Archive for September, 2013

En Route Back East

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Channeling the BuffaloKathy and I are in culture shock.

When we arrived in Rapid City, we were slack-jawed at the modest size of the town. From there we transitioned into even more sparsely inhabited areas…areas were four-legged critters far outnumbered the two-legged ones.

We grew accustomed to a silence so pervasive that even the sound of the wind was a statement with an exclamation point.

The buffalo love that deep silence also. In fact, they hate noise of any kind. So, Kathy and I started making references to our “inner buffalos” as to when they were riled and when they were peaceful.

So here she is in a Native American tipi at the base of Bear Lodge on our last day. She went inside and asked me to snap a picture.

As I put the shot into focus, I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Channeling my inner buffalo.”

Ah. We’d been doing a lot of that lately.

When we drove back into Rapid City, we were slack-jawed once again. It had transformed into a huge metropolis of NY proportions. There were entirely too many cars.

When we touched down in Dulles Airport in Washington DC, our inner buffalos were ready to stampede.

Day Two

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

BadlandsWe saddled up at the break of dawn. Six riders. Two trail guides. It was supposed to be a simple little two-hour trek through the woods. Little did we know that bison would block our every path.

“They are chasers; horses are runners. The two just don’t get along,” explained our lead guide after spying more than a few piles of cow pies.

Our small group picked up on the tension in the air, but the horses seemed calm enough. Then the lead guide said in a very strident voice, “TURN AROUND.”

Those horses did exactly as they were told and we all beat feet in a Monty Python-styled “Run Away” with the side guide running interference between us and the big bison.

And so it went for two hours with us dodging these very territorial and cranky horned beasts. We took all manner of detours even climbing up and DOWN slippery slopes studded with rocky scree.

“Keep your legs on each side and your head in the middle,” said our guides. We focused and managed to return hale and whole, but more than a little keyed up and a lot saddle sore.

Kathy and I self-medicated with an ice cold beer and a rib-sticking lunch in Hot Springs, then trekked on out to the Badlands. My map quest directions were faulty. That became abundantly clear in the first 15 minutes. But my navigator consulted her multitudinous maps and came up with an alternate route.

When the road transitioned from asphalt to a washboard-pitted gravel, I looked at her in silent question.

“Huh,” she said. “I guess that’s why the map has Route 2 as broken line and not a solid line.”

“And how long is that broken line?”

“About an inch and a half.”

Two hours…and a most magnificent drive later we hit paved road once again. During the solitude of that alien landscape we saw not one other human being or car. The wind was the only other living thing. And it was good and spirited company.

We hit the ground running…

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Hwy Map YayAfter crossing 2/3s of the USA by air, we jumped into a rental car and cruised across the prairie en route to Wall Drug where we powered up with Texas-sized slices of homemade pies and sampled their house-made donuts.

Coffee was 5 cents, as advertized. And it was gooooood. Pies were truly fabulous. Donuts were $1.50 each (LOL) so they more than covered their lost income on the coffee. But here’s the kicker…they were cardamom cake donuts and worth every cent. We bought two more to eat for breakfast tomorrow when we head out to the horse stables for our break-of-dawn trail ride.

We purchased cowboy hats… Oh, YEAH! Then, we drove back across the prairie through a bona fide dust storm. We hacked up a couple of lungs but had enough oxygen to make it to Mount Rushmore.

At close of day…we only had a 12-mile trek to Custer State Park and the State Game Lodge within it where we are spending the night. Unfortunately, this 12-mile trek ended up taking over an hour due to the mountainous terrain, single-lane trestle bridges, single-lane tunnels, switch-back roads and fading light. It was a white-knuckle ride with Kathy chanting softly…“Don’t look right (which was a sheer cliff with no guard rail), focus left.”

Good navigator.

The moon rose full and luminous through the Ponderosa pines as we leveled onto less treacherous roadways, and I slowed down even more due to the wildlife warning signs. It was dusk. Lucky I did. We rounded a sharp bend and found ourselves side by side a female bison and her calf.

“B-b-b-b-buffalo,” said my navigator.

She got it right that time. An hour prior, she spotted another four-legged critter and shouted “Bison”. False alarm.

“Those long-legged big things are elk,” I said. Snicker, snicker.

We ate both for dinner at the State Game Lodge.

The Middle of Nowhere

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

buffalo nickle
In 1931, Ted and Dorothy Husteads purchased a drugstore in Wall, South Dakota at the edge of the South Dakota badlands on Route 16A, a road that would take tourists to scenic Mount Rushmore in Custer State Park.

