Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Home Again, Home Again Jiggety Jig

So the next morning we got up in the dark, hard to do.  Oh, it was beautiful driving the wildlife loop at that time of the morning! The other tourists were still in bed, and we had the loop road almost entirely to ourselves! Even the park rangers weren’t there yet. The air was cool, the birds were meeting the day with numerous songs, the animals were busy getting breakfast and enjoying that the humans, most of them, were sleeping in. Deer were numerous! The buffalo were everywhere and relaxed. There were lots of buffalo calves, sweet little babies who were wild with play! They romped and ran and were a joy to see while their mother’s munched on grass.

While parked at the side of the road, a buffalo got very interested in our car as he moseyed by. He laid he head down on the hood by the review mirror. I had my window down and could hear him breathe. Make no mistake, this was not a petting zoo. This was a wild creature and he was getting ready to either butt the car or put his head in the window. When that black wet nose as big as a saucer began to move forward, I rolled up the window—fast. He thumped the car a bit and then inched forward. I love buffalo. I know them. But for a bit, I was truly sacred at that moment. I find the creatures majestic and always have. My grandpa had a buffalo but that is another story.

In the early morning the deer were also numerous….and fast! We sighted pronghorn, prairie dogs but no elk. We returned to our room by way of the Needles Highway. Then we packed up and began the turn back towards home. We went through Hot Springs where buildings were made of local and very high grade limestone. A local woman told us about one the founders of the town raising polo ponies here, about the rich people who came to take the cure of the mineral springs. It was an interesting place.  

                                                   Hot, Springs, South Dakota

                                                 Officer's Quarters at Fort Robinson

                                          Officer's home, note finer dining and less rugged prairie life.

From there we passed through the bottom of South Dakota, watching the landscape change back into the farm ground and farms of Nebraska. The road was quiet, the land swelling and surging. We went to Fort Robinson, a place I always wanted to see.  When we drove in the buildings were in good shape, but there was a commercial busyness that bothered me. One building was a dining area…other houses on officers row were now rented out to tourists and lake visitors in the state park. I know old forts have to be restored or rebuilt, but something about this place bothered me. We visited their little, very little, museum….an officer’s home…and went by the jail where Crazy Horse was killed. (So redone it looked fake.) When I heard how the officers all had polo ponies, were indulged men and their families from West Point I was ready to go. I did not like the feel of the earth here.

                                                Spot where Crazy Horse was killed.

View from Ft. Robinson                                                                                          

We continued on and pushed a little hard to get past North Platte. It was rodeo season there and no rooms to be had. We drove on to Lexington, Nebraska where we got one of the last rooms at a Comfort Inn. We dragged in, slept well, and had a wonderful breakfast the next morning. Then we crossed over into Kansas where we drove down to Fort Larned. I love this fort! It was built on the Pawnee River and sits next the original Santa Fe Trail ruts that caused the fort to be built. Travelers on the Santa Fe needed protection and the army provided it. The buildings were original, sturdy, a testament to history. Most of the hand dug stone had carved graffiti from the last hundred and fifty years. They have identified about 20 stones from the original soldiers.


                                               Fort Larned, Kansas

Again we saw rooms that showed how the officers and staff lived.  We saw a video history of the fort. I found wonderful books in the National Site’s gift shop. While there, the temp was 100 degrees and that famous Kansas hot wind was blowing. I can’t imagine how people traveled, how soldiers worked in this weather in those times.

Note bug netting on bed for sleeping without bites.

By evening we were 400 miles out from Missouri, but it felt like being home. In the week we had been on the road, wheat had ripened and combines were in the fields. It felt good to see farmers at work feeding the nation. The wild flowers were coming out now...susans, Queen Ann's lace, chicory. We saw an abundance of lilies but none as pretty as at the family farm when we went by.

We began a series of stops checking on loved ones as we inched our way home. We found some worries and fears for some. But when we got home, those red place mats and vibrant kitchen cloths that I left waiting, and the sight out the sliding door of reds and purples and yellow blooms were a welcome sights! I got the tea kettle burbling and it was lovely to be back in off the road, and just as Dorothy learned on the yellow brick road to Oz, there is nothing like your home and own back yard!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Searching For Loose Women

                                                                  Crazy Horse

We made it to Custer State Park late in the day. We wanted to stay in the park but rooms were scarce and cost $225. DH was stilling looking for the $39.95 special and nearly had a stroke. We called ahead to Custer where story was the same, but we found an Econo Lodge reasonably priced with one room left. We had them hold it until we could get into the town of Custer. In the early evening we walked the town, looked in shops and considered a supper out but nothing was appealing. Lots of grease, carbs and such which sounded too heavy after a hard day.

