Tuesday, June 30, 2009

C.M. Russell

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), artist, conservationist, author, and much more, lived in Great Falls most of his life. He is such an important Montanan that his statue represents the state in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capital building. His house and studio are preserved in GF and a great museum has been built on the same city block. We went there Friday afternoon.

Russell did Western art, mostly cowboys and Indians. You can find prints on the internet. Here are some shots I took in the museum, which houses a lot of his art. A little reflection on some from overhead lights, but not too bad, I think. I imagine most of you loyal readers are familiar with Russell, but if not, you can get some idea of the detail and themes he put in his paintings.

The buttes in these first two pictures are inspired by a butte south of GF that appears in many of his paintings.

And, that's gotta be the Missouri River in this picture.

He even illustrated letters to his friends:

He did sculptures also.

Here's Russell at work in his studio.

So, next time you're in Great Falls, Montana, be sure and see the C. M. Russell Museum. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Susie and Rob

Fort Benton

Fort Benton, about 40 miles NE of Great Falls, is called the Birthplace of Montana. This was the terminus for steamboats that came up the Missouri from St. Louis -- a shallow rock ledge prevented further travel upstream. Its heyday as the "world's innermost port" lasted for 30 years until the coming of the railroads. Here's a signboard with historic pictures.

Now, Fort Benton is a charming little riverfront town. Their Summer Celebration is regarded as one of Montana's best festivals, the paper said, so that made it irresistible to us -- better than that educational stuff going on at the Lewis and Clark Center.

Fort Benton's got Old West storefronts, a nicely preserved hotel, and some of the best-located park benches I've ever seen. All that plus Boy Scout barbecue beef - piled higher than you usually see - and fresh donuts, arts and crafts. We had a fine time.

That hat lady seems to be every place I go.

The old bridge across the river, foresightedly preserved, now has a couple of picnic tables and park benches. I think I could spend some quality hours out there.

Just after we saw this sign saying we were on what once was the "bloodiest block in the West" we heard loud, angry voices. Road rage -- two drivers frankly pointing out each other's mistakes. Good thing they weren't packing iron. That came later, with blanks.

There's trouble brewin', but this is the first time I've seen a shootout that included a motorized skunk. Wait, I think that's what one driver called the other.

The riverfront park also features a very nice Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea (that's how they spell her name in Montana), and child statue.

The scene depicted is called Decision Point. The Corps came to the junction of two rivers of similar size. Which branch to take? (This was before Yogi Berra came along and said that when you come to a fork in the road, take it.) The Mandan Indians in ND had told them about the junction with the Yellowstone River and they had told them about waterfalls on the upper Missouri, but this junction had not been discussed (or was lost in translation). They explored both rivers a ways, but that was not decisive. L&C picked the left fork and that turned out to be right - er, correct. Soon after they advanced that direction the scouting party out in front thought they saw smoke, but when they investigated they found it was mist from the Falls.

The right hand river at Decision Point was named the Marias River after Lewis's lady friend, Maria. (Another Montana River was named the Judith by Clark.) We crossed that river and it's now Marias Creek. There are upstream dams and lakes and farming that have greatly limited its flow. Also, they say the Missouri, with multiple upstream dams, is now only flowing at about 1/3 the level that L&C saw.

One last Fort Benton scene: the stately county courthouse.

One of the nicest part of our trip to Fort Benton was the road we took -- the road less traveled. The main highway to Fort Benton from GF is the road we came into town on -- lots of construction and loose gravel. On the map we saw a state highway that worked its way to FB south of the river. This was really a beautiful drive: rolling hills and scenic valleys, bright green prairie and wheat fields, big blue sky. Here's a collection of wheat elevators along the way.

This country is known as the Missouri Breaks. It's very similar to the Dakota hills along the Missouri in those states. Here's an aerial website picture.

So that was our Fort Benton trip. Lots of fun.


Susie and Rob

Lewis and Clark - 2

We drove out to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center Friday morning. The Center is a dramatic building, as you can see from this picture from their website.

The Center had a series of lectures going on through the day and we attended two of them, then caught the opening ceremonies, including a black-powder muzzle-loader salute.

