many Indians, but showing Custer's party at the end. Somehow the picture looks cartoonish, like it were the cover of a comic book.
At 1:30 we go to a lecture on Custer and the battle. The speaker is Lee Lewane, a very dramatic speaker and something of a character. He reminds me of Ed Bears, a historian I have seen only on documentaries but who has a distinctive way of explaining history. The history that follows comes from many sources, not just his talk. But this seems like a good time to talk about the history of the famous Custer defeat.
The policy of the army on the frontier was the policy of President Grant "to Christianize and civilize the Indian and to train him in the arts of peace." (This from a man who was a total failure in the arts of peace and who made his fortune in the art of war.) Many of the Lakota had been placed on the reservation, but many did not want to live on the reservation. There they were given food but not allowed to hunt their own. The supplies were unreliable and of inferior quality at best. The Indian rightly considered his situation on the reservation was intolerable. They just picked up and left.
The Black Hills situation added to the discontent of the Indians. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty said that in return for staying on the reservation the Black Hills of South Dakota would belong to the Lakota Sioux. In 1874 General Philip Sheridan ordered Custer to take men into the Black Hills to monitor Indians. At the same time he was to look for gold apparently in the hopes there would be a really good reason to double-cross the Lakota Sioux. Custer brought scientists to do the looking for gold. And they found it. The Black Hills were rich in gold. Yes indeed, there were good money reasons to break the government's word to the Lakota Sioux. It was announced publicly and within weeks there was no stopping the whites from moving into the Indians' sacred Black Mountains. It was just the part that had been "reserved" for the Lakota Sioux. (PS I want it fully understood that this all happened before any of my forebears came to the Americas.) The Sioux left their sacred areas and went to more open territories. And they did kill settlers when the need arose. The US military issued a warning they must return by January 31, 1876 to whatever was the current definition of the reservation. Since Indians reckoned time differently they may not have even known what that meant. After the deadline they were automatically designated "hostile" and subject to military action. The Sioux probably did not even know they were doing something that would make them outlaws.
The same Custer was sent to round the Lakota up, setting out on May 17, 1876. He was to join up with General Crook and form an attack. Crook engaged the party of Indians earlier and had found himself badly outnumbered. He had lost nine men. He never did connect up with Custer and could not warn him of the strength of his opponent or that the Indians were willing and anxious to fight rather than scatter. Custer would probably have ignored the warning in any case.
Custer's great fear was not the Lakota numbers but that they would scatter and that the army could round up only a small number of them. It was Custer's hope that he might find them all together so that he could destroy their ability to resist in one swift maneuver. He had every confidence that if he found them before they scattered he could do this. In the Civil War he discovered the value of a quick and savage attack.
Custer and his men found a Lakota encampment near the Little Bighorn River. There Custer pitted his 647 troopers against 2000 Indian warriors. There were 210 troopers killed. Since that day the battlefield has been kept more or less intact. In the Indian wars this was the Indians' biggest victory. Their attempts to remain free of the reservation ended Dec 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee.
A little about the battle at the Little Big Horn and the people at the battle. George Armstrong Custer was last in his class at West Point. When the Civil War came he went to war as 2nd lieutenant. He fought well at Bull Run. At 23 Custer was made a brevet general. He did not keep that rank, but in 1864 he was officially made a two-star general. After the war he became involved in the Indian wars.
At the time of Little Bighorn Maj. Marcus Reno was Custer's second in command, though Reno really didn't really like Custer. Also in regiment was Capt. Frederick Benteen. Benteen absolutely detested Custer. But the 7th Cavalry was sent to find Indians in the Little Bighorn Valley. They found a three-mile long Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indian camp on the morning of Sunday, June 25, 1876. Custer apparently determined to take it.
The leaders of the Indians in the camp were Sitting Bull, a great spiritual leader, at about 45 considered too old to fight, but not too old to command. He had done a Sun Dance to see the future. He danced for days in the hot sun and had fifty pieces of flesh cut from his body. This gave him visions and he had seen the white soldiers falling from the sky, but they were helpless and had no ears. He would survive this battle and be made famous. He would be exhibited with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and in the end he would be killed at Wounded Knee.
