Monday, October 18, 2010


From the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River is a downhill trip.  While there are a few bumps in the road, those bumps grow smaller with each eastward mile. Traveling from the Mississippi to the Ohio River at our home in Waverly, West Virginia which sits at about eight hundred feet above sea level.
We  started downhill leaving the mountains far behind as we drove across the American Midwest.
States like Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio, each have their own type of beauty.
As usual, we traveled along two-lane highways searching for what the interstates left behind in the name of convenience and speed.  On US 20 near Valentine Nebraska, we crossed the Niobrara River beside the historic Bryan Bridge.
We wanted a closer look and to see what made this particular bridge "historic" so we circled around at the "historic bridge" maker.  What is unique about the Bryan Bridge is that it is a simple arched cantilever bridge, meaning that an arm comes from each side of the river to be crossed.
The arms meet in the middle and are connected by a single pin.

The sparse ranches of the West now became ranches with grass enough to cut for hay. Homes had lawns in which grew large shade trees rather than sage.
Before long ranches then became farms. Tractors were busy cutting hay and forming it into large round bales or mounds of amber settled onto a field of green.

A full moon rose at mid-day to accompany us on our journey eastward. The beautiful day meant that farmers were out working, harvesting wheat, soy beans or whatever crop was ready and waiting.  We enjoyed the scenery but missed having a goal other than home.  We enjoyed wandering from one picturesque spot to another, not sure where we would sleep each night. We squeezed everything we could out of the road, stopping at antique stores, unique restaurants, museums and roadside parks. We did not pass up an overlook. We paused at historic markers.

We thought of our friends and family, stopping to photograph one of the giant tractors common to the large farms of the midwest for Jim.
Rolling fields were treasured for how they were different from our familiar hillside farms.
We went back across the Missouri River into Iowa,

 visited the De Soto Wildlife Refuge where we stopped to visit a museum dedicated to excavating a sunken paddlewheel boat.
The flora and fauna cared little for what lay in the mud beneath them.

On we drove. . .
Once again we crossed the Mississippi River as we made our way into Illinois from Iowa.
A few more towns invited us in to share a few moments.

Peoria . . . Bloomington . . .  and more.
A night spent just west of Champaigne, driving golf balls into a field of our RV park, our RV about a block away from the bathrooms. In the morning we drove to the showers then drove away.
Onward through Indianapolis . . .  then rain as we drove into Dayton, Ohio - I had been there before. Our vacation was over.  Now we were just going home.
My Facebook status this day included the sign below with my words . . .
"I'm not sure I'm happy about this."
With darkness came home.  We stopped to pick up mail and recap some highlights with Jeff's parents then drove up the hill to our home.
Even in the dark we could see that our lawn had gone to seed.  We learned that it had only been mowed once in the five weeks of our absence. In the morning light we realized that the next two days would be spent pushing or riding a mower.  
While it was nice to sleep in our own bed, use our own shower, this was not like other returns.  We had left more behind this time than just a vacation.  
We had left our children in Nevada.
We had left their friends who had become our friends.  We had left the sun of summer behind. 
We like what we have here at "home" but the saying "home is where the heart is," had become applicable in a way we didn't realize it would.  When we drove up our drive  between the ponds, up the hill, across the hay field, under the treehouse around another hayfield and stopped in front of our cabins, we knew that we had each also left bits of our heart up at Lake Tahoe. We had left a bit of "home" behind when we turned off the ignition that last time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oglala Oyanke

