Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Great Plains; Where is Waldo? Waterfront Views; Was That Darth Vader? A Migrating Donkey; Perry, Iowa; A Cool Bridge; Utopia

It was a pretty boring trip on I-70 across eastern Colorado and Kansas. Hour after hour of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) grazing land, or corn, alfalfa and wheat fields baking in the sun… the occasional painted silo that reminded me of oatmeal boxes from the 50s… the pungent odors of tractor-trailers carrying cattle and pigs (do they ever wash those things out?) The temps outside were 100F+, so we had to PT early in the morning to beat the heat. Then we would get on the road and drive in one hour stints until about 5:00 PM, when we’d find a campground, have dinner and get some sleep for the next day’s drive. We only average about 250-300 miles a day on the Interstate, and much less when we’re taking the scenic routes on state or county roads.

Road signs are often interesting. Unfortunately, when you’re driving by at 60 mph, it’s hard to capture them with the camera. My recent favorite in Kansas was outside Quinter, Kansas, pop. 918: “Free land and water. Move here.” Quinter had some brief national notoriety in 2006 when longtime resident Waldo McBurney, age 104, was proclaimed the oldest worker in the United States. The town was built at the site of an old railroad switching station called Melota. It was renamed in the 1880s after a local Baptist Brethren minister, Rev. James Quinter. I suppose rural farm life continues to be a tough sell to young people; the median age here is 48 years. It has to be tough being a 48 year old farmer and wondering who is going to take over your farm when you retire. Quinter’s soda fountain is pretty cool, though…

The highlight of our trip across Kansas was stopping at Milford Lake State Park, where we had a “Prime” campsite looking out onto Kansas’ largest lake. (Often very expensive, this site was only $22.50 per night, a real bargain!) Not everyone liked it, though... we are out of prairie dog land, and squirrel country is still ahead of us, so the puppies were a bit put out. As we say, “It’s a dog’s life.” (This photo shows the view from our coach in this idyllic spot).
The lake was just an overnight stop, but the next morning we again visited Fort Riley, KS, home of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One. It was a brief side trip just to use the gym, where the average age was 22… (geez, I could be their grandfather!) Some of the guys in the weight room looked like The Incredible Hulk, with biceps bigger than my thighs. One young man was wearing an Altitude Training Mask that reduced the amount of air he was breathing to simulate high altitudes (like Afghanistan). He was breathing like Darth Vader in Star Wars, but it evidently works. Many of these soldiers will be returning to A-stan in the near future, and their time back in Kansas is spent training and preparing for their next deployment, wherever that might be. I suggested to My Lovely Bride that she might want to wear one of these while jogging around The Villages next Spring in anticipation of our return to the Rockies.  For some reason, she did not seem to appreciate this idea.

We had dinner Friday night at the Elks Lodge in Grandview, Missouri, with a very friendly group of locals, including one gentleman who just bought a house in The Villages, in the new area south of 466A. When his buddy found out that we were from TV, he asked me, “Are you a Republican?” “Yes, I am,” I replied, a bit surprised, “Why?” He said, “Well, Ed here is a Democrat, and we told him that there weren’t any Democrats in The Villages… He’s going to be pretty lonely down there! Ha, ha, ha!” I assured Ed that while his party might be in the minority in The Villages, I had heard of at least two Democrats, so he would probably have someone to talk politics to when he moved down…”  
Oh, and Rudy and Gretchen asked me to include a paragraph on their latest conquest... this morning we were walking in the field where we were parked, and we startled a huge groundhog. He must have weighed 30 lbs., and was bigger than both our puppies put together. He dove back into his hole, but our fierce Dachshunds made enough noise to keep him in that hole for a week. They would have gone in after him had they not been on leads... that would have been ugly! (This critter looks as intimidating as a sumo wrestler!)
It’s nice being just one time zone away from home, even though our return is still a month away. Suzanne can call her mom and not worry about being three hours early (or late) by mistake. Also, we won’t be getting calls from friends who may have forgotten that we were out west at our 0600/their 0900, when they have already finished breakfast and the front nine at the golf course and we’re still enjoying blissful slumber in the dark.

