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Western Odyssey

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August 22, 2012

OUR FIRST DAY WAS UNEVENTFUL. After all, we were simply driving to Des Moines, Iowa.  Because I spent years representing clients along the Route 80 corridor, I was very familiar with the towns to the north and south of it. Although not visible from the interstate, beginning at Coal City and extending as far west as Cherry, there are numerous slag piles from old coal mines. I used to play in a coal mine as a kid, and I have always felt that coal mining was a good character building job for kids.  Accordingly, last summer I got a job in a mine for our daughter Chris’ two kids; they loved it.

When we passed Ottawa, I could not help but remember my gggggrandfather who froze to death in January of 1836 returning from a thirty-six mile round trip from his cabin just north of present day Streator to Green’s Mills at present day Dayton. He must have gotten cabin fever, and decided that a brisk walk to the several grain mills along Fox River.  I am sure that he was not planning to hang around one of the bars near the mills.

As we approached the Peru exit, I recalled that “Wild Bill Hickok” had been born in the small town of Troy Grove north of the interstate.  If I still lived in Illinois, I would mount a state-wide effort to replace the “Land of Lincoln” motto with “Land of Gun Fighters.”  In addition to Wild Bill, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp came from Illinois.

After we crossed the Mississippi, we began to look foward to a stop in Amana. Over the years, we have been in all seven of the towns referred to as the Amana Colonies.  Today, however, we were shocked to see a “mini-colony,” just off of Route 80.  The mini-colony consisted of a group of faux “old-German” buildings.  We went into “The General Store,” and found a virtual clone of a Cracker Barrel store.  They did have a few German touches, but otherwise the “mini-colony” was tricked out with the usual tourist chozzerai. Being inveterate traditionalists, we drove into Amana, one of the real colonies.

We finally reached Des Moines.  The last time I stayed in Des Moines, I was seven years old and my grandfather took me to the state fair.  My only memory of the fair was trudging behind my grandfather as he walked past endless stalls containing cows, pigs and horses.  Whenever he nodded sagely at a particular specimen, I would nod in agreement. I still do not know what makes a cow or pig “good.”

August 23, 2012

TODAY, WE DECIDED TO GET OFF OF THE INTERSTATE and really see what we could find. Our first stop, a few miles west of Des Moines, was the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa. I was impressed with how many baseball stars of the past fifty years have stopped by the museum and left signed photos. I learned that Feller’s signing bonus was one dollar and an autographed baseball. While small, the museum contained a surprising amount of information about Rapid Robert. For example, at the height of his career, he enlisted in the Navy a couple of days after Pearl Harbor.

I gave the guy who runs the place a new anecdote about Feller to add to his usual patter. I explained that, sometime in the 1940s, a couple of nerd scientists pronounced that a curve ball does not really curve. Instead, they explained to the media, the so-called curve is really an optical illusion. Feller responded in a movie short feature. A fence of slightly more than 60 feet long was set up with a catcher at one end on one side of the fence. Feller stood at the other end of the fence and threw a broad curve ball to the catcher from the opposite side of the fence. The scientists were never heard from again.

Just a hoot and a holler and down the road a piece from the Feller Museum is Guthrie Center, population 1569. Because my mother lived there until she was around 16 years of age, I decided to take a few photos of the place. I had been there once before when I was seven years old. When I pulled over to take a shot of the welcome sign, a sheriff pulled over and asked me what I was doing. Resisting my first impulse of telling him that I had “kin folk” in town, I told him that my mother (Alta Ross Mackey) had been born here. He responded that he too had been born in Guthrie Center and went on his way.

In the early 1900s, my mother’s grandfather was one of the most prominent men in the county. He had been a school principal in several states and had a law degree. Whenever some “orator” came to the county, my great-grandfather would be invariably trotted out to debate the orator. He owned the first car in the county, and was a friend of Frank Gotch. I suspect his friendship with Gotch garnered more respect than his money.

When we walked into the only restaurant in town, we got the usual small town open-mouthed stare. I was reminded of H.L. Mencken’s description of the spectators at the Scope’s Trial: “Gaping Primates.” One table of old women kept staring at Carole, and she gave them a smile and a little wave. I attributed their seemingly rude behavior to Carole’s coloring; they probably don’t see many Eyetalians in their little town.

We spent the balance of the day paralleling Lewis and Clark route northward to South Dakota.

August 24, 2012

TODAY STARTED OUT ON A DISAPPOINTING NOTE. I remarked to Carole that I was looking forward to using my Fargo accent, and she spoiled my fun by telling me that Fargo was in North Dakota. I considered using a southern Fargo accent, but concluded that I might merely confuse people. While filling our gas tank, I displayed what my daughters refer to as my “Indiana” personality while chatting up a bib overall bedecked local. He noticed our license plate and asked where we lived. When I told him that we lived a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan, he asked if the fishing was good there. I replied unabashedly that I had had good luck with the large Coho in the Lake. He then gave me a coupon which knocked off almost two bucks from my gas bill. As I have always told our daughters, “[i]t pays to be nice.”


After driving for a couple of hundred miles through undulated and unpopulated territory, we reached the Badlands. During the two hundred mile drive, we saw a number of herds of cows but not a single person on the land. We saw fewer than a dozen trees on our drive.


When we reached the Badlands, we stayed right in the National Park! By staying in the park, we got to pay a lot of money, stay in a cabin, and avoid such motel niceties such as Wi-Fi, cell phone accessibility and free breakfasts. To be honest, the cabin was a cut above what I expected and our back porch offered a great view.


We didn’t do much our first day in the Badlands. Carole signed up for the Jr. Ranger Program, a learning experience designed for kids 2 to 12 years of age. When we ate dinner, I did my usual sampling of local specialties. I ordered and enjoyed a buffalo burger; Carole ordered a hamburger.

Wherever we have traveled, I have made a point of eating the local fare. When we were in Tangier, for example, we ate at a place right out of Indiana Jones. We were seated with a handful of other Americans; the food was served on a large revolving tray. Because the only food recognizable to our American eyes was rice, everyone but me gobbled down the rice. I didn’t eat any of the rice, but sampled everything else on the tray. On the following day, I was slightly ill.


August 25, 2012

TODAY WAS A VERY FULL ONE. We went on a hike with a ranger and listened to a talk on fossils. After driving the Badlands Loop, watching a herd of pronghorn antelopes, listening and seeing a school of prairie dogs, we drove out of the park and visited the famous Wall Drug Store. At least, I was told that it was famous; I had never heard of it before. Part amusement park, part novelty store, part museum, part tourist trap, the Wall Drug store is so large that a Wal-Mart Store could fit easily fit into it. The high point of our visit to the store came when Carole inquired about a stack of small envelopes labeled“rattle snake eggs.” The clerk told her to open the envelope and check out the eggs. When she opened the envelope, she heard the sound of an angry rattlesnake. She did not buy the eggs.

August 26, 2012

WE LEFT THE BADLANDS this morning for a short drive to Hot Springs, a town about an hour’s drive south of Mt. Rushmore. We have been to towns with hot springs in the past. Years ago, we took our daughters to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. While we were there, we took our daughters on a pilgrimage to the local cemetery where one of their notable ancestors, Doc. Holiday, is buried.

The big draw to the area is a Mammoth Site. Discovered in 1974, the site is an old sink hole containing the bones of a number of mammoths and numerous other animals. This afternoon, we spent about an hour at the site. While we were there, I read that some modern day Frankensteinesque scientists are studying whether they can clone mammoths.


Hot Springs may be a small town, but it is far more cosmopolitan than Guthrie Center, Iowa. When we walked into a local restaurant, no one even glanced our way. Our motel overlooks a small river. I had hoped that the river would be the Lame Jack River, a river we crossed on the way. Alas, the river adjacent to the motel is the Fall River. Somehow, Lame Jack River sounds more "western.

August 27, 2012

We almost fired the American woman who resides in our Garmin and reinstated the Australian woman we used for a couple of years. The American woman was confused all day. Worst of all, she led us into a couple of traffic jams and 102 degree weather. The Australian woman we used to use would never have gotten us into the same situation. 
As it worked out, we stumbled upon some places we would probably not have visited. We stopped at a General Store in the middle of nowhere which sold Nathan’s Hot Dogs and had a machine where Carole could add yet another smashed penny to her collection. One of the women working in the store told me that she was from Morgan Town, West Virginia. In return, I told her that my ancestors were from just north of Morgan Town in Union Town, Pa.
Next, we stopped at a place which was part of the set for Dances with Wolves. I usually like Costner in westerns, but Carole and I thought Dances with Wolves was about two hours too long. I can only assume that Costner was trying to match Gone with the Wind in length. However, Carole got another penny for her collection.
Best of all, we spent about an hour with two real craftsmen. One guy made knifes; the other guy made ropes. We both like watching great craftsmen. Carole enjoys watching them because she knows she could do what they are doing; I enjoy watching them because I know that I could never do what they are doing. I was enthralled with the knife-maker. He really “makes them,” from the original chunk of steel and subsequent bakings through the final polishing. He spends about 40 hours, over a month, making one knife. He also has an incredible knowledge of the history of knife-making. I asked him about the Damascus knifes the Crusaders encountered, and he explained their process and the steel they used. The guy was clearly a master, the type of guy who made Jim Bowie’s eponymous knife.
Carole found the knife guy equally interesting, but also enjoyed the “rope maker,” who had a shed next door to the knife maker. After about ten minutes, I tried to give Carole subtle signs that it was time to go. Sadly, she found the guy interesting. She helped him make a rope, and he taught her how to twirl a rope ala Will Rogers. She ended up buying the rope that she had helped make. I suppose she will be twirling the thing around the house when we get home.


August 28, 2012

HOT SPRINGS IS A SMALL TOWN.  It is so small that when you boot up your computer, you are not greeted with the usual: “See available singles in Hot Springs!” Tired of the motel’s “deluxe free breakfast,” I decided to go out for breakfast this morning. As usual, Carole was not hungry for a big breakfast. I drove around town looking for pickup trucks parked in front of a diner, my time-tested method of locating a place for an early morning breakfast. The only place I found with the tell-tale pickup trucks was a bakery. When I parked and entered, I noted that I was the only guy there without a ball cap. I knew that the other customers had quickly sized me up as an uppity auslander. When the perky waitress asked me if I would like to try Crepe Suzettes, the special of the day, I replied: “[n]o, I don’t want any of that French stuff; I want some good old American food.” Everyone in the place guffawed and I was no longer regarded as an auslander.

Despite my ambivalence about George Armstrong Custer, we planned to go to Custer State Park today. We changed our minds when we saw that the temperature was supposed to be around 103 degrees. Instead of Custer Park, we went to The Wind Cave National Park. We have been on numerous cave tours, but we figured that we would at least avoid the excessive heat. Like most cave tours, this one had an inordinate number of steps, some 350 mostly dry steps. Also, like most cave tours, there were certain passages which necessitated a Chuck Berry/Groucho Marx duck-walk.

At several points, the Ranger would stop and marvel at the beauty of the old grey rocks and give the scientific explanation as to how the cave was formed. Having heard many of these scientific speeches before, I was again convinced that cave tour guides revert to ancient Urdu when delivering their spiel. I couldn’t hear most of what he was saying anyway because a couple in the tour group kept babbling loudly in Polish. Predictably, Carole “the enforcer” marched over with her serious teacher look and convinced them to stop babbling. I wasn’t surprised by Carole’s actions. I once witnessed her march over to a police car and inform the driver that he was blocking traffic during his double parking gab fest.

What cave tour would be complete without the inevitable blackout? Such a blackout shows that without light, it gets very black. This one took a little longer than usual to start because so many people were carrying light emitting electronic gadgets. At the last Ranger “stop and talk,” he mentioned that only one person had ever been lost in the cave. With that, I could not resist.

“I think I once read a book where two kids, Tom and Becky, were lost in this cave.” 
“Um, I haven’t read that book.”
“Well, maybe it was some other cave.”
Tomorrow, despite a predicted temperature of 104, we are stopping at the Custer place on our way to Rapid City: more about Custer tomorrow.

August 29,2012

It can be confusing around here. For example, if a person says that he is “going to Custer,” he can mean the town of Custer, Custer County, Custer Park, Custer gas station, or a number of other possible destinations. To make myself clear, we went to the Custer State Park today. Even though George Armstrong Custer and his entire command were wiped up many miles from here way up in Montana, every book store and gift shop within a hundred miles from Hot Springs has a shelve of Custer books and assorted Custer regalia.
I have never understood the continuing adulation of Custer. Admittedly, he did make an effective Bengal Lancer-type charge against Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg, but that was the only bright spot in an otherwise unremarkable military career. He graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point, and validated his class ranking by his actions at Little Bighorn. It is difficult to conjure up a similar bone-headed mistake by any military leader to match the campaign which led to his long-lasting popularity. Almost immediately after his death, he became a national hero. By the 1890s, most bars in the United States proudly displayed a copy of the painting commissioned by Annheuser-Bush of “Custer’s Last Fight.” Paxton’s painting of “Custer’s Last Stand” was nearly as popular. In the following years, he was portrayed in the movies and on television by a number of actors, most notably by Errol Flynn in They Died With Their Boots On.
In contrast, consider the St. Clair Massacre. General Arthur St. Clair had been a respected officer in the Revolutionary War and was later named as the Governor of the Northwest Territory, the huge area which later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. In 1791, St. Clair was ordered by President Washington to raise an army and deal with some contentious Indians in the future state of Ohio. Like Custer, his blundering led to a massacre. While Custer lost only 220 men at the Little Big Horn, St. Clair lost nearly 900 men near present day Ft. Recovery, Ohio. In short, he was a bigger loser than Custer. It follows that he should have been a bigger hero.
Perhaps because St. Clair was one of the 20 survivors of the massacre, he did not become a hero; rather, he was consigned to the dustbin of history.  One searches in vain for books about St. Clair, and there is no doubt that Hollywood never considered casting Errol Flynn to portray him in a movie. If St. Clair is mentioned at all in the history books, it is only as background for the launching of the career of Mad Anthony Wayne, the officer dispatched to wreak vengeance on the Indians who wiped out St. Clair’s command.
Custer did not deserve the effusive accolades afforded him, and he certainly did not deserve to have such a great park as the one we visited today named after him. Custer State Park is one of the best parks in the country for viewing wildlife. It even has a herd of one type of animal which is a fitting memorial to Custer.
The bison herd at the park is one of the largest in the world.
At one point, I saw a turtle close to the herd. Ignoring the posted warnings to stay in your vehicles when Bison were present, I jumped out of our car and ran to rescue the turtle from being trampled. As I got closer, I realized that the turtle was not really a turtle.
We also had fleeting glimpses of Pronghorned antelopes, the fastest animal in the United States. We saw one coyote, but could not get him to pose for a picture.
Easily our favorite animal was the prairie dog.  They gather in “towns” living in underground tunnels with multiple entrances and exits. Most of the time, they stand around munching grass while watching for predators. According to scientists, they have a highly developed communication system comprised of a variety of chirps coupled with body language. The “jump back and chirp,” a common warning of danger, looks like something from an old Road Runner Cartoon. I am not sure, but I think one of them was cussing me out.  It is easy to see why Lewis and Clark’s men spent an entire day watching them.
We could have watched the prairie dogs for hours, but we left the park and proceeded to the town of Custer. Just outside of the town, is the National Wood Carving Museum which contains the life work of Dr. Harvey Niblack. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wood carvers of all time, he is credited with being the first wood carver to animate his carvings of people. Carole is convinced that an old Italian wood carver named Geppetto produced an animated carving of a young boy long before Niblack was born; she was too kind to share her feelings with the museum guide. I became excited when I learned that I may have had a slight role in Niblack’s career.  The guide mentioned that Niblack was able to retire in his late 30s to devote full time to his carvings. He had made a fortune from the sales of his invention of the Diathermy, a now out-moded method of treating muscle strains and injuries. Like tens of thousands of other athletes, I had a number of Diathermy treatments back in the day.
When we reached Rapid City, the temperature was 108 degrees. I know that Twain thought the piddling travel problems he described in his book Roughing It were nearly unbearable, but he never had to jump in and out of an air conditioned vehicle in 108 degree weather and drive through intermittent cell phone usage areas. We were really roughing it today. 

