Saturday, July 01, 2006

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Grand Teton

The way we had the intinerary set up, the plan was to spend 4 days total in Grand Teton and Yellowstone with the majority of time in Yellowstone. Because of the outstanding guidance we received, it was the other way around.

There are some hidden perks to being a teacher... in this case one of my former outstanding history and philosophy students just happend to be working for Flagg Ranch -- a lodge/restaurant/camping facility right smack in between Teton and Yellowstone.

John Rogers is an amazing individual. He is around 20 with the maturity of a thirty year-old. He is also incredibly kind, smiles easily, posesses a warm, infectious humor with just a smattering of his teacher's cynicism and dry sarcasm, and is surpassing his former philosophy teacher by reading lots of philosophy in the original rather than mere commentary. John also has a wonderful girlfriend, Annie Mae, who appears to be his perfect match in every way.

I host an annual party for my graduating seniors and my former students. When John didn't show up and I found out he was in the direction I was headed, I put the word out for him to contact me, which he dutifully did. And then, the gravy. He hooked us up with 4 nights for a whopping 10 bucks a night PLUS a free Snake River float trip PLUS he and Annie Mae's wonderful company and excellent advice where to spend our precious time. Genna and Annie Mae became lifelong friends as an added bonus -- it was hard to imagine four more kindred spirits than we all turned out to be.

The actual spot we stayed in was the employee dorms which are also used in the event that the main inn is overbooked. Actually, there's not much difference in quality between the inn and dorms but there is a HUGE difference in price - 150 bucks vs. 10! The dorms were actually a motel that were originally in Yellowstone or Teton proper -- the Park Service wanted them gone so the owner struck a deal -- give me land right outside the park and move my motel sand you got a deal. So they jacked them up, braced them, and moved them several miles. The braces remain -- here are interior and exterior shots of them: Here are the dorms themselves - A, B, and C. We were told that C is for the hard-core partiers, A is for the nerds (very quiet), and B is somewhere in between. We got A. John and Annie Mae took us to a great restaurant at Leek's Marina which sits on the edge of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton.That's Mount Moran in the background. At 12,605 feet in shorter than Grand Teton by about 1,000 feet but is far more massive, giving it the appearance of having a higher summit. Our pesto pizza with chicken was wonderful.

The next morning, per John's suggestion, we headed towards String Lake in Teton. The original plan was to just sit in our chairs and read but when Genna saw a trail name that appealed to her, we were off for an impromptu 4.5 mile hike to Hidden Falls. The scenery along the way was beautiful Now, yours truly is not in the best hiking shape but I kept up with Genna throughout the first leg of the hike. As we got to the falls (or what I thought was the falls) we got separated. I wandered around and couldn't find her so I started to head back. When I got to the car I surprised that she wasn't there, so I slumped into the seat and cranked the A/C. Thirty minutes later still no Genna. Just as real panic was starting to set in, I saw her walking towards the car. "How did you get behind me?", I asked. "Well, you never went to the falls." "Yes, I did." "No, you DID NOT!" "Well, I was there at that bridge and all that rushing water." "That was the BOTTOM of the falls, the TOP, the falls themselves were another quarter mile up. I waited and waited, took some pictures and decided you weren't coming."

So here are the Hidden Falls I missed. The next day we went for another short hike and this time we both missed the supposed highlight of the trail. The highlight was Huckleberry Hot Springs which is a favorite soaking spot for hard core visitors, locals, and seasonal employees. John told me that the Flagg Ranch staff had recently been instructed to destroy all maps indicating the springs and to deny knowledge of it to inquiring tourists -- he tries to send us to it, but we didn't cross the piddly little brook, around which was the elusive springs. Maybe it's just as well. Here's why the Park and the Ranch was steering people away but many think this is just a ruse to reduce traffic to the equivalent of a highly-valued fishing hole.That evening was one of the highlights of the trip -- a sunset float trip down the Snake River.

We headed out for our 40 minute trip to rendezvous with the rafts and vans. On the way, in the middle of nowhere, was a mobile radar manned by a couple of soldiers. Weird sight out here I thought. We loaded up in the vans towing the huge rafts and headed ten miles back up to the put-in spot --- you basically float for 2.5 hrs back to your car. On the way to the pu-in spot, our driver/boatman pointed out the radar installation and said, "You see that radar spinning, that means Dick Cheney is coming to town." "Are you for real?", I asked. "Oh, yeah", he said, "you know he's on his way in a day or two -- that radar's out there all the time but it spins when he's on his way."

The float trip was so serene. Our boatman Steve was not only an accomplished navigator, he was a master of the local history, geology, botany, and wildlife. We saw several eagles, including an entire bald eagle family -- the young were LARGER than the adults. Steve said they are fluffier because of their down and about a pound heavier until the parents kick them out of the nest for good. We also saw sandpiper cranes, beaver, and a moose cow with twin calves -- Wyoming Wildlife BINGO!