From the Badlands of South Dakota Jeff and I entered Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on our way to Wounded Knee. In Lakota the name is "Oglala Oyanke" for it is an Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Native American Reservation, home to almost 30,000 people.
Pine Ridge, the second largest reservation in the United States, looked fertile with rolling hills producing grassland, corn, cattle and other crops.
Compared to other reservations we had seen, Pine Ridge appeared lush. Looks are deceiving, though, for Pine Ridge is the poorest Native American reservation in the nation in the poorest county in the United States.  The unemployment for Pine Ridge is about 80% or higher.  According to reservation online information, the life expectancy for Pine Ridge men is 48 and for women is 50.  Tuberculosis is prevalent.
Evidently this fertile land does produce income, but, in 2002 records, less than 1/3 of that income went to tribal members. I don't know the answers to the obvious question of "Why?" 
What I do know that it is a naturally beautiful place.  The people we met were beautiful and kind to us.
Their artists produced paintings, sculptures and jewelry like none other in the world.
Oglala Oyanke is a field of opportunity.
If any of us live in poverty, our whole society is impoverished.
The beauty of these sunflowers should not be hidden behind broken-down cars and homes without bathrooms or doors.
Each individual blossom is beautiful if given a chance to grow.
But there are fields of sunflowers who's beauty could more easily be seen with just a little help to hold their heads up so they could see the horizon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wall Drug

What a drag - Wall Drug.  I did promise an entry on this particular "bad land"  The self-proliferating myth to travelers through the Midwest is that you MUST visit Wall Drug.  Well, I, for one, do not like to be left out. I didn't want to be someone who SHOULD have seen Wall Drug.  Besides, I thought it must be a great place because I saw it on a billboard.  What is the plural of billboard?

I was not at all disappointed. Perhaps my expectations are set too high.  How could I not be won over by this adorable jack-a-lope?  If Jeff had been nearby I could have had my picture taken living dangerously by sitting atop his saddle.  (and, yes, I would have done it.)
Now, you must realize that I am NOT a shopper. I am not against spending money; not even against buying silly stuff. I am sure that some of my stuff looks pretty bad to other people.
But please, not shoulder-to-shoulder and not with so many shoulders.  I know I must be in the minority because I saw lots of smiles.  I saw many of those smiles lined up behind other smiles all in line to buy a badge that said, "Wall Drug."
Believe me, I have utmost respect for the dear old couple who came up with the idea to sell this  place to drivers scattered throughout the Dakotas and surrounding states.
I am not going to say that nothing there interested me.  I kinda liked this guy . . .
but I'm thinking that he had stood in line too long.  He was looking kinda stiff.
Before you start to jump all over my case, I will admit that there were some interesting things on the shelves. There was some pretty jewelry, nice carvings, cute toys.  One ironwood carving of a buffalo (Yeah, yeah, American Bison . . . Whatever.) caught my eye. It also caught my eye in New Mexico for a third of what was now in my eye.
The photos were interesting as were the models depicting life of pioneers of a bygone era.  But again, I must mention the crowds.
There was even an Indian store that sold genuine American Indian articles straight off a Hollywood film set manufactured by real people.

Okay, I sound a bit too cynical.  Even I hear it. I admit, I am a shopping wimp.  I like people, I really do. I just don't want to shop with them-not all at once.

At one point I felt overwhelmed and tried to find Jeff.  He was nowhere that I looked. I really wanted my photo taken on that jack-a-lope.  I tried to call him on his cell phone, but there was no answer.  I was beginning to believe that he was hiding from me, letting me steep in the panic that was rising along with the whelming tide of tourists armed with belly packs and Reebocks.
Was he avoiding my company? 
Was it my imagination? Where could he be?  

Maybe outside enjoying some "Western Hospitality."
Finally I found him and together we escaped strolled outside and down the sidewalk.
Parking lots were full as were the sidewalks and the stores.  Some stores were closed because this was after the main tourist season.  I was so very sorry to have missed a chance to be there at the peak of the season.
Out in the fresh air, we encountered some strange tourists.  Actually they were my favorite part of Wall Drug.

This little lady was dressed up fine as was her friend.

 It was time to say, "Good-bye."
Oh how I would miss it.
Now go ahead, all you Wall Drug lovers.
You may now start throwing fried cake doughnuts at me.
I can take it.

