Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family reunion

When I retired, my friends asked where I was going to relocate, having been to all 50 states. I replied immediately, "Right here, because this is where my family is." I love traveling and being able to visit the marvelous locales our country offers, but returning home and getting together with family is what life is all about. Below are Sarah and Scott as we visit at their home...

... also joined by Steve and Kasia...

... and of course, myself and Ellen (and Mindy atop the couch on the right)...

... followed by good food and conversation at Muldoon's Irish Pub in Wheaton.

Millennium Magic

Ellen and I biked the Millennium Trail for the first time since returning from our 6 week trip, and it was wonderful seeing that the resident sand hill cranes are still around.

Apparently, the area had good rainfall during our trip based on the vibrant wildflowers still in profusion along the bike trail:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Back to the routine...

Well, the wonderful vacation out west is over and it's back to the salt mines now. Believe me, this retirement gig is a back breaker sometimes, but someone's got to do it, so we dove back into the daily grind full force today with a 13 mile bike ride at Moraine Hills State Park. Here are Ellen, Patti, and Marlene ...

... and our customary break at McHenry Dam to watch wildlife, water, and people (or get a rock out of our shoe as Len is doing.)

Dave, Patti, and Len savoring the 70 degree morning...

... as we watched the fishermen both on land and in the water...

... and watched the Great White Egrets also hoping for lunch to come flying over the dam ...

... and the ducks on their own quest for a bite to eat.

... and Sand Hill Cranes searching for their lunch in the meadow.

Another wonderful day with friends enjoying the outdoors and the antics of the indigenous wildlife and homo sapiens.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wall Drug (Wall, SD)

In 1931, Ted Husted opened a drug store near the entrance to The Badlands area (not yet a National Monument.) To entice people to his store (and soda bar) he put signs on the highway offering motorists free ice water and inexpensive coffee. It worked! People flocked to his store, and over the years his family bought out neighboring businesses and offered more items for sales.

The store is simply a fun place to visit and now has an almost endless series of rooms offering everything from drug store supplies, to clothing, shoes, leather goods, jewelry, pottery, knick knacks, souvenirs, a cafe, a soda fountain, a book store, furs, handmade Indian goods, taffy and fudge, etc.

Ellen immediately made a friend...

... and so did I.

The "backyard" included an animatronic T-rex...

All in all, Wall Drug is a stop with something to intrigue, entertain, or amuse everyone, and you might just find something to purchase. And don't forget to get your free ice water, your 5 cent coffee, and maybe even a bison burger.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is comprised of over 244,000 acres (381 square miles) with a peak elevation of 3247 feet and receives an average annual precipitation of 16 inches. It became a National Monument in 1939 and received National Park status in 1978.
The Badlands have supported humans for over 11,000 years -- first with mammoth hunters, then nomadic tribes hunting bison, then several Native American peoples (Arikara and Sioux/Lakota), then French fur trappers, soldiers, miners, cattlemen, and homesteaders.

Numerous prairie dog colonies live in the park and can be viewed from the road.

Corn Palace -- Mitchell, SD

Mitchell, South Dakota, is famous for its Corn Palace, which has been an attraction since 1892. The original Corn Palace, called "The Corn Belt Exposition," allowed early settlers to display the fruits of their harvest on the building exterior in order to prove the fertility of South Dakota soil. The third and present building, shown below, was completed in 1921.

It serves as the home for their basketball team, named (of course) "The Kernals." As seen in this photo, the interior walls up near the ceiling are also decorated with corn murals depicting various scenes.