We didn't spend much time on the exhibits since we had seen a similar set of displays in North Dakota. They are more extensive here, though, so if you can only see one Interpretive Center, choose this one. And, if you have a Golden Age passport, this one is free; the ND version was privately owned so even senior citizens pay.

The big deal about the Great Falls on the Missouri was that the Corps of Discovery had to drag their massive floating-log canoes out of the river and portage them and their supplies a distance of 18 miles around the series of falls in this area. The Center has a life-size depiction of that task.

I think I might have looked at those falls and the steep banks along the river and decided to go back to St. Louis about this time (June of 1805). But, this was a military expedition and there were no deserters. Of course, trying to make your way back to St. Louis alone wouldn't have been easy, either.

The first talk, titled The Intellectual Traveler, was by a Center staff member. The intellect referred to was that of Thomas Jefferson. He never traveled west but read and thought a lot about it and what it would mean to our young country, all of which led to sponsoring L&C. One symbol the speaker mentioned: on our nickel, Jefferson is looking to the west (or to the left, if you want to put a political spin on it). Anyhow, by Jefferson's direction, this was to be a scientific expedition, with a lot of emphasis on identifying and classifying the flora and fauna of the west. This was at a time when some thought mastodons might still roam out there.

This got me to thinking about the contrast between the planning and success of the L&C expedition versus the Burke and Wills expedition in Australia, which I learned about in conjunction with my visits to Australia. They aimed to be the first white men to traverse Australia from south coast to north coast. They were ill-prepared - e.g., one thing they packed was a Chinese gong - and their departure was a circus. They eventually managed the crossing but it was a tragedy - everybody died. (I mentioned earlier that there were no deaths on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I brought this up while chatting with one of the Center's guides. He corrected me and said one person died of an appendix attack, which could have happened in the comfort of home.)

The expedition was also charged with mapping the west. Here's the map they produced.

The Thomas Jefferson role in all this would come back, in a personal way, to me later. Stay tuned.

The second talk, by an enthusiastic Center volunteer, was called the Race Across America. This was about John Colter, a member of the expedition. On the return trip he asked to be given an early release from his military commitment in order to join some trappers heading west. Lewis and Clark granted that request. The race in question happened a few years later. Colter and a trapper companion were captured by the Blackfeet Indians. Colter's companion was killed. Colter was made sport of: he was stripped naked and told to start running. He looked back and saw that he was being pursued by naked Blackfeet. Somehow he managed to outrun and escaped his pursuers and lived to tell his tale.
Some people question Colter's report. Our speaker said Blackfeet lore is that he was spanked by the tribe's women and chased away to embarrass him. "And don't come back!" At any rate, he lived long enough to retire from trapping and take up farming in Missouri. While in the west he may have been the first white man to travel into what is now Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.

More Lewis and Clark stuff in postings to come.


Susie and Rob

Monday, June 29, 2009

Great Falls

It's only about 100 miles from Havre to Great Falls so, even with quite a few construction delays and driving slow speed over loose gravel, we got to GF in early afternoon. Along the way we pulled off at this river overlook. A couple of highway workers were hanging out there, waiting for their next assignment. We agreed that this was quite the view.

Found our way to the KOA. Our plan was to spend three nights here; that got extended to four because of all the things we found to do, as you'll find out.

At the KOA the satellite TV saga continued. This is an old park, built in the 70s in one corner of a wheat field. It's designed to fit the campers and trailers of that time. Over the years the owner added lots of trees and shrubs and big decorative rocks with holes excavated for flowers. A pictorial history of the park says there are miles of drip lines. So, it was not designed for big rigs and all the trimmings makes it even tighter. And hard to get a satellite connection. We tried several parking positions in our assigned site -- forward and back -- but couldn't connect. The site next to us had dead branches in what we thought was the line to the satellite, instead of a leafed-out tree, so we moved to it. Same result: forward and back, no connection. Oh, well. We were able to get two fuzzy channels through the antenna and digital converter and we did get a lot of reading done.

Flash forward to Sunday. We needed to back up about 10 feet in order to dump our holding tanks. (Don't know why I didn't park within range to begin with, but I was tired of messing with it.) I'm pretty sure I had tried unsuccessfully on Thursday to get a satellite connection from about that location, but on Sunday I thought, Why not try again? Nothing. A little bit later, though, Susie turned on the dish and this time (finally!) we got a connection. I knew we'd be glad we went to church.

