Sunday, July 24, 2016

Devil's Tower; Railroad Bill's BBQ Sauce; Mamma Clouds; An Automated Firewood Dispenser? "Nah, It's Just a Ford"

From South Dakota's Black Hills, we traveled west to visit Devil's Tower, a lava monolith in far eastern Wyoming. Both of us had always to wanted to see this iconic piece of rock that is held sacred by many Indian tribes, and we were not disappointed by its magnificence. Our visit started with a bit of mis-adventure, however, when yours truly neglected to check the fuel level on the toad, our Honda CR-V that we tow behind our motor coach. We arrived at our campground just a mile from the rock, and I gasped when I saw 10 miles left on the "distance left to doom" counter. Quickly trying to deflect my guilt, I said, "Suzanne, you didn't fill the car up before we left Custer! We're almost out of gas!" She looked at me at first with guilt, then with a bit of indignation... (Oops, I may have overstepped my bounds with that remark!) She said sweetly, "But Darling, shouldn't You, the Man, have checked it also?" I replied gruffly, "Don't confuse me with facts... what are we going to do now? The nearest town is 8 miles away." My Lovely Bride replied, "Look, it's only a mile up the road to the visitor center. Let's drive up, hike, and then we'll get gas."

This may have not been the best decision of our collective consciousness, but there we were. It was a Saturday, and throngs would be arriving soon, so we made the most of the opportunity to visit Devil's Tower before it got too crowded. We drove uphill (can you see this coming?) and after one mile, the doomsday counter went from 10 miles to 4. Now we couldn't get to town at all. So what else? We went for a hike. There were scores of people on the short hike that circled the base of the tower on a paved trail, but almost no one on the 3 mile hike (yep, on real dirt!) that went down to the Belle Fourche River and through the Red Beds, a colorful geologic feature. Oh, did I mention that it was in the low 90s by then? Anyway, we finished our hike, turned on the engine long enough to get out of the parking lot and headed fair, and then coasted downhill in neutral back to the entrance of our campground and parked right by our coach. We had exactly 1 mile of gas left on the counter, enough to hook up the car and tow it to our next destination, where we filled up at the first gas station we came to. It was a lesson learned that I hope MLB will never forget. Smack!

On the way out, we took this photo at the gate of historic Campstool Ranch, est. 1882, the home of the Driskill family who has owned and farmed 5,000 acres of land adjacent to Devil's Tower for six generations.

After departing Devil's Tower, we headed northwest to Montana. On the way, we stopped for barbecue and found this excellent sauce, Railroad Bill's. It had special significance for Suzanne, whose dad Bill was a railroad engineer. He started as a youngster shoveling coal on an engine that looked much like the one on the bottle label, and drove for the Pennsylvania and Penn Central railroads before finishing his career with AMTRAK on the Main Line route west of Philadelphia.

The weather here on the Great Plains can be very changeable. As a lifetime sailor, I am always watching the sky for signs of impending rain and high winds. One of the cloud formations that I never care to see close-up is this one... mamma, or mammatocumulus, clouds. These breast-shaped clouds are often composed of ice crystals, and are associated with anvil-shaped thunderstorms that produce lightning and even tornadoes. I have been told by MLB that I see these shapes even when she doesn't... what can I say? Maybe it's a guy thing.

Our next stop was at Salmon Lake State Park, Montana, just for two nights. I wish we had booked a longer stay, because it was a very quiet campground next to a beautiful lake. There was absolutely NO cell phone service, and of course no wi-fi, either, but for a relaxing place to get off the grid, it had a lot to offer. I call this shot "A chair with a view." It evidently belonged to a stand-up paddleboarder (SUPer) who was out on the lake, and I am sure that he or she thought that they had one of the best spots on the lake.

Rudy and Gretchen were anxious to go out and meet some of the local inhabitants, but our better judgment made us keep them on lead while this guy was around. Otherwise, our little hunters would have had him for lunch. This little fellow is a handsome example of the Columbian ground squirrel (Urocitellus colubianus). They are often considered pests out west, and more than one horse has stepped in their burrows and injured a leg. They are called "Seven sleepers" because they hibernate in their burrows from Fall until Spring, only emerging for 5 months of activity.