The exterior decorations are completely stripped down and new murals are created each year. The murals are designed by local artists, and new materials are applied to the building with each mural depicting an important facet of the lifestyle of South Dakota. These murals require thousands of bushels of corn, grain, grasses, wild oats, brome grass, blue grass, rye, straw, and wheat each year. while we were there, workers were creating the final few outside murals, attaching the colorful corn cobs with nail guns. The mural below shows the process used with the areas in blue having white outlines showing what color is to be applied in each area. You can also distinguish the individual ears of corn. (Click on the photo to enlarge it. )

Here are 2 more of the murals:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Devil's Tower National Monument (WY)

Devil's Tower is a 1347 acre park, covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Also known as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site for many American Indians, and is known to movie buffs as the locale for the ending of the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Devil's Tower rises 1267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River (5,112 feet above sea level) and is a popular climbing location. Unfortunately, we arrived on a raw 50 degree day with sporadic light rain, so there were no climbers today, which was a disappointment since I had my 300 mm zoom lens with me for the first time. Below is one of the local residents in the prairie dog community located right along the road at the entrance.

President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the nation's first national monument in 1906. Below is a view from the foot of the tower showing the boulder field leading to the base. The top is said to be about 200 feet by 400 feet and the summit is slightly dome shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cactus, and sagebrush. Chipmunks, mice and pack rats and the occasional snake are found on top.

The tower walls are actually composed of hundreds of parallel cracks that divide Devil's Tower into large hexagonal columns, making it one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. The longest of these continuous cracks are almost 400 feet long and vary significantly in width. It is similar to many pencils being held together by gravity. The next 2 photos demonstrate this:

The average time for two climbers to climb the Durrance Route (the easiest) is between 4-6 hours. It takes about one hour to rappel down, and there have been five climbing fatalities since 1937 (three while rappelling the Tower.) Climbers are not allowed to camp overnight on the Tower.

Jewel Cave National Monument (SD)

Jewel Cave is located beneath South Dakota's Black Hills, not far from Mt. Rushmore. Several years ago, I toured Wind Cave which is the other National Park Service cave located nearby. Jewel Cave was discovered around 1900 by 2 brothers and a freind, and finding what they believed to be sparkling jewels, they gave the cave its name. It was declared a National Monument in 1908 and was thought to be quite small. It now measures 140 mapped miles, and more mileage is surveyed and mapped each year. Scientists calculate that less than 2% of the cave has been discovered and explored. We took the 1.5 hour Scenic Loop Tour, which began with an elevator descent 280 feet below the surface. Our path was mostly metal walkways and stairways as seen in the 2 photos below.

Though a very safe half mile walk deemed moderately strenuous due to the up and down of the 700+ stairs you must negotiate, you must watch your head in many areas and the passage can be narrow at times. The temperature is a constant 49 degrees and since the cave "breathes" and adjusts to the outside barometric pressure, winds of up to 32 mph can exist.

The features found in the cave are colorful and artistic and some of the "rooms" are hundreds of feet long and fifty or more feet high and some of the passages run 3200 feet long. Below are some of the sights seen in the cave:

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial (SD)

The memorial was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum (born in Idaho in 1867.) Mount Rushmore National Memorial is host to almost three million visitors a year. The sculpture took 14 years to complete at a cost of almost one million dollars. Minus delays due to inclement weather and funding issues, the actual working time was about 6.5 years. The sculpture is complete, though not finished to the artist's intentions since he died in Chicago in 1941 following surgery. Borglum chose these 4 presidents for 4 specific reasons: Washington represented BIRTH of our country, Jefferson represented EXPANSION for the Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln represented PRESERVATION for maintaining the union, and Teddy Roosevelt represented DEVELOPMENT with the construction of the Panama Canal.

Over 90% of Mount Rushmore was carved by using dynamite. Dynamite blasts removed approximately 450,000 tons of rock from the mountain. Approximately 400 workers labored at Mount Rushmore during the carving process from October 1927 to October 1941, and although this was extremely dangerous work, there were no lives lost.

Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed, often by hand. Here is a close-up of Washington's face (and part of Jefferson's to the left.) Note how deeply cut into the cliff the eyes are.

And here is Lincoln's close-up. (A mole is located on his right cheek and measures 16 inches square.)

Below is a view from the talus slope created by the blasting. Each face is about 60 feet from chin to top of head, eyes are 11 feet across, mouths 18 feet across, and are scaled to a person who is 450 feet tall. The sculptures actually measure 185 feet across and 150 feet tall.