August 30, 2012

ON OUR LAST FULL DAY in the Black Hills, we decided to go to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. Frankly, I wasn’t too keen about going to the Crazy Horse Monument. From what I had read, the project there seemed to be very similar to the cathedral built in the novel Pillars of the Earth, a project that took a couple of hundred years to complete. An e-mail from an amazing woman, and one of Carole’s friends, changed my mind. In addition to founding and running the largest Wizard of OZ festival in the world, Carole’s friend also found time to engage in parachute jumping and participating in the annual roundups of the Bison at the Custer State Park. She has also been a long time supporter of the Crazy Horse Monument project. I was glad that I took her advice and spent some time at the monument.

We stopped first at Mount Rushmore. Like most people, we had seen the monument in movies, books and magazines countless times. Seeing it in its natural state was a very different experience. Stately and solemnly, the four presidents stare out over the Black Hills. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were good choices, but I wished that the sculptor would have added Millard Fillmore.

Surprisingly, there was some opposition to construction of the monument. Placing a huge carving of dead white presidents in the middle of the Black Hills, an area deemed sacred to the Indians, seemed to many to smack of arrogance. President Coolidge’s vocal support ended most of the dissent. People were probably surprised to hear him say anything about anything. Carving in granite is not a quick process. Even with the ample use of dynamite, it took 14 years to complete.
I annoyed Carole as she worked through another workbook to acquire her third Jr. Ranger badge. Completing the workbook normally requires running all over the park and reading plaques and posters to find answers to the questions posed in the workbook. Because I was hungry and wanted to speed up the process, I started answering the questions without “looking up” the answers. Carole, however, wanted to “do her own work.”

Near the end of our stay at Mount Rushmore, I was forced to save a woman’s life. Some ditzy blonde had started to crawl down the monument from the top and lost her nerve part of the way down. Her shrieking would have done justice to a heroine in a B-level science fiction film. After listening to her for a few minutes, I knew that I had to do something. I ended up racing up the monument, passing her as I sped my way to the top.  Once I reached the top, it was a simple matter of pulling her up. A ranger, who had been watching the situation develop, met us as we were walking down and gave us a ride in his jeep. Before we got in the jeep, the ranger scratched his head and said:”Stranger, I have never seen anything like what you just did. How did in world did you do it?” I replied simply: “A life time of clean living and right thinking son.” Thankfully, another ranger took a picture of the rescue; otherwise, some of my skeptical friends would not have believed me when I told them about my actions today.

It is only a short, scenic drive from Rushmore to the Crazy Horse Monument. When the Lakota Sioux, the Indians who live in the Black Hills, saw the construction of Mount Rushmore, they told everyone who would listen that “we have heroes too.” Eventually, Standing Bear one of the Lakota elders, approached a man who had worked on Mount Rushmore and convinced him to build a monument of Crazy Horse. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, with a name that would not sound unusual on North Milwaukee in Chicago, would end up devoting the rest of his life to the sculpture.
His devotion to the project staggers the mind. For the first several years, he worked alone. The 700 or so steps he had to climb simply to get to the worksite would have been enough for me to conclude that discretion is the better part of valor and find another job. One day, he made 9 trips up and down the ladder schlepping tools to where he was carving. Over the years, he would obtain some help through donations and from volunteers; but, the bulk of the work would be done by Korczak. During his life, Korczak refused offers of financial support from the government, and his family has continued to reject money from the government.
He ended up marrying one of the volunteers and fathering ten children. Working on the monument from 1948 until his death in 1982, he was only able to complete the massive head. 
Korczak would have agreed with Daniel Burnham’s famous statement: “Make no small plans.’ When completed, the monument will dwarf Mount Rushmore and exceed the height of Khufu, the great pyramid, by over 100 feet. Even now, the carved heads at Mount Rushmore could be placed inside of the completed head of Crazy Horse. A three dimensional scale model of the proposed structure gives one some idea of how it will look. There is no way, however, that the scale model can convey the proposed size of the monument.

August 31, 2012

WE LEFT THE BLACK HILLS TODAY for the beginning of the “Real West: Wyoming.” I was so excited I toyed around with making an exception to my long-standing, self-imposed ban against bumper stickers. Pioneers often painted “Root Hog or Die” on their wagons, and I thought that Carole could fashion a bumper sticker with that classic message on it. I eventually rejected the idea, fearing that people would pull me over and ask me to explain the bumper sticker.
Before leaving South Dakota, however, I felt an obligation to visit Deadwood to see where Wild Bill Hickok was cowardly slain by a sniffling back-shooter. It seemed fitting that we make the detour to Deadwood. After all, I grew up in the same county as Bill did, and we had passed by his birth place on the first day of our trip; we would simply be completing the circle. Bill’s last chair is prominently displayed over the door of Saloon 10 where Bill died while holding the famous dead man’s hand. Other than Bill’s chair, there was nothing else in town we wanted to see.

Shortly after we crossed into Wyoming, we saw a sign for a “Buffalo Drop,” one of those places where the sneaky Indians would trick innocent buffalo into plunging over a cliff. The Indians must have whooped it up waiting for the buffalo to die. I took a few pictures, but couldn't get the image of those poor beasts writhing in pain out of my mind.

Carole told me that we were heading for Devil’s Tower. I had never heard of it and asked her to explain what it was.
“It is a very tall stone which looks like a tower.
“Whose heads are carved on it?”
“There are no heads, but it looks like a tower.”
“A big rock, but no head?”
When we got there, I have to admit that it did look like a tower. I learned that it was another place the Indians believed to be a religious site. There were a variety of Indian stories about how it was created; the stories were inconsistent but had certain common themes. In all of the stories, a person was turned into a bear and then tried to gobble up whatever people were around. In addition to the bear, there was also magic involved in each of the stories. Although the details and the magic varied from story to story, the people ended up hiding out on top of the tower. Finally, all of the stories concluded with the bear unsuccessfully trying to climb the tower and leaving paw marks which can be seen today.
Boy, those Indians could tell some whoppers.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast nearly impossible to find. When I plugged its address into the Garmin, the woman in there simply laughed. All I remember is a number of dirt roads which ended up facing gates with no-trespassing signs. Eventually, we found the place.  Mirable dictu, it had WI Fi and sporadic cell phone connectivity. Best of all, the food was great. Everyone there but us had come to climb the Tower. The other guests, some 12 in number, exuded the type of fitness that one does not get in a health club. Our host, in particular, was an expert climber. Despite his best efforts, he was not able to convince me to take a shot at the Tower. I told him that I had read In Thin Air, and that was as close to climbing as I wanted to be. Also, I did not want to admit that I was still tired after saving the blonde on Mt. Rushmore the day before.

Climbers go to bed early, so we retired to our room shortly after dinner. Carole started to doze, but I noticed a light outside. After walking outside, I saw what appeared to be a huge hovering aircraft of some sort. When it landed, a large number of people emerged from the nearby woods and began to approach the aircraft. They were walking very slowly with distended eyeballs. Except for the serene looks on their faces, they could have passed for zombies. I followed them until a weird looking little guy appeared before me. When he spoke, his voice had a metallic quality.
“You have been chosen.”
“Say what?”
“You have been chosen; please step aboard.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, is Richard Dreyfus on the ship?”
“Yes, Richard has also been chosen.”
“In that case, I will wait for the next ship.”


September 1, 2012

THE MORNING AFTER I ESCAPED my close encounter with Richard Dreyfus, we drove to Sheridan, Wyoming.  Carole has a friend she has not seen since high school who lives in Sheridan; and she looked forward to visiting with her. On the ride to Sheridan, we could see some of what we had read about the state. Wyoming has the fewest people per square mile of any of the lower 48 states. While it is a large state, it has a population of only a little more than 500,000. There are also three cows for every person in the state. What we saw during our ride to Sheridan, while certainly not a scientific sampling, verified the ratio of people to cows.

As we got close to Sheridan, we could see the first real mountains we had seen on our trip.  To the west of Sheridan, the Big Horn Mountains provided a pleasing backdrop as we approached the town. It was 90 degrees on the road, but there was snow on some of the peaks. There will be even more snow in the next month or two.

We also saw what appeared to be forest fires in the mountains. When we inquired about the apparent fires, we were told that they actually were fires. Sparks from the wheels of trains passing through the area often caused fires. I was reminded of similar, but worse problems, in Illinois during the Nineteenth Century when the coal burning Illinois Central trains caused fires on a regular basis. A young lawyer from Springfield made a small fortune defending the Illinois Central against law suits filed by farmers who had lost their crops to these fires. 
Carole spent a pleasant several hours with her old friend, and I took a much needed long walk. I had hoped to walk all over the downtown area, but the motel was on the far edge of the town. I saw mainly railroad tracks and light industry. Carole must have told her friend that she is now a rope spinner, for her friend took her to the Valhalla for ropers - King's Saddlery and Ropes in Sheridan. Don King, the founder of the company, died a few years ago; but his sons have carried on the business.  Their ropes and saddles are world famous. Even Queen Elizabeth owns one of their saddles.  For some reason, Carole did not buy a saddle.
Carole’s friend also told her that C.J. Box, one of our favorite authors, is a frequent visitor to the local book store. She then kindly gave Carole an autographed copy of Box’s latest book.  I will have to ask the rangers at Yellowstone if they ever run into Game Warden Joe Picket, the protagonist in most of Box’s books.
The people in Sheridan are either less greedy or have a better sense of geography than the people in South Dakota. For example, Hot Springs, South Dakota, one of the towns I mentioned earlier which pooches off of Custer’s fame, is over 300 miles from the Little Big Horn; Sheridan is only a little over a hundred miles from the fabled “Last Stand.” In contrast to Hot Springs, Custer’s name is not shoved in your face at every turn in Sheridan.

September 2, 2012

WE TOOK THE SCENIC TOUTE TODAY through the Big Horn Mountains to get to Cody, Wyoming. Everywhere we have ever traveled, I have always opted for the scenic route, particularly when we have been in the mountains. To this day, our daughters still speak in reverential tones about our drive through the Alps from Innsbruck, Austria to Bolzano, Italy. Eschewing more traditional routes, I chose a very narrow, twisting road down to Italy. Our ride was made even more interesting by the proximity of our wheels to the edge of the cliff, the absence of guardrails and the continuous blind turns.
Our drive today was not nearly as dangerous as that long ago trip to Italy. The Big Horn Mountains are not the Alps, but neither are they the Indiana Dunes. Deceptively high at points, with one peak over 13,000 feet, they offer a variety of jaw-dropping views. Jim Bridger and Jed Smith often trapped in these mountains, and later led other parties through them, but those guys probably stuck to the valleys and rivers several thousand feet below us.

When we emerged from the mountains, we had lunch in a café in a very small town, the type of eating place where the men exiting usually have toothpicks in their mouths while emitting discrete belches. Carole got not only the small-town stare, but a full 180 degree “turn around and look stare.” I think it was because of the pink King Ropes hat she proudly wore.

We arrived in Cody early enough to visit the huge museum dedicated to Buffalo Bill. Because of his propensity to embellish, or outright fabricate, different periods of his life, there are some who refer to him as "Buffalo Bull.”  He was one of the founders of the town; thus, the museum sugar coats Bill’s life. The only mention of his boozing and womanizing was a small, nearly hidden, placard with a quote from his wife about their divorce: “He gave me some money when he hadn’t drunk up all of his money.” A couple of placards gently hinted at his questionable stint as a pony express rider and his equally questionable duel with an Indian; but the man depicted in the museum was the familiar grade school storybook heroic figure as opposed to the revisionist Buffalo Bill portrayed by Paul Newman in the Robert Altman film. Actually, there was no need for Buffalo Bill to conjure up stories; there were enough verifiable incidents in his life for him to be called a legitimate hero. His actions as the chief scout for Phil Sheridan during the Indian Wars, for example, led to the Medal of Honor.