We are now in Perry, Iowa, again at an Elks Lodge, with 50 amp electrical hookup, which they had just wired today, especially for us! (That was a real blessing, because the temps are still in the 90s during the day. Normally we have to settle for 30 amps, and we have to use our appliances and air conditioning sparingly so as not to overload the electrical circuits.) I got to watch the last few minutes of the Central Illinois vs. Iowa Hawkeyes football game this afternoon at the Elks bar when I checked in. Unfortunately, the home team lost by 3 points. It was not a happy place. What was nice was the Pizza Hut just across the street, where we got two medium pan pizzas for $10.70. You can’t beat that in The Villages! Tomorrow morning we’re going on a bike ride on the High Trestle Trail north of Des Moines. The trail follows abandoned railway tracks and a ½ mile long, 13 story high trestle over the Des Moines River valley, one of the largest railroad bridges in the world. Here is the bridge lighted up at night; unfortunately, we arrived too tired to ride that late…

You may not be aware that southern Iowa was the site of several Utopian communities back in the 19th Century. Many of these folks left European countries which had been racked by revolutions, and sought to create a simple, egalitarian, communal life unconnected with the wider American society. Most failed within a decade or two; the most successful was the Amana Colony, a group of 6 villages on 18,000 acres around Iowa City. These villages flourished until the 1930s, when the stresses and freedoms of modern society became too great for many members to resist. English language services in many Amana churches were introduced only in the 1960s, and many are still bilingual (German and English). (Many of these communities are mistaken for Amish, but the Amanians do not generally use buggies, for example).

Tomorrow we also depart Perry, Iowa on our next leg to Coon Rapids (I’m not making this up; people actually live there!), Minnesnowta to visit our good friend Terri of the Frozen North, who has had some recent medical challenges and needs some cheering up. Maybe I’ll recreate my “Keta salmon makes me bark like a dog” routine for her… and maybe not, unless I want to sleep outside under the coach. (My Lovely Bride rarely loses her normally terrific sense of humor, but after a week of my barking, I think she’s finally getting weary of it.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fish or Dog? Biker Babe’s New Toy; Is Ty a Redneck? A Tale of Two Oreos (Size Does Matter); Slide #1 Back in Action

I am in deep doo-doo. It’s a long story, so I’ll start at the beginning. I was having some frustrations with repairs to The Coach and with my new Windows 8 computer, which was not connecting to the Wi-Fi at the RV shop. My Lovely Bride took pity on me and said, “I’m going to run out and get some salmon for dinner.” She is so considerate and sweet; she knows that salmon is one of my favorite meals. So, off she goes… meanwhile, I walked the puppies in their favorite rabbit hunting ground.

We had just returned to our home on wheels when Suzanne returned from Safeway with a big smile on her face. “I’ve got dinner under control. You go sit down and have a glass of wine.” Well, this was going to be a treat. A few minutes later, the dinner bell rang, and we sat down to a feast. Perfectly prepared salmon, spinach and Asiago cheese-sprinkled bread… a meal fit for a king. As we were eating, Suzanne mentioned what a bargain the Keta salmon was… she even asked the fishmonger if it was overdate or anything, because she had never seen salmon marked down to $2.00/pound (this particular type was normally $7.99). He replied that, no, it was fine, they had just over-ordered, and their customers were reaping the benefits of their mistake. Great! I said to her, “Keta salmon… I’m not familiar with that particular fish…” So, I looked it up on Google right in the middle of the meal. (MISTAKE #1) 

I shared with her the Wikipedia entry for “Keta salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), also known as chum or dog salmon, the least commercially valuable salmon. Despite being extremely plentiful in Alaska, commercial fishermen often choose NOT to fish for them because of their low market value…” Also, it’s what the Eskimos used to feed their dogs before Alpo arrived in Univik. (MISTAKE #2)

Okay, I might have survived this event unscathed had I not started laughing and barking like a dog… (MISTAKE #3) Rudy and Gretchen looked at me in awe, but My Lovely Bride looked at me coldly after my fourth round of barking and said very quietly, “If you don’t stop, you’ll be wearing your glass of red wine on your white polo shirt.”  (Sometimes you just never know what’s going to make your bride laugh, cry or assault you.) Smack!