Back to Friday. I took an early morning walk around the park. Here's a shot of the adjoining wheat field and beyond, through the trees.

Also, came across this vehicle belonging to a tent camper:

It was called a Chew-ba-ru. The car is covered with dentures, denture molds, toothbrushes, and empty toothpaste tubes. The horns I don't understand. Here's a close-up: sunrise glow on the dentures.

I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for why this person did all this, but when we got back to camp later in the day, he or she was already gone. No doubt soon to appear at a mall near you.

We came across one of those surprise gems that add spice to travel. Gives you a smile. For 19 years a husband and wife duo, calling themselves The Rivertown Rounders, have been entertaining nightly (!) each summer at this KOA. He plays banjo, guitar, and fiddle, and tells jokes. She plays guitar and fiddle and groans or shakes her head at his jokes. They both sing. It's not polished, but it's pure fun and entertainment. As he (Richard) says, they do: country songs, bluegrass songs, gospel songs, Cajun songs, train songs, cowboy songs, dead cowboy songs, dying cowboy songs, Irish songs, sad songs, happy songs, ... . This picture is from the KOA website.

Mostly they do requests and it becomes a sing-along. He, Richard, knows an awful lot of songs and who recorded them and when. Just in case, he has a couple of boxes of 3x5 cards serve to jog their memories. One lady asked for All the Love of a Girl. He scratched his head, Oh, yeah, that was a Johnny Horton song, 1959 or 60. We haven't sung it since then. He dug through his files, pulled out a card with the lyrics and they did a great job on the song. Later I googled and found this YouTube video. Check it out.

The show takes place in a covered, outdoor Kamper Kitchen. The three nights we caught their show there were usually only 8-12 people in the audience. Must be a real labor of love, I doubt if they do it for the money. (Richard says he was turned on to the banjo by the movie, Deliverance (1972). Left home with a dollar in his pocket to make a living playing the banjo. Still has 65 cents change from that dollar.)

A sampling of jokes (I took notes on a napkin so I could share them with you):

Richard says he's the son of a preacher, but his father has never met his wife. His father told him, Don't you ever bring one of those loose, honky-tonk women home.

His fourth grade teacher said, You'll never amount to anything. You're a procrastinator. He said, Just you wait! That led to the usual string of procrastination groaners.

And, the obligatory banjo jokes:

What's the difference between a banjo and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle? You can tune a Harley.

What's the difference between a banjo player and a U.S. savings bond? The savings bond eventually matures and makes some money. (She, Diane, told this one.)

Terrorists took over the Great Falls courthouse and took a bunch of lawyers hostage. The terrorists said, If you don't meet our demands, we're going to release one every hour until you do.

One night there was an Irish gentleman in the audience. The man would go to his camper every once in a while and return with a drink, then when his glass was empty, he'd go get another one, several times, until he was getting pretty inebriated. He asked his wife: Do lemons have feet? What! she said. Do lemons have feet? Of course not, you crazy drunk, she said. Oh, he said. I think I just squeezed the canary into my whiskey.

The three nights we heard the Rounders, only one or two jokes or one-liners were repeated.

In Friday's newspaper we got lots of information on things to do. Primarily, it happened, serendipitously, not because of careful planning on our part, that this weekend was the annual Lewis and Clark Festival.
Friday we went to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the C. M. Russell Gallery. Saturday we went to nearby Fort Benton's annual Summer Celebration and Saturday night I went to a dramatization about whether Meriwether Lewis committed suicide (the conventional story at the time) or was murdered (as today's conspiracy theorists claim). Sunday was church and then I (with a group of 30) took a two-hour float trip on the Missouri with a guide who told us Lewis and Clark stories along the way. I'll blog these events separately. Be patient. Stay tuned.
Here's a picture of one of the falls that gave this town its name. There are hydroelectric dams all along the way now, so you don't get the full effect of what it was like 200 years ago. Still pretty impressive, though.