Cody will probably be best remembered for his Wild West shows. Realizing that people in the East would be more than happy to shell out some money to see real cowboys and Indians, he put together a show featuring real Indians and real cowboys. After the end of the Indian Wars at Wounded Knee, there were plenty of Indians who preferred to hire out for hokey reenactments of attacks on Whites to sitting around on a reservation. He even convinced Sitting Bull to sit and look stern during the shows. Sharpshooters, such as the  famous Annie Oakley, and expert riders rounded out the early shows. Over time, through the addition of elephants, Cossacks, Zouaves, Prussian soldiers, Africans and Arabs, the shows morphed into productions far more than mere Wild West shows.
Cody took his shows all over the country and to most of the major cities in Europe. In addition to the obvious big city venues, he did shows in small towns like my home town of Streator, Illinois. When I was a kid, there was a hitching post located about a hundred yards from our house. There was clearly no need for hitching posts at the time, but it was accepted as gospel that Buffalo Bill Cody had once hitched his horse to that post. As the story went, he had come to a barn once located near the post to buy hay for the animals in his show. By the time I was in high school, I had concluded that the story was apocryphal. By that time, I had seen film clips of some of his shows, and they were invariably in big cities.  Why would he bring his show to a small town? A few years ago, I found a newspaper clipping from 1893 at the local historical society in Streator announcing an upcoming appearance of the show in my hometown.  I have now adopted Winston Churchill's solution to the hitching post story. In one of the volumes of his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Churchill recounts a legend about Richard the Lion Hearted. He admitted that he did not know if the story was true, but concluded: “If it didn’t happen that way, it should have.” Sadly, the hitching post is now gone. Some new property owner probably saw it and said: “ A hitching post in this day and age, I am going to rip that useless thing out of here.”
There was one other attraction in town, but we passed it up. Jerimiah Johnson, the old trapper portrayed by Robert Redford, in the film of the same name, is buried just outside of town. Despite the poor casting of Redford as Johnson and the omission of the actions which made Johnson famous, the film provides some idea of how tough it was for the early trappers. Because the real Johnson ate the livers of the many Crow Indians he killed, he was nick-named “Liver Eating” Johnson. It certainly would have added some verisimilitude to the film if Redford had gobbled down a liver or two. Also, Redford looked nothing like the real Johnson. The only known photo of old “Liver” suggests a partially deranged man.


September 3, 2012

BEFORE HEADING TO YELLOWSTONE, we spent another two hours in the Cody Museum. There are five large sections in the museum:  Nature in the Yellowstone area, Buffalo Bill Cody, Western Art, Plains Indians, and Firearms History. I spent most of my time looking at some of the 3,000 firearms; Carole spent all of her time in the Nature section. We concluded that the museum was world-class.
After our visit to the museum, we stopped in a gift store where I complained to one of the clerks that the place next door should be shut down for improper advertising. She agreed. The owner of the adjacent restaurant had a smoker right out on the sidewalk so that passersby would have to smell the slow cooking ribs. We ended up eating lunch there.

During our drive to Yellowstone, I thought of the old adage that if an adventurer wants to be remembered, he had better leave a written record. [At least, it is my old adage]  Whether the written record is in the form of a journal or a Dime Novel is not important; the record doesn’t even have to be true. What is important is that there is some type of written record. A case in point is John Colter. Arguably, no American lived through as many adventures as Colter.  A member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he was not ready to return to civilization when the expedition was heading home. He received permission from Lewis and Clark to leave the expedition when it reached today’s Bismarck, North Dakota. Joining up with two men from Illinois who were interested in trapping, he spent four more years in the mountains. He teamed up with various men at different times during his travels, but often traveled alone. He spent one winter in Yellowstone in 1807-1808, and is the earliest known white man to visit Yellowstone.

After his last adventure, Colter finally decided that it was time to go home. Colter and a man named Potts were traveling together when a couple of hundred Crow Indians captured Colter and killed Potts. Being fair-minded people, the Indians gave Colter a chance to escape. He was stripped naked and given a “head start.”  After a time, Colter outdistanced all but one of the Indians. Turning quickly, he surprised and killed the fleetest of the Indians. After killing the Indian, he hid in a nearby river and used the old “breathing though a hollow weed” ploy which would become a cliché in the movies of the 20th century. Wearing only the robe he had taken from the Indian he had killed, he then walked a hundred miles to the safety of a fort.

When Colter reached St. Louis and told people about the thermal activity he had observed in Yellowstone, his stories were dismissed as “Colters’ Hell.” Ironically, he moved up the Missouri River from St. Louis and settled not far from where Daniel Boone had settled a number of years earlier.  Boone, of course, had several biographers; Colter did not. Boone became famous; Colter did not. He married and died in 1812, a few years after his return from the mountains: “Johnny we hardly knew ye.”

It was only a 50 mile drive to Yellowstone; but once we reached the park, we had another 20 mile drive to our lodge, The Canyon Lodge. We saw a large number of buffalo on our way to the lodge, but saw no need to take more photos.  After we arrived at the good-looking but amenity-lacking lodge, we ate dinner and went to a Ranger run “sky show.”  Because the place chosen for the show offered a limited view of the sky, most of the “show” was a Power Point presentation concerning constellations. The ranger pointed out that over the centuries, various people in various countries, probably aided by their local form of intoxicant, have been “able to see” a variety of people, animals and objects in the night sky. I had heard most of this before, but even with intoxicants I could never make out what others could supposedly see. Carole liked the show; I enjoyed looking at the sky on the way back to our car far more than I did the show.

September 4, 2012

ON OUR FIRST FULL DAY IN YELLOWSTONE, we decided to take a quick overview bus tour. In the past, we have taken such tours in European cities and found them to be an easy way to get an overall view of wherever we were staying. Our quick overview tour of a small section of the 2.2 million acre park took about 8 hours. Fortunately, our tour director was very knowledgeable and kept up a running commentary for the full 8 hours.

We stopped at a variety of scenic spots and saw a variety of wildlife, including an elk and numerous buffalo. I even took photos of a couple of birds for Carole, a Western Blue Bird and a somewhat shy raven.

Throughout the park we saw numerous signs to the effect that the animals were wild and dangerous. Other signs recommended safe viewing distances for the various animals. Given that over three million people visit Yellowstone each year, it follows that some of these people will be very stupid. One of those stupid persons was in the park last week. When he spotted a buffalo resting on its side, he concluded that he had a great photo op. He decided that the photo would be even better if the buffalo would simply turn its head slightly. When the visitor walked up to the buffalo and tried to move its head, the buffalo took umbrage at this invasion of his personal space and nearly gored the guy to death. Every year, a number of people are gored by buffalo. In almost every case, those people unwisely had gotten too close to the buffalo.
The main focus of the tour was the various “thermal” sites which most people identify with Yellowstone.  Supposedly, 2/3 of the geysers in the world are located in Yellowstone; and we must have seen most of them.
People are warned to stay on the wooden boardwalks because the ground could be a thin crust over some steamy place. A couple of hours into the tour, along with a couple of thousand other people, we watched Old Faithful erupt.
Yellowstone rests on top of a huge volcano which is still deemed active although it has not erupted in hundreds of thousands of years. The caldera of the volcano is nearly forty miles wide. Years ago, we sailed into the caldera of an ancient volcano at Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea. That volcano caused massive damage in the Mediterranean Sea and may have been the source of the myth of Atlantis. Nevertheless, the caldera at Santorini was only a few miles wide. While there may not have been an eruption for hundreds of thousands of years in Yellowstone, the molten rocks several miles below the surface create super-heated water which comes to the surface in geysers, steam vents, mud-pots and hot springs. Altogether, there are ten thousand of these hot spots in the park. Some of the hot spots emit odors which would be familiar to anyone who has been in a fraternity house the morning after a beer party.

The hot spots are indeed hot; their temperatures are usually over 200 degrees. Some of the hot springs are at what they call a rolling boil on the Cooking Channel. Somehow, over the years, a few visitors must have mistaken the hot springs for the hot tubs in their local health clubs. Twenty people have died from burns sustained while leaping or falling into hot springs. Alcohol was involved in more than a few of these incidents. The only one of these people I could excuse for jumping into the pool was a man who jumped in trying to save his dog. Sadly, his efforts were in vain; and the man and the dog died the next day. 
Later in the day, I purchased a book entitled Death in Yellowstone. The author, Lee H. Whittlesey, was a lawyer who had once been a park ranger. His book is not a typical collection of yarns the rangers tell the tourists, but a scholarly account of the variety of deaths which have occurred in the park over the years. His accounts of people being gobbled up by grizzlies and his descriptions of people emerging blind and skinless from hot spots are probably not appropriate for bed time stories.
There was only one sour note to the tour, the presence of a guy who viewed himself as an expert. On many of the tours we have taken over the years, there has been a self-styled expert in the tour group. Invariably a stupid male, these experts are easy to spot. Early in the tour, they call attention to themselves by vigorously nodding in agreement with comments made by the tour director and making observations like: “I’m glad you pointed that out; most people don’t know that.”  We had one of those experts on our tour. His specialty was helping the tour director along by adding details he must have recently read in some brochure.
I waited for the right moment to deal with the expert. That moment came when the tour director pointed out a minor attraction called The Abyss Pool. At this point, I pulled the expert aside; and, in my best entre nous voice, began a brief conversation.
“Weren’t you surprised that there was no warning sign by that pool?”

“You must have missed it; it’s right over there.”
“No, no, I wasn’t referring to the danger of burning. I was referring to the danger of staring.”
“Staring? I’m not I following you.”
“Surely, you are aware of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. He was the first person to observe that if you stare too long into an abyss, the abyss starts staring back.”
I then sniffed auditably and turned away from the obviously puzzled expert and rejoined the group. During the balance of the tour, I would catch the expert sneaking surreptitious looks at me. In any event, he became markedly more subdued.

September 5, 2012

WE HAD HEARD FROM SEVERAL SOURCES a grizzly bear had been observed the day before in Hayden Valley, about ten miles south of our lodge. Hoping to spot one of those elusive creatures, we got up shortly after dawn and drove down to the valley. About a hundred other people had also heard about the bear and were staring off in the direction it had been seen the day before. Despite a few dozen spotting scopes and even more binoculars, no one saw the bear. Because we were up so early, we headed over to an early morning Ranger presentation a few miles from our lodge. Her first-rate presentation focused on a remarkable photographer named Johnson who took the first photos of Yellowstone in 1871. His photos became famous and helped accelerate he movement to declare Yellowstone our first National Park.

We then had lunch and visited the Learning Center, a euphemism for a small museum. 

Complete with short videos, relief maps, and attractive displays, it gave me my first glimmering of understanding of the geology of Yellowstone.  I understood the topic even better after listening to another ranger presentation later in the day. He was so good that we sat through his second talk, an explanation of the thousand year old symbiotic relationship between ravens and wolves.

As curious as it might sound, ravens and wolves hunt together. To use an incipient cliché, each brings something to the table. Wolves, hunting in packs, are able to take down most animals and rip them open. While ravens are meat eaters, their beaks are not capable of breaking through the skin of dead animals. They do have one helpful skill, that of spotting potential prey and alerting the wolves by circling over the potential meal. As a result, ravens and wolves often hunt together, the ravens spotting and the wolves killing. It is a common sight to see wolves and ravens having dinner together over an elk carcass.

For a number of years in the park ravens did not have their wolf friends to help them find meat. By the mid-1920s, wolves had been eradicated from the park. Wolves feed on elk; and the absence of wolves allowed the elk in the park to increase to unmanageable numbers. With no predators, elk began to destroy the park’s habitat. In 1993, the government created a huge controversy in the western states by deciding to reintroduce wolves to the park. Farmer and ranchers in the areas near the park were ready to lynch the park’s management. To allay the fears of the farmers and ranchers, the government created a fund to reimburse livestock owners for the value of any livestock killed by wolves. Not satisfied with the government’s palliative efforts, within a few years a class action law suit was filed in federal court to eliminate the reintroduction program. As the evidence unfolded, it became clear that less than one percent of the farmer/ranchers’ animals who had been killed by predators had been killed by wolves. Also, the fund the government created had hardly been tapped. The judge ruled in favor of the park.

In the fullness of time, the wolf haters prevailed. As of August 30 of this year, wolves were taken off of the endangered species list and now can be shot on sight outside of certain protected areas like Yellowstone. A second law suit, filed a number of years after the original abortive one, had produced evidence that the wolves had extended their range far beyond the park, even into surrounding states. It was the day of jubilee in Wyoming, and the local papers’ headlines announced the government’s decision with banner headlines similar to the ones they must have published proclaiming the end of WWII. Little Red Riding Hood can now go visit her grandmother with no fear of a wolf posing as her grandmother. 

Carole picked up another Jr. Ranger badge today. In each of the booklets she has had to complete to obtain the coveted badge, she has been required to draw a picture. Every ranger who has signed off on her completion of the badge requirements has been impressed with her artwork. Carole has always had artistic abilities. When she graduated from high school, she even considered going to college at the Chicago Art Institute. Her level- headed father, however, wisely concluded that he did not want her going to school with “those hippies.”

Hearing about another lead on where to see grizzlies, we drove about 15 miles north to where they were supposed to be hanging around getting ready for winter. Wherever they were hanging around, we didn’t find them. We took another shot at finding the Hayden Valley bear. When we returned to Hayden Valley, we found instead several hundred buffalo. They must have come in search of the bear too. We also witnessed some of those stupid people who visit the park and ignore the ubiquitous warning signs. While we were observing the buffalo from the safety of our Durango, a huge buffalo approached the passenger-side door. A teen-aged girl and her parents moved to within 15 feet of the beast. They will probably tell other visitors that the rangers are wrong; buffalo are not dangerous.

September 8, 2012

WE DECIDED TODAY, for our last day in Yellowstone, that we would explore Fishing Bridge, the name given to both a village and a bridge a few miles north of us. Fishing Bridge, the actual bridge, still exists; but the Park prohibited fishing from it years ago. Nevertheless, the bridge still provides some great views of the Yellowstone River. William Clark spent a short time on the river, but near its headwaters up in Montana. John Colter spent part of the winter of 1807-1808 on and near the river in both Montana and in what is now Yellowstone Park.

In the actual village, we attended another ranger presentation.  This one was on foxes. While we have foxes in the woods behind our house, the only time we see them is when they are loping away. In our neighborhood, they are often mistaken for dogs. However, their bushy tails and their characteristic lope easily distinguishes them from dogs. Their major diet in Yellowstone is pocket gophers which they hunt year round. The ranger showed us a short film clip of a fox hunting pocket gophers in deep snow.  Looking remarkably like a dog hunting for a treat, the fox darted his snout back and forth until it ended up focusing on a specific area of the snow. The fox then leaped into the air and performed a perfect half-gainer into the snow. After its dive, only its tail was visible. When it emerged from the snow, it had a pocket gopher in its mouth. Not a bad trick. 

Looking for some scenic areas, we drove northeast of the village and checked out a variety of pullovers. At one pullover, a sign proclaimed that we were viewing prime grizzly country. Unfortunately, grizzlies can't read.  We drove a few more miles and encountered a group of people and a ranger looking and pointing to the west. We pulled over and learned that a few minutes earlier a wolf had been hanging around the edge of a woods a couple of hundred yards away munching on a carcass. After waiting patiently for a few minutes, at least patiently for me, we concluded that the wolf had heard that I was coming with my camera and had disappeared into the woods.