On a brighter note, while Suzanne was giving a reading the other day, I was dispatched to REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc., an “outdoorsy stuff” co-op) to get her a new toy. She has been complaining about the bike rack we have been using for the past couple of years.  She said the bikes were "all kerschlimmel," which is allegedly Pennsylvania Dutch for hanging crooked and looking like the Beverly Hillbillies.  While we were at an Estes Park trailhead, she saw just the kind she’s always wanted. (Great, I thought, recalling the old Navy saying… “Better is the enemy of good enough…”). After navigating terrible weekend traffic on I-25 and then in downtown Denver, I arrived at REI, purchased and loaded a new Thule platform-style bike rack. Here is Biker Babe admiring the newly-installed equipment on our toad.
Today, Suzanne got together with two friends at Pinocchio’s Italian Restaurant in Longmont, Colorado. Rusty is Suzanne's good friend Elizabeth's cousin. Suzanne had given a very touching and evidential reading to Annell's daughter/Rusty's goddaughter last year. Annell had ordered Messages of Hope for a friend, and Suzanne was happy to be able to deliver it in person. This was also the first opportunity for the ladies to get together since we returned to the Denver area.

Okay, back to the outdoors... and trees… I’m not talking about broccoli, but real trees. We passed this beauty on a recent hike near the Cache le Poudre River. It looks like it’s growing right out of a granite boulder!
Speaking of the outdoors, you cannot think about American outdoorsmen without at least a passing reference to "rednecks". What is a "redneck", really? Well, historically, in Scotland in the 1640s, the original term referred to a group of Presbyterians who objected to rule by bishops, and in the days preceding the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Bishop's War, wore red neck cloths to display their rebellious nature. The earliest documented usage of the term refers to Presbyterians of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Today, it is a term often used derogatorily by Eastern liberals against Southern conservatives. This leads into our next paragraph...

Every now and then I see a toy I want. I’m not talking about Heidi Klum, but trucks… BIG trucks… real REDNECK trucks. I found this one in a lot near Malmstrom AFB. I thought that maybe I could use it back in The Villages for driving the two miles to the grocery, or maybe in lieu of a golf cart on those rare days when I hit the links. (Or maybe I could use this to carry elk carcasses back from a Morse family hunting trip...) But then there is the issue of not being able to fit it into the garage without some serious modifications to our house roof line, but I’m sure My Lovely Bride would understand.  (Ya' think?)

Speaking of redneck paraphernalia, I found this business just a half mile from where The Coach is being repaired. Was finding this sign “a synchronicity”, or just “a sign”? Hmmmm….
Next, a "Tale of Two Oreos"... My Lovely Bride recalled from our last trip to Canada that I had really enjoyed the different taste of Oreos made in that part of North America. So, on visit to Alberta, she bought three packages of Canadian Double-Stuffed Oreos. "What difference can their be?", you ask? Well, as an Oreo Expert Class V, I can affirm that they are very different. Of course, they share the same "baker" or "manufacturer", depending on your level of gastronomic selectivity.
However, Canadian Oreos (also known as "biscuits sandwichs au chocolat" to our French-speaking neighbors, and sandwiches de galletas de chocolate to our Hispanic neighbors... dontcha love political correctness in packaging?) shown on the left are smaller and slightly sweeter, and the cookie part much more dense than their American counterparts at right. "How dense?", you ask?
Well, I like my Oreos refrigerated. On the first bite of a cold Canadian (Canadien?) Oreo, I almost broke an incisor... It was as hard as rock! I had to soak it in milk for a minute or two to make it safe to eat. Then I realized why it was so hard... the Canucks use them as practice hockey pucks for grade schoolers!
Finally, thanks to hard work by Expert RV Technicians David and Robert, we achieved success in getting Slide #1 repaired, effectively increasing our usable living area by 40%. Here is Her Highness relaxing and celebrating in luxury on her pull-out couch...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