Then Steve related an interesting story. He pointed out to the bank of the Snake where Big Dick likes to fish. It is in that same area that the eagles like to nest and thus the area is off-limits to fishermen (but not rafts) a few weeks a year. Well, a couple of years ago, Dick wanted to fish there during the nesting season. And, if you're the former CEO of Halliburton and W's righthand man, the rules, of course, do not apply to you. Apparently one of the boatmen was so outraged that he spilled his guts to any media outlet that would listen and Big Dick was busted. So, now, according to Steve, when Dick wants to fish during that time of year in that spot, the Park Service removes the signs a few days before he comes and replaces them when he leaves! Steve noted in the Vice-President's favor, that "it probably doesn't make that much of a difference...the area is one of the most protected in general so the eagles are probably OK....still, you'd think the Vice-President of the United States would be more sensitive when it came to the national bird..."

I couldn't believe my ears. Not the part where Dick Cheney is an asshole -- I knew that. It was the part where somebody in the tourist biz, where politcs are a taboo topic with the "guests", was moved to speak so openly. And this wasn't some PETA member, white-wine liberal with a Greenpeace sticker on his Volvo nor a young woman named Butterfly. These sentiments were courtesy of a guy who looked like the Marlboro Man, a rugged individualist, a Wyomingian through and through, a guy that sounded like he had voted Republican since he could vote, was sincerely befuddled that Cheney was such a huge Dick. I Googled the incident -- you can read more about it


Thermopolis made the itinerary beacuse we needed a waypoint between Deadwood and Grand Teton/Yellowstone and because I thought (bad thinking, I think) that approaching those two national parks from the south would be the best. And the fact that Thermopolis gets its name from hot mineral springs and has cool dinosaurs to look at also appealed to me.

Well, all Thermopolis turned out to be good for was a few laughs, updating the blog regarding the Black Hills/Badlands visit, getting the laundry done, and getting an overpriced dinner.

We stayed at the Rainbow Motel...

....which has some interesting rules...

...seems like that they have a novel problem with "sneak-ins".... I made sure I spelled Genna's name right and everything. The next morning we went to the laundromat with this wonderful name...

Again, we found another novel problem -- "Greasers!" I suppose this refers to the bikers who probably come through Thermopolis to the Strugis Rally is seems to be the regional obsession in a 250 mile radius from Sturgis and is taking place this week. I see G. Gordon Liddy is going to be there so I'm missing seeing him for the third time (saw him in 1980 and 1983). Anyway, the laundromat is segregated, Jim Crow-style between "greasers" and non...
So bikers have one set of machines for their oily jeans etc. and then there are machines for the rest of us....thank you Wishy Washy for our very clean and non-greasy clothes. I hope the concept expands to the fast-food industry. Goodbye Thermopolis and Genna thanks you for your 18 inch soft serve ice cream cones right beside the motel...

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Well, it's Thu. Aug. 8th, and it's been well over a week since the last post. Lack of internet access, too much fun, and almost 700 miles on the road a day conspired to keep us dark. Much catching up to do -- lots of good pictures. Here goes Deadwood.

As stated on the audiopost, it was quite hot as we pulled in around noon. Luckily we happened onto the visitor center -- one of the few things worth seeing in the town. About 8 displays to read which provided an excellent overview of Deadwood's colorful history. We then walked across the street to the excellent Adam's Museum and House - item #2 of the three things worth seeing in Deadwood. Lots of very cool turn of the century technology, law enforcement paraphernalia, a stuffed two-headed calf, clothing -- all with excellent explanations.

We then ambled down the street to the the Number 10 Saloon, named for the original which was named for the gold claim number - the proprietor figured (correctly) as did Al Swearengen of the Gem Saloon fame, that there was a lot more money in booze and women than relying on the vagaries of panning for gold. Three times a day, there is a re-enactment of the killing of Wild Bill Hickock by Jack McCall. The guy playing Hickock was almost as good as Carradine. The only other genuine actor was the guy playing McCall. Wild Bill recruited from the scores of tourists packing the saloon and casino the other four key participants in the drama -- three other card players the day Wild Bill met his fate, and the bartender. The non-SAG members improvised beautifully with just a few minutes of coaching from Bill offstage.

Wild Bill enjoying a friendly game of cards at the #10

The slimy Jack McCall shoots Wild Bill in the head from behindThe murdered Hickcock, holding the famed "Dead Man's Hand"

As the legend goes, Wild Bill, who was always cognizant of the fact that people were potentially gunning for him, showed up to the game last. He insisted that he get a chair so that he could keep his back to the wall. On this particular occasion the player refused to relinquish his chair and so Bill was left vulnerable...and ultimately paid the price.

Later that night the town recreated the capture and trial of Jack McCall. Unbelievably bad. The emphasis was on creating 80 minutes of "family" entertainment on the level of a WB sitcom rather than anything approaching historical accuracy. Genna and I escaped as soon as we could.

Earlier in the evening, we did go to the Mt. Moriah cemetery to see the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. Jane apparently claimed to have been a friend and/or lover of Bill's -- his version, the accepted one, is that they merely road into Deadwood together on the stage coach. Jane stuck to her story long after Bill's death and got her wish to be buried next to him.