A few scenic stops further into the high county, we stopped at Lake Butte and were able to see across Lake Yellowstone to our destination tomorrow: the Tetons.

Back at Grant Village, we checked to see if the Mad Hopper was going to give the nightly ranger talk. Because he wasn't hopping, we attended the program, a talk about grizzly bears. The ranger, a woman in her mid-30s, have been around bears in Yosemite, Alaska and Yellowstone. In fact, she has had several encounters with them. In each case, she had surprised a grizzly while hiking in a remote area. In one case, as she was coming around a corner, she and a bear surprised each other. Both ended up backing away from each other. She gave us the same advice other rangers have given us when in bear country: make a lot of noise and don't run away from them. Not easy advice to follow, especially her further suggestion that you flop to the ground and play dead if a bear sees you.
She told us that two hikers were killed by grizzlies in Yellowstone last year. Our earlier rangers had failed to mention this juicy tidbit.


September 10, 2012

I WOKE UP HUNGRY and walked about a quarter of a mile in near darkness to the restaurant out by the road. Aware of the bear issue, I considered my options. There was no way I was going to clap and sing songs as the ranger had suggested. Someone might hear me or, worse yet, see me. There was also no way I was going to flop down on the gravel road. I decided that if I saw a bear, I would simply act casual and maybe give it a little wave.
We lounged around the cabin , and emerged only to drive into Jackson, some forty miles away. On our drive, we stopped several times to stare at the magnificent Tetons. Particularly impressive was the Cathedral Group which consists of several tall mountains, the tallest of which is the Grand Teton (13,770 feet). Its imposing height discourages day-hikers and picnickers.
Jackson, with a population of nearly 9,000, is one of the largest towns in the state. Supposedly, it is a hangout for the rich and famous. We didn’t see anyone famous, but we may have seen some rich people. You can’t always spot rich people. Famous people are easier to spot because they usually wear large sun glasses. We planned to return to the Sidewinder for dinner, the place we watched the first half on the Packer game; but it was closed. Because I was hungry, we stopped at the first place we saw – a Mexican pizza joint. After savoring our dinner, I concluded that the owner didn’t know much about either pizza or Mexican food. We then drove back to the lodge/cabin.


September 11, 2012

WE WANTED TO GET A CLOSER VIEW of the Tetons today, so we drove up to Colter’s Bay at the north end of Jackson Hole. I was secretly happy that John Colter had received some slight recognition. After all, he was the first white man to visit Jackson Hole. A couple of pull outs on the way there offered some majestic views of the Tetons. We had lunch at the Jackson Lake Lodge, which offered equally great views during our meal.

The visitors’ center at the bay had a ranger station nearby, and Carole got the Jr. Ranger booklet and began working on the required activities. While Carole was working on her badge requirements, I took a postprandial walk and saw another man walking near the bay. I hate to admit it, but I did something I have never done before. I walked up to this stranger and asked him his name. He said simply: “Call me Shane.” He is probably still running away from that obnoxious kid who kept yelling “Shane come back.”

We watched a couple of good films on wildlife in the visitors’ center; I became so relaxed that I nearly nodded off.
Between Carole’s work toward her badge, and our ambling around the area near the bay, we were able to kill time until 6:00pm when a ranger was scheduled to point out wildlife from a particularly scenic vantage point.
The ranger certainly did his job, all without a single hop. From 6:00pm to 7:30pm, we saw elk, bald eagles, white pelicans, cormorants, deer, ospreys and sand hill cranes. The big prize, however, was our first sighting of a grizzly bear in the wild. Lumbering along a river bank, over a half mile away, he posed no danger to us, except possible eye strain. 
There was only one point in his presentation where the ranger faltered. When a man wearing a John Deere cap and an Iowa sweatshirt asked what the word Teton meant, the cognoscenti in the crowd chuckled.  Mindful of a handful of young kids in the audience, the ranger launched into a convoluted explanation which he hoped would answer the question for the adults while leaving the kids confused. He lost me when he started talking about the Seinfield episode which featured Teri Hatcher. 
Because the questioner was obviously a farmer, the ranger should have simply said that the mountain men who named the range were very poor spellers and left out the letter “a.” To make sure the questioner understood what he meant, the ranger could have then spelled out the word: t-e-a-t-o-n. If he had taken this approach, the farmer would have said something like the following: “Hah, haw, haw, now I get it; that’s the way they spell it in Udder News, a magazine we get back in Iowa.”

Because of the distances involved, I couldn’t take any pictures of the abundance of wildlife we saw that evening. Also, my attempts at getting a good shot of the sunset over the Tetons failed; I was fumbling around with the “scenery” settings on my camera when the sun was dipping behind the mountains.



September 12, 2012

IT HAS BEEN EXTREMELY DRY in the West this year; and there have been an usually high number of fires. California, Idaho and Wyoming have already exceeded their annual budgets for firefighting. When we left our cabin and drove south through the Jackson Hole, we could see heavy smoke just south of Jackson. We were concerned that we might not be able to use the only road to Pinedale, Wyoming, our destination for the day.

Our fears proved to be baseless, for we reached Pinedale within three hours, averaging close to 45 miles an hour on our mountain drive. Pinedale is a small town, but it is located in historic Green River Valley, near where six different rendezvous were held during the short-lived era of the mountain men.


While John Colter may have been the first true mountain man, he would be dead before fur trapping became a large-scale business. Fueled by a heavy demand for beaver skins from Europeans who used them for the then fashionable beaver hats, a couple of trading companies in St. Louis advertised for men who would trap beavers in the Rockies and sell them to the trading companies. Their ads attracted numerous men seeking both adventure and fortune. 


By the mid-1820s, hundreds of men became fur trappers. They were a very diverse group of men. Many had shady pasts, while others had perfectly respectful pasts but wanted some adventure in their lives. Some were literate, others were not even able to sign their names. Most of them found far more adventure and far less money than they had anticipated. Typically staying in the Rockies for around six months, the mountain men faced a variety of risks, including: Indians, rattlesnakes, broken limbs, grizzly bears, sicknesses, and extreme cold. A large number of trappers would perish each year, and often the location and the manner of their death would never be known. 


In late summer of each year, the fur trappers would meet at a prearranged date and site, called a rendezvous, to sell their furs and buy supplies for the next trapping season. Once their business was out of the way, they could proceed to the fun: racing, lying, fighting, drinking, gambling, wenching. In some years, as many as 200 trappers and 1,000 Indians would show up. A typical rendezvous would last for a couple of weeks or until the trappers ran out of money. Many of the famous mountain men such as Jim Bridger, Jed Smith, Bill Sublette were regulars at the annual rendevous.


The era of the fur-trapping mountain men was extremely short, from about 1825 to 1840 when the demand for beaver hats was replaced by a demand for silk hats. A few of the mountain men, such as Jim Bridger, found employment as guides for the increasing number of wagon trains heading west. Some like Jed Smith would not survive the era; he was attacked and killed by a group of Comanches in 1831.


Pinedale has a museum devoted to the mountain men. Containing exhibits of hundreds of items actually used by the mountain men, it is a fitting tribute to the almost mystical mountain men. At the end of our tour of the museum, I purchased a biography of one of the greatest of the mountain men, Jedediah Smith:  Like John Colter, Smith's contributions were overlooked by historians for many years. When parts of his journal came to light in the 1930s, scholars began to recognize that he may have been the greatest of the mountain men.



September 13, 2012

WE EXPECTED THAT OUR 100 MILE DRIVE south to Rock Springs would offer little of interest to us, but as we drove south we saw a sign marking one of the original pony express stops. You may recall that Buffalo Bull (AKA Buffalo Bill) was supposedly a pony express rider. While all amateur historians attest to his adventures as a pony express rider, most professional historians note that the only evidence of his pony express days was Buffalo Bill. Despite its prominence in text books, the pony express was in existence for only 18 months before it was supplanted by telegraph. Across the street from the marker for the pony express, two old boys were sitting eating huge ice cream cones.  Since Carole is fond of ice cream, we went into the old store behind the men and purchased a couple of cones. The “single scoops” were the size of softballs. Segueing into my Indiana personality, I went outside to join my wife who was standing near the old boys. Both men were from Utah, our destination for tomorrow. Like all of the male residents of Utah and Wyoming, they were hunters and gave us some tips on viewing wildlife in Utah.

It suddenly dawned on me that we must be fairly close to South Pass, the gap in the Wind River Range of the Rockies which was used by thousands of wagon trains to Utah, Oregon and California. I asked the men our distance from South Pass. One of the men pointed and said, “It’s down the road a piece, about 20 miles.”  We couldn’t miss such an important part of American history and drove down the road “a piece.”  

Prior to the early 1820s, it was widely believed that settlement of the far West would never involve large numbers of people. Unlike the East, where the Ohio River or the Great Lakes provided water routes into Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, there were no water routes leading west.  As Lewis and Clark discovered, the mountains prevented rivers from flowing past the continental divide. However, in the early 1820s, a huge, flat gap through the Wind River Range was discovered and promptly named South Pass.  During the next forty-five years, around 200,000 emigrants would stream though South Pass.

South Pass was of particular interest to me because two of my ancestors, Lafe Mackey and Rees Morgan came through the pass in 1852 on their way to the gold fields in California. There is no evidence that either man found any gold. Of course, there is the possibility that they did find gold, but buried it in one of the cornfields north of Streator, Illinois. When I was in high school, I read a letter Lafe had written to his family back in Illinois. I don't remember what he said, and the letter has disappeared.  Rees did Lafe one better; he kept a journal of his trip to “Hangtown,“modern day Placerville, California. While the actual journal disappeared sometime in the 1960s, a number of people in my hometown read the original journal. Everyone who has read the journal, or excerpts from it, was impressed with Rees’ writing, describing it as both witty and grammatically correct.

Fortunately, one of the men who read the journal was Lyle Yeck, an educator and an expert on the early history of LaSalle County, Illinois. At some point in the 1960s, he prepared a short monograph on Rees’ trip west. Yeck wisely allowed Rees to tell the story; most of the monograph consists of lengthy quotations from Rees’ journal. The publication, The Perilous Road to Hangtown, with Rees’ vivid descriptions, reads like the script for a John Ford western. His journal is peppered with entries describing the biggest threat to the emigrants: “Saw 9 more graves today – Cholera.” The feared Indiana attacks were few and far between; but cholera killed thousands of travelers. Rees described frontier justice in one entry. A member of the wagon train murdered other man. He was tried one day, and hanged on the following day. Because the wagon train was in a tree-less area when the murder occurred, the pioneers used some creativity for the hanging. They dug a pit and tied two wagon tongues over the pit. Attaching a rope to the wagon tongues, they dropped the killer toward the pit. It was a different time.

Ironically, we didn’t see any tourists driving along the route to South Pass; one of the quintessential areas in the history of the West, but somehow ignored by tourists.  At the end of the day, we saw more bears. These bears were not grizzly bears, but Chicago Bears; and the Packers did to them what they usually do to them


September 14, 2012

WE LEFT WYOMING FOR UTAH TODAY, and I thought Carole would appreciate a nostalgic parting song. She has always liked my singing. I decided to sing a couple of verses of “Goodbye Old Paint,” but realized that I only knew a couple of lines from that old western classic. My planned serenade ended when I read the lyrics to “Goodbye Old Paint” on the Internet; they were as unintelligible as the lyrics in a Chuck Berry song. When I apologized to Carole for not singing that venerable old song, she said: “Bruce, we are not leaving Cheyenne; we have never even been in Cheyenne.” Carole has a tendency to be too detailed oriented at times.

Our destination for the day was Vernal, Utah, a place where thousands of fossils and bones from prehistoric animals and reptiles have been uncovered. Carole has always been interested in dinosaurs and has given several presentations to school groups on dinosaurs. Still trying to impress her after all these years, I told her that I began my study of dinosaurs at an early age. In fact, I admitted, most of what I know about dinosaurs I learned in those far off days.

As usual, our drive was along a road which gave us ample opportunity to view the rugged mountains and deep basins between Rock Springs and Vernal. During one 60 mile stretch, we observed wild horses and prong-horned antelope; but did not see a single building. (I am going to have to look up the differences between basins, canyons, valleys, washes and arroyos.) There were no pullover spots when we saw the horses and antelope, and I didn’t want to be one of those goofy tourists who stops in the middle of a mountain road to observe something they deem interesting.

At one point, I knew that we were viewing a basin because a sign told us that we were looking down into Uintah Basin. One viewing site gave us pause. It was entitled Uintah Forest; yet, there was not a tree in sight.

At another scenic overlook, a sign said that the valley below had some extreme temperature changes: from over 100 in the summer to lower than 30 degrees below zero in the winter.

We stopped at a dam along the Green River, and were told that we were just in time for an hour guided tour of the mechanics of the dam. Whenever I am confronted with the opportunity for a tour of a factory or any other place that is mechanical in nature, Mies van der Rohe’s maxim that “less is more” jumps to the forefront of my mind. I could have handled ten or even fifteen minutes, but an hour was out of the question. Content with viewing the dam from the outside, we continued on our way.

When we arrived in Vernal, I spotted a sign which read, “Why are spear-fishermen discriminated against?” I pondered the question for a minute, and made a mental note to check into the issue. After getting our bearings, we made our way to the Utah Field House of Natural History, a place similar to but smaller than the Field Museum. Its focus was on things that had been dug up in the area. Accordingly, there were displays of fossils and old bones along with recreations of long-ago animals and reptiles. There was even a short film where a paleontologist excitedly explained that, after several years of digging, he had found two small bones which fit together.

The most difficult part of the day was still ahead of us. We checked into our motel, and looked for a place to eat. Most of the restaurants we have encountered in the small towns out west cater almost exclusively to the hoi polloi.  Neither Carole nor I will ever be accused of being gourmands, not for us those snooty restaurants where the waiters walk very slowly, have an arrogant look on their faces and call salads “suh-lads.”   However, we were getting tired of eating hamburgers and prowled around the town looking for some place, other than a franchise, where we could eat.   We eventually settled on a place.  After reading the menu, Carole ordered a hamburger complete with iceberg lettuce.  I ordered “guy rows,” the local pronunciation of gyros.  Those franchise places are starting to look pretty good. 