Susie and Rob

Friday, June 26, 2009

South Dakota Flashback: Terry Redlin

Our tour of the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls (to be reported soon) reminded me that we failed to report our SD visit to the Redlin Art Center in Watertown. Ever since Jeff and Valerie moved to SD about four years ago, they've been telling us we've got to go see the Redlin Art Center. So, we did on our trek from Pipestone, MN to Aberdeen. Mentally, I composed a report, but in the excitement of Aberdeen I forgot to transfer these thoughts to the blogosphere.

As a teenager, Terry Redlin lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. The state provided compensation in such instances and Redlin used his to attend art school in Minneapolis. He spent several years as a commercial artist, then moved back to Watertown and started full-time pursuit of his own art interests. His art is generally nostalgic rural and small-town scenes, often nature-oriented. Lots of rural scenes, often with birds streaking across them (he has won multiple competitions done by Ducks Unlimited for the art displayed on duck stamps), typically illuminated with light from various sources: sunrise, sunset, campfire, streetlight.

There's one particularly poignant series of paintings, all of one house in a small town and a series of events: a wedding, the birth of a baby son; son graduates, son joins the army; two military officers come to the house to inform the parents of the death of their son. Redlin's brother-in-law, with whom he was very close, died in Viet Nam and that experience was expressed in this series.

Here are some examples from a website where you can buy prints (no photos in the Art Center).

You may be familiar with Redlin's art. For several years he had the title of Most Popular American Artist, as determined by surveys conducted by U.S. Art magazine.

Some years ago, Redlin's son asked him what he did with his original canvasses. He said he eventually sold them. The son, Charles, said Why don't you keep them? We'll build an Art Center and display them there. This will be your gift to Watertown. So, it was done -- well-designed and built (Charles is an architect). There will not be a need to add more gallery space because Redlin recently retired from painting.

Besides the Redlin art, there's an auditorium in the Center that features artifacts pertaining to ice cream: scoops, milk shake machines, posters, magazine covers, ... . Fun looking at these collections. Redlin's father-in-law ran an ice cream factory in Watertown.

(I just googled ice cream museum and came up with Ford's Ice Cream Museum in Newton, Mississippi. Also, an ice cream museum in Le Mars, Iowa. And more. Add one to your bucket list.)

So, we're glad we finally did the Redlin Center. If you're ever driving through Watertown, SD on I-29, stop and take a look.


Susie and Rob

Confluence and Concerns

Wed, 6/24/09

Heading West. Had two planned side trips today. First, not far west and north of Watford City, just barely still in ND, is the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. (Always wanted to use the word, confluence.) One of the educational signs at the site said this is one of the few, and maybe the only, place in the country where two major rivers “conflue” and there’s not a settlement there. (Just thinking about it, I think the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers also qualifies. The Rio Grande and the Pecos - small towns. Others? An exercise for the reader.)

Here's an aerial view of the confluence: Yellowstone on the left, Missouri on the right.

My bankside shot:

I shot a short video that conveys the power of these rivers flowing by -- like a very large snake slithering through the brush. The file is apparently too large to upload into blogger. You would have enjoyed it.

Speaking of enjoyment, Susie got the first thrill at the site of the confluence. Periodically, she swears off Cokes, but that is a periodic thing because periodically she decides that she's just got to have one. I've been instructed to stop her, unless she says, Not this time! Cokes were hard to find in Minnesota and they've been hard to find in restaurants across the Dakotas because Pepsi products are all that is sold. This day, we were in a period of "I've got to find a Coke." That led to this scene adjacent to the parking lot at the Confluence Center:

Back in the frontier days, Yellowstone-Missouri confluence was a rendezvous for trappers, traders, and tribes - no Coca-Cola, or Pepsi; maybe their equivalents.

Leaving the Confluence we made our first mistake of the day – there would be more (he said ominously). Map showed a road arcing NW to join US 2, our main route for the day. Didn’t look at the road symbol carefully enough and it turned out that this would be 16 miles of gravel and washboard. After a couple of slow miles debating about whether to unhook and turn around (the road was wide enough to jockey Tuzi through an up and back U-turn) we came across a spot where there was a dirt track running between the road and a RR and there were access points about 200 yards apart. The track (that we would drive on, not the RR one) was dry and smooth, so we took the opportunity and turned around and got back to US 2 by angling back to the NE.