Also commanding was Chief Gall who had two wives and three daughters until he found them dead, killed by the white soldiers. Crazy Horse at 36 was a great and spiritual warrior.
Custer divided his regiment into three battalions. He commanded one, Reno one, and Benteen one. Again Custer was trying to prevent escape. Benteen had orders to check out the high points around the area. Custer and Reno took their battalions to opposite ends of the Indian camp. Reno attacked first from the south, but found the Indian forces too strong. Custer sent messages to Benteen's battalion and Benteen joined Reno. The sound from the North indicated that Custer had also found fighting, but Reno and Benteen could not get to him. Eventually that part of the field fell silent. Reno and Benteen did not know what that meant. The Sioux either retreated or defeated Custer. Though Reno and Benteen were facing a heavy force they were able to successfully retreat. Eventually the Indians let Reno's and Benteen's men retreat peacefully. Cavalry reinforcements were coming. They also discovered Custer's men were dead. The Indians also retreated from the scene. The Cavalry arrived to find that a heavy defeat had occurred. News of the defeat broke nine days later, just on the US Centennial.
Many years later when the stories of the Indians who had participated in the battle were told Custer and his men had sat on a hill and had watched Reno and Benteen fight without joining them. Eventually they were engulfed in the battle and with little defense were overrun.
Perhaps the most maddening thing about this battle, and what makes it remain a mystery, is that it had two kinds of direct witnesses to the battle in which Custer's battalion met their end: the Indians and the dead. The dead were not talking and nobody who was not Indian cared to hear what the Indians had to say until decades after the battle.
There is a tape that is a guided tour of the battlefield. We purchased it and followed the route.
There are horses running free in the park. We pass some on the road. Evelyn points out that they seem to be furiously nodding. We are not sure why but that is the observation.
The day had been hot, but as we got to the Reno and Benteen end of the battlefield the wind came up. The sky darkened with storm clouds and lightning. The moths that were in the air everywhere have been replaced with cottonwood seeds. These seeds are dropped with a cottony set of fibers so they have wind resistance. The wind seems to carry them everywhere. When the wind of the storm blows up they all move in one direction as if they have a group mind of their own. It looks like something out of the remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
"Hurrah, boys, we've got them! We'll finish them up and then go home to our station." Custer was heard to say that when he saw the three mile long encampment of Indians. Nobody knows how he thought he could defeat such a huge population. I suppose my thought is that he wanted them to think he had a plan that he didn't really have. It seems to me that Custer planned his own death. He sent Reno and Benteen's three divisions into battle and watched with fascination from above. He then tried to feed half of his own people to the inferno. Finally he fed the remainder. It would have been almost like the actions of a Jim Jones. Nobody could tell what Custer was thinking when he was alive and the mystery surrounding his actions that lead to his death were even more mysterious.
It took a couple of hours from there to reach Buffalo, Wyoming and we stayed at the Bighorn Motel. It was a little run down and there were a lot of little funny things about the room. The woman who ran it was the best feature, affable and helpful. She suggested where we should eat dinner.
The place next door to our dinner restaurant is called Bighorn Meat Cutting and offers custom slaughtering. I wonder what that is. "Will kill animals in manner to please customer. You nab 'em, we stab 'em. No job too big or too human."
Dinner is at the Winchester House. I had roast beef. This is a slightly fancier restaurant than we have been going to. For desert I tried something I had never heard of, buttermilk pie. I guess once I saw it I knew it was something I had seen and assumed it was custard pie. It was not my favorite, but it was OK.
We spent the evening listening
to three History Channel programs about aspects of Custer and the Little
06/25/02 Buffalo, WY to Rapid City, SD
The room had been warm when we checked in last night and the air conditioner on full had little cooling power. However an open window worked better. By morning the room wasn't too bad.