Thoughtful tokens left behind for Bill. I know he would have loved the rocks and the hairband.

Deadwood from the vantage of Mt. Moriah cemetery. The town got its name because it lay at the bottom of two steep inclines where dead timber rolled down to the ravine -- originally getting the name Deadwood Gulch.

What brought Deadwood back to life after numerous reincarnations from floods, fires, the gold and then other minerals running out, was legalized gambling in the late 90's. Genna noted that prostitution wasn't made ILLEGAL in Deadwood until 1980. Unfortunately, while giving the town an economic shot in the arm and giving rise to the largest historical preservation project in the US, the continuous presence of slot machines created an obnoxious homogeneous aesthetic to the town. Genna noted that every establishment SOUNDED the same as well as looking the same. To be fair in our review, we skipped the two Kevin Costner attractions: his four-star restaurant Jake's and his buffalo exhibit Tatanka which is supposed to be good. We wuz just too tuckered as we crashed into our motel for the night.

The Penny Motel

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Black Hills & Badlands Part 6 - Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Custer State Park

The original plan for 7/22, our second day in the Badlands, was to do a bit of roaming around the park and just take a long siesta. Well, because of Dotty's exhortations, we took a day-long side trip. The first leg was the forementioned Wall Drug and then we were back into the car headed for Mt. Rushmore.

The commercialization from Rapid City all the 40 mile way into Rushmore was revolting -- think the worst aspects of Maggie Valley, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg and you're almost there. Once we got into the slim perimeter of protected lands, it got better...and then the familiar scene came into view. Rather than spending the 8 bucks to park and to go the museum, Genna navigated to the employee parking lot immediately behind the musuem where I snagged this shotRight around a bend in the road, there was a pull-off where you could view the profile of George...

And so we continued on to the Crazy Horse monument which poses as a sort of politically correct counter to Rushmore. You can read all about it here -- the story of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who essentially gave over half his life to the project is quite moving as is the fact that his widow and seven of his ten children continue on with the mammoth project 47 years after the first blast. The ultimate plan is to have a medical university and several other facilties at the monument.

Here's the view of what's been completed

The finished piece is to look like this

The finished monument will have this "poem" sculpted into the side of the mountain - the last line is attributed to Crazy Horse himself and dovetails with the scupture's detail as he points:

"When the course of history has been told Let these truths here carved be known:
Conscience dictates civilizations live And duty ours to place before the world. A chronicle which will long endure For like all things under us and beyond. Inevitably we must pass into oblivion. This land of refuge to the stranger Was ours for countless eons before: Civilizations majestic and mighty. Our gifts were many which we shared And gratitude for them was known. But later given my oppressed ones Weremurder, rape and sanguine war. Looking from whence invaders came, Greedy usurpers of our heritage. For us the past is in our hearts. The future never to be fulfilled. To you I give this granite epic. For your descendants to always know- My lands are where my dead lie buried. "

There was an awesome museum. One woman had a fantastic t-shirt and I offered her my opinion. I then asked if I could photograph it. Instead of doing that I purchased this poster with the same content...speaks for itself.

For the moment, because of time constraints, you'll have to enjoy Genna's photographs of the buffalo at Custer State Park without commentary.

We're headed to Teton/Yellowstone today --could be dark here at the blog for a week given the absence of technology but we'll post as soon as we're able.


John & Genna

Black Hills & Badlands Part 5 - The World's Biggest Ball of Yarn a.k.a. Wall Drug

Genna tells me, with a wink, that every pharmacist is required to make a pilgrimage to Wall Drug in Wall, SD. And since it was just a few miles down I-90 West from the Badlands, the pilgrimage we did make.

The legend of Wall Drug is rather simple. A struggling family pharmacy was trying to figure out show to increase business out on the South Dakota prairie. They had the brainstorm that travelers coming across the prairie would want some ice water, so they started putting up signs along the highway advertising chilled H2O for free. It has since expanded into its own mega tourist trap - the town of Wall and Wall Drug have essentially become synonymous.
I started to twitch the instant I got out of the car. Then we went inside to mill with the throngs and view the t-shirts, the shit, the t-shirts, the sugary food, the shit, the t-shirts, the caps, the souvenir spoons, the mugs, and the t-shirts.

Then the T-Rex who arises, spews smoke, and screams a la' Jurassic Park every 12 minutes did his thing
We went into the "museum"...
Genna spotted and photographed this homely Indian with his papoose
It was all pretty awful -- Genna said that the cappucino was the worst she ever had - I tossed my expresso as well.

Genna, BEFORE the cappucino arrived

We moved on to the Main St. of Wall where it got worse. Given the fact that the Sioux from the Black Hills were largely displaced because white greed for gold, this setup was disturbing:
Genna once pointed out some souvenir cats that were repulsively constructed, in a very non-PETA protocol fashion, from rabbit fur. Here's such a critter that has the added bonus of appearing dead:
And we have very safe, "good" Indians to take back home
On to Mt. Rushmore.....