Saturday, September 9, 2017

South Dakota & Alliance, NE (8/30/2017)

On one hand, it feels ludicrous to sit here in Colorado, safe from weather hazards, and publish something as mundane as a travelogue, while so many are in harm's way from Hurricane Irma, .  On the other hand, I need some distraction from the constant worry for family, friends and property that are in danger back in Florida.  I am tired of the endless barrage of bad news and warnings from the Weather Channel, but unable to shut it off.  Maybe this will help me, recipients can ignore it as long as they like.
Badlands National Park is nearly 250,000 acres of gullies, spires, pinnacles and mounds carved from the prairie by erosion.  Only a small part of it is readily accessible by a 27 mile paved road.  A few gravel roads appear to be seldom used.  More than half of the park is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Oglala Sioux tribe, with no public access other than for tribe members.  The Badlands Wilderness Area is another 65,000 acres where motorized travel is not permitted.  This area was used for re-introduction of bison and the black-footed ferret. The Buffalo Gap national Grasslands is another 600,000 acres of protected land with no developed recreational facilities and very few roads, but the public is welcome to visit and enjoy it.

My morning in the Badlands was characterized by more cloudy, overcast weather.  There was no significant color before dawn, and the sun stayed hidden until well above the horizon.  Once a little color appeared in the sky, I frantically searched for compositions that took advantage of it.  I readily admit the color in some of the photos was enhanced somewhat by setting my camera to slightly underexpose the scene, making the color a little darker.  Call it "artistic license".

Leaving the park, I drove through the Indian reservation, surprised to find such high-quality roads.  I even found a General Store and gas station long before running out of fuel.  In the town of Porcupine, a Taco Johns restaurant provided a nice breakfast.  A young Sioux man was very helpful in making the best choices, including some excellent Mexican donut bites and a couple churros for later snacking on the road.  From there it was a short drive to my destination, Wounded Knee.

Some may know the history of Wounded Knee, site of an 1890 massacre of some 150 Sioux, including women and children.  I learned that Sioux spiritual leaders and Chief Big Foot had convinced the warriors that "Ghost Dancing" and wearing "Ghost Shirts" made them invulnerable to the soldiers' bullets.  The cavalry, nearly 500 men, surrounded the village amid high tensions on both sides.  No one knows who fired the first shot, but the superior fire power of the cavalry decimated the Sioux. 

This history, and the resulting mass graves, have made this site sacred to the Sioux.  You may remember the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, a 1970 book that described  the history of conflict between Whites and Indians in the late 1800s from the point of view of the Indians.  Several Indian protests against poor living conditions have been held at this site.

While there, a Sioux woman approached me and explained some of the history, then asked for "gas money".  Another asked for money, then offered to sell small dream catchers she had made.  I donated what I could.  At the cemetery, two Sioux men sat on the gate.  We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit.  When asked why they were there, the men told me "it's better than sitting at home".  There is a museum and a community center near the cemetery.  One cannot visit this site without feeling sad for the people of this community.

Continuing on into Nebraska, I headed for the small town of Alliance, seeking one of those quirky attractions that can be discovered on the internet, Carhenge.  This site was developed by a fellow named Jim Reinders and his family in 1987.  Jim, a petroleum engineer, was stationed in England for seven years and became enamored with Stonehenge.  After returning home, he decided to create a "replica" of Stonehenge using junked automobiles.  The initial creation was completed in a week (per Jim, 9999 years and 51 weeks faster than Stonehenge), but has been augmented by various artists over the years.  With no admission charge, it's well worth a visit.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

South Dakota (8/29/2017)

On my return home from Minnesota, I wanted to travel the back roads of South Dakota and visit the state capital, Pierre.  Despite several trips to the state, I had never been to Pierre, and I do like to photograph the various state capitol buildings whenever convenient.  The roads I traveled were in good condition with little traffic, allowing me to make good speed.  Alongside the highways, large fields of corn and pasture land were pretty much everywhere, with the exception of sunflower fields.  I stopped several times to attempt getting photographs of the sunflowers, but it was difficult to find fields where a large expanse could be seen.  The best opportunities came when the field was located on a hill rising from the road.  Even then, the sun's direction and objects in the scene made it a challenge to find the right perspective.
Pierre, a city of less than 15,000, was founded on the site of Fort Pierre, named for an early fur trader named Pierre Choteau.  He must have been a popular individual in those days, because I know of a small town  in Montana also named after him.  Upon arriving, I went straight to the capitol and took several photos, not only of the