We returned to our room where I got into the tea basket for broth, crackers, and fruit. We fell into bed. The next morning we planned our day’s strategy. We drove the scenic routes around Spearfish, the area where some of Dances with Wolves was filmed. We skirted Deadwood and Lead, and headed right for Belle Fourche which I had a strange and unusual longing to see.

                                                 Following the Spearfish Scenic route

Last winter while reading of wild and loose women of the Old West, I met Dora DuFran on the page. When I saw her picture, I just felt like would like this woman should we ever have met despite the fact that she was a prostitute. Dora probably started her loose behavior around the age of 14 as she did not want to live the hard of life of her mother which poverty, kids, and hard work. She did not want to remain a working girl either. She learned early to satisfy men for money, but she was smart and calculating moving herself up to owner and house madam at a young age. The men liked her and liked the house she ran because she made her girls bathe and used only pretty girls. (The ratio was 100 men to one woman so even ugly women had certain kinds of work in the Dakota West.) Dora called her house Diddling Dora’s and eventually had a string of Cat House in the area.

                                                                 Dora's Place

Belle Fourche is French for Beautiful Fork and the town sits at the intersection or forks of three rivers. This small town became a place for shipping out cattle and sheep. It was also very near all the gold strikes in the Black Hills so a woman had plenty of changes for a certain kind of work. Dora was a good citizen otherwise. She was known for helping cowboys down on their luck or feeding anyone who was hungry. He was unusual in her line of work because she made a good marriage to a man she loved, who helped her run her business. Today the town still is busy but has some empty storefronts like all small towns struggling to stay alive.

We visited a few antique stores in the small downtown and a lovely visitor’s center. I found a lovely old Blue Willow teapot that I did not need for a semi-reasonable price. It is fairly old and my imagination wondered if it had poured tea in a sod house nearby years ago. The original building where Dora’s place of business was still stands, although it if for sale now. I was told it is beautiful inside with an impressive fireplace and pressed tin ceilings. I was thrilled to see the building and could picture Dora’s gals hanging out those upstairs windows, twirling long curls, and calling to rowdy, dust covered drovers riding down the street!

Then we left town and meandered over to Deadwood, the town where Hickok was killed. We went into the bar where he was shot, still there and serving drinks, gaming, and food. The inside was dark and the wooden floor gritty with an absorbent product that shuffled until your feet like loose dirt. We did not stay long. We walked the streets which were so commercial with souvenir shops and casinos. We had a hamburger lunch on a patio and then left town. I had seen enough.

We went to drive through Custer State Park, an absolutely gorgeous mass of acres. The land, the lakes, the forests, the animals…I wish I lived close enough to enjoy this beautiful place more often. There is a wildlife loop you can drive and often see animals. There is a huge herd of buffalo throughout the park and often they are near or standing in the road. There are antelope, elk, buffalo, big horn sheep, deer. We were told that to see the elk you had to be early in the morning or late in the evening. It was evening as we drove through but we never sighted an elk.

So we went back to our room and decided to get up at 5:30 in the morning to drive the loop again to catch sight of an elk. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Second Day on the Kansas Prairie

The first night found us in Concordia, Kanas up near the northern border in the middle of the state. It was a destination to go here because I wanted to visit the National Orphan Train Museum. We did not rest well that night. For me, I had done all the driving, from roughly 9 am to 4:30 pm. When I got out of the car that night my back and back side hurt; it was to ache for several more days. Both of us found that we can’t go the many miles in comfort that we used to go.

Not much was said or published about the orphan trains until the late 1980 when a woman in northern Arkansas wanted to know about her family’s background. She started a movement by which information was shared about the many children sent from the East to the Midwest during hard times. Nearly 200,000 children rode the trains to new families. Some stories were not so pretty in the end, and all stories were sad that these children had to be given up by poor or dying mothers in the first place.

Typical living conditions in the city at turn of century. There was not enough of anything for a large family...space, food, money.

