Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ruts, Cliff, and Fort

For a couple of nights, we stayed at Pioneer Park in Torrington, WY. Torrington is a town that understands the value of RVers to the local economy. By providing a free place to park for a few nights, they encourage RVers to stop in their town. We showed our appreciation by leaving a donation and, while there, we ate a meal out, shopped at the local grocery store, and bought gas. Everybody wins!

About 30 miles west of Torrington, outside of tiny Guernsey, are three historical sites. I have always been fascinated by ruts carved by the wagons and carts of the many thousands of brave emigrants in the mid 1800's. These at the Oregon Trail Ruts National Historic Landmark are the most impressive I've ever seen.

The terrain here forced the travelers to follow a single set of tracks across relatively soft sandstone. Some of the ruts are quite deep.

The heyday of this western movement began in the 1840's and ended in 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed. During this time, many of the hopeful emigrants stopped at Register Cliff and left their mark. You just have to wonder what happened to these adventurous people.

Mr. (or Miss) Willard was determined to leave a lasting mark. This name was deeply etched.

We noticed several of the names had letters printed backwards - a glimpse into another era.

We're not sure about old 'Tex' here since he seems to be claiming the title of Wagonmaster twenty years after the wagon trains ended. Maybe he returned years later to sign the cliff.

Of course not all the emigrants made it to their destinations. One sign stated that 20,000 died enroute, mostly of cholera and other diseases.

The third site was Fort Laramie. It was built in 1834 by a fur trader as a trading post. In the 1840s it became a stopping point for the emigrant parties following the Oregon Trail. In 1849, the Army bought the fort and made it a military outpost which protected the emigrants and hosted major treaty councils.

Since I was melting from the heat by then, this is the only picture I took and that was mostly for the nice clouds. This is the remains of the fort hospital.

But I did admire this bridge built in 1875 by the Army over the North Platte River. The North Platte is a wide flat river and unnavigable. This is only a third of the bridge with two more spans out of the shot. It seems to be quite a feat for the time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Devils Tower

For a couple of nights, we stayed in a national forest campground just outside of Sundance, WY. It was so dark at night that when I turned out the lights, I thought I was going blind. Fortunately with my tinnitus (ringing in the ear), I didn't have a problem with the quiet.

In the northeast corner of Wyoming, about 30 miles from Sundance, is my favorite natural monument - Devils Tower. Here's the monolith rising from the surrounding land.

Of course I took too many pictures - here's my favorite. You can really see all the amazing flutes that make up the landmark.

What created this tower, you ask? Rather than copy the sign, I'll just post it. (You might have to click on it to read it.)

Here you can also see the base and rubble. We understand that small rocks fall fairly often, but it's been a long time since a large chuck fell.

All the sides look different. This one seems to have even more fluting and is more intact, but here the trail is farther away from the tower. I wonder if they're expecting it to crumble soon.

Hum. I think I see where this piece came from.

There is a charming Native American legend about the formation of the tower. Seven little girls were playing one day when a bear began to chase them. They climbed on a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock to save them. The rock grew upwards pushing them out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, leaving the marks you see today. The rock continued to grow and the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they became a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades.)

Devils Tower is very popular with climbers. Would you believe that Ron climbed up to get this shot of one of them?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Black Hills to Sundance

On our way out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, we made a stop in Deadwood. They were having an antique car show so the town was a zoo, but we managed to find a place to park the RV within walking distance of downtown. We just hoped nobody parked us in before we returned.

There were a lot of interesting buildings in addition to old cars and people. (sorry about shooting into the sun)

We heard the Mt. Moriah Cemetery (established in 1877 and also known as Boot Hill) was only five blocks away so we thought we'd walk to it. Well, it was straight uphill! Quite a workout on a hot day. Wild Bill Hickok is buried there, right next to Calamity Jane. Calamity Jane's last request was to be buried beside Wild Bill.