Some time later, Susie says, There’s something wrong with one of our blinds. The pleats won’t stay pleated and I can’t raise the blind. She had noticed the blind flapping, a result of us not closing the window when we left the campground this morning. ‘Twas a windy day and at some point the angle got just right for the wind to abuse the blind. Closer inspection showed that a couple of strings that hold the blind together and enable it to be raised and lowered had broken. These are double-layer blinds and from having a string break once before I knew it was not something that could be fixed by tying a couple of Boy Scout knots (though neither of us was a Boy Scout). But, it is still pretty functional, so we'll live with it. Just a minor irritation. More to come. Dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum (think Jaws, not lack of intelligence).

Next stop: the Fort Peck Dam. This dam on the Missouri was built in the 1930s - a stimulus project for your grandparents. I was introduced to the project through a book, Bucking the Sun, by Ivan Doig, a Montana author. As I recall, it's one of those rip-roaring, dysfunctional family, historical novels. I thought it was one of our book club selections, but I don't find it listed; two other Doig books are, one of them well down our list. But, that's got nothing to do with Fort Peck.

Anyhow, it's a really big dam. (Which reminds me that in my youth in Manhattan, KS, a dam planned near there was denounced by opponents as Big Dam Foolishness. It did get built.) Here's an aerial view from the web:

Here's what it looks like when you drive across the dam behind a bug-streaked windshield.

Look, Ma! No hands!

In early evening we get to our destination of Havre (pronounced as in I don't want 'er, you can have 'er, she's too ... ). It's been our longest day, 416 miles, a lot of it pretty barren - the green prairies of ND have given way to browner and scrubbier country, not quite redeemable by the Big Sky. I've asked Susie to call the Good Sam-listed RV park in Havre to see if they have space available. Neither of us realize that there are two Good Sam parks there - they're on different pages in our TL Guide. The one Susie talked to said we've got one spot, but it's a little muddy. Once we figure out which park we talked to we decide we'll check the other park first -- it's on the way. We have the address, the intersection is identified, the GPS has the address, the highway runs right by it. But, we don't see it on first pass. We circle back through narrow residential streets with overhanging-trees, but still don't see it. One potential problem is that Havre, like several other towns we've seen up here, has numbered streets running N-S, numbered Avenues running E-W. Or, maybe the other way. Also, you can have, say, two First Streets - First Street N and First Street S, running east and west. Got it? We give up on door number one and drive on past town about four miles to the other park. It's pretty ugly. I'd have to back in from a difficult angle, squeeze between a tree and a mud puddle and rock over ruts left by the previous occupant. Nice lady at the park says maybe you want to try somewhere else.

So, we call park number one and get clear directions to it. It was at the intersection we thought, but the dominant signs are for a casino and you can't see RVs from the road. So, we didn't see it when we looked at it. Back to town. We find the casino/RV park. The park has an unusual layout. "Pull-thrus" are essentially parallel parking slots alongside a curb. The water and electric outlets are on the opposite side they usually are -- opposite from the connections on RVs. But, power cord and water hose will reach, so it works OK. Kind of makes sense after you get used to it.

We try a couple of the slots (parking, not casino). There are trees on our south side, blocking satellite access, which is impotant to me tonight because I'm wanting to watch the Texas/LSU baseball championship game, which has already started. No dice. Can't find an alignment. I think it's particularly difficult up here because the broadcasting satellite is at very low angle. No cable option, either, as we've generally found up north in small towns. Susie brightly and correctly suggests that maybe the casino would be showing the game. Another plan B. So, we hook up the water and electricity and I head over to check on the game - bartender helpfully turns on the game for me. I watch the half-inning in which LSU gets a big lead, then head back to Tuzi and Susie.

Now, here's the scene that keeps replaying in my mind. I look up the driveway that circles the RV park and I see Susie standing there in the driveway, holding what appears to be a basement compartment door and peering into that compartment which is where the water and sewer connections are. She seems composed, but perplexed. I walk up, not dash, and have given myself enough time to think how I should frame a question. So, I say, What happened? Not, WHAT DID YOU DO?