At the Bar with the Mafia; Incarcerated; Bath Day

We had drinkees and din-din the other night with the Fort Collins Spiritual Mafia. (They aren’t all teetotalers.)  While we were at our first venue (drinkees), we were seated in the bar area at high-top tables, and it was the “grab your own drinks or go thirsty” plan, servers or waitresses not being part of management’s resource planning. After a half hour or so, I noticed that the chair to my left, nominally occupied by My Lovely Bride, was empty. At first I thought she might be (a) in the loo; (b) dancing with that suave Italian-looking guy from another table; or (c) chatting with friends on the other side of our three pushed-together tables. After scanning the horizon and eliminating all three possibilities, I noted with shock that she was in an unexpected position, belly-up to the bar. I leapt up, ran over and said very quietly, “What the heck are you doing?” She looked back at me with deer-in-the-headlights innocence and replied, “I’m getting myself a glass of water.” I had to refresh her in Ty’s Bar Rule #3: If you are Ty’s date (ancient history) or wife (present day), you do not go to the bar and ask for a drink, be it wine, tequila, coffee, tea or water. That is Ty’s job (remember, he is a Southern Gentleman). (Fortunately, even though she is from Pennsylvania, she is a quick learner, and I don’t expect to have to repeat this lesson for many years to come.)

On Friday we had planned on departing Estes Park, CO, at 0800 to head to the RV dealership where we purchased The Coach for some repairs to the front passenger side slideout (henceforth known as “Slideout #1). Its (marginally-engineered) bearings and track assembly had degraded over the past two months to the point where we could not use it. Well, when we tried to retract our rear passenger side bedroom slideout (henceforth known as “Slideout #2”), lo, it would not retract. This provided an interesting problem: you cannot drive with a slideout in the “Out” position, for two reasons: (1) you would exceed the maximum legal width allowed on the highway, and (2) there is a transmission interlock that prevents you from putting the coach in gear. We were effectively anchored to our campsite. A call to the dealer whom we had been harassing (er, communicating with) for several weeks got a very nice and competent technician on the road in a truck within a few minutes. We were impressed, because their planned work schedule is very tight, and we were 50 miles away. Within a couple of hours, he had arrived, solved the problem (a faulty sensor), and we were on our way.