September 15, 2012

FOR YEARS CAROLE HAS WANTED TO GO TO DINOSAUR MONUMENT, a 200,000 acre park located in both Utah and Colorado, where tens of thousands of dinosaur bones have been unearthed. The park is only about 12 miles south of Vernal, Utah and we arrived there late in the morning. Our first stop was the Quarry Visitor’s Center. From there, visitors take a shuttle to the quarry wall.  After we departed from the shuttle, we followed a path which had markers telling us how many millions of miles into the past we were walking. Each sign put us additional millions of years in the past. There were also signs warning us to stay on the path. I didn’t need any warning; I had read Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder years ago. I didn’t want to create any “Butterfly Effect.

The quarry wall is a part of the excavations made in the early part of the Twentith Century. Earl Douglass, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who first excavated the site,  was able to convince his employer to leave a large numbers of bone in situ. The result is a long wall, in a covered shed, with nearly 1,500 bones embedded in it. An extremely competent guide explained that we were looking at part of an ancient river bed. The bones in the wall had been washed down river until debris covered them. The different layers in the wall took millions of years to form. To make the bones visable to viewers, it took three men working thirty years to brush away the debris without damaging the bones. I was reminded yet again why paleontology was one of the half dozen or so possible career choices I ended up discarding in college. Our fraternity advisor had been a paleontologist, and had told me how he had spent several summers at various digs working with tooth brushes on rocks. 

Our guide, who we learned was a retired electrical engineer, explained that dinosaur bones are usually found in dry, arid areas.  He explained that dinosaur bones are probably located in many areas, but the potential dig sites are covered by trees, houses and cities. To our surprise, excavations in China and South America are unearthing thousands of dinosaur remains.  In addition to the wall, he talked about several mock ups of dinosaurs which were located on the lower level of the shed. 

After viewing the wall, and after Carole got her Jr. Ranger booklet, we took a drive through the park. At several locations, we were able to view petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indians. Those long-dead Indians would be surprised to know that they were “Fremont” Indians. They were named in honor of John C. Fremont (AKA “The Pathfinder"), an explorer/soldier/presidential candidate, whose greatest accomplishment was marrying the daughter of the brash senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton.  Old Benton, who had the pretentious habit of referring to himself in the third person (“Benton thinks…”), did everything he could to promote the name and career of his son-in-law.

Throughout our drive, we had panoramic views of the Blue Mountains.  At some points, we could see the deceptive power of water: huge mountains cut through by a small river.  There were numerous hiking trails throughout the area, but we figured that we were in such good shape we didn't need the exercise.
We finally found an acceptable solution to our dining issue when we located a New York style deli.

September 16, 2012

OUR NEXT BIG DESTINATION IS BRYCE CANYON, UTAH. Carole decided to book a place about halfway there. When I asked her where we were going to be staying she said, “Ferron.” I replied, Faron, I’ll bet it’s the home town of the great country singer Faron Young; you know, “Hello Walls.” 

When I found it on the map, I could see that the town was very small and was named Ferron, not Faron. Carole said she wasn’t sure how she found the motel, but she could not book it on the Internet; instead, she had to call. A warning bell went off when she told me that she even got our room number when she booked the motel.

We took our time driving down to Ferron, stopping several times to take pictures. We saw a couple of signs warning of “Frequent deer and elk crossings.” Although we live in an area where there are deer virtually everywhere, we had never seen the word frequent in any of the warning signs near home. The only deer we encountered decided that it wanted to race our Durango; it lost to the Hemi.
The first big town (read around 500 people) was Price. Noting a number of cars near the fairground, we drove over there to see what was happening. When we got there, we could see that it was a model airplane club, the kind that flies miniature planes around by remote control. Years ago, our younger daughter and I were riding our bikes when we saw some of those remote controlled airplanes and pulled over to watch. After what seemed like several hours, we decided that we had seen enough. Carole and I spent about the same length of time watching the planes today as our daughter and I did years ago.

We ate lunch in the only restaurant in Price and discovered that it was a much hyped Sunday brunch.The place was packed with people from miles around to partake of the buffet lunch.  Business really picked up when a tour bus dumped out a large number of people.  Obviously, the driver knew that the restaurant was the only one within miles. Most likely, he had all of the passengers licking their chops in anticipation of the brunch. We ordered from the menu, and a loud woman behind us ordered prime rib. I had noted her earlier when she examined the buffet and returned to her table frowning and shaking her head. When her order came, she bellowed “Take it back; I ordered it medium rare.” Remembering my new, softer, mellower persona, I refrained from turning around and saying what I was thinking: “You idiot, what did you expect when you ordered prime rib on a Sunday morning in a buffet restaurant in a town of this size?”


September 17, 2012

WE DISCOVERED THIS MORNING THAT OUR MOTEL in Ferron wasn’t a normal motel after all. Both water faucets produced hot water; and we had to share the bathroom with a couple of hundred ants. We left earlier than usual.

Our Durango has been chafing at the bit for the last several days; she is not used to plodding along at forty-five miles an hour in the mountains. Today, on our way to Bryce Canyon, she was able to break loose on Interstate 70. Once we got off of the Interstate and headed south, we began to soak up some local color.

Because Butch Cassidy was born in Utah, his name pops up everywhere. Similar to the Midwest, where residents living within a couple hundred miles from Chicago claim that Al Capone used to spend a lot of time in their town, there are numerous places in Utah claiming that old Butch used to hide out, live, wench, steal, or drink in their locale. I don’t know how he had time to rob any banks or even engage in witty conversations with the Sundance Kid if he spent so much time in all of these places.

When we finally reached southern Utah, we found that there were around 28 million acres of interconnected state and national parks or monuments. The word “monument,” by the way, does not refer to a single-standing structure. Instead, the word monument in both Wyoming and Utah usually refers to a park or forest. Our motel, for example, is located at the western edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument, a two million acre “monument.”  There were no ants in the bathroom of the motel; and the faucets worked in the normal way, hot and cold.  As expected, there was a Mormon Bible in our room. For some peculiar reason, however, we could not watch Monday Night Football.

We stopped by the visitors’ center at the Bryce Canyon National Park to watch a film designed to provide visitors with an overview of the unique rock structures which are misleadingly referred to as a canyon. Carole signed up for another Jr. Ranger program, and we signed up for a three hour bus tour tomorrow. In Yellowstone, the overview bus trip, run by good old Zanaterra, cost $71. The trip here is free. 

On our way to our motel from Bryce Canyon, we read a sign overlooking a wide expanse of land that said that over 7,000 stars can be viewed from that vantage point. In contrast, in a typical rural area in the United States only around 2,000 stars can be viewed. The rub, of course, is that you have to drive through the mountains at night to get to that sign. Still wanting to view the stars, we drove out in the country a couple of miles from our motel. We had the best view of the night sky that we have had since we went to Tucson to see Haley's comet years ago. It was like being in a planetarium. The view of the Milky Way is not one we can get at home and is not something we will soon forget.


September 18, 2012

COMPARED TO YELLOWSTONE, OR EVEN ONE OF THE FIFTY or so parks or monuments in Utah, Bryce Canyon is relatively small; and it is not really a canyon. Several guides and rangers explained to us that a canyon has a river at its bottom.  Bryce Canyon is only around 32,000 acres. Its attraction is not its size; rather, people come from all over the world to see the unique stone structures called Hoodoos. The term hoodoo is an actual geological term used to describe the oddly shaped formations created by erosion of intermingled soft and hard rocks. Hoodoos are found in a number of places in the world, but Bryce Canyon is the undisputed mother lode of these oddly shaped structures.


We listened to a ranger talk on the geology of the park and then took a “stop and look” bus tour to the southern end of the park where we could see the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, 90 miles in the distance. Bryce Canyon has some of the clearest air in the United States with a medium daily visibility of over 100 miles. Chicago’s medium daily visibility is only 25 miles.

After our return from the south end of the canyon, we stopped to view various Hoodoos, some of which are supposed to look like humans. Similar to my problem seeing the animals or people in constellations, I had some difficulty making out the humans in the Hoodoos. I confused the supposed image of Queen Victoria with the supposed image of a Mayan Chief.


Cliff, our bus driver, like most tour bus drivers, was somewhat of a raconteur. He regaled us with a number of Butch Cassidy tales, reminiscent of the earliest Robin Hood legends in both authenticity and story line. Cliff is one of the “believers” that Butch and Sundance were never killed in Bolivia, but came back to the United States and lived out law-abiding lives. I had heard this before. Butch’s youngest sister had made the same claim shortly after the Newman/Redford movie came out. Our driver added some new details to the story. According to Cliff, Butch and Sundance worked their way up to the United States through South and Central America. They even spent some time with Pancho Villa. He didn’t tell us what Sundance ended up doing, but he did reveal that Butch spent the rest of his life running a store in Oregon. On sporadic occasions, Butch would even visit family members in Utah. Cliff must know what he talking about. After all, he has a 95 year old friend who told him most of what he knows about Butch. 

We enjoyed our star gazing the previous evening so much that we decided to tackle the night mountain driving required to attend a ranger-run astronomy program. Similar to one we attended in Yellowstone, the program consisted of an hour lecture presentation followed by actual viewing of the sky through telescopes.

Normally, I don’t care for scientific explanations of the universe. Like the guy in the Walt Whitman poem, “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” I prefer to simply gaze at the stars. As it worked out, I did not need to worry about any scientific explanations from the ranger in charge of the night lecture. The ranger who presented the lecture must have attended the same ranger training school that produced the Hopper. You may recall that the Hopper believed that his presentation would be more effective if he acted like a clown. The guy tonight must have concluded that his presentation would be improved if he made people in the audience look like clowns. He wanted to teach us that “days” on Mercury are longer than years on that little planet. One way of making his point would have been to state that Mercury revolves around the sun far more rapidly than it rotates on its axis. He could have added that Mercury orbits the Sun two times while making only a single rotation on its axis.

Instead of devoting a sentence or two to Mercury’s days and years, our ranger had a different approach. He solicited a couple of volunteers to act as the Sun and Mercury. The guy who acted as the Sun had an easy task; he simply stood in the middle of the room with a puzzled look on his face. The poor woman who portrayed Mercury was repeatedly pushed and pulled in large circles around the “Sun.” Every once in a while, the ranger would twist the woman to show us how Mercury rotates more slowly than it revolves. At two points in this spectacle, he said he needed “some help," and pushed a button which inexplicably produced a full volume blast of Gloria Gaynor shouting out about ten seconds of one of her forgettable songs. I am still pondering as to what purpose was served by the ear-shattering Gaynor blips.

After suffering through the fifteen minute explanation of the Mercury year/day topic, we retreated to the parking lot to wait until it was time to use the telescopes. Because there were long lines in front of the scopes, we wandered over to where a ranger was explaining the constellations. He used a laser pointer to point to the stars. We had seen one of those lasers during the Yellowstone sky show and were impressed with it. Demonstrating my superior education, I explained to Carole that the laser was not exactly a new tool. I reminded Carole that, years ago, Police Commissioner Gordon used to summon Bat Man by shining the image of a bat on the moon. The ranger’s presentation on the constellations was crisp and witty. I knew that he would be good when he repeatedly took shots at The International Astronomical Union, the organization that killed Pluto and infuriated people in my home town, the birth place of Clyde Tombaugh. Years before Clyde discovered the former planet of Pluto, he attended school at West Mackey School; he probably copied off of my Dad's papers.


September 19, 2012

IT WAS A LAZY DAY TODAY, and we slept late. When we finally got on the road, we drove into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, another monument which is really not a monument.  President Clinton designated the two million plus acres in the “monument” as a federal monument during his presidency.  His action angered people in the area at first, prompting outcries against big government. The outcries subsided when tourism increased in the area, and new businesses and jobs were created.

Carole wanted to work on another Jr. Ranger badge at the visitors’ center about 30 miles from where we were staying. After a slight set back in our plans due to the woman in the Garmin, we finally found the proper road. During the drive, we saw a herd of wild horses about half way to our destination, the town of Escalante. 

While Carole was running around completing the requirements for another ranger badge, I found some scrap books dealing with local history. I have always liked local history and visit local historical societies everywhere we travel. To paraphrase Tip O’Neil, “All history is local.”

The first white people to come into the area were, not surprisingly, Mormons who came here in the 1880s. Establishing a number of small towns near where we were staying, they soon found that simply living in the area was a struggle. At times, there was no water available. At other times, flash floods would destroy their homes and crops. Most of the towns disappeared within a few years after they were set up. Cannonville, the town where we are staying, was partially populated by people who tore down their houses in an area prone to flash floods and rebuilt their houses here. Up until 1940, mail was delivered by burros.


Life here today is not much easier than it was over a hundred years ago. There is nothing close to industry in the area;  and the restaurants, gift shops and motels often close in the winter when the temperatures reach 20 below and the snow is several feet deep. Yet, there are still people who live in the area year round.

We talked to a number of workers and employees at the motel, and all were very personable. Although we never asked them direct questions about how they lived or why they lived here, in the course of our conversations, they answered a number of our unasked questions. They are invariably Mormons and have deep roots in the area. One guy trained to be a plumber in Salt Lake City, but the union-controlled licensing bureau refused to give him a license because there were “no union locals” where he lived. Even with a license, he would find it hard to work more than half a year in this area. I overheard another guy ask someone who must have some type of trucking business which serves the area if they needed any drivers “up there.” From the look on his face, he must have gotten an encouraging response. Kids have to travel incredible distances to go to schools where the average teacher salary is around $20,000 a year. The nearest drug store is 35 miles away, and doctors are few and far between.

Although we have enjoyed our  stay, we are ready to move on to Zion National Park.  I have to admit that there has been one disappointing aspect to our trip: I haven’t seen a single rattlesnake. Despite seeing dozens of warning signs in the Badlands, Yellowstone and Bryce Canyon, I haven’t seen one rattlesnake or even heard a hint of a rattle. I’m hoping that when we get to Arizona one will pop up. Carole is always prowling around in the weeds here looking for rocks, and she will probably luck out and find one before I do. For some bizarre reason, I have always been fascinated with snakes. Having been bit by non-venomous snakes three times when I was a kid should have ended my interest, but it hasn’t.


One of my long-time friends and law partners was always coming up with crazy ideas, but the one I remember best is the one I labeled at the time “The Great Rattlesnake Hunt.” His idea was simple. We would go to some place in Illinois where rattlesnakes were common and we would each pick one up with our hands. He assured me that it would not be dangerous because we could employ any protective measures we so chose: thick gloves, double layers of pants, etc.  Largely because I could not find any place where I could rent a suit of armor, the project never got off of the ground. I should have come up with an alternative to the suit of armor idea.