Susie had been inside Tuzi and a neighbor knocked and said Did you know there's water running out of your coach? Well, no. Susie shuts off the park's spigot, then goes around to the aforementioned basement compartment, because water is still running, and opens the door. Somehow it falls off its hinge. She managed to catch the door, it's heavy, so it didn't bang on to her toes or the pavement.

What happened was that there are two valve positions for the hose running into Tuzi. One is to fill the storage tank; one is for city water connection directly to our faucets, etc. Normally, while traveling I set the valve in the latter position. That morning, leaving Watford City, I hadn't (just like neither one of us checked that the windows were closed). If the hose connection had been on the usual driver-side, just as soon as I connected and turned on the water I would have heard the water flowing into the tank and I would have switched the valve to the city water position. This time, on the opposite side, I turned on the water, didn't hear and didn't check, and headed for the casino TV. Thus, the on-board water tank soon overflowed. Thankfully, the Tuzi plumbing is designed so that the overflow drains to the pavement; it doesn't flood the coach interior or basement.

Anyhow, with some help from fellow campers, we straightened out bent portions of the door hanger - it's not really a hinge - and got it back on and it seems to work OK. Had a little paint damage from a corner of the falling door gouging the side of Tuzi, but pretty minor.
Tomorrow we're off to Great Falls for the weekend.
Susie and Rob


From the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center we traveled west, paralleling the MO, to the ND Badlands and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I didn't know there was a TR NP. Did you?

TR, the park brochure tells us, remarked "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota." Roosevelt first came to ND on a hunting trip in 1883, became interested in the cattle business and became a partner in one ranch. A year later he bought his own ranch. Seeing the damage done to the land and wildlife habitat by overgrazing motivated his advocacy of conservation. He became president in 1901 and established 18 national monuments, 51 wildlife refuges, and five national parks.

The TR NP was established in 1978. This Wikipedia website has a good, concise history of the park. This excerpt adds the personal dimension to the story:

In 1884, after the death of his wife and mother (on the same day), Roosevelt traveled to his North Dakota ranch to rebuild his life and to recover from the tragedy. The badlands were a catharsis for him and although he returned east several times, for most of two years he ranched in the area and noted his experiences in pieces published in eastern newspapers and magazines. Returning east and back into politics, Roosevelt would forever associate himself with the vanishing frontier and the life of the western cowboy and rancher.

I’ve got several books about scenic drives, and one of them raved about this one: the 14 mile cul de sac to the Little Missouri Oxbow overlook in the North Unit of the park. So, that's what got this stop included on our carefully researched travel plan.

The drive has hills, river, buffaloes, and badlands. We also found road construction, thanks to stimulus money, a sign said. Shovels at work on a shovel-ready project - we saw two guys actually using shovels. We had a couple of 15 minute waits while large semi-trailer dump trucks carried out damaged pavement and delivered new roadbed material. At one of these stops we met a flagman (holding a STOP/SLOW sign, not a flag) who had come across the state from Fargo to work on this project. Susie befriended him and learned his life story by offering him sunscreen. Too late, he said.

Here are a few pix.

Some professional pictures at this link.

We enjoyed the grass and sky vistas in the high, uneroded areas of the TR NP as well as the canyons and eroded features of the badlands. The side trip, even with the construction delays, was worth it.

From the TR NP it was a short drive north to the White Buffalo campground, in Watford City, ND. This was our most primitive campground, yet. Here are the picnic table and chairs provided at our site.

Then, there was this example of campground art:

Side story: when I first called to see if they had an RV site available (a question that must have shocked the owner) I punched in the wrong area code, 702 instead of 701, and got a pizza joint in Las Vegas. That made for a short, confusing conversation.

We’re at the extreme west of the Central Time Zone, as well as being just a few miles south of Canada, just a couple of days after the summer solstice, so the sun goes down very late. Still good daylight at 10:00pm. It’s funny, for a time today, miles southeast of here, we were in the Mountain Time Zone. Guess people in those counties didn't want 10:00pm daylight.

Tomorrow Montana.


Susie and Rob

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lewis and Clark - 1

Tuesday, 6/23. From Bismarck we drove north to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. These large metal sculptures are Lewis, Clark, and Sakakawea (currently or locally preferred spelling? I learned it as Sacagawea)

The Lewis and Clark story is such a momentous one, and fairly well known since we just passed the bicentennial of their 1804-1806 expedition, that I won't try to condense or reference; google to your heart's delight.