We packed up and ate at a truck stop. Truck stop breakfast features big portions. Then we set out for Devil's Tower. The Triple-A book describes this as looking like a huge tree stump. It is actually the lava core of a volcano where the lava hardened inside the mouth of the volcano. Erosion eventually took away all but the hard lava within the core. It is sort of like the lost wax process for casting jewelry. The rock is 867 feet high above the base. The sides are fluted columns, actual channels where lava pushed its way up and crystallized. They tend to be five and six-sided pencils, much like Giant's Causeway in Ireland.
Indian legends say a huge bear tried to climb and the sides and left claw marks. The top is a platform about one and a half acres. Just as Yellowstone was our first National Park, this was the first National Monument. You look at Yellowstone and you know you are looking at a park. You look at Devil's Tower and you know it is monumental. I sort of think of a monument as manmade, but it can be anything that sticks up high. Now the ideas are blurred. Why is Badlands National Monument a monument?
You look at this tower and all you can think is, "this means something." After a few minutes in the visitor center then we head out for the path around the monument. You walk the path and you always look up at the monument all the way around.
There is not much that changes in the view of the monument as you walk around. Someone told me that CLOSE ENCOUNTERS was filmed on the nice side of the tower and the other side is not nice. That simply is not true. But there is not much variety to see as you walk. The walk takes about an hour. You don't see a lot you cannot see at a distance, but I guess it is enjoyable to be near such an odd looking object.
At the prairie dog town on the way out we get stopped for road work. We are there about ten minutes. I watch the prairie dogs near the road as they call to each other. What are they saying?
Evelyn suggests we replenish. There is a store that advertises sarsaparilla. We have imitation sarsaparilla at home under the brand name Sioux City. I figured I would try the real stuff for comparison. We stop and it is cold... But it is Sioux City Sarsaparilla. Drat. Is that the only brand there is?
They also sell souvenirs like a Devil's Tower thimble that is a model of the monument. Like Rushmore has its movie, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, so Devil's Tower has CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. I am not sure what face you see in that film. Actually Devil's Tower has adopted CLOSE ENCOUNTERS more than Rushmore has adopted its film. There are alien themes in tee-shirts, in post cards, and the shop stocks a VHS cassette of the Spielberg film.
This is essentially our last major site of the trip. We might find more on the way. From now on the days will be heavier into travel.
Going back to Rapid City we start seeing signs that you are 143 miles from the Gutzon Borglum story.
A couple of hours' drive and we are in Rapid City. I guess we will stay one more night in this town. Hey, that's cool. Rapid City is a nice town and the prices are not too bad. There are a wide variety of restaurants and we have not even been able to try all the ones we wanted to try. I think Mount Rushmore has been very good for the town. We have picked the Town House Motel. The room has a refrigerator and a microwave and the room seems much better cared for than last night's room.
There were a couple of used bookstores in town. How we got out of town last time without having at least been in the bookstores I would have to ascribe to personality inconsistency. By the end of the afternoon we had adjusted our personalities back into consistency.
I would say that no matter who is on a city council or what he did, you should never name a street for someone named North or West. If you have someone named East or South the same rule applies, but those names are not as common. Grand Rapids has an East North Street. It has to be better then South North Street, but it is bad enough. Hubbard Feed has their name on their grain silos. They have three silos in a row. Look at them face on and the name is right but as you look at them coming down the street they say UBAD.
Near one bookstore was a grocery and we got some soda for the night. It is hard for me to believe but there is a Star Wars Episode II Cereal. I doubt it will be around in another ten years.
We went to a restaurant called the Pirate's Table. The decor is like a pirate's shack with pirate props like globes and antique bottles. I sat near what was supposed to be a wall and outside you see a pirate burying treasure. What pirate will be stupid enough to bury treasure where he can be seen. I had French onion soup and Crab fetuccini. Pretty good.
Afterward we stopped in a video store and bought two films. I bought LITTLE BIG MAN which has Wild Bill Hickok and a dramatization of Custer's Last Stand. It fits in well with the trip. I also bought a cheap used copy of THE BEAST MUST DIE, a sort of TEN LITTLE INDIANS with a werewolf. On a scale of 1 to 4 Maltin rates one film a 4 and one a 3. I think he over-rates both films, but I got them for good price.