For five years, they struggled to raise a family and make a living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. No one stopped at Wall Drug as they headed west to view four American presidents immortalized in stone…until the couple erected billboards encouraging motorists to stop for free ice water.

That small gesture brought them an enormous amount of transient traffic. Within one year, they went from a mom and pop operation to a staff of eight.

Today, Wall Drug (still family owned), is 76,000 square feet in size and can cater to 20 THOUSAND visitors a day during the height of tourist season.

Ice water is still free and coffee runs a whopping buffalo nickel a cup. They have a café that seats over 500, an apothecary, souvenirs, pottery, candy, Native American artifacts, western apparel, and books!

Wish me luck! I hope they’ll agree to sell mine!

Dakota Trust

Monday, September 16th, 2013

South Dakota mapNot a bank.

Several weeks ago, I called the Custer State Park to reserve a trail ride for my buddy and I and got an answering machine. I left a message with my trail ride request.

Not getting a response. I called again the following week. Left a message.

Yesterday, I called a third time and got a real, live person.

“Oh. You. Yes. Your reservation is confirmed. We had you down since the first time you called.”

“Ah,” I said. “Don’t you need a credit card to confirm?”

“No. You said you were coming. That’s enough.”


I will be very careful with my words in South Dakota. Obviously, they are binding

Good Girls Rarely Make History

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Calamity JaneFor a woman, breaking the glass ceiling in 21st century corporate America is nothing compared to fighting for a right to self expression in the 1800s. It didn’t come easy. And most “polite society” wasn’t polite about the breaking of social taboos.

Martha Canary (1852-1903) was an American frontierswoman and professional scout known for her goodness and kind compassion. The world knew her as Calamity Jane.

She was the eldest of six children. In 1865, her parents moved by wagon train from Missouri to Montana. Her mother died along the way; the father lived long enough to establish 40 acres of farmstead in Salt Lake City, UT. After he died, Martha moved the children to Wyoming.

In Wyoming, Martha took whatever jobs she could to provide for her large family…cook, waitress, nurse, ox-team driver, prostitute. She wasn’t far from Deadwood, South Dakota and moved there by wagon-train in 1876.

Looking back, most of her life is a colorful weave of fact and fiction…of stagecoach rescues and Indian skirmishes, of scouting and shooting shots of whiskey. She was said to have attacked Wild Bill Hickok’s murderer with a meat cleaver and to have nursed the sick in a smallpox epidemic.

Her acts of kindness were as legendary as her wild and wooly exploits. She lived large and there are several stories as to how she came by her nickname.

While participating in a military campaign, her Captain was shot by enemy fire while riding horseback. She pulled him from his horse onto hers and took him back to camp. He survived and called her “Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains”. Another version tells tale that she was uninterested in marriage and that to court her was to “court calamity”. Yet another version mentions that prostitutes were referred to as “janes”, their patrons as “johns”.

For most of her life, she wore men’s clothing and lived a man’s life; at the end, she was also a raging alcoholic.

Upon her death, the newspapers referred to her as “notorious”, “dissolute” and “devilish”.

Another kinder soul commented, “Her vices were the wide-open sins of a wide-open  country – the sort that never carried a hurt” (as quoted by Deadwood Magazine, 2001).

No matter what anyone says…the lady lived an authentic life…her very own. She had the courage to be her own person at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what she saw in Deadwood; to keep one so spirited, it must be one heck of a town.

I’m Heading to Deadwood

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Saloon #10The town of Deadwood, located within the Black Hills of South Dakota, was an illegal U.S. settlement within territory granted to the Sioux in the Treaty of Larmie in 1868. The treaty had promised the Lakota Sioux Indians ownership of the Black Hills.

Unfortunately for the Sioux, gold was discovered within the territory granted to them and Colonel George Armstrong Custer led the charge that initiated the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874.

Karma was riding high in the saddle as Custer broke treaty; he did not even live long enough to rue the day. Although the battle was lost for Custer; the war was sadly lost for the Sioux.

This fateful turn of events gave birth to the lawless town of Deadwood, a boom town of gamblers, prostitutes and saloons.

Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back while playing poker at Saloon #10 in Deadwood.

Calamity Jane, frontierswoman, professional scout, and occasional employee of Dora DuFran, (Deadwoods’ leading Madam), claimed that Wild Bill fathered her son, Jean.

Calamity Jane put her son up for adoption after Wild Bill’s death and went on to serve as a scout for the US Army. At the time of Wild Bill’s death, he was married to another woman.

Historical record states that there is no evidence to confirm or deny the existence of their love child.

Obviously, what happens in Deadwood, stays in Deadwood.

At least back then…