More large metal (and fiberglass) sculptures. Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam ...

L&C and their "Corps of Discovery" spent the winter, Nov 1804-April 1805, near the site of the Center, at what is called Fort Mandan (named for a local tribe). This is where Sakakawea , one of two Indian wives of the fur trader, Charbonneau, joined the Corps of Discovery. She and her husband were guides and interpreters. Most amazing statistic of the L&C expedition is that there was not one death among the 33 'permanent' members of the party.
The exact site of the Fort is not known, but thought likely to be under the current riverbed a few miles downstream. A replica has been built near the Interpretive Center (aka museum?) based on the party's (b)logs, notes, and sketches. Just to the right of the entrance, there was a nice young guide to tell you the Fort Mandan story.

More Lewis and Clark stuff to come. We'll be in Great Falls, MT this weekend for the L&C Festival.
Susie and Rob

If It's Not One Dakota, It's Another

Monday, 6/22. Headed west from Aberdeen and crossed the Missouri River at Mobridge. Here’s the obligatory bridge picture. Shall we call this trip the bridges and barns tour?

PLAYLIST. Before I go any further, let me say a word about the music that plays when you open this blog. If you're tired of hearing Coal Miner's Daughter, you can either click the double bars below Loretta's picture to stop the music, or you can arrow down to pick another song.
Playlist is a website where you can build your own playlists, all for FREE. Just search the site's archives and add selections to your list(s). Then, whenever you want to hear your favorite music while you're on the computer, just open your list and click it on. I put a shortcut on my desktop to make it handy.
From Mobridge we went north along the west bank of the MO, passing through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation that spreads over both SD and ND. In ND, the beautiful grassy hills you drive through are called the Porcupine Hills. Unfortunately, this total stretch of about 100 miles of two-lane highway, with no shoulders, has no rest areas or scenic overlooks or pull-outs suitable for a car, much less a tuzigoot. Fortunately, though, no traffic, so at a spot where I could see that no one was behind me for a long distance, I stopped in the road and got this quicky picture from the driver's seat. We're not in Montana yet, but this is certainly big sky country.

Just before we got to Bismarck we passed Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. We came back later and got this shot of the hills behind the Fort site - a good representation of the whole trip through the Porcupine Hills.

We found our campground in mid-afternoon then did a little sightseeing, starting with the State Capitol building – not your usual domed and columned structure. We entered a hallway that featured the North Dakota Hall of Fame -- such folks as Lawrence Welk, Roger Maris, Angie Dickinson, Peggy Lee, Warren Christopher, Eric Sevareid, … .

Drove back to Fort Abraham Lincoln to check that out. Custer left here in May, 1876, on his fateful last campaign. We'll visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield in a couple of weeks. Here's a reproduction of General Custer's house at the fort.

On the bridge front, from the web, here's a postcard of the old Memorial Bridge in Bismarck.

That bridge has been replaced. In this video you can see one section being blown up, after which you see the new span, located quite near the demolished bridge. I got this picture of the new bridge.

While driving, I got to thinking: Do we really need two Dakotas? (or two Carolinas or two Virginias; or for that matter, what about Delaware? – could just as well be a county in Maryland. And don't even mention Rhode Island See where an idle mind can lead you!). Thought there might be an interesting story there, but everything I googled up was pretty mundane. A little bit of controversy about where they put the dividing line, but it just seemed to be a given that two states would be created from Dakota Territory (after portions that are now largely Montana and Wyoming were split off). The two states achieved statehood on the same day in a single ceremony; the president (randomly, I'm sure) mixed up the order of the signing documents. For alphabetical reasons ND is the 39th state, SD the 40th. (Any historians out there with illuminating information?)

Thinking about this weighty issue brought to mind Ron Thomason, the lead singer and comedian of the Dry Branch Fire Squad. He says the folks who settled West Virginia were not very creative. When they thought about what they should name their state, they knew Virginia was taken, so they scratched their heads and came up with West Virginia. When they found a river winding through the WV mountains, it was new to them so they named it the New River.

Well, enough history and geography, for today.


Susie and Rob