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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Black Hills of South Dakota

We arrived in the Black Hills of South Dakota on the last day of the Sturgis Motor Cycle Rally.  There were thousands of bikes on the road heading home and the weather was not friendly.  When ½ inch hail started to fall, the brave bareheaded boys of the motorized two-wheelers received a quick lesson in the prudence of helmet wear.  They were tattered and bruised as they huddled under underpasses … and, apparently, recounted the beauty of the open road … with the wind (and hail) in your face ….

The hail was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other in the coach and we were yelling!  Most people pulled over, I continued driving (slowly) and drove out of the mess into sunny skies.  That’s what the weather is like here  … sudden, unpredictable, beautiful, and treacherous!  One moment it will be sunny, the next a downpour, then hail, then rainbows, then lightning and thunder, then sunshine again … really wonderful stuff!

Our favorite tourist site in the Black Hills is the Crazy Horse monument.  It is funded solely with private dollars and is the work of one man and his family in cooperation with the Native Americans in the region, Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Dakota. The monument is around 10 times larger than Mount Rushmore and is a work in progress.  This is what it looks like now.

 This is what it will look like when completed.

In addition to the monument the site has a really wonderful Native American museum, sculpturer’s house, Native arts and crafts show, etc. 


We did visit Mt. Rushmore … it is obligatory for the tourist.  I remember visiting the place as a teen in the early 60s.  It was really awe inspiring, huge, and bigger than life… a monumental feat of good ol’ American ingenuity and hard work.  When we arrived this time at this National Park we were charged $11 bucks for parking … that’s right the visitor now has to pay for parking at our national park.  The parking lot is a big-city three story parking structure that belongs in New York City … not in the Black Hills.  It also means that you have to walk a lot further to see the mountain.  We came at night and sat through the “show”  … a video  show of the four presidents’ accomplishments (we used to just learn this stuff in school and didn’t need a multimedia show to tell us who they were or what they had done).  At the end of the show they light up the faces which is nice to see.  Then the crowds converge on the gift shop … which is the size of a small Walmart … The mountain has become a commercialized modern mess … too bad!  Did I mention a visit to the Crazy Horse monument?  Here are the obligatory pictures.

We took a drive one day and shot this picture from a pullout off the road.  Here is the Mt. Rushmore we were looking for … calm, serene, majestic, and speaking loudly without making any noise!  

On that same drive we found a place for Purple Pie … we are always on a quest for the ultimate piece of pie.  On the outside, this place was cool … unfortunately, the pie was just ok … nevertheless, we felt obligated to give it the complete pie test … and clean our plates.

A much less visited National Park in the area is Wind Cave National Park.  We took a 1.25 mile tour of the underground.  The pictures I took don’t really do it justice … It was magnificent, educational, and just plain cool (literally and figuratively).

Anywhere you go in the Black Hills wildlife is plentiful and interesting.

We splurged for dinner at a Chuckwagon Supper place, complete with tin plates, live music, and of course, this guy!

In fact, we liked the area so much we are now citizens of South Dakota! 

Until next time … keep doing what you love!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn)

A visit to the battlefield by the Little Big Horn river, called by the Native Americans (Northern Cheyenne and Sioux) the Greasy Grass River, was depressing.  It left both of us in a melancholic mood.  Nevertheless, we would recommend that everyone visit once … once is enough.

The battle was only one encounter in the larger Sioux Wars.  The better organized combatants were actually the centrally governed Cheyenne nation, but the Sioux’s leaders (Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse) were better known to the Indian agents so the campaign was called the Sioux Wars.

The lands around, and including, the Black Hills in South Dakota had been settled by the Cheyenne in the early 1700s and the Lakota Sioux soon joined them.  These tribes used horses (introduced by the Spanish to the Americas a couple of centuries earlier) and hunted the bison of the Great Plains.  They used the trees from  the Black Hills area for lodge poles and hunted deer, elk, and small game there as well.

The western expansion of the early and middle 1800s soon had white settlers intruding on the traditional hunting grounds of these tribes.  After several conflicts the Laramie Treaty was signed in 1868 that gave the Cheyenne and Sioux the Black Hills and some of the surrounding plains.

However, the rich mineral resources of the area and finally a gold strike saw numerous settlers invade the area and the army, who at first kept settlers out of the region, stepped aside and, with the permission of President Grant, allowed the invasion.  The government made an attempt to resettle the tribes to Oklahoma, but having seen one treaty too many, they respectfully refused.

This refusal gave the government an incentive to start rounding the Indians up and those that refused to come into the Indian agency were considered "hostiles".  The 7th Cavalry caught up with a large encampment of "hostiles" at their bison hunting camp along the Little Big Horn River in Montana.

The actual Battle of Little Big Horn was a strategic and tactical disaster.  Custer divided his troops.  This move turned out to be a mistake for his group, which was wiped out.  As we know, while the Native Americans won the battle, the final outcome of the war did not go well for them.  They were eventually rounded-up and settlers took over their lands. (There are many sources that will take the reader through a blow by blow description of the battle ... so this summary is intentionally, and mercifully, short!)

It is easy, but also ill advised, to try to judge history through the lens of the present day …The war and the battle were products of the day's politics and policies ...  but perhaps there are lessons to be learned...

Here are a few pictures.

The  National Cemetery at Little Big Horn (includes those from various Indian campaigns through WWII)

The memorial here has the names of those 7th Cav. members who died.  Buried under the memorial are all of the enlisted men.  The officers were removed and buried in various cemeteries around the country. 

Site of the Sioux Village along the Greasy Grass River.