September 20, 2012

WE TOOK OUR TIME ON OUR WAY TO ZION NATIONAL PARK. While we toyed with the idea of going to Beaver, Butch Cassidy’s birthplace, we concluded that it was too much of a detour. However, we did stop in Red Canyon, a place not far from Beaver. 

As we approached Zion, Carole spotted a rock shop; and we stopped to buy a few. Entering Zion National Park, we drove on the only stretch of the park where cars are permitted. To see other sections of the park, you have to take one of the frequent shuttles which take visitors to and from some of the most scenic areas of the park. After our trip through the park, I concluded that shuttles would be fine.

The park brochure euphemistically describes the road as having “frequent sharp switchbacks.” Put another way, there were blind, hairpin turns every 70 or 80 feet. Zion is the most popular park in Utah, and the road was crowded with European off season travelers. At several points, we drove though dark tunnels, one of which was over a mile long. During the entire 12 mile drive, there were “no passing lines” on the road for traffic from both directions. Rounding one turn, however, we nearly crashed into someone who felt that it was safe to try to pass someone while making a sharp curve on a mountain road, clearly a not-ready-for-Mensa person.


Always curious about the names of towns, I inquired as to why a town clearly safe from hurricanes would have such a name. Apparently, years ago some local commented on a particularly strong wind and said it was like being in a hurricane. Either the guy was very rich or the town was in the midst of a very boring year.


September 22, 2012

WE HAD A LONG, BUT A GOOD DAY in Zion National Park today. There are very few roads in the park, and limited parking. Like most people, we parked just outside the park and went to the visitors' center to get some basic background on the park. Carole picked up a new Jr. Ranger work sheet. 

Shuttlebuses run every 5 or 10 minutes, and we hopped on one to see those sights where Carole could do her "home work." One of those stops was at the Lodge where we could both eat lunch and look at the mountains. The lodge has a large front lawn, and people were sprawled all over it either eating lunch or simply relaxing. 

We took in a ranger presentation where we learned that the park has a large number of Tarantula Hawks.  They are not really hawks, but flying insects slightly larger than a wasp. Despite their small size, they impart one of the most painful stings of any insect in the world. Being stung by one has been likened to a three minute electrical shock. The ranger assured us that they usually don't bite people. In other words, she told us what we have been told about rattlesnakes, grizzly bears and mountain lions. I was certainly reassured by her comment.

A large number of people who come to the park come to hike its numerous hiking trails. Those trails range from very short, simple ones to extremely strenuous ones. Climbing is also popular in the park. Yesterday, a climber was found dead on one mountain. He was rappelling and fell. He caught one of his feet in his rope and was found upside down. I learned about this incident in an on-line newspaper. His death was not mentioned by any of the rangers or tour guides we met.

There are spectacular mountain views at every turn.



It is difficult to believe that a small river, the Virgin River, carved out these mountains over a period of millions of years. The widest point in the river we saw was around 25 feet, but heavy rains and melting snow can turn the little river into a large, raging body of water. Two years ago, the river flooded covering some of the roads and forcing the park to close for a time.

Hopping onto and off of the buses was tiring. Walking around trying to find the answers to Carole's home work was also tiring. By 4:30 pm we were ready to go back to the Visitors' Center and get Carole's new badge. Part of her homework required her to draw a badge for the park. When she turned in her Jr. Ranger brochure, the rangers passed it around and gave her the usual compliments.


September 23, 2012

WE TOOK OUT A DAY FROM OUR TRIP to visit a guy I have known since kindergarten. While we have always had very different life styles, we have always been friends. He has always been somewhat wild. Some of his friends in high school, for example, were among the most disreputable kids in school. Given the type of crowd he ran with, it is not surprising that he was involved in drinking and other "bad boy" behavior. In contrast, when I was in high school, my role model was Pat Boone, the then popular, milk-drinking, clean-living pop singer.

When my friend was in college, he took a year off to live in America's Sodom, New Orleans. Living not far from The House of the Rising Sun, he must have had quite a year. Over the years, he drifted to Las Vegas, America's Gomorrah. Finding Las Vegas more to his liking, he ended up living there for many years running poker rooms for such places as Bellagio.

When he returned to our wholesome hometown for a few years, I thought that he had finally seen the light. My hopes were dashed when I heard that he had moved back to Las Vegas. I was surprised to see that he may have finally seen the light. He has been living a clean life-style, including hiking throughout the mountains in the West.


September 24, 2012

OUR DRIVE FROM LAS VEGAS TO WILLIAMS, ARIZONA was both scenic and restful: no steep mountain driving. However, we are again in the maw of Xanaterra, that grasping, greedy monopoly.  I was surprised to find that we have free WiFi here.

Xanaterra's "lodge" has a very confusing layout. In fact, when you check in you are given a two-sided map, one for side for each floor, which shows exactly what a labyrinth they created. Theseus could not find his way out this place. In fact, some senior citizens have become lost for days.

I am getting car-lag. When we drove to Las Vegas, we were on Pacific time. Williams is on Mountain time, normally a hour later than Pacific time. I say "normally," because Williams does not buy into daylight savings time. As a result, the time here is the same as it is in Las Vegas. This is almost as confusing as Indiana where parts of the state are on Central time and other parts are on Eastern time. In addition, Indiana counties can choose whether they want to buy into "fast time," a localism for daylight savings time.

Tomorrow, we take a train ride to the Grand Canyon and a bus tour once we get there. Then, we return here. The train cars are really old; they are so old that some of them are exactly like the ones the Illinois Central used well into the 1960s. When the IC finally replaced them, they replaced them with ones exactly like the lighter colored ones below.  The old cars were far better built. While the IC was phasing in the newer cars, there was an accident where some of the new cars collided with the old cars: 39 people were killed. After the collision, the new cars looked like tin cans that had been ripped open. I hope that we get on one of the old cars tomorrow.


When we return from the canyon, we will drive into the heart of Grand Canyon National Park and stay for several days at one of the Xanaterra run lodges. If the lodge in the park charges $15 an hour to use WiFi, we may be off line for a few days.


AFTER BREAKFAST, WE MANAGED to avoid the “gun fight” staged for the tourists, and jumped on the train. To make sure that no one slept or read on the 2 hour and 15 minute train ride to the Canyon, a “car man” was stationed on each car. Our car man was 103 years old and kept up a constant line of jabber for most of the ride. Complete with a “by cracky” accent which sounded more Kentucky than Arizona, he acted much like an interlocutor in an old minstrel show with an inexhaustible supply of jokes, most of which were a cut below cornball. He was interrupted once by a banjo player who played such western standards as the "Wabash Cannonball."  A little later a  picture lady appeared offering to take peoples’ pictures for a “nominal fee.” When the picture lady reached us, she said: “Would you like your picture taken?” I replied: “No, I wouldn’t want my wife to see it.”  She left us alone after that.


Carole had scheduled a bus tour which met us at the train. When I saw the guide, I was ecstatic. He looked like a double for Curly in the Three Stooges. He even had some of Curly’s gestures. I half expected him to say “woo  woo  woo” and start performing his famous Curly shuffle. Within minutes of the start of his spiel, Carole began complaining that he was worse than the old guy on the train. Like most women, Carole detests the Stooges, and I assumed that her problems with the guide were simply a subliminal reaction to the guide’s eerie similarity to Curly. I soon changed my mind. He had an irritating habit of saying sentences and phrases twice, like the Mafioso nick-named “Jimmie Two-Times.” Also, he had a tendency of repeating certain words three times. As a change of pace, he would draw out certain sentences very slowly: “The Miss-iss-i-pp-i i-s a ve-r-y s-low r-iv-er.” Most annoying, however, he was a “required responder.” He would make a banal comment and then throw up his arms and say “right?”  If he did not get a response, he would continue to say “right?” One of his comments was “Is everyone going to eat tonight?” I knew there was a problem when Carole muttered the contrarian response of “no” to the question about eating.

He finally stopped where we could view the Canyon, and we quickly got as far away from him as possible and had our first awe inspiring  view of the canyon.  A mile deep and twenty miles wide, photos cannot do it justice. A single photo, even when the camera is set on “landscape,” captures about one percent of the view. 


The Colorado River looked like a small creek from the rim of the Canyon. My zoom lens revealed that we were observing one of the worst rapids on the river.



I could not get out of my mind the realization that Carole’s parents had twice taken a raft trip through all 277 miles of the Canyon. You might think that Carole’s mother was forced to take the raft trips by a macho husband. Although Carole’s dad was very much a “man’s man,” it was her mother who insisted on the trips. When Carole’s parents retired, her mother decided that she wanted to “do things.” In addition to the raft trips, she initiated a number of other trips, including a month trip to Egypt where they went up the Niles as far as Abu Simbel, a trip to China and a trip to Machu Picchu.
Impressed with Carole’s parents’ raft trips, we ended up taking a day raft trip with our kids soon after Carole’s parents returned from their first trip. Our trip was also on the Colorado, but not in the Canyon. We had decided that our kids should have the experience of running some rapids, just like their grandparents had done. While we were going through one set of rapids, I was pitched overboard. Our oldest daughter decided that she had to “save her dad,” and jumped in also. She needed have worried; I shot through the rapids in seconds. It was like the world’s fastest water slide. While our oldest daughter and I were laughing, we noted that Carole appeared to be more than mildly upset.
Carole’s irritation with our guide got so bad that she wanted to leave the tour early. Still hoping that the guide would end up with the Curly Shuffle, we stayed until the end. To date, none of the guides we have used have solicited for tips. We hadn’t even seen a single discretely placed tip box on any of our tours. Remembering my maxim that, “The worst guides always expect the biggest tips,” I was ready for Curly. Sure enough, when we exited the bus, old Curly had his hand out, palm up. I had made sure that I had a bag in each hand, and simply shrugged my shoulders sadly. Worn out from the tour, we ate dinner and retired to our room.

September 26, 2012

THE CAR MAN AND THE BUS GUIDE left us so exhausted that we slept late. When we eventually got up, we took a walk to the rim and again marveled over the size and ever changing light of the Canyon. Many prominent artists come to paint the canyon, and I snapped a photo of one of them.

The friend we had dinner with the other evening had hiked rim to rim hike last year; and looking through our binoculars, we began to appreciate what that meant:  a mile walk down into the Canyon, a ten mile walk across it, and then a hike up the North Rim. Because the route is not along straight lines, the total distance is around 26 miles.


Many people have an urge to get to the bottom of the canyon. For hikers, there are moderate, strenuous and extra-strenuous hikes. Occasionally, hikers will become too tired to make the climb back up. If they decide that they want a helicopter ride to the top, the price tag is $3,000. Some people like to hike to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging at the bottom of the Canyon. Other people take burro rides to the bottom. The burros are very well trained, but like to walk as close to the edge as they can. A few people, after seeing the movie Thelma and Louise have committed suicide by driving cars into the canyon.

After pondering a possible descent, we decided against it. It was around 100 degrees in the canyon, and we will blame the heat when we tell people why we decided not to hike down into the canyon. The truth is that there has never been a time in my life when I would have thought that hiking up and down the canyon would have been fun. Instead of risking a $3,000 helicopter extraction fee, we took a shuttle to a ranger show. On our way, we saw a massive elk with a rack which would have dissuaded even the stupidest tourist from approaching it. Directly across the road from the elk, a male mule deer was quietly eating.  In comparison to the elk, the mule looked like a small dog.The ranger program was a one hour walk and talk and killed the time before the train left to take us back to our car and luggage.

When we got on the train, we saw that we had the same car man who had entertained us the day before.  Either because he was 103 years old or because it was near the end of his work day, he was much quieter on the way home. Instead of telling jokes, he decided to favor the passengers with one on one conversations. He had a ten minute conversation with a girl who looked to be about 17 and who had completed a rim to rim hike. I guess I have been retired too long, for she was an attorney for an L.A. firm specializing in estate planning.

When he started moving our way, Carole thought she could prevent him from intruding on our privacy by leaning over and kissing me.  Nothing could stop him, however. I looked over my shoulder and saw his nose about six inches from me.  He blurted out, “Yuck, yuck, what’s going on here?”  I then reverted to one of several of my pseudo foreign languages.  Not yet deterred, he asked Carole what “land” I was from.  When she told him Green Bay, he said:  “Oh, a football player.”  After he left, Carole commented that I should have used my crazy-eyes ploy, a tactic I used to use to fend off drunks when I was taking the late train home from work.  

The banjo player didn’t make an appearance today, but a woman with an accordion came into our car and said: “I’m from Tennessee; where are you all from?” A guy behind us yipped that he was from Tennessee too. When she approached me, I drawled out: “I’m from the Valley of the Three Forks, right on the Kentucky border, the same town where Sergeant Alvin York was born.” Her eyes got big and she said: “Really.” Because she seemed like a nice lady, I couldn’t sustain the con and admitted that I was from Indiana. Demonstrating the quality of public education in Tennessee, she replied: “Well, Indiana is in the South.”  Next, she pointed to her accordion and said: “I’ll bet you know what this is.” When I told her that the people who played the accordion in my home town were Polish, she played a few bars of one of Frank Yankovic’s polkas. I showed my appreciation with a few hoya hoyas. Noting that the young female attorney was watching, I said: “My home town is so backward that the courts still follow the Rule Against Perpetuities. I knew that my reference to an arcane rule of property law would interest her, but I was surprised at her response. She laughed and said California also still followed the Rule Against Perpetuities. I admitted that, after generations of law students, lawyers and judges had struggled to understand this holdover from the common law, Illinois had abolished it years ago.

The picture lady, who had taken pictures of most of the passengers the day before, came into our car with a huge stack of photos which she offered to sell to people for $35 a photo. I looked at her expectantly as she looked in vain through her stack of photos for ours. Shortly after the picture lady left our car, we saw masked riders alongside of the train. They were getting ready for the pièce de résistance of the ride: a fake train robbery. To assist the banditos, the train stopped so that they could board without having to leap onto the train. As they strolled through the cars, some of the excited passengers stuffed money into their belts like they were the Chippendale Boys. They probably made out better than some of the real train robbers. In any event, they occupied the last fifteen minutes of our train ride. We found our luggage and drove back to the Grand Canyon, where we had booked a room in a lodge for a couple of nights.