Montana is blessed with many waterfalls. We hiked to this one, Morrell Falls, in Lolo National Forest, and for the first time this trip carried bear spray, just in case (we are now deep in grizzly country). Fortunately, we didn't need it. The only danger on this hike was falling into the cold water. You can tell that Suzanne is happy with the surroundings - waterfalls make her smile every time!

I like to get out in the woods to avoid modern life and technology, but you can see that it has even arrived in rural Montana's state parks. Here we found a wood dispenser; just plop in 16 quarters, and a bundle of firewood is dispensed at your feet... sheesh, what's next, a robot to build your fire for you?

This next photo is for My Good Friend Bob. I mentioned in a previous post that because he had helped me on several occasions with his big Ford F-350 truck, I wouldn't make fun of Fords. Well, like any politician, some promises are meant to be broken... Here's the story: we were leaving the campground one day, and came across a guy with the hood of his Ford truck in the open (I'm in trouble now) position. We pulled alongside and asked if we could help. He replied with a grin, "Nah, it's just a Ford..." (As in "Fix Or Repair Daily".)

From Salmon Lake, we moved on to Whitefish, Montana, just outside Glacier National Park and home of Suzanne's nephew Matthew, his wife Eleanor, and their beautiful daughters Olive and Ruthie. We went out for dinner with the family and Eleanor's dad Shawn, and the only picture I remembered to take was that of Ruthie sleeping while we ate... but it's priceless!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Custer State Park; Centennial Trail; "It's a Sign"; 4th of July; Mickelson Bike Trail; A Trail Blocker; Harney Peak; Grace Coolidge Creek

If you haven't been to Custer State Park in the Black Hills west of Rapid City, South Dakota, you've missed a beautiful part of the USA. Of course there is Mt. Rushmore, one of the most popular attractions in the area, and Sturgis, a famous motorcyclist destination, but the Black Hills themselves contain beautiful scenery and lots of wildlife. The name is a translation of the Lakota Paha sapa; when seen from a distance, the forested hills indeed appear black. 

Rudy, Gretchen and I would be staying here for a week while My Lovely Bride visited her mom back home and taught a Serving Spirit class. The weather was forecast to be excellent, and there were miles and miles of trails to explore. My first hike was on the 111 mile long Centennial Trail, established in 1989 in honor of South Dakota's 100 years of statehood. Within the first mile, I discovered fresh sign of the largest mammal living in the area... somewhere nearby was a large specimen of Bison bison, the American buffalo. While I saw several deer on this hike, the bison remained elusive.

The trail climbed several moderately steep ridges and traversed several valleys with lush grass and Ponderosa pine. This was not a heavily traveled trail, and I didn't see another hiker in the four hours I was out. 

The town of Custer, SD, was named for General George Armstrong Custer, US Army, one of the most famous generals in history. Custer's career had some ups and downs. He attended West Point, and graduated last in his class in 1861. In spite of his low class standing, during the War of Northern Aggression (AKA the Civil War), he was a highly effective cavalry commander on the Union side, and achieved the rank of brevet (temporary) Major General by age 25. 

The low point of Custer's career came in 1876 when he was leading the Seventh Cavalry against a coalition of Indian tribes, and decided to engage a superior force of 4,000 Indians with his 400 or so cavalrymen. (Yes, they were all men back then; the ACLU was yet unheard of. Would that they were still so... but I digress.) Rarely does a 10-1 disadvantage in forces result in a victory for the outnumbered, unless they hold a commanding technological advantage. Regrettably, Custer had turned down the offer of an additional force, the Second Cavalry, with their horse-drawn Gatling guns (early machine guns firing 350 rounds per minute), feeling that they would reduce his mobility. In fact, his troopers used single shot Springfield Trapdoor rifles, whereas many of his Sioux, Cheyenne and Apapaho adversaries were using Winchester or Henry lever-action repeaters. Outnumbered and out-gunned, the Seventh Cavalry didn't stand a chance. This painting, Custer's Last Stand, by Edgar Samuel Paxson, was based on his personal interviews of many of the Indian participants, and it traveled across the country in the 1880s. Prints were hung in saloons across the USA. It is now on display in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming. 

