Monday, July 21, 2014

Tired? I should have been

She: "You should have the tires checked before we start on our trip."

Me: "They look fine. I'm sure they'll be OK."

Tires (2,000 miles later): "Let's blow this place."

Me: "Deleted."

I really did think the tires on the car looked fine -- until the orange light in the shape of a tire started glowing on the Prius dashboard.  Then, as we pulled into the hotel parking lot in Kennewick, WA, a man walked over and said "You might want to look at that tire."

I did.  And as I watch, it got flatter.
Tire-some shopping

The upshot is that a nice guy from AAA met us Sunday morning to change the tire -- partly because I found out the lug wrench in the trunk did not fit the nuts on the wheels.  Then we went shopping for black rings at a nearby Firestone dealer that was thankfully open. Many hundred dollars later (an a walk through the nearby mall while waiting), we were back on the road.

Cecile was very nice.  She didn't say "I told you so."  She didn't have to. Her look was very eloquent.

Hood ahead
But by afternoon, we had crossed into Oregon. The sun was out and so was Mt. Hood -- the majestic peak that sometimes peeks from the clouds around Portland.

The sentinel mountains in the Northwest never fail to impress me. The stand not clumped in ranges, but on their own like majestic beings.  I grew up seeing Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen on my horizons. Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier are often hidden in clouds, but anchor Oregon and Washington -- and Oregonians and Washingtonians.

For an Oregon expatriate, the sight of Hood over my hood meant I was on the path back to where attendants always pump your gas, not recycling is a mortal sin and Ducks don't just quack, they play football.  I'm feeling pretty Green.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Renewing the Idaho connection

How much friendship can you pack into an afternoon? Years. Years and years.

After spending the night in Missoula, MT, we called ahead to see if Nils and Mary Rosdahl would be home as we passed through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Nils and Mary

Nils and I worked together on the Coeur d'Alene Press back in the 1980s.  He was the lifestyle and business editor while I was the news editor -- and later managing editor. Nils left the Press to teach at North Idaho College long before I veered off to academia. He and Mary stayed in Coeur d'Alene when we headed off to Texas, Oregon and eventually Missouri.

But today, all the trips and the years out of touch disappeared and we lost ourselves in our many, many shared memories. Kids, grandkids, trips, pleasures and tribulations -- we went through them all. We also saw the hobby Nils took up in retirement.  He collects old type once used for printing and makes fabulous art with it.

Nils and Mary also took us on a tour of our old hometown. It's nearly doubled in population in the 26 years since we lived there.  More importantly, it has quadrupled in popularity among the tourists who flock there to enjoy the clean air and spectacular Coeur d'Alene Lake.

But behind all the new buildings, the Cd'A we remembered was still there. Including our old house on Foster Avenue. The house, like most everything in town, had been spruced up considerably to reflect the rising property values.  When I last stopped in Coeur d'Alene 14 years ago, our old house was for sale.  The flier offered it for exactly $100,000 more than we sold it for.

Our beautiful old house
The town has a spectacular new library complex and what was a big soccer field is now one of the nicest playgrounds I have ever seen. Nils made a typeface table for the library -- spelling out words related to reading across its top.

As we left town, Cecile looked out to where the city faded into the beautiful lake.  "We could move back here and drop right back in, couldn't we?"

Maybe in July. But Idaho is another place in February. I prefer to keep the good memories and conveniently forget the snow and ice.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

History writ big on a hillside

In 1966 I became a temporary Virginian when my father moved the family east for three months so he could attend a National Guard NCO school near Washington, D.C. On weekends, we would tour the myriad museums historical sites in the area -- especially Civil War battlefields.

My dad loved seeing the ground over which great military minds plotted strategy. One of my favorite memories is watching him standing in his khaki uniform, gazing from the Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, where Union artillery snuffed out Pickett's Charge.

"The fool. The damned fool," he almost shouted, pointing to the large treeless field over which Maj. Gen. George Pickett marched a whole brigade of Confederates to their deaths. The Old Soldier could see the whole  battle before him and the absurdity of the charge.

Not me.  I could see a big field of grass and some old cannons with National Park Service signs. Battlefields look an awful lot like farms to me. Except for the one we visited today: Little Big Horn.

Better known as "Custer's Last Stand," this National Monument is where Sioux and Cheyenne arrows did to Lt. Col. George Custer what the Union canons did to Pickett.