The museum is located in a refurbished depot and note the colors which were determined by the National History foundation. They said this was a historically correct shade for a train depot of the time. While no orphan train actually unloaded in Concordia, stops were in nearby towns and many children grew up in the area or moved to the town eventually. A research resource is set in a separate building behind the depot. The entire facility is an interesting place to visit. Many people are reading the popular fiction called Orphan Train. One woman in Texas read it with her book club and then insisted her husband drive her to Kansas to see this site.

The children were dressed in an outfit of new clothes and give a small suitcase with one other outfit of clothing. They were numbered and assisted by adults who got them to their destinations. This little bonnet is the actually one a little girl wore on her ride West. 

It was here in this town we began to see the huge grain bins that feed the world, Kansas is known as Breadbasket of the World. Some call these grain elevators the Kansas Cathedrals.

The day was still young and we headed north to the Nebraska state line

On to Red Cloud

So then it was a short drive to the Nebraska border and crossing over into the small town of Red Cloud. The first thing was seeing the Willa Cather prairie. Oh golly, pictures can’t capture the vista that is there! I saw rolling land, again lush green grasses due to rains, and I stood outside the car and felt the air blow and brush my face…heard nothing but birds and maybe occasionally a whish of a car passing on the road. I stood and let my mind picture the settlers ease into this land from foreign countries and many from Europe and Scandinavia. They dug holes into the sides of this land and built soddies and life was hard! My mind also saw the Red Man and how he rode the plains in freedom and peace…then he watched others encroach on his homeland.

Love Willa Cather and her life story! I am still working my way through her works. I recently read Lucy Gayheart. Enjoyed it and was shocked by some of the themes Cather wrote about so early in the 20th century. My two favorites are Death Comes to the Archbishop and My Antonia. Oh wait and then there is Sapphira and the Slave Girl written in the 1940s but full of contemporary issues. Cather’s books are classics but don’t be afraid to give them a shot!

The town of Red Cloud only has about 1000 people. We ate a hamburger lunch, walked the short streets, felt the settings of her novels! I bought too many books and videos and such in the Opera House gift shop where tours of town started. This wasn’t my first time here. I just love being on the land Cather walked.

                                  Harding House that appeared in Cather's stories. Now a bed and breakfast.

                                                     Cather's childhood home.

DH fell in love with a border collie here. Black, white, friendly, and wearing no collar he could have used a bath and a meal. We discussed bringing him home. He followed us and into the Opera House upsetting some fine ladies. He went right back out and was gone when we came out. Even late in the trip we discussed driving back to Red Cloud to pick up Gravy. Yes we named him and thought when we called Biscuit in we could call for Biscuit and Gravy!!!! But he was large and would take a big commitment, and it wasn’t fair to Miss B who had issues of her own since being abandoned. We came home without Gravy and with a heavy heart…but you can’t bring them all home.

The landscape gradually changed after Red Cloud. We moved
north towards the Black Hills, home of the Sioux. We used Highway 80 to speed across to North Platt where the Platt River was spread everywhere due to flooding. A night dodging tornado and golf ball sized hail made for poor sleep. We started the next day tired, but we pushed onward.

                                                         A Nebraska sod house.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ruby Slipper Pulls Out To The West

Both DH and Ruby Slipper were raring to go, but I wasn’t so sure. I think AGE had set in. DH wanted to see Maine one more time before we couldn’t travel anymore and the Black Hills were his second choice. Texas was a third. Looking at the distance to Maine (and the thoughts of leaving the dog in a kennel so long!) made my knees weak. Texas with water was not appealing. He assured the Black Hills were lots closer. We ended up driving 2300 miles!

We had seen Mount Rushmore and some other main sites on a previous trip, but I found a few new stops along the way. We took all secondary roads like William Least Moon in his Blue Highways. Having time for those kinds of roads gives one a whole new feeling about what he is passing through. The real draw of this road trip was meandering through Middle American’s Heartland. Some people go to the ocean or the mountains for restoration. DH likes mountains but he loves seeing good farmland too. For me, the prairies and plains are spiritual in nature, their beauty suggesting a Higher Power and their history holding many stories of America.