4th of July came during my stay in Custer, and I of course attended the parade and celebrations in this town of 1,800. Some sights were reminiscent of days gone by, such as this Uncle Sam on stilts, but all were true Americana. You cannot fail to feel patriotic on the 4th of July in a small Midwestern town.

Running just past my campground was a spur trail that connected with the George S. Mickelson Trail, a beautiful, 114 mile long bike trail that the former governor of South Dakota championed until his death in a plane crash in 1993. It runs through the Black Hills and connects Deadwood with Edgemont; much of the trail traverses National Forest land, and is very scenic. 

I did two rides on this trail, one south of Custer and one north to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the world's largest mountain sculpture. Still being carved, if completed it will be the largest sculpture in the world. It depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior who fought against Custer at the Little Big Horn riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The image shows a model in the foreground and the mountain in the background. 

The memorial is dedicated to all American Indian tribes, and was commissioned in 1931 by Chief Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota elder. He is shown with the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who died in 1982. The work is now supervised by a foundation, but many Lakota argue that Crazy Horse would not have approved of destroying a mountain in the Black Hills to create a likeness of him, since he resisted being photographed, and even insisted that he be buried where no one could ever find his grave.

I didn't run across any Lakota warriors on my hikes, but this huge bull (Bison bison) was blocking the trail one day, and I had to climb a hillside to go around him. Lest you think that this 2,000 lb. beast might be a sluggard, you should know that they are capable of speeds of 30 mph, and in the 1800s, even professional buffalo hunters considered them savage killers, even more dangerous than grizzly bears. I only approached to within 50 feet, but made sure that there were trees nearby that I could either climb or hide behind if he took umbrage at my passing. (Perhaps "passing" is not the best choice of words... it reminds me of when My Lovely Bride and I were riding a mountain bike trail in Utah when we came upon several of this guy's distant cousins. She wanted to turn back and find an alternate route, whereas I chose a closest point of approach of about 20 feet at high speed, saying as I started riding toward one bull, "Okay, Sweetheart, I'll see you on the other side..."). Suzanne was less than amused by my choice of words then as well... 

There are many beautiful, small lakes in the Black Hills. This is Sylvan Lake, near another trail I was hiking. The fishing is said to be good, but I only had so much time, so the fish were safe for another day. (No smart cracks, please, Bob...)

The next trail would take me to Harney Peak, at 7,242 ft. the tallest mountain east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees. It is in the Black Elk Wilderness, and can be seen in the background of this photo with a hardy, handsome, Harney hiker not yet sweaty and tired... (Sorry, Brenda, you know how I love alliterations!)

The topography here is striking. This section is mostly granite, very old Precambrian rock, popular among rock climbers because of its hardness. Softer rocks tend to flake and fall apart at the worst times...

This old fire lookout tower, built in 1939, is no longer in use, except as a hiker's destination and shelter in storms, but it does make for a good place to view the rest of South Dakota and have a sandwich.

Okay, I have to throw in one more hiker picture to prove I made it all the way up...

A few days later, My Lovely Bride returned and we got to hike on one of her favorite types of trails, a waterside path along Grace Coolidge Creek, a lovely trout stream. 

There were at least 8 stream crossings; until recently, you had to wade, but newly-installed "bridges" made it much easier...

This would be our last day in South Dakota's spectacular Black Hills. Come back for the next report on Devil's Tower, Wyoming, and onwards to Montana, Big Sky country!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Unity Village Weekend; 20th Anniversary; On to South Dakota

We departed Denver headed east through Kansas, heading for Suzanne's next event in Kansas City, Missouri. The two-day trip was uneventful, except for having to drive through some pretty heavy thunderstorms - it's that time of year. We arrived at our campground in Lee's Summit, MO, and had to find another site because it wasn't anywhere near level enough for our big coach. Fortunately, we were able to get a better site nearby, courtesy of the Jackson County Parks folks. (Thank you, Connie!) After setting up camp, we drove to Unity Village for Suzanne to meet with the Awaken Whole Life Center staff to check out conference room audiovisual equipment and plan the final day's outdoor ceremony. 