Out of the 3600 or so graves, only about a third are marked. I found that sad - all those people whose loved ones never knew what happened to them or, worse yet, who had nobody to care what happened to them.

There is quite a view of the town from the cemetery.

And we noticed this cute guy on the way down. Somebody was clever and carved one limb of a standing tree. I'm not too sure about the color of the house though.

Leaving the RV parked, we zipped over to Spearfish Canyon. Our friend Sally had said how beautiful it is, so I had to see it. She was right. There are lots of impressive canyon walls. . .

And we did a short hike to Roughlock Falls which took us by this lovely meadow.

When we arrived back at the RV, Ron was able to wiggle it out and we moved to Spearfish (Walmart) for the night. We haven't done that in awhile and I forgot how noisy it is. I would say that you get what you pay for, but since we also shopped, it was pretty expensive.

The next day we continued west and arrived in Wyoming. Soon after crossing the state line, we saw a sign for Vore Buffalo Jump. Being the curious sort, we followed the signs. It was pretty interesting. Between 1500 and 1800, the ancestors of Plains Indian tribes killed and butchered as many as 20,000 bison by driving them into this large sinkhole. (That's Ron down there with all that red dirt.)

Scouts took days to carefully herd the scattered bison into a large group near the jump site. Other tribe members were positioned along 'drive lines' to funnel the herd toward the 'jump.' When all was in place, the bison were stampeded over the jump. This impressive diorama was in the free museum in Sundance.

I guess this is the brave with the lowest seniority.

There is excavation work being done at the site. They've found thick layers of butchered bone extending to 20 feet below the current ground surface in the bottom of the sinkhole! The excavated hole was covered and locked when we visited, but this poster shows the layers of bones inside the hole. Amazing!

On we went to Sundance, Wyoming - where the Sundance Kid got his name. In 1887, Harry Longabough spent time in the Sundance jail when he stole a horse from a local ranch. This was his first real brush with the law and from this event, he acquired his outlaw name. Here I am with the famous Kid - I don't think he looks much like Robert Redford, though.

I just liked this sculpture. Maybe this is the Sundance Kid in later years.

This jail was built in 1913 and seems a little small even for then. But the kicker is that it was used until 1964!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On to Custer State Park

Continuing our adventures in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we took a day to see Custer State Park, but first we had to get there.

We drove up and up and over a few of these so called 'pig tails' where the road loops over on itself. They are lovely wooden curved bridges made to blend in with the forest.

And we went through tunnels like this one. What is that saying about the light at the end of the tunnel being a train? Well, in this case, it's a bus.

But what's special about these tunnels is that each of the three is oriented to have a view of the presidents. (Yes, Ron backed up for me to take this. What a guy!)

Finally at the top of the pass was a wonderful overlook. The Black Hills are so named because the dark pine trees make them look black (or at least hard to photograph.) That's Mt. Rushmore on the right.

Finally, we reached Custer SP, home of the welfare donkeys. Yikes! Ron told me not to get out of the car!

When they realized I didn't have any food (just a camera,) they left me to surround the car. I was so surprised I forgot to take a picture of that comical sight. But isn't this little guy just adorable?

We took the popular Needles Highway and saw magnificent rock spires like these.

And everybody got out of their cars to watch a bus navigate this tight spot.

We stopped at the unique Sylvan Lake. It's a man made lake, but they only had to built a dam about 30 feet across. The lake is surrounded by interesting rock croppings.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Black Hills, SD

For the past few days, we have been completely out of touch - no cell phone, TV, or internet. I found it funny how that made me feel, especially since I don't get or make many phone calls and there's nothing good on TV except the Olympics which I haven't even been watching. So that leaves the internet. Am I that addicted to it? For shame. But here I am doing a posting. There are things one just has to accept about oneself.

We've been in the Black Hills at a Forest Service campground on Lake Pactola. This was our first view of the lake taken from the dam.