At the room we watch LITTLE BIG
MAN with the Little Bighorn connection. More appropriate would be CLOSE
ENCOUNTERS with a Devil's Tower connection. I will watch that tomorrow
night. LITTLE BIG MAN would have been appropriate last night.
06/26/02 Rapid City, SD to Fairmont, MN.
It was over 97 degrees yesterday. With air conditioning you don't notice it. In the days before air conditioning was common in homes that sort of temperature would be a real hardship. These days I look at it with a sort of academic interest. But we are getting these higher temperatures and it sounds like the government has finally decided that, yes, global warming is real and is going to bring changes.
Well not much to say about the morning drive. I could not take notes since I was driving and drove 340 some miles across South Dakota west to east. There was a lot of road work. I guess we came at the wrong time and they are trying to get it done while it is warm but not too warm. You get passed one stretch and ten minutes later there you are again.
This will be a shorter day of driving since we have the time change part of the way through South Dakota.
Casa del Rey is a Mexican restaurant in Sioux Falls. The tortilla chips were very good. The dishes were good but not what we expected. The names were strange. Evelyn ordered an enchilada and got what I would call a flat tostada with sauce. I ordered the three burrito special and got three enchiladas. We asked and they thought anything made with a corn tortilla was an enchilada. If it is made with a flour tortilla it is a burrito, open or not. Strange. Maybe in South Dakota those are the definitions.
As we leave Sioux Falls we pass an experiment in low-cost mass housing for the criminal classes. It is surrounded by barbed and razor wire to keep in the heartless brutes repaying their debt to society for breaking its most sacred rules and violating the social contract that binds each of us. Of course some may be the victims of a soulless legal and penal system or the victims of a callous society. And a few will be there because they just grabbed the money and ran or because they got drunk and she looked like she was 18.
Soon we are in Minnesota. Flat grasslands and silos.
We break for the day in Fairmont, Minnesota, at the same Comfort Inn we used on the way out.
We bring in the VCR and watch CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.
06/27/02 Fairmont, MN to Waterloo, IO
Breakfast options were a little better than I remembered them, probably because I had seen worse. They seem to share the largest problem these continental breakfasts have, technical problems with the toaster. This one now only do you have to push down the toast, it will sit there not toasting unless you set a dial. It is ridiculous to have such poor human factors on a toaster that strangers have to use.
Minnesota cannot be said to be scenic. At least it is not in the way that the West was. The ground is hilly, but there are no mountains in the background. We pass corn fields with two foot high corn and grazing fields with cattle.
Route 52 is more a country road than highway. This is Amish country. You see many horses and buggies. Evelyn points out that one has a Playmate cooler. Is that modern technology or not? I guess the Amish set for themselves a set of rules and then will live as comfortably as they can within those rules. Often they live in ways their forebears did not expect. It is like Jews have very strict rules of what they can eat at Passover. But you can eat whatever you want within those rules. It used to be that was not much. These days you can make recipes like chocolate cream pie that really still fit within the rules so why not?
We enter Iowa and are on the Laura Ingalls Wilder highway. Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie books. You find references to her and museums to her all over the prairie states.
Just over the border from Minnesota is Spillville, Iowa, the home of the Bily Clock Museum and Antonin Dvorak Exhibit. This is one of those strange chimeras that is made of two mismatched museums, neither of which would attract many people. Together they make one museum that Triple-A chooses not just to list but to highlight. Diversification in museums must work I guess.
Frank and Joseph Bily, brothers, were hobbyist clock makers. They made these clocks the way some people make model airplanes, as a hobby not for profit. Their work was farming and carpentry, but in their spare time they made complex and very finely carved clocks made to Czech traditions. They never sold a clock they had carved and never wanted to. Henry Ford offered them one million dollars for one of their clocks and they turned him down. They participated in this hobby starting 1913 and continuing until 1949. Both men were bachelors all their lives.