September 27, 2012

OUR TRAIN RIDE/OVERNIGHT STAY had given us enough of an overview of Canyon Village that we knew how to get around Canyon Village. Because the shuttle buses are color coded, a practice we had first encountered years ago in the London Underground, it was easy to get to wherever you wanted to go: determine the color of the “line” where your destination is located and get on a bus marked with that color. We decided to check out a geology museum. It wasn’t much of a museum, but had a huge window offering a broad view of the canyon. On a shelf near the window, the Park had placed at least a dozen high-power binoculars. A convenient map indicated points of interest in the canyon. We could see where a number of rafters had pulled ashore, and could make out the location of the Phantom Ranch. With the zoom lens on my camera, the photo I took made some rafters look closer than the two miles away they had pulled their rafts ashore.


During the balance of the day, we ambled along the rim and viewed the canyon from a variety of vantage points.  As we walked along the rim, we noticed that as Americans we were minorities. I was waiting for one of the Italians to start talking to Carole, but it didn’t happen. Early fall is a popular time for foreigners to visit the West.

Tired of eating sandwiches, we had dinner in the Arizona Room in the Bright Angel Lodge.  In addition to a Caesar Salad, I ordered a huge “sampler” which included filet, ribs, chicken, green beans, and baked potatoes. Carole ordered a Rib Eye served with a shrimp topping. 

The night ranger program was conducted by a guy who had been a ranger for around thirty years, and his experience showed. He had some title to his program, but answered questions on numerous topics. He mentioned that while cougars are rare in the park, a tracking camera had once filmed one in the park several minutes after two rangers had passed the same site. 

Oddly enough, squirrels account for the largest number of animal attacks in the park.  Despite warnings not to feed them and further warnings that squirrels can transmit a form of the plague, an average of one person is bitten by a squirrel. In each case, a tourist was feeding the squirrel.


September 28, 2012

WHEN WE RECEIVED AN EMAIL FROM OUR DAUGHTER to the effect that she and her husband could not take off work to meet us at Lake Powell, we spent some time this morning plotting out several new destinations in Colorado. After again walking along the rim and viewing the canyon, we decided to search out another ranger talk. Since we hadn’t heard one on elk, we decided to attend one in the early afternoon.


On our way to the ranger talk on elk, our bus was held up by a slow moving elk. During the ranger talk, we heard again that elk are in rut and are unpredictable. Their massive antlers can weigh as much as 80 pounds. Ironically, elks normally do not have to use their antlers in fights. In most cases, a mere “show of force” will scare off smaller competitor elks. If they do engage in fights, they run both the risk of becoming entangled with other elk antlers or suffering severe gashes.


Later in the day, we attended a ranger talk on California Condors, the largest bird in the United States. Faced with extinction a few years ago, the condors have made a remarkable comeback. Enlisting the assistance of scientists and hunters, the Park Service has inserted into the park birds born in captivity. From a low of 22 condors when they were first recognized as endangered, they now number over 400 worldwide. Grand Canyon, alone, has 87 condors. They are often confused with Turkey Vultures, but their wing-span of over 9 feet should be a dead giveaway. Although the ranger did not mention it, I came to a conclusion about both Turkey Vultures and California Condors: they are both really ugly birds.



September 29, 2012

WE LEFT  CANYON VILLAGE THIS MORNING to go to Lake Powell. We may have left Canyon Village, but we didn't leave the canyon: it was in sight for nearly fifty miles. The Colorado River starts at Lake Powell, and flows southward before bending westward to flow through the canyon. It was a clear day, and we could see Navajo Mountain over 90 miles in the distance.

After stopping several times to see the canyon from different angles, we finally reached the end of the canyon.

Not far from the east entrance is a watch tower which affords a commanding view of the canyon. I resisted the urge to climb the tower.

Once out of the park, we skirted the edge of a large Navajo reservation where the late Tony Hillerman set most of his mysteries. At one point, we drove within a few miles of Tuba City, a headquarters for the Navajo police frequented by Jimmy Chee and Joe Leaphorn, Hillerman's leading two detectives.  Throughout our drive, we could see the abject poverty of the Indians just as Hillerman had described in his novels. Many of The Navajos live in old trailers and have erected wooden stands by the highway to sell blankets.  When we reached the motel, we were happy to see that most of the employees are Navajo.

Page, the town at Lake Powell, is much more up-scale than most of the towns we have seen in the last several weeks.  The canyon rafting trips start here, and the lake is a very popular spot for house boating.



September 30, 2012

I HAD EATEN IN THE MOTEL'S RESTAURANT THE NIGHT BEFORE and was not impressed. Accordingly we decided to go to another restaurant for breakfast. I ordered three pancakes, but the waitress tried to talk me into a smaller order. She claimed that the pancakes were very large. Because three pancakes cost only six bucks, I figured that they couldn't be too big. When the order came, it looked like a stack of frisbees. I managed to make it through about half of them.

We tried to find a sports bar in town so that Carole could watch the Packers, but sports bars have not made their way into this corner of the world. Thinking that we might find a place where Carole could watch the Packers play near Monument Valley, we left Page around noon. Our destination was Kayenta, a town near Monument Valley. We didn't fill our tank with gas because our map showed that there were several towns on our route. When the gas tank was near empty, we saw a sign for one of the towns. What was labelled a town on our map turned out to be a collection of rusty trailers, but no gas station. The next "town" we saw looked just like the first one. With no town within 40 miles, and our gas tank on empty, we began practicing saying ya'at'eeh in case we met one of the locals who might have some gas. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a gas station appeared and we were able to fill our tank.

When we arrived in Kayenta, we discovered that it did not have a sports bar; so Carole sat in the Durango and listened to the game on Satellite radio; that's devotion. I was afraid she would burn up a tank of gas, but she told me that she used up only a quarter of a tank. In pellucid logic, she explained that using up a quarter of a tank of gas was cheaper than buying  a ticket to a game. At least the Packers won.

While Carole was listening to the game, I amused myself by reading the local phone book. Because there are so few people living in the area, the phone book covers a wide area. When Carole came back to the room, I told her that we had to visit a town in Utah named Fredonia. Frankly, I was surprised when she inquired as to why I wanted to visit this town with a hallowed name. I patiently explained to Carole why I wanted to visit Fredonia: "Don't you remember the classic Marx Brothers' film  Duck Soup, and Groucho singing "Hail Fredonia? Groucho, AKA Rufus T. Firefly, was the president of Fredonia during its war with a neighboring country."

We saw a sign indicating that there was a museum in the area dedicated to the Navajo code talkers who baffled the Japanese during WWII.  We decided to pass up the museum. After all, our oldest daughter and I have been talking in code for years. No one has ever been able to break our code.  In fact, most people don't even know we are talking in code.


October 1, 2012

CAROLE AND I HAVE LONG BEEN FANS OF JOHN FORD, particularly his westerns. Today, we drove through Monument Valley where he filmed seven of his most famous westerns, including Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Monument Valley is located in both Arizona and Utah, near the Four Corners. John Ford's first western shot in the valley was Stagecoach, a film that made John Wayne famous and won two Oscars. When Wayne saw the valley for the first time, he supposedly said: "So this is where God decided to locate the West."


Monument Valley is not a national park, but is owned and run by the Navajo. After paying a nominal ten dollar entrance fee, we proceeded to the visitors' center to obtain a map for a self-guided tour. We had done our homework and knew that there was a 17 mile drive along a rough, unpaved road which made a loop through the valley. Many visitors prefer to hire someone to drive them through the valley, but we trusted the Durango to take us through.

On our way to obtain a map, we found ourselves in a room dedicated to the famous Code Talkers of WWII. The contents of the room were interesting. In addition to information about the Code Talkers, the room displayed  a brief history of WWII. Starting with the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor and ending with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the various signs and photos gave a brief summary of the war and showed how the Code Talkers were first formed and how they operated.

It was difficult to concentrate in the room, however. A large, obnoxious group of foreigners decided to use the room to yell at each other. For some reason, they showed little interest in the information displayed in the room. When they left, I said to Carole: " You would think that they would have had some interest in learning why they were not able to break the code."

After we obtained the map, we took off on our drive. The speed limit was 15 miles an hour, but the road was so bad that we only got up to 15 miles an hour for short stretches. As we anticipated, the views were incredible.

I could picture Ben Johnson racing his horse Laddie away from pursuing Indians in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  It was somewhat more difficult picturing John Wayne riding through the valley in The Searchers, a movie supposedly set in Texas.


October 2, 2012

WE HAD PLANNED TO GO TO MESA VERDI TODAY to see the ancient Anasazi ruins. The Anasazi lived in the Four Corners area around 2000 years ago, and not much is known about them. Actually, the political correctness boys have substituted the word "Puebloans" for Anasazi.  After using the term Anasazi for over a hundred years, archeologists discovered that the word meant either "ancient enemies" or "ancient strangers." Supposedly, the Pueblo Indians find the word Anasazi to be offensive. I suppose it is something like the Indians versus Native Americans issue. Ironically, everywhere we have been in the West, Indians call themselves Indians. I suppose I will have to ask a Pueblo how he or she feels about the word Anasazi.

When we began to look into what was involved in visiting the Mesa Verde park, we found that we would have to drive 21 miles after we drove up a steep, narrow and winding road to see the first Anasazi dwelling. Once we got there, we would be able to see inside the dwelling by climbing a steep ladder. I convinced Carole that today should be a day of rest.


Part of the day was occupied with determining where we would go next. When Carole mentioned New Mexico, I balked. On any other trip, I would have readily agreed to visit New Mexico. So far on this trip, however, we have been bombarded with photos, posters and books about some of the West's so-called real bad boys. Most of these bad boys killed at most only one or two people. I knew that if we went to New Mexico, we would end up hearing and seeing way too much about Billy the Kid, another guy who does not deserve his reputation. Although almost every sentient human being thinks that they know all about Billy, most of what people have "learned" about him through movies or TV is dead wrong. For years, he was referred to as the "left-handed gun." In fact, Paul Newman portrayed him in a movie entitled "The Left-Handed Gun. Everyone "knew" he was left handed because of a an old tin-type photo which shows him to be left handed. Eventually, some unknown photographer explained that tin-types produced a mirror image. Today, at least, the image has been reversed to show that he was right-handed.

Even more galling is that books and movies have repeated the canard that he killed 21 men before he was 21 years old.  In recent years, historians have concluded that he only killed between 3 and 5 men.

Compare Billy with John Wesley Hardin, a man who historians agree killed somewhere between 30 and 40 men. A real bad dude, he once killed a man for snoring. Having compiled such a bloody record, one would assume his name would be far more familiar than Billy the Kid. Yet, were it not for Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album, he would be a forgotten man today. History can be so unfair. Dylan spelled John Wesley's last name as "Harding," but Bob's heart was in the right place.

Carole relented on New Mexico, and we decided to drive east until we could find a road which would take us to northern Colorado.


October 3, 2012

OUR DRIVE THROUGH SOUTHERN COLORADO from Cortez to Alamosa was easily the most beautiful drive we have taken on our trip. The Aspens are beginning to change colors, and their yellow intermingled among the Spruce made an interesting contrast.


We stopped briefly at the Bruce Spruce Ranch, a place our daughter and her husband had stayed last year.  Although we had planned to stay there tomorrow night, our change in plans meant that we would have to cancel our reservation. Since we were driving right by the ranch, we decided to cancel in person. When we saw the ranch, we were sorry we had to cancel.

It looks like we are finally getting out of Indian Country. Ever since we hit South Dakota, we have been constantly reminded of the hundreds of movies and TV shows we have seen over the years dealing with the Indians west of the Mississippi.  For people who have never read any history, it must appear that the only Indian wars were those west of the Mississippi. Those people would be surprised to learn that more Whites were killed by Indians east of the Mississippi than in all of the massacres and Indian wars west of the Mississippi.

Throughout the 1600s and into the early 1800s, people in the East were often at war with a number of different Indian tribes, including the Iroquois (later the Iroquois Confederation) and the Shawnee. In Pennsylvania alone there was the French and Indian War, Pontiac's War, Lord Dunmore's War, the Revolutionary War, and the Indian uprising from 1789 to 1795. My Scots-Irish ancestors in Pennsylvania gave as good as they got. The gentle Quakers who ran the state were shocked at reports of Scots-Irish scalping Indians and perpetrating massacres of Indian villages. You won't find many movies on this chapter of American history. John Ford's classic Drums along the Mohawk is one of the few films dealing with an Indian war east of the Mississippi.

Why has Hollywood ignored the eastern Indians and their numerous killings and massacres?

I have always blamed James Fenimore Cooper for Hollywood's avoidance of such savage Indians as the Iroquois and the Mohawk. Like every kid who has attended high school, Hollywood directors and producers were forced to read one or more of Cooper's turgid Leatherstocking Tales, and probably remembered how boring those stories were. Cooper was popular in his day solely because he was the only person writing about frontiersmen and Indians: "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

In the fullness of time, people began to recognize the short-comings of Cooper's novels. In 1895, Mark Twain published his famous essay on one of Cooper's books. Twain asserted that Cooper's popular The Deerslayer, a Leatherstocking tale, committed 114 "offenses against literary art out of a possible 115."

Hollywood should at least have made a movie about the charismatic Tecumseh. Uniting a number of Indian tribes in the early 1800s, he fought the Americans for years. When he was killed at the Battle of Thames in Canada, his united movement collapsed. Tecumseh remains the only person, White or Indian, responsible for two different political campaign slogans at the National level. In 1836, Richard Johnson, the man who supposedly killed Tecumseh, campaigned for Vice-President with the sadly forgotten campaign slogan "Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson Killed Tecumseh."  Four years later, William Henry Harrison, who defeated a band of Tecumseh's supporters at Tippecanoe, Indiana, ran for president using the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." History is so unfair, not a single movie about Tecumseh.


October 4-5, 2012

YESTERDAY, WE ARRIVED IN COLORADO SPRINGS, home of the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Facility.  However, we didn't come here to see either of those places. We came to Colorado Springs because of nearby Pike's Peak. Although we have been in high altitudes for the last month, the places where we have been would be considered mere foothills in Colorado. With 54 peaks higher than 14,000 feet, Colorado leads the United States in "fourteeners." Pikes Peak is 14,100 feet in altitude, which places it 34th on the list of mountains over 14,000 feet high in the state. Despite its lowly ranking among Colorado's fourteeners, it is the most visited mountain in the United States.