The Coach is now at the aforementioned dealership in Frederick, Colorado, population 8,679. (Denver is a suburb of Frederick, according to some locals I met). In any case, we arrived on Friday afternoon, signed the work order, and were shown to a spot inside the huge gated RV complex (with electric hookup, thank you very much, and an adjacent parking spot for our “toad” car) awaiting commencement of repairs Monday morning. We drove out in t-o-w-n to w-a-l-k the puppies Friday evening, returning about 9:00 PM. The service desk had mentioned that we had to be back by midnight when the yard gate was locked; it would not reopen until 0630 Saturday morning. “No problem; that’s an easy schedule to meet.” Well, it was easy until Saturday evening about 7:45 PM, when we decided to drive the car to a nearby (17 miles away) bookstore for a copy of “Windows 8 for Dummies”, knowing that we’d only be gone an hour or so. Imagine our shock when we turned the corner to find that we were LOCKED IN!  We were incarcerated until the yard reopened Monday morning, 36 hours hence. This was N.G. (not good).  Here is My Lovely Bride trying to pick the lock from the inside.
As we returned to our coach, we noticed a nearby coach with lights on and a car parked next to it. We knocked, and the owner arose from dinner and opened the door. We asked him if he knew that he was also locked in. “Yes”, he replied. I looked at him in surprise, and he said, “My wife and I both work here.” There was a pause of about five seconds while I pondered our dilemma. He didn’t offer any suggestions during this pregnant pause. Then I asked, “Do you have a key to the gate?” “Yes,” he replied. Another five second pause. “Would you mind opening the gate after you finish your dinner?” “Yes.” (At this point I wasn’t sure if he meant that (a) Yes, he would mind opening the gate, or (b) Yes, he would open the gate in spite of any reluctance he might have. (Was this guy from Maine?) I hoped for the best, and we returned to our coach (50 feet away) to await our jailer (or Good Samaritan?). About a half hour later, a horn blew, and we looked out our front window to see him sitting in his car, ready to drive the 50 yards to the gate.
The Good News was that we were able to escape our incarceration, and after a quick trip to the bookstore, parked our trusty toad outside the fenced area (hopefully not where the thugs from Seattle who robbed us in July could find it). Now I have a copy of Windows 8 for Dummies, and can (hopefully) navigate my way through the labyrinth that is my new computer’s (hellishly complex and user-unfriendly) operating system. Of note, I passed over the “Windows 8 for Senior Dummies” book, knowing that the attractive blonde register clerk would snicker at me if I chose that one… it’s bad enough being a member of ”The Dummies Club”… much, much worse to be branded a “Senior Dummy”. 

Sunday is bath day; I know, I normally bathe on Saturdays, but this was Dog Bath Day. Little Gretchen ran and hid under the table as soon as she saw the bottle of doggie shampoo. It was to no avail; I captured her and took her outside, gently bathed her, and then bundled her up in a towel to dry off and to keep warm. Here she is just prior to handoff to her Dog-Mom for Grooming Phase 2, blow-drying and combing.
It was a stressful process, but now Gretchen and Rudy are sweet-smelling and as beautiful as Westminster champions. Here is our little girl in her mom's fleece after her ordeal.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Poudre Canyon; Flattop; Mountains Don’t Care; Yellow-Belly! A Loch in Colorado?

This has been a great hiking week for us. First we hiked the Black Powder Trail in Poudre Canyon, just outside beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado.
Then yesterday Suzanne had lots of work to catch up on, so it was my chance to tackle Flattop Mountain, a “hard” 9 mile round-trip with 3,000 feet of elevation gain, from 9,400 to 12,400 feet. I did the math, and it was a 12% grade; going up was tough, with my pulse rate about the same as when I run hard. At the top it was cold, in the high 40s with a 25 kt wind. I sent this photo from my iPhone, with the caption "Sent from Hooters". Here's the reply I got back from Suzanne: If there is a girl in skimpy, tight orange shorts who took that photo, I am never letting you go off by yourself again!


No, it wasn't a Hooter's girl, it was another hiker, David from New Orleans. David had hiked from the back side of the mountain (over my shoulder in the photo) and slept out in a valley without a sleeping bag or tent. (He was traveling ultra-light, and said the temps were quite comfortable).
The views from the top of Flattop Mountain were spectacular. There are only a handful of nearby peaks that are higher, and I was blessed with good weather: only two light showers and one minor thunderstorm that hit when I was back in the trees. Going downhill was much easier for some reason… like, “gravity”. It had taken me 2 and a half hours to climb, and only 2 hours to descend, but the stress on ankles and knees was worse on the return.

This trail marker warns of unpredictable weather that can include whiteouts even in summer, and five foot high cairns (piles of rocks) are sited every 50 yards or so to keep you from getting lost and going over a ledge or cliff.

There weren’t any big animals up top, but lots of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) who often pose briefly for photos. Marmots live to about 15 years of age. When young males finish their winter hibernation, they leave their burrows and look for mates. A robust, healthy male may have as many as four females living in his burrow by the time winter returns. (One wonders if he gets any rest during this period… hey, not for that reason... I was thinking about all the talking that his girlfriends must be doing before they hibernate and he gets some sleep.)
On Thursday, Suzanne was well-rested, while I was pretty bushed from my previous day’s hike. She picked out a “moderate” 6 mile hike with a 1,000 foot elevation gain. She looks pretty chipper in this photo, doesn’t she?