One of their clocks would weigh 500 pounds. They carved all the wood, but ordered the metal parts including music box parts, usually from Seth Thomas. Usually Joseph designed Frank did most of the carving. A complete clock would take as long as four years to complete.
The first clock were on a religious themes: 12 apostles moving around, appearing on the hour, that sort of thing. Then for the next few clocks they made their theme went from religious to patriotic. There would be hand-carved scenes from American history. Shortly after their subject became a national hero they made a Charles Lindbergh clock.
The Paradise Clock, shows scenes of a Garden of Eden and there is a singing canary music box as part of the design. There is a Village Smithy clock inspired by the Longfellow poem. A smithy over a foot high banged an anvil while a customer stands beside him. For one clock they made all the parts themselves, an all wooden clock.
The Bily home had at one time played host for the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak is probably best known for the New World Symphony.
The museum is an old house and the clock museum is on the lower floor.
Upstairs there is an exhibit of the life and work of Antonin Dvorak. The museum is really in honor of the very happy summer that Dvorak spent in Spillville.
The composer was born Sept 8, 1841 in Czech Bohemia. After an early interest in music he chose it for a career and learned at the Prague Organ School. He gave music lessons and fell in love with a student. She was not interested in him so instead he married her younger sister.
Dvorak's compositions gained wide attention and he won state prize of the Imperial Austrian government. This increased his international renown. He was invited to New York to head the National Conservatory of Music. He had an enviable schedule of only six hours of teaching a week with some of the finest students of the country. They paid no tuition and blacks were as eligible as whites.
Dvorak had only one complaint. He was critical of how American papers over-lauded his music, even work he did not think so perfect. After a year he Vacationed in Spillville, the summer 1893. There he completed the New World Symphony. Dvorak and Spillville seemed made for each other. From the first day he would wake up a 4 AM and take walks in the nearby forest. He took particular delight in the brightly colored birds and their songs.
Spillville made this exhibit of the visit. There are also some small sub-exhibits like carved oddities and puzzles. One jar displays a two-headed pig. (It goes with the two-headed calf we saw in Cody.)
Outside there is a cabin and a schoolhouse, the two were joined to make one building in 1861. Then we hit the road again, almost immediately stopping for gas. As Evelyn is paying I steal into the driver's seat and keep it for the afternoon.
After that we hit the road again. We stop in Postville for lunch. There is a PBS documentary about minor tensions in Postville when an Orthodox Jewish community moved in. Then there were other tensions when a Mexican community moved in. No real problems, but some minor irritations.
There is a kosher buffet Evelyn wanted to try. Evelyn liked the food. I would give it a B for quality and a C for flavor. Evelyn really liked the cucumbers with sugar and vinegar. My favorite was stuffed cabbage. None of the customers looked Mexican and there were some who could have been Jewish. Most of the people looked like you would expect in rural Iowa. I think food is a far better ambassador than any person could be. On the other hand I have no faith in my ability to tell by looking the difference between a friendly, happy community and a racial powder keg ready to explode. Show me one of these racial powder kegs in our country and I will show you a whole bunch of friendly decent people even if there are a few of jerks living in close proximity.
We get into Waterloo, Iowa about 3 PM. Rather than check in to a motel we go directly to the Waterloo Center for the Arts. They supposedly have a nice gallery with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood paintings. Half of it turns out to be closed due to setting up for a special exhibit. We see no Benton, but we do see some minor Wood. Actually Evelyn and I both liked best the piece The Fallen Angel by Woody Walters. It is a photograph of strange, darkly surreal and horrific images. I want to know where he set up the camera.
We check in at the local Motel 6, which is inexpensive and one of the few to get a three-diamond rating. We have to take a smoking room, however. The room is nice enough, but there are cigarette burns on the sides of the bathtub and on furniture. Other than that the room is quite pleasant. We have several times had to take smoking rooms in motels this trip. I had always thought the reason you have smoking rooms is that non-smokers do not want to breath smoky air. That is true, but there is almost no noticeable difference in the air in smoking wings of motels. The difference is probably that enough smokers damage rooms with cigarette burns that they are segregated.