Last Stand monument, from the Indian Warrior monumen
Custer was also on Dad's list as another "damned fool." Custer wouldn't wait for reinforcements, left his big guns in camp and told the supply train with ammunition to wait behind the hills.

The Montana battlefield itself makes it quite clear why the Old Soldier disliked Custer. To my knowledge, this is the only battlefield that marks the place where each soldier fell.

There is a big cluster of white markers on a small hill where Custer and a small band of soldiers made their famous last stand against a tidal wave of warriors. But the heart-rending story of futility is written in the dozens of other markers scattered across the scrubby hillsides.

When my son and I stopped here on a 2001 trip, the battlefield held Garrett in awe.  That's saying something: Garrett was 16. You go try to impress a 16-year-old guy (Hot cars and pretty girls excepted).

Scattered white stones mark where 7th Cavalry troopers fell retreating up the hillside

But the analytical mind that in time led Garrett to be a successful engineer clicked into action.  I saw in his eyes that same vision of the past that my dad glimpsed that day at Gettysburg.

Today it was Cecile's turn to be introduced to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  The sagebrush was higher this time and the markers of the fallen harder to see.  Still, you could easily sense the desperation of the few hundred 7th Cavalry troopers pushed by an impatient Custer toward thousands of Indians. Indians he was trying to force onto a reservation. You can see where soldiers were picked off one by one as they retreated up a hill, or where four or five troopers were surrounded and slaughtered.

It's a stunning lesson that the land tells better than any movie or book.

The markers of the dead today look down from Last Stand hill
(Side note: I was surprised to find that the Sioux, like the whites, were interlopers at the Little Big Horn.  The battlefield is today on a Crow reservation and the Crow scouts fought with Custer.  A ranger explained that the Sioux was a big, aggressive tribe that had decided to push the Crow off of their hunting grounds. It's hard to find good guys in war.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Those big guys on the mountain

I'm in awe of sculptors. How they can crack open a rock to release art is beyond my comprehension.  When I crack open a rock, it just cracks.

Michelangelo is no doubt the master, creating masterpieces so detailed and realistic they look as if they could walk off their pedestal.

But it is one thing to release David from a block of marble. It's quite another to release four humongous presidents from the side of a mountain.

The mountain and the presidents
We visited Mt. Rushmore today.  It was a return for me, bringing back good memories of the time Garrett, our whippet Saffron and I drove across country to start our new life in Missouri.

Garrett was in high school and, as is the requirement of all young men, not enthralled with his father's ideas.  But he agreed that Mt. Rushmore was worth the two-hour detour from our trip.

500mm - Photographic nosiness
Cecile was still working, so missed that edition of the Roadtrip. And she missed Mt. Rushmore.

Since Garrett and I were there, the National Park Service has expanded the parking and visitor areas. But the main attraction is still the four big guys on the hill.

Cecile was duly impressed, especially when she saw how high on the mountain the faces were.  From the pictures in books, the presidents might have been carved from a big rock bluff closer to ground level.  For my part, I got a bit carried away with a 500 mm lens and ended up looking up presidential nostrils.

It is beyond me how Gutzon Borglum looked at a mountain and saw Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln.  And then how he marshaled a crew of miners and loggers to blast bits of the mountain off with dynamite until they could see his vision.
Big George

Like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Monument and the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Rushmore is one of those icons of nationhood that every American should see at least once.

But you still can't expect me to look at a rock and see the next great piece. I'll leave that to the masters.

Yes, let's take a Rushmore selfie!
The gala entrance to the mountain overlook

The path to greatness is well-trod at Rushmore

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's a road trip without waterfalls, buffalo and rattlesnakes?

The beauty of Florence overwhelms you like a bouquet from heaven just as its rich history soaks you to your soul. But even Michelangelo would have been impressed by the sights we enjoyed on the road today.

The sky was shockingly blue with a simple counterpoint of fluffy white clouds.  Below, the green grass rolled to the horizon.  This is the great American Prairie.

Our cross-country travels took us today from Sioux Falls on the eastern edge of South Dakota to Rapid City on the other side.  Between were sights, people and creatures that challenged my mind and soothed my soul.

Sioux Falls
After a quick breakfast at our Sioux Falls hotel, we headed out to see the cataracts that give the city its name. They are not tall, but are impressive.  The torrent has polished the bedrock in and around the falls to the smooth finish of sculpture. The ruins of a giant mill line a shore now swathed with well-groomed park lawn (upon which scamper cute little critters with a name longer than their bodies -- thirteen-lined ground squirrels).