The Mine Creek Battlefield is not far from us but it is inconvenient location. This trip gave opportunity to drive by there on our way north before turning to the west. Unfortunately, the visitor’s center was closed on Monday and Tuesday due to Kansas budgeting. But we still drove in and looked over the area. It was here that the Union with 2500 soldiers whipped 8000 Confederates. I still don’t understand that fight, but this was last struggle for the Rebels in Kansas. The battle lasted only one hour and it was largest cavalry battle in Civil War Kansas.

From here we turned west and began to cross the Flint Hills, a place I love. Kansas often is called a Flyover state but is beautiful in its own way if one takes the time to appreciate. I love the rolling land that was once the bottom of a huge inland ocean. The grass is so rich in nutrients here that Texas used to send cattle up to eat during the summer months. This year due to the excessive rain travelers see lush grass and tree growth with varying shades of green. The wildflowers were not full-blown yet, but their emerging Queen Ann’s Lace, cone flowers, and pink vetch was just beginning. 

 The cattle dots on the green were scenic to see. Wheat, oats, corn, and fescue were splendid in the fields. The day we left some wheat was still yellow while other fields had turned brown and ripe, ready for combining.

The ribbon of highway stretched out straight to the western horizon. By midafternoon we were in Council Grove, Kansas. It was here that a treaty was signed by Americans and the Osage giving people safe passage on the Santa Fe Trail. Seth Hays, great grandson of Daniel Boone, was an early settler who built the first log cabin in 1848. The Hays House still is on the site and is a great place to eat. This was the first of many Kansas towns with history, small but clean. Note the old buildings still in use. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Father's Day

This summer will be 15 years since my Dad has been gone. Much has occured and all events have felt the loss of his presence. Father's Day always reminds me of the hole in the fabric of my life. Here he was a high school student of the 40's, happy and smiling, with his dad and brother. All are gone now. I hope they are together once again.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June Is Iced Tea Month

June is Ice Tea Month and it is a perfect time for some deck sitting and tea drinking. The weather is a bit unseasonal here…it either rains some more or is humidly hot like late July or August in times the sun peaks out. Still I run to the deck whenever possible to soak up what bits of June I can savor. Glass after glass of frosty iced tea and book after book of various genres make for celebrating this month.

Today’s choices have been Harshaw (Harney and Sons) by the pot for breakfast and poetry manuals by Mary Oliver and another by Ted Kooser. Then this afternoon it is a big pitcher of Tetley’s Black and Green, a blend of two teas that is perfect iced. The afternoon book is Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough. This will be the first read for the book club’s new season in August. So far it is a agreeable story of four sisters, two sets of twins, studying nursing in 1926 New South Wales. The four distinct personalities are just beginning to take shape as I read.

Two great quotes on tea have popped up today that I will share.

“Edda poured milk, Tufts stirred the teapot to speed up the infusion process. Then cups brimming with teaming tea, they sat to enjoy the panacea for all woes.”

“What liquor is to most houses, strong tea is to the house of healing,” he said…..”

While brewing this morning, I caught a great segment on Sunday Morning, which is known for its coverage of art and literature. The show profiled George Saunders, calling him the bestselling short story of his generation. It took the man a while to find his niche in life, much less writing. He said you have story when you have two characters, one who life had treated well and another that feels shortchanged by life. Then you have these two characters meet, friction occurs and a story is the inescapable result.I intend to check out this author’s work soon.

Any readers of George Saunders out there?

Happy reading and drinking in June!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Blue and White Tea

The best times for a deck tea are during May and June after rains and before stifling summer heat. This year the rains never stopped and May washed away down the gutter. Already it is almost the middle of June and now the muggy air is heating up to oppressive temps that feel like late summer. A good number of people are out of town, but since exercise was canceled for today, I grabbed the morning and threw together a tea for anyone who could come. It turned out fine, though hasty. Blue Willow with a dash of red tossed in was a reminder for the upcoming Flag Day.

The early morning was breezy and comfortable but shortly later it was quite warm. Could it be the hot air we stirred with our talking? DH took Biscuit to the shop with him, and we poured glass after glass of cinnamon orange, ginger peach, and coconut mango teas. We noshed and swilled and kicked back ignoring all the troubles of the world. We caught up on each other’s lives. It was wonderful and really this is true summer, almost as good as mint juleps and wicker rockers on a wraparound porch!

Who know when we can gather again or who can attend? Surely there will be another time, another day, another pitcher of icy tea. Until then, we have the memory of a perfect summer morning.