After working on the logs for a while and then put on APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX. Not one of my favorite films. I know it is considered good, but I have a hard time believing it as an accurate view of the Vietnam war. I much prefer WE WERE SOLDIERS...
We snack in the evenings, particularly
if we have had just two meals in the day. Rather than pick something high-fat
like potato chips, I have been mostly hitting on a box of Multi-Bran Chex.
No milk, nothing on them. Even at General Mills prices it is a cheap, crisp
snack. Low fat. Lots of fiber. For a beverage we take cans of cheap diet
06/28/02 Waterloo, IO to Aurora, IL
Woke up about four AM with a dream about having fed some animal in Yellowstone and being chased by it.
Background as we packed and dressed: AMC was running THE UNINVITED and SON OF DRACULA.
Breakfast at the Happy Chef. This is a chain we have been seeing that I had not seen before this trip. With our luck I was afraid the time we tried it the kitchen staff would walk out. I ordered scrambled, French toast, and sausage.
From there it must be about a 90 minute drive to the Herbert Hoover National Memorial Site in West Branch, Iowa. At the place of Hoover's birth and his Presidential library there are some buildings from his past and a museum of his life. We arrive just about in time for the park tour.
The town of West Branch was founded in the 1860s. Jesse Hoover came to town to join the Quaker community and open a blacksmith shop. One parent was from Ohio, one from Canada. Jesse had a two-room house, still standing The earlier house, built in 1871 by Herbert's father and grandfather, is where Herbert was born. The area still has a very small town feel. The boardwalk sidewalks. The municipal well is just a few yards from the house. This was real luxury in those days. A later and larger house his father built and moved to is now gone.
Incidentally, there was an outhouse on the property with a half-moon. I asked about where the half-moon symbol came from. The ranger was not sure, but another ranger said he thought it was really a myth originally taken from a newspaper cartoon that suggested that outhouses had half moons.
They also have restored the Quaker Meeting House, the first place of worship in town. The ranger explained Quakers were a Protestant sect from 18th century England. The left when they disagreed with Church of England. The Quaker belief system includes a belief that God is present in every person. This makes it a very egalitarian and non-hierarchical religion. There is a strong sense of equality among the members and also looking out at the rest of the world. Quakers were abolitionists. Their religion called for liberalism and peace advocacy. Their philosophy is to break down social barriers.
You can see in the design of their austere buildings that they believe in modesty and don't need decoration or finery. Their buildings are sparse with little decoration in the church. There is no pulpit because there is no need of clergy. Instead their twice weekly (Sunday and Wednesday) meetings featured unprogrammed worship. There would be just silent meditation with individual preaching. The meeting house is divided into a men's half and a women's half with dividers. Young children would be mostly on women's side with a crying room in back.
From there we went to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. They is no point in describing in detail the temporary exhibit of Revolutionary America 1763-1789 since it is, as I say, temporary. It basically gave the history of the revolution with artifacts.
Presumably the Hoover part of the museum is more permanent.
Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 and had lost both parents by age nine. He went to the then new Stanford U at age 17. There he met his future wife Lou. He became fascinated with engineering and wanted to be a mining engineer. After graduating he lied about age and got mine engineering job in Australia. He described the Australian desert as "red dust, black flies, and white heat." He did discover gold for his company. They paid him well and he decided he could now marry Lou and take her with him. The mining company sent him to China at age 24 in the hopes of finding gold in the Gobi desert. He and Lou were there during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. From 1901-1914 his company sent him and Lou all over the world as the "doctor of sick mines." When World War I struck he quit his mining job and traveled internationally. He had an understanding of international politics and could use it to help the government. He could took part in efforts to fight hunger worldwide. Germany had blockaded Belgium and there was widespread starvation. He negotiated food shipments through the blockade and administered food. Many children had what was called "the Hoover lunches." They were soup and a roll.