The campground (of the same name) was lovely and we had our choice of sites. Unfortunately, this is one of the campgrounds run by a concessionaire instead of the forest service. This means pricey. I can't believe anybody would pay $21 a night for just a place to park - no hookups - even if it is lovely. We certainly wouldn't so it's a good thing Ron has that magical Golden Age pass.

The first thing we did was run over to see Mt. Rushmore. I hadn't been there since I was young, but remember the awe I felt then. My feelings are still just as strong - what an amazing feat and slice of Americana. We took the trail to the very base of the rubble - it was just breath taking.

I had forgotten that the sculptor Gutson Borglum had planned to include the presidents' torsos as part of the monument, but work pretty much stopped when he died in 1941. It's hard to imagine it looking the way he had planned.

Mr. Borglum, aided by some 400 workers, devoted 14 years to creating the monument, from 1927 to 1941. It cost slightly under one million dollars. That seems like a bargain today.

This handsome fellow caused a stir among the tourists.

Later, we ran across the Mrs. and the kid.

Ron and the presidents.

Then we went to the Crazy Horse monument to check on the progress there. I found the tripod holes (as Diana describes the spot where everybody takes a picture) and you can see the model in the foreground and the monument in progress in the back.

In 1947, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski arrived in the Black Hills to accept Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear's invitation to carve a monument to Chief Crazy Horse. The first blast was June of 1948 and for years Mr. Ziolkowski worked alone on the monument. He and his wife Ruth had ten children and in time seven of them also worked on the mountain. Today many of them are still involved in some aspect of the monument work. Mr. Ziolkowski knew that Crazy Horse was larger than any one lifetime, so he and Ruth prepared three books to be used with his scale models to continue the project. He died in 1982, but work continues, financed completely with admission fees and donations.

The 1880 train travels between Hill City and Keystone several times a day. I believe the 1880 name is used with artistic license since I doubt this engine is really that old.

Shameless commercialism in Keystone.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Across South Dakota

For the past several days, we've been making our way across South Dakota. It's been a little warmer than I prefer - in the mid to upper 80's. Maybe I'm just spoiled because it was nice and cool in Canada and Minnesota. Anyway, I thought it was time to catch the blog up to current.

Even before entering the state, the signs began - the famous Wall Drug that hooked travelers with the offer of free ice water. I guess you don't have to built a palace to get attention.

Brenda said there would be sunflowers and there were.

Fields of them.

When we stopped at a rest area, some cars pulled in and teams of four got out, tied ropes around their legs, and pushed the cars across the length of the parking area. I was very interested because the rear windows said something about the Amazing Race which is one of my favorite TV shows. However Ron thought it was just a local thing since there weren't cameras following them.

I googled information on the Amazing Race. Their 13th season is set to begin Sept. 28 and is already filmed. However the 14th season is currently being shot and I couldn't find out where. Who knows?

This helpful sign told us what to do next.

The name Badlands comes from early French trappers who called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser which even I know from my high school French means 'the bad lands to cross.'

And I can see why. Imagine crossing the prairie on a nice grassy flat plain and suddenly the earth drops off.

My favorite section was where the minerals tinted the hills.

Then we make our way to Wall Drug. What a place! It covers two square blocks and consists of many sections that I would call individual stores, but they're all the same store. They sell everything from leather goods to fresh made donuts (Ron liked that.) They also have lots of things for the kids to play on - here's one now.

And a T-rex that comes to life every 12 minutes!

We're currently at the Elks lodge in Rapid City trying to decide if we should move the RV into the Black Hills or take day trips from here. Last night we went to Flying T Chuckwagon Supper.

After a cowboy meal of barbecue beef or chicken, baked potato, beans, applesauce, biscuit, and spice cake, we were entertained by a very talented group which included this lady with her unusual bass fiddle/washtub.

Here's a sample - I really thought they were fantastic!

They also had some audience participation. These lucky (?) folks were given appropriate hats and instruments. The lady on the washboard was unbelievably good!

This picture was taken way back in Mitchell at the Cabela's where we stayed, but I thought it belonged at the end.