This fly fisherman was casting for trout, and caught and released one while I was watching. (You can’t keep them here in the park.) You will note that he has waders on; the water temp is probably in the 50s.

The lake which was our destination was beautiful, surrounded by mountains and with very few hikers around. Thankfully, everyone respected the serenity and kept their voices to whispers… allowing Her Highness to catch a quick nap.  Actually, she's not sleeping, but gasping for breath.  It seems her sensitivity extends to altitude, and the 10,000-foot-plus elevation left My Lovely Bride a bit winded.
The rest may have helped, but she was like a new person after a short  meditation alongside this waterfall.  Funny how that works.
After we returned home to The Coach, several thunderstorms came through, leaving this lovely double rainbow as a treat. (At first I thought that the Cabernet had gone to my head, but Suzanne assured me that there were, indeed, two rainbows here.) 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Assistant Scribes; Canadian Bacon; Custer’s Last Stand; A Dinner Treat; Cub Lake; New Hiking Friends

As most of you know, My Lovely Bride is an author. Back in Greek and Roman civilizations, scribes wrote on parchment, lambskin scrolls or maybe clay tablets. Suzanne uses a computer, but she has two assistant scribes that some of you have met, but you might have been unaware of their hidden talents. Sometimes they actually use their paws to type for her… making her editing more time consuming, but loads of fun.  

Do you fellow boomers remember Canadian bacon when you were kids? I haven’t seen it in years, but when we were in (duh) Canada, we decided to try their bacon… Wow, it has about 20% of the fat that US bacon has, and is delicious. I got the industrial sized package, so we might be ignoring Kansas bacon for another week or two…


On the way south from Montana to Colorado, we stopped at the Little Big Horn Battlefield. I had mentioned Custer in the previous blog, but wasn’t sure we’d be able to get much time at the National Monument because of the Crow Fair being held nearby… but it worked out well. These markers where Custer and his men fell are on the hillside not far from the Little Bighorn River where 5,000 Indians were camped. He lost over 200 men that morning, a tremendous tactical victory for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, but which also led to their ultimate defeat within two years.

One of the interesting side notes of this action was that Custer had about 40 Indian scouts, mostly Crow, who had signed up with the US Army to help it fight the Sioux and Cheyenne, their historic enemies. Before the battle, Custer sent almost all of his Indian scouts off to safety, likely thinking that they would be treated savagely if captured by the Sioux. One Crow scout, whose English name was White Man Runs Him, said in 1919, “I remember Custer well. The Indians called him Son of the Morning Star. We scouts thought there were too many Indians for Custer to fight. It was the biggest Indian camp I had ever seen.” White Man Runs Him’s tombstone is located a few hundred yards away from the Last Stand markers in the Little Big Horn US National Military Cemetery.

We had a special treat Monday evening in Fort Collins, Colorado: we were invited over to Donna and Bob Visocky’s for dinner with some of their best friends. Donna created a fabulous gourmet dinner and Bob raided his extensive wine cellar… does this group look happy or what? (From left to right, Suzanne, Ann, Bill, Bonnie, Bob, and Donna; the guys are the "thorns between the roses", so to speak.) Ann’s golf pro husband was absent; having played day one of a golf tournament, scoring a 67 and in the number one position, he decided to stay at the hotel and get some rest (probably a good decision!). Bill departed shortly after this photo was taken… not because Yours Truly insulted him, but to play… HOCKEY! Yes, that game they play on skates, like with “full body contact”. He’s really only 27 years old, but you can see that hockey has already given him grey hair. 