Following our meeting, we bumped into Mary Ann Zutes and Mike and Beth Pasakarnis. (Regular readers may recall that Mary Ann was given a copy of Messages of Hope by the sushi chef at Piranha Sushi in Rochester, and that Mike and Beth are the parents of Wolf from Wolf's Message.) They are great friends, and we are hoping that we can lure all of them down to The Villages one day to live, not just to visit.

Walking through the beautiful Unity Village campus, we both felt the serenity and peace that make it such a unique place. 

Just before the first event, we met with Brenda Baker and Lynette Setzkorn, and the contingent of attendees that they had organized. It was a crowded bed, and happy people, that's for sure!

Bev Garlipp, Suzanne's tireless assistant (on right), flew out with Nancy O'Neal from The Villages for the retreat. Bev and Nancy manned the book table and helped Suzanne in a myriad of ways this weekend.

Suzanne's three-day event was filled to capacity, and many attendees from last year returned for this year's program. The excitement just before opening the doors for the Friday evening Getting Out of the Box session was palpable... 

Suzanne was in her usual fine form. Here she is during her Getting Out of the Box presentation. (It's not a husband's bias when I say that she is the most amazing speaker I've ever heard...)

It's been just over 10 years since we lost our beloved Susan, a sergeant in the US Marine Corps, and her unborn son, Liam Tyler, but we know that she was here this weekend helping Suzanne, as she always does. 

Suzanne's books, DVDs, courses and pendants were in high demand. (Good thing I took this picture before the rush!) 

Day Two, Saturday, was Suzanne's Your Emerging Soul presentation, designed to help you achieve a balanced state between your human and spirit sides.

This group definitely "got it"... contingents from Minneapolis, Chicago, Phoenix and other locales asked Suzanne to come to their home towns next summer for retreats and workshops. We are already working on the 2017 schedule, so if you have a group that would like to have Suzanne come to your area, let us know.

One of the funny aspects of the weekend was the location of the "dining room". Due to a heavy wedding schedule, our group was given a basement, which several attendees christened "The Dungeon" and "The Storm Shelter". The staff had made a big effort decorating and making it less industrial, and Suzanne suggested that the ship-like piping and ventilation was to make me, a retired Navy shipdriver, feel more at home. The food was very good, though, which made up for the piping and ductwork. As nicely as they decorated this unusual space, the 2017 contract states that our group is guaranteed to be in the main dining room.

On Saturday evening, Suzanne gave a "Sanaya Speaks" session.

On Sunday, Suzanne's Making the Connection presentation "put it all together"...

The closing ceremony was spiritually meaningful and poignant... 

"What are they doing???" They are symbolically leaving behind an aspect of their human side that they no longer need to carry around.

Many people made new friends here. It was definitely a Love-filled Weekend...

It was a wonder-filled experience in many ways. Many are already planning to attend Suzanne's next Unity Village retreat, June 23-24-25, 2017. More information is available on her website and the Unity Village Awaken Whole Life Center's website. See you there!

We are now back underway, headed west for cooler temps in the Rocky Mountains, and I am recovering pretty well from my mountain bike injuries. I think my ego was bruised as much as my arm; sigh... We stopped in Omaha for a few days to rest up and celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It's hard for us both to realize that 20 years has flown by in the blink of an eye. We enjoyed a delicious sushi dinner, appropriate since we had met in Japan; the owner even gave us Haagen Daz ice cream bars when we left.

It was our first visit to downtown Omaha, and we watched part of the Olympic trials, women's 200m free style, on a big screen by the riverfront while admiring heroic-sized statues of swimmers in the water.

My Lovely Bride flew back to The Villages the next day, and I drove on with the pups to Custer State Park in South Dakota for a week of hiking. Suzanne will be visiting Her Lovely Mom Ruthie and teaching a Serving Spirit class, and then will rejoin us in Rapid City. Until then, it's just Rudy, Gretchen and Hula Babe to keep me company...