Returning home he was appointed director of US Food Administration and later became Secretary of Commerce in 1921. He enjoyed great notoriety and popularity. In 1928 he ran for President and won the election. He was the only man ever to be elected President who neither had military experience nor had been previously elected to public office. His was the first broadcast inauguration, heard by millions on the radio. He had won by a landslide and had had a few months of great popularity when the Depression struck.
Hoover's popularity dried up very quickly. The stock market crash had happened "on his watch." His efforts to ameliorate the effects seemed ineffective. He was considered a do-nothing President. An army of veterans marched on Washington. They demanded that they be paid immediately a service benefit bonus to which they were entitled but not for several years yet. The military was used to suppress the demonstrators. Public anger and hatred of the government and of Hoover increased. Dust bowl victims living in migrant towns named the towns Hoovervilles.
At the end of four years Hoover ran for a second term. His opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, won handily. FDR's programs were widespread, and many were just amplifications on Hoover programs. There was feeling in the public that Hoover was the cause and FDR was the cure. Neither was really true.
Hoover tried to get back into helping the poor in the years that followed. For years he was shut out of politics. Truman called on Hoover for some non-elected statesmanship. Eventually he did become a sort of elder statesman. He doubled the size of Boys Clubs. He fished and expressed his wisdom about politics, though he was always tainted with the public perception that he brought on and mishandled the Great Depression. He died in October, 1964.
They have a display where visitors can vote on how good or bad they thought was the Hoover Presidency. You do not see the results, but it is hardly an unbiased place to take the poll.
We stop for a quick lunch at McDonalds before striking out for the Chicago area. The topography gets even flatter and the roads even straighter. The horizon is flatness and trees. I think we could see to Chicago if not for the earth's curvature.
By 5:30 we found our way to Aurora, IL and the home of a friend, Bill Higgins of Fermilab.
The evening was spent in discussion.
We had dinner at a place called Baker's Square. We saw Bill's new house
and stayed the night in his guest room.
06/29/02 Aurora, IL
I guess I always considered that my own time to follow my own curiosity and investigations was always the most valuable thing to me. That makes the end of a vacation or a trip a sort of melancholy time. I hate to see it come to an end and have my time belong to somebody else. So I was less than pleased to see a trip come to an end. It meant that soon I would have little time of my own. That makes the end of this trip feel so strange. I am going back to more time of my own, not less. There is more time to read, more to do math.
It is odd for me looking around Bill's new house. There is the feeling that he is getting started. He has a new home he is decorating. He is in a new neighborhood. There is the feel of vibrant newlyweds around. Yet I believe he is just something like four years younger than I am.
I think our life style is unusually Spartan. Early on we decided to see China rather than fix up the house. The experience of seeing China may seem to be fleeting and a decorated house you see every day. On the other hand the house you really do not see every day since you grow used to it. Experience you carry with you everywhere. I think Erma Bombeck said to spend money on intangibles because they are the only things that last. Bill's house is nice. It is comfortable and well-appointed. It is probably the way most people would have gone in our position. He has gone the real furniture route rather than our bricks and boards sort of solutions. There were scorch marks in our kitchen from the last owner. They have been there since (at the latest) 1978. But I think I am happy with the choices we made.
Morning was spent on lingering talk about work and technology.
In the afternoon go to visit Steven Silver to make plans for Windycon. Evelyn and I will be fan guests of honor this year. I am not really sure what this entails.
In the evening we go to the house of another Higgins friend who is having a birthday party. The party is at the house of Bill Roper. Also I get a chance to meet Barry, a Higgins friend who is a molecular biologist. I get to ask him my current question about DNA.
Every animated picture of DNA I have seen shows the two twisted strands of the double helix gracefully separating when the time comes to reproduce.
Now take a piece of string or twine or a twisted pair of wires made of multiple fibers twisted together. Try separating them gracefully. They don't separate so nicely. One might ask question like how many times are they twisted together and if they are going to be separated cleanly, how fast does the end rotate? The ends have got to do a lot of spinning to get them apart at all. How is this accomplished in the cell? Wouldn't you need some very fast spinning in the cell to get those strands apart? Barry's answer is that the ends must spin very fast indeed. We do a rough calculation and gets that the ends must be spinning thousands of revolutions per second. Where does the energy come from to do that? How is the effort organized? Does it start from one end?