We have been frequent moochers… er, I mean, guests… at the Visockys’. Suzanne met Donna through her fabulous online magazine, Donna organizes spiritual events around the country, and her husband Bob is like me, a strong supporter of his wife’s work but yet not at her spiritual level. Unfortunately, the four of us share the loss of a daughter. Like our Susan, Bob and Donna’s daughter Kristi transitioned to the other side in her 20s. They now hold an annual golf tournament in her name to fund scholarships and a Habitat for Humanity house. These are some of the young people who have been awarded scholarships by Kristi’s Fund. For more information, see  


Today after Suzanne gave a fabulous phone reading to a lady in Canada, we moved to a campground in Estes Park, Colorado, just a mile from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, one of our favorite places in the USA. We immediately dressed out for hiking, and got a three hour hike in at the Cub Lake Trail.

It’s a lovely area, with a stream from Cub Lake winding through a lush green meadow. The hillside above the meadow was badly burned in a forest fire last October, but it doesn’t diminish the almost sacred feeling of the valley. We saw rabbits, chipmunks, marmots, raven and mule deer (doe and fawn).
On the trail, Suzanne decided to commune with nature, in the form of this little baby bunny. It was an adorable little thing, only about 6 inches long, and well-hidden in the twigs under a tree. We were lucky to get a glimpse of him.
We also met Geoff and Jim, fellow hikers who were coming the other way on the trail. They live in the area, and gave us excellent advice on other trails not to miss. We hope to get together with them next year for some hiking and dinner when we return to Fort Collins. We’ve decided that at least a month is needed to do the hiking and sightseeing here in the National Park and surrounding area.


This last photo is of Cub Lake. It is a sublimely beautiful spot, showing the starkness of the burned forest above the beautiful shades of green in the lake itself. We could have stayed for an hour just watching the colors and light change, but Rudy and Gretchen were awaiting us back at The Coach, and you don’t keep dachshunds long from their dinner… 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Windows; Lewis and Clark; A Crow Fair; Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse; I Scream! A Deere View; "Sans Cullottes?"

We are now in Montana, on our way toward Frederick, Colorado, where our new coach will be repaired. Parts are on order, and the big job should take a day or two for technicians to remove one of our slides, replace the metal tracks and bearings, check motors and wiring, etc. They will also repair our automatic jacks/leveling system which is on the fritz. We stayed at Malmstrom AFB for several days to find Your Faithful Correspondent a new computer. Commodore 64s are really hard to procure, so I settled for a new Toshiba Satellite laptop with Windows 8, a touch screen operating system. It is really cool, and based on my past history with Windows XP, this new system should take me only 5 or 6 years to figure out.

Speaking of history, one of my favorite subjects in American history was the Lewis and Clark Corps Discovery expedition back in 1804-06. For those who may be unfamiliar with this expedition, a team of 28 Army men (and one unofficial dog, a Newfoundland named Seaman) were tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase, traveling from present-day Wood River, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean. They were also to find a usable transcontinental route, study flora, fauna and natives encountered, and return safely. Along the way they picked up five civilians, including Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman and her husband, a French trapper.

The expedition completed a heroic and grueling journey across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, most of which had never seen the footprints of a white man. We were fortunate to be stopping in Great Falls, Montana, where the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail Interpretive Center is located.  While Suzanne was giving a phone reading in the coach, I spent a couple of hours at this excellent facility on the south bank of the Missouri River where the intrepid explorers had to portage 18 miles around a series of five cataracts (waterfalls). (This display of them hauling a wood canoe up a 75 foot cliff showed what a daunting and exhausting evolution it was, particularly in July sun and heat.)

During their trans-continental trip, Captains Lewis and Clark encountered hundreds of Indians, and managed to maintain polite, friendly relations with them all. (It’s unfortunate that many later travelers weren’t able to maintain that same relationship.) Only one man died on this epic adventure, probably due to a burst appendix. There were many close calls, mostly due to interactions with grizzly bears. On one occasion, Capt. Clark had shot an elk with his muzzle loading rifle and was attacked by a grizzly before he could reload. Barely making it to the river ahead of the bear, he stood in waist-deep water and fended off the bear with a pike in one hand, holding his rifle above the water with the other. (These were Real Men!)