Hopefully our next post will have a happier tone …. Until then, do what you love.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Big Sky Country - Montana

When you drop to the other side of the continental divide in Montana you enter a different landscape.  The landscape of huge ranches (10,000 acres is a small spread) Native Americans, cattle barons, rodeos, and mining.  Welcome to Big Sky Country!

The sky really is bigger than most places.  The clouds come in quickly and a sudden rainstorm in the midst of sunshine is not uncommon.  Cattle roam across the highways here and motorists are warned with the ubiquitous “Open Range” sign that they have the right-of-way.  Deer (white tail and mule deer) are plentiful, as are antelope, and elk.  An occasional moose and bear can be seen at dawn and dusk … if you know where to look.  This type of country breeds people who are down to earth, honest, and hard working … folk from California, who are regarded as either fruits or nuts, are treated with a guarded tolerance that seems to say … please don’t do or say something incredibly stupid.

Our Campground here in White Sulphur Springs, however, is run by a very outgoing couple who are both helpful and kind.  They suggest a variety of activities for the guests, but are happy if you just want to sit and relax.  We do a bit of both.  We gott our laundry done, watched TV, did some quilting, played the concertina, caught up on e-mail, and Skyped with Jason & Jen.  We met a really nice couple from Utah (Ray and Glenda).  The salsa she shared was dynamite!

We also got out and took in some local attractions.  The Baer Museum was wonderful.  Mr. Baer built a house on the lower Musselshell River after making a ton of money in the Alaska gold rush selling thawing machines to miners and speculating on a few gold mines (apparently successfully).  He returned to Montana and raised sheep …  at one time he had over 300,000 head … the largest sheep ranch in the world at the time.  His two daughters decided that the area needed a bit of culture so they took off for Europe to collect antiques and art work …  the collection includes Marie Antoinette’s bed, Louis XV furniture, a few Chippendale pieces, some Italian art … etc. 

Here are a few pictures:

One of the daughters (in her 90s) would always grab a hat to greet people who came to the door.  If they were friends, she would tell them she just got home … come on in and I’ll put on some coffee.  However, if they were salespeople or she didn’t want to be bothered she would state she was just on her way out … perhaps she could catch up with them some other time … so sorry!  Here is the collection of her “door” hats.

We also visited the house of a fellow who made a few bucks in mining.  His house is now a museum filled with artifacts from all over the region.  Here is an outside picture.

We also had a chance to go four wheeling in our jeep.  We went up and over some mountains (about a two hour trek).  The jeep handled wonderfully and we got to see some really beautiful scenery and, of course, a few cows.

On the other side the little town of Townsend was having a rodeo … so we stopped and enjoyed the festivities.

It really was a very relaxing week.  Until next  time… do what you love.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Glacier National Park & Western Montana

We rose early in the morning to leave for Montana and I went outside to check once again on the coach's position in the trees.  During the night the trees had apparently moved closer to the coach (I read about something like this in Tolkien ... where is an Ent when you need one?).  Ok ... maybe it was just my imagination, but the perfect campsite overlooking the river suddenly looked ominous!  Once again, my friend and neighbor, Ray came to the rescue ... with him in the front and Lynda in the back ... I backed out of the spot avoiding the trees (even though they tried very hard to reach out and get me) and we were on our way (Thanks again, Ray!).

We arrived in Kalispell without incident.  Once again our campsite overlooks a really nice river.  Our views have been incredible during the entire journey ... (we are of course ever watchful for Old Man Willow ... and the River Daughter).  Kalispell only has a population of around 20K, but it has a big beautiful hospital (at our age we always check), a super Walmat (that is huge and clean with a terrific grocery), a Costco, Target, Best Buy, etc. etc.  It is a really nice little town that is the hub for a much larger rural area.  In addition, it has a very quaint downtown area with cafes, restaurants, and a barber shop (I mention the latter because both of us got a haircut there).

The big attraction in the area is Glacier National Park, a real gem in the NP system!  From the West entrance you start the journey up the Going to the Sun Road by passing by McDonald Lake and the Lake McDonald Valley.

As you move up the valley the scenery is breathtaking with towering mountain peaks, evergreen and deciduous trees, and flowing rivers.  There are many turnouts to enjoy the views and take pictures.  We stopped at many of them.

The Going to the Sun Road  is narrow and steep.  During the winter around 80 feet of snow covers the route, closing it ... so during the summer, necessary repairs are made on the road.  At some places the road is down to a single lane and the top speed on the road near the top is around 10 mph ... plenty of time to enjoy the view ... plenty of time for the bladder to fill ... The road was further slowed on our day to the top by this fellow:

The mountain goat is the symbol of the park, but is rarely seen ... especially right by the side of the road ... everyone had to stop and take a picture ... we were no exception! (Nice picture, Lynda!)

There is a visitor center at the top of Logan Pass (it was totally covered by snow last winter) and there was still plenty of snow.

The ground squirrels were busy storing up for winter and posing for pictures.

After crossing the continental divide it's down the eastern side of the Rockies.  The eastern side is considerably drier.  Nevertheless, St. Mary Lake and the St. Mary Valley is still a beautiful area with great scenery and terrific views (oh yeah, it's a lot warmer!).

The Blackfoot Indians and other Native Americans have a really nice display at the St. Mary visitor center.  On the way back we viewed the Blackfoot bison herd and a summer historical encampment.

The rest of the week was really nice too.  Ray and Vicci came to the park on Monday and we enjoyed a really nice visit (and a glass of wine) before leaving for Central Montana.

Don't work ... just do what you love ...  and get paid for it.