I would like to have that thousands
of revolutions per second verified since nobody seems to talk much about
it. You would think if that were happening in the cell it would have been
noted. High energy would be needed for that process. Where does all that
energy come from?
06/30/02 Aurora, IL to Toledo, OH
After having been up until about 1 AM I am up again about 5:15. I just am naturally an early riser. Evelyn and I were up, but the Higgins slept late so we packed up the car and read. We had a light breakfast with them and left about a quarter after noon.
On the way we were not far from the house where I was born. I lived in Chicago until about age three. I had not seen the house since. The neighborhood is all black now. There is a big sign in the window that says "We call police." I can still picture what the inside looks like.
[This completes the sightseeing portion of this trip log. From this point on the trip is devoted just to returning to New Jersey and home. The topography and scenery are much like home. There are no buffalo, no huge rock faces. You may stick around and read the rest, if you like, but the rest of you folks may feel free to leave.]
We cross the border to Indiana. So much for scenery, This place looks little different from New Jersey or Massachusetts. Evelyn points out the first New Jersey license plate in over three weeks.
[Thank you for staying, by the way.]
As we drive we finish the last part of King's NEEDFUL THINGS. We check out the Triple-A book and choose a restaurant for South Bend. We choose Hacienda. I have a combination plate, Evelyn has a black bean burrito. It is not bad for Chi-chi class Mexican Restaurant.
I drove from South Bend into Ohio and Toledo. With our novel complete we try a tape on the Renaissance. It is a bit dry so instead we switch to RED LIMIT by astronomer Timothy Ferris. It is a study of the history of astronomy and cosmology.
We picked the Comfort Inn in Toledo for our last motel stay. We were hoping to get TCM which was showing KING KONG. The room is nice with a refrigerator and a microwave, but the TV does not get TCM.
I watched half of a TV movie based on Alex Haley's ROOTS but I found the characterizations had been replaced mostly by victimizations. I sort of have mixed feelings about stories like this and WINDTALKERS that tell the world that Americans are a bunch of bigots. It was one thing when the market for our films was mostly domestic. Now it is a world market and I really have had people from far more repressive societies write to me and lecture me about how bad women have it in this country.
I went to sleep about 11.
07/01/02 Toledo, OH to New Jersey
OK, this is the final day.
Breakfast is not very nutritional. I have a doughnut and an English muffin. Evelyn had two doughnuts.
I take the first two hours of driving. We are listening to descriptions of the evolution of our knowledge of the universe and of cosmology. There seems to be a common belief that non-Euclidean geometry contradicts Euclidean geometry. There is this belief that of Lobachevskian, Riemannian, and Euclidean geometry only one is really true. They do contradict each other but only to the extent a screwdriver, a hammer, and a file contradict each other. Planar, spherical, and hyperbolic surfaces exist in the real world. The question is which shape applies to the universe itself.
We got gas and changed drivers at about 10. The little window on the pump says "after fueling replace nozzle." I doubt many drivers really do that. It seems like it is an expensive item and should be the responsibility of the gas station. Besides it looked like it was good for a lot more usage.
We rode, listened to an oldies radio station, and occasionally sang along. Of course Evelyn got her usual barrage of puns and bon mots from me. We stopped for lunch in Somerset and ate at an Italian restaurant, the Grapevine. I have ordered spaghetti (and at this writing waiting for it to be delivered.)
The food was acceptable. No a really inspiring sauce. They could have done better to just use Classico. It was our last meal of the trip.
Pennsylvania have us the same tunnels we went through the first day. Somehow I was seeing them with greater expectation then.
We got home about 6:50.
This was the third of our major Western sightseeing trips. I would say that for Western history, the Arizona and New Mexico trip had this one beat. For scenery the Utah trip was more spectacular. Nonetheless, this was a very enjoyable trip and will be impetus for us to take the next big Western trip which tentatively will be Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.