The Interpretive Center had this well-executed display of a Mandan Tribe home; some of the interesting artifacts were the warrior’s shirt (deerskin and dyed porcupine quills);an antler rake and scapula hoe used by women to till plots of corn and squash (the men were  probably out hunting, warrioring, trading lies and "counting coup" stories, and generally goofing off); a small bucket made of bison (buffalo) heartskin; and a beautiful basket made of box elder bark and dyed willow bark, woven in patterns on a willow frame. Sacagawea and the expedition’s interpreter George Droillard were instrumental in keeping in the good graces of the various tribes that Lewis and Clark met along the way, and added immensely to the sparse body of knowledge about these "original Americans". Toussaint Charboneau, French trapper and Sacagawea's husband, added some gastronomic diversity to the expedition’s somewhat limited cuisine, which consisted mostly of SEVEN POUNDS of meat a day, mostly deer, elk and bison. His recipe for boudin blanc, very similar to Cajun boudin, was to take a bison’s intestine (except the last six feet, which was neither safe nor pleasant to eat), then stuff it with a suet of kidney and shoulder meat, tie off the ends, rinse briefly in river water, and then fry in bear grease. Sounds so yummy!

Suzanne and I also got in a nice bike ride along the Missouri River’s River Edge Trail. Mostly paved for road and hybrid bikes, but part mountain bike single track, it runs along the south river ridge, with expansive views of the Missouri River, the several falls and dams, and the prairie stretching to the horizon, probably looking not too different than when Lewis and Clark stood on this spot in 1804. Here is Yours Truly, alongside the two captains and Sacagawea, gazing at the intimidating cataracts that temporarily delayed the Corps of Discovery’s previously rapid progress.

After departing Great Falls on Saturday, we drove through that part of Montana where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce tribe made history with their 1,200 mile long fighting retreat  and battles with the US Army after being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in present-day eastern Oregon. His real name was Hinmuuttu-yalalat, or "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain". He was known as Young Joseph after his father, Tuekakas, converted to Christianity and was baptized Joseph the Elder.
We arrived at our campground in Hardin, Montana, to find the campground almost filled with a military travel club caravan; it was also the weekend of the 95th annual Crow Fair. The Crow Fair is the largest gathering of North American Indians in the country, and includes daily parades, a rodeo, and the largest teepee village in the world, with approximately 15,000 canvas teepees (buffalo skins being much harder to find these days). This event, appropriately (unless you are a Seventh Cavalry veteran), is sited next to the Little Bighorn National Monument, about 15 miles away from our campground. History buffs will recall that Gen. George Custer’s Seventh Cavalry met with one of its less happy moments there in 1876 when Custer decided to take on a much larger force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
All 263 troopers and the flaxen-haired Custer were surrounded and killed by more than a thousand very angry Indians near the Little Bighorn River; the battle is usually remembered as Custer’s Last Stand. (Custer should have learned some negotiating and cultural awareness lessons from Captains Lewis and Clark!) These two paintings show the battle from both the Indians' and Custer's perspective.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for the Crow Fair Rodeo, but we were in plenty of time for the campground’s daily ice cream social. Lest you think this is a trivial matter, you may be surprised to learn that My Lovely Bride has a secret craving for ice cream that is not well-known among her friends. She favors Magnum almond bars, but does not discriminate against other flavors or presentations; my specialty, Cherries Jubilee, is normally also well-received.

In closing, I would like you, Faithful Readers, to know that we do not always reside in campground scenic splendor alongside babbling brooks and with glacier and mountain views. Here is the view tonight, in Hardin, Montana, from our coach's front window. The campground owner also mentioned that this site is particularly good for those guests who like to parade around naked (in their RV's, at least) because there is nothing but a field in front of us. (I won't go any further, to protect the privacy and reputations of the guilty and innocent alike, except to say that "Yes, we do dress for dinner.")