Today, as planned, we drove to the base of the mountain. There are three methods travelers use to ascend Pike's Peak. Two of those methods we rejected out of hand. We had no intention of hiking up over 14,000 feet, and the 19 mile drive up the mountain with nearly 80 hair-pin switchbacks was not appealing. As a result, we chose the third method of reaching the top of the mountain: taking the old cog wheel train. We had never been on a cog wheel train before. In fact, I had no idea what "cog wheel" meant. In addition to the wheels all trains possess, a cog wheel train has a track running beneath the train which has cogs designed to mesh with cogs in the middle of the track. Because of the cogs, such a train is able to go up extremely steep inclines, even steeper than our driveway at home.



Boarding the train in late morning, we took the hour and 15 minute trip to the top. At one point, the train chugged up a 25 degree incline for a full mile. During our ride, we saw waterfalls, massive granite boulders and deep valleys. One spot, Wind Point, is so named because the winds can whip through this tree-less area at up to 160 miles an hour.

After reaching the top, we nearly froze when we got off of the train. On a clear day, you can see three hundred miles from the top of the mountain; but this was not a clear day. When we looked down, we saw only clouds; they looked more like snow banks than clouds. Every once in a while, there would be a slight break in the clouds and we could see "lesser" mountains below. It was so cold and windy that we spent only a short time peering down the mountain.


About 45 minutes was allotted at the top, and the conductor warned everyone at least three times that the train would head down the mountain at exactly 12:40 pm. Because of an experience we had years ago in Germany, we were on the train before 12:40 pm. When we were In Germany, we decided to take the kids to see Hitler's Eagle's Nest, located above Berchtesgaden. The only way up the mountain to Eagle's Nest was by bus, and we learned that day that Germans are hyper-punctual. We missed the bus by minutes, and decided to walk the five miles to the bottom. To make sure that our daughters did not get bored, I had them chant: "One two three four; we won the Second World War." It was a good time, but we were sore for a week.

Our day was not over when we reached the bottom of Pike's Peak. Carole had discovered that there were Anasazi ruins nearby, and we drove to the site of those ruins. It certainly beat Mesa Verdi. Instead of a tortuous drive up a mountain and a long drive from the top to reach the ruins, we were able to simply pull off the highway a quarter of a mile and drive right up to the Anasazi ruins. I quickly concluded that all Anasazi houses must look pretty much the same. The houses we saw looked exactly like ones I had seen in movies and books. I did a quick ten minute review of the old houses, and headed to the warmth of the little museum near the houses. As usual, Carole studied the site much more thoroughly than I did.



October 6, 2012

UP UNTIL TODAY, we have had incredible weather on our trip.  I don’t think we have had any rain for the last month. When we got up this morning, however, it was cold and raining. Moreover, the weather predictions for the areas north of us were for more rain and increasing cold.  Reluctantly, we decided to head east. Although we have had a great trip, I have had one major disappointment:  my inability to find a rattlesnake.  Originally, I was looking for a big Western Diamondback; but I reached the point where I would have settled for even a dinky little Prairie Rattler.



I don’t’ know why I have had such bad luck finding a rattler. Our daughter’s mother-in-law found one without even trying. A few years ago, she was hiking in the mountains in California with a couple of female friends when one of her friends not only found a rattlesnake, but was bitten by one. (For purposes of anonymity, we will call the mother-in-law “Barbara.”) The friend had a very bad reaction to the snake bite, and Barbara quickly drove her to the closest emergency room.When she told the doctor on duty that her friend had been bitten by a rattlesnake, the doctor responded with a patronizing look familiar to most women and in a condescending tone of voice also familiar to most women: “Are you sure it was a rattlesnake?”   Because Barbara had been a highly successful businesswoman in a “man’s world” for a number of years, she was prepared for the doctor’s attitude. She reached into a sack she was carrying and extracted the dead rattlesnake. The doctor replied, “Yep, that’s a rattler.”  He then successfully treated the woman and left her with a great story she can tell for years. Some people are just lucky.

After leaving Colorado City, we drove through the rain as far Colby, Kansas. The big attraction in Colby is a barn; not just any barn, but the biggest barn in the state. It is so big that it is listed as one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas!

My knowledge of Kansas is limited and more historical than contemporary in nature: Wild Bill and Ike in Abilene, John Brown’s massacres, Gayle Sayers, William Allan White and his Gazette, Clyde Tombaugh at Lowell and Quantrill’s Raiders. I do know that Kansas does not even have the Kansas City with the good ribs; that City is in Missouri.Carole picked up some brochures to see what we might see or do while we are in Kansas. Hopefully, she will find something of interest.


October 7, 2012

I RECEIVED A SHOCK THIS MORNING,  and it took most of the day for me to recover from it. As usual, I went down early to partake of the motel's free breakfast; and as usual, I pampered Carole by bringing a tray of food back to her. As I approached our room, I realized that I wasn't sure which room was ours. When I stood in front of the door I that concluded was our room, a helpful employee decided to unlock and open the door for me. When I entered the room, I saw an old, haggard woman sitting in a chair near the bed. Reacting much like W.C. Fields did in My Little Chickadee when he discovered a goat in his bed instead of Mae West, I quickly apologized and made a quick exist. It could have been worse; she might have been naked. I am not sure that I could have handled that scene.


Carole also received a shock later in the day. We located a sport's bar in Hays, Kansas to watch her beloved Packers play the Colts. While the Packers looked great in the first half, they folded in the second half. Carole was so upset that she had a third Coke, and we didn't go out for dinner.

I'm not sure what we will do today. There is a fort near us, and we may go see it.. When Carole was planning our trip, she wanted to make a detour somewhere in Wyoming to see a fort.  I talked her out of it, telling her: "We are going to be in the West; there will be an old fort every couple of miles." Because we haven't seen a single sign for a fort during the 6,000 plus miles we have covered so far, I guess that we had better see this one.


October 8, 2012

CAROLE FINALLY GOT HER WISH. We visited a fort today. After our visit, however, she concluded that Fort Riley, a military base, was not really a fort. I think she wants to see one of those old log forts with the huge swinging doors which are in the old cavalry movies. I have to admit that Ft. Riley did not look like an old cavalry fort. It looked as empty as Fort Zinderneuf  in the opening scene of Beau Geste. We drove all over the base and saw only three soldiers; two men at the entrance gate and one man jogging. Of course, the other soldiers may have been "training" somewhere else in the 100,000 plus acres of the base.

We were pleased to see that the three soldiers we did meet were very polite.Years ago, when we were crossing the border from Bavaria to Austria, we had a very different experience with German soldiers. I thought that the German border guard had told us to proceed, and I started to drive into Austria when I heard a loud "HALT." Having heard and seen German border guards yell "halt" in numerous movies, I slammed on my brakes and threw my arms in the air. Whatever the issue was, he let us proceed.

We wanted to see one of several museums on the base, either the one devoted to the Big Red One or the one devoted to the history of the cavalry. We drove all over the place until a jogging soldier pointed us in the direction of the cavalry museum. There was a statue of a rider-less horse in front of the place, and I told Carole that it must be Comanche, the most famous cavalry horse in American history.

 I was surprised to see that the statue was of an anonymous horse. The only place in the entire museum where Comanche was given even token recognition was by a small statue in the bottom row of an exhibit.

After the battle of Little Big Horn, Comanche, Miles Keogh's horse, was found alive and wounded among Custer's dead cavalry men. Comanche became a national hero during the remaining years of his life, and when he died he was stuffed and displayed at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Today, his stuffed remains are on display at the University of Kansas' Natural History Museum.   



Apart from the slight against Comanche, the small museum was interesting, tracing the U.S. Cavalry from its beginnings to its end in the 1930s. Thankfully, we did not have to listen a recording of Garry Owen, the official theme song of Custer's 7th Cavalry.

We drove as far as Kansas City, Missouri, a town noted for its ribs. I had a full slab at a place by our motel and was not impressed. Admittedly, I did not go to one of the famous rib joints in Kansas City. Maybe we will try some ribs at one of the more famous restaurants tomorrow. To be sure, we will have to find Carole a fort.


October 9, 2012

AT LONG LAST, Carole got to see a "real" fort, complete with blockhouses, a big gate, cannons, a garden, a store and quarters for the soldiers. Fort Osage, a re-creation of a fort originally constructed for trade with the Indians in 1809, is located about 20 miles southeast of Kansas City. Noting the site's commanding view of the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark had chosen the location for a possible fort five years before it was built. When the fort was recreated in 1962, the original plans were followed where possible.

The store, located just outside of the fort, was originally built for trade with the area Indians, the Osage. A woman volunteer, dressed in 1808 era clothes detailed the trading system used with the Indians and explained the purpose of the goods for sale in the store. There were two rooms below the main floor. One room was used for curing the beaver pelts the Indians brought to the fort. The second room was used for storage.

When we entered the interior of the fort, we ran into a local school teacher, a heavier version of Falstaff, who was supposed to be a guide. To put it kindly, his knowledge of history was pathetic. In the first several minutes of his introductory blather, he managed to convey more incorrect information than I deemed possible. His opening comment was that the Osage Indians averaged around 6 feet three in height, and that some of them were seven feet tall. I sat through this nonsense like a typical grinning tourist. He then said that John Adams was anti-business and that Jefferson was pro-business. I again remained silent. When he said that Adams wanted the country to be be run by a monarchy, I interjected: "You are confusing Hamilton with Adams." He responded by saying: "No, Adams wanted a king. He had spent years as an ambassador to England and had become impressed with the monarchy." At that point, I realized that it would have been futile to explain that Adams had never been an ambassador to England and that as a New Englander he was certainly not "anti-business." Reluctantly reverting yet again to my kinder, gentler Indiana personality, I simply walked away and looked around the fort.


While I was able to escape the guide/interpreter, Carole was not able to evade him. He even followed her out of the fort into the store. Convinced that she was a teacher, he wanted to give her some materials for her classes.  After about fifteen minutes, I rescued her; and we headed back to Kansas City.


October 10, 2012

WE SPENT MOST OF THE DAY in the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, about 15 miles south of our motel. Years ago, we spent some time in the Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa and enjoyed the visit. Although we enjoyed our time at the Truman Library and Museum, I learned far more at the Hoover Library. Prior to our trip to West Branch, I knew very little about Hoover as president. I came away from West Branch with far more respect for him and his abilities..

In contrast to my knowledge of Hoover, I knew quite a bit about Truman long before our day at the Library/Museum. I had read biographies and/or autobiographies of most of main players on the stage when Truman was president: Truman, Marshall, Acheson, MacArthur, Stalin, etc. For anyone not familiar with Truman, the Library provides a wealth of information about the man and his times. Several movies, dozens of film clips and thousands of photos cover his life from his childhood through his retirement years. All of the high points of his presidency are covered: the decision to drop the A bombs, the Marshall Plan,  the Berlin Airlift, the railway strike, the "whistle stop campaign" and the Cold War.

Compared to the poll-tested and nuanced statements of modern presidents, Truman's public statements were refreshingly straight forward. He did not need any "spin doctors;" people understood exactly what he meant when he spoke. When he referred to his opponents, he used adjectives such as "dinosaurs" and "reactionaries." During most of his presidency, he was at war with the Republicans and the future Republicans, the southern religious right wing. He angered his opponents by desegregating the military and by proposing anti-lynching laws, anti-discrimination laws, national health care, civil rights laws, stronger anti-trust laws, and higher taxes for the rich. Although a supporter of labor, he ended a national railroad strike by threatening to draft the striking workers and put them under military discipline. His firing of national icon MacArthur created a firestorm, but nearly every historian today agrees that his action in firing "the old soldier" was a correct one.


I had always been surprised by his Secretary of State Dean Acheson's admiration for Truman. Acheson was the epitome of an eastern snob intellectual: Groton, Yale, and Harvard. It would be hard to find someone with a background so different from Truman's. Acheson's book Present at the Creation is replete with examples of his condescending arrogance. At one point in his book, he ridiculed former Secretary of State Cordell Hull's speech impediment by quoting Hull phonetically. Yet, he worshiped Truman. After he eventually retired from a long career in politics, one of the networks ran a lengthy interview with Acheson. When he was asked why he so respected Truman, he gave two reasons, one professional and one personal. He explained that Truman was decisive. He would listen to his advisors and make a decision.  After he made a decision, he took full responsibility for it. Unlike modern presidents, he never pointed a finger at others for "bad" advice.

Acheson's second reason for his respect for Truman was very personal to Acheson. He told the story of a time when he was involved in highly sensitive negotiations in Europe. While he was involved in those negotiations, his daughter was undergoing a serious operation. In a voice nearly breaking, Acheson said the following:

"During one period, . . . my younger daughter was very ill indeed and had a most serious operation, and it was not clear whether she would pull through. The President telephoned the hospital, where my wife was, got a report on my daughter's condition and telephoned me, when I was abroad, every day as to how that girl was. Well, this is the kind of person that one can adore. You have an affection for that man that nothing can touch."

Truman was never a popular president. He had the misfortune to follow one of the most popular presidents in American history. When he became president,  he took aggressive positions on many issues which are still unpopular today: increasing the taxes on the rich, national health care, civil right's laws, etc.  It wasn't until several decades after his presidency that historians began to reevaluate him and conclude that he was a very good, perhaps great president. One of the first people I remember who suggested that Truman would one day be considered great was the guy who was the best man at our wedding. Now a retired history professor, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up writing about Truman.

There was nothing in Truman's background which hinted at his future. He failed in several business pursuits and had very little formal education. He owed his entry into politics to a corrupt  machine boss.  When I reflect on Truman, I recall Woodrow Wilson's comments at the dedication of a national park at Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace.

"This is the sacred mystery of democracy, that its richest fruits spring up out of soils which no man has prepared and in circumstances amidst which they are the least expected."


October 11-12, 2012

AFTER SPENDING AN HOUR getting across the Mississippi at St. Louis and after spending last night in Collinsville, we decided to drive all the way home today. We did manage to stop in Homewood for a pizza at Aurelio's. We have driven the equivalent of more than 1/4 of the circumference of the globe, and we decided the Durango should spend some time in the pasture.

To paraphrase Huck Finn's comment about Twain's novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I mostly told the truth in my posts, but there were some stretchers in there too. Because of a variety of problems with the blog I was using, I almost stopped posting a month ago. However, a friend from Streator, Illinois who creates and designs websites came to the rescue. http://hardscrabblehome.com  She moved the entire contents of the blog to a much more user friendly blog. Thanks again Stephanie.

Carole didn't want to come home, but I promised her that we would take another western trip next year.