I've been to Wall Drug!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Faces of Stone

South Dakota welcomed us with steely gray rocks holding fast against a clear blue sky
It was the rocks we had come to see but not just any rocks.
There, before us were rocks formed by the pressure of time and by geological upheaval.

They were nice.  In fact I liked them alot but the rocks we came to see this day were shaped by man or rather by many men following the dream of one.
As a teaser to the main day's characters, an American Indian sprang forth from solid rock.
The Oglala Indian, Crazy Horse, would soon have his arm extended over the back of his racing horse. Korczak Ziolkowski, the polish sculptor began work on Crazy Horse in 1948 when Lakota Chief, Standing Bear, commissioned the likeness.  Since Ziolkowski's death, his children have carried on his work.
Bit by bit, rock is changing shape, not by erosion of wind and water but by the work of carvers coaxing an image out of the mountainside.
While is is interesting seeing such a work in progress with it's potential greatness, it was these guys,  below, we had actually come to see.

Gutzon Borglum chose Mount Rushmore for his sculpture because of its height, the type of rock there and the fact that for most of the day, the face of the mountain is bathed in sunlight. The project began in August of 1927 and took fourteen years to complete though about half that time was spent on securing the needed funds to complete the carving. Four men were chosen for what each represented about our country . . . .

. . .  George Washington represents our struggle for independence,

Thomas Jefferson represents the idea of a government chosen by its people.

The image of Theodore Roosevelt stands for our country's twentieth century role in world affairs,

while Abraham Lincoln's image stands for his ideas on equality and the struggle to preserve a union of the states.
Four individual men who became part of Borglum's image of America, a country where our constitution, strives tomake all people equal,  people residing in states united as one large country . . .

. . . but not so large that it forgets the rights of individuals, no matter how small or weak,

people far from perfect but still working toward their dreams . . .

. . .  dreams bigger than mountains, wider than any horizon
and as varied as its landscape.

Together we are a mishmash of colors, shapes, successes and failures all thrown together in a large bucket, shaken and stirred then poured out in the shape known to us and to the world as 
 The United States of America.


Like an ancient spirit, Devil's Tower stood far across the plane quiet but strong in its declaration that it was here first.  Before the ancestors of any of us, human, antelope, or wolf walked across the plains in search of a living, the tower was there. Native American cultures such as Arapaho, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota, Cheyenne and Shoshone trace their origins to the rock.  Names like "Bear's Tipi," "Bear's Lodge," "Tree Rock," "Aloft on a Rock," are all given to the tower.  The Lakota Sioux have several similar names but for obvious reasons, also call it, "Penis Rock."
Each of these tribes trace its origins to the rock which rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in Wyoming.  It was already a sacred monument long before President Theodore Roosevelt declared it America's first National Monument in 1906.
Humans have tried to conquer the tower much as we have tried to conquer much of nature.  We see towering mountains as a challenge.  Even the most uninviting environments. . . . ..

 . . .have become home to someone.

We saw the Great Plains . . . loaded our wagons . . . hitched our oxen and set off, accumulating settlements as we went.

Log houses went up quickly and easily when trees were plentiful
Whole communities were built with styles that changed as new settlers moved in bringing new technologies.
Where there were no trees, the sod, itself was cut into blocks to build dark, yet warm sod homes. Winters were hard and long.  Little light or snow entered the home.
Wherever we settled, we changed our surroundings . . . squaring up trees to give us flat walls. . . 

Building tanks to hold water pulled out of the ground.
We have continued to change the landscape in our effort to live, whether it is by building windmills to give us much needed water,
Or digging into the earth for minerals and other resources to make our lives easier

Like ants, we change our world, one tiny piece at a time.  

Someday generations of humans will be no more. Our descendants, like our ancestors will return to carbon. 
 I don't know when that will be but I wonder will some of the rocks remain . . . standing erect, waiting to see what will go by next.