We then went downtown to walk the Sioux Falls arts district.  Each May, the city picks artists whose sculptures grace the sidewalks for a year.  It's a spectacular way to give a city character.

Venus de Cello
The cornfields gave way to hayfields and eventually to rangeland as we headed west on I-90, listening to "The River of Doubt," the tale of Theodore Roosevelt's adventures in the Amazon. It was a nice contrast between Teddy's nearly-naked jungle Indians to the stately Lakota Sioux, whose museum we visited in Chamberlain.

The land grew wilder as we drove, especially when we turned off to the Badlands National Park. This moonscape of volcanic ash and fossil-laden rock was sculpted by wind and water. Beyond the landscape and the incredible population of wildlife at roadside, the park gave us another pleasant surprise.  We qualified for a National Park Service lifetime senior citizens pass. Damn.  I really am old. But give me the discounts anyway.

The park's rocky spires are unbelievable in any light.  But as the sun started to set and the shadows grew long, they were spectacular.

And the wildlife. Bison, big horn sheep, hundreds of prairie dogs, rabbits... and rattlesnakes.  We paid minimal attention to the warning signs until hearing an urgent rattle in the grass and watching a snake slither under the boardwalk trail. That's the "wild" part of life.
A big horn lamb, a rabbit, a 13-lined ground squirrel, a baby bison, a prairie dog and mamma bighorn

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On the road again

Cecile is determined to make the most of her sabbatical, and I'm right there cheering her on. Or more accurately, traveling on.

Florence is now a fond, fond memory that has given way to an epic cross-country road trip.  We are on our way from Columbia, MO, to Portland, OR, to visit our daughter, our son-in-law and our genetically superior grandchildren. Today we finished the first 500 of our 2,000-mile road trip.

Happy Gillis makes happy diners
The road to Oregon is paved with food.  At least that is part of our strategy.  We have vowed to refrain from any chain eatery.  Smart phones make our goal a bit more obtainable.  We have a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives app, Yelp and the power of Google.

That first app is how we found Happy Gillis Cafe and Hangout in the Columbus Park area of Kansas City.  Columbus Park was once infamous as a haven for the Show-Me branch of the Mafia. The mob is gone, but the food only got better.

Happy Gillis is a former corner store turned artsy cafe.  Guy Fieri loved it with good reason. The sandwich menu was astonishing.  Cecile had a bacon and date melt while I had a pork comfit sandwich. Find that at McDonald's.

We rolled north on I-29.  A sign at Nebraska City caught our eye as a logical place to fulfill our other vow. You can't cross America just on a set of tires.  We promised each other to walk at least two miles each day of our trip.

We got a mile in earlier walking the quaint streets of Columbus Park.  But new we wanted to follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

Explorers' selfie on the bluff
The Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center sits atop a bluff overlooking a stretch of the Missouri River that challenged the Corps of Discovery in 1802. There are similar centers along the route from St. Louis to Astoria. We started our admiration of the explorers in reverse order while we lived in Oregon. It's now nice to read their log entries when they were still pumped up with excitement. By Clatsop, they were tired and cranky.

Giant prairie dog
The upshot is that we knew most of the historical facts, but loved the wildlife displays. Can you imagine what it was like to first spot a buffalo? Or to catch the first cutthroat trout on record? My friend Jim Bird once said that the Lewis and Clark expedition was every bit as daring, every bit as great a scientific challenge and every bit as impossible as the first moon mission. And there are no grizzly bears on the moon.

Petrow's in Omaha
The center's river overlooks and trails gave us another two miles of wandering before we set off again -- in search of food.

All the DDandD spots in Omaha seem to close after lunch, but Yelp took us to Petrow's Restaurant.  It has fed countless Nebraskans since the early 50's, but proudly brags that "Over two billionaires served." Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have sampled the simple diner fare.  I'm not sure if there really is a third billionaire to warrant the "over." The fried pork tenderloin was good, but not great.  Great waited for the sour cream raisin pie.

And now we are in South Dakota's Sioux Falls for the night.  I was here for a conference once and was enjoyably surprised to find it beautiful art haven that also boasts a butterfly zoo.  Tomorrow morning we will drive down the the old downtown art's district, where sculptors are invited to place their works on street corners for a year of public admiration (and maybe a sale).

Then, like Lewis and Clark, we head west.  On to Mt. Rushmore and the hills where Custer learned what happens when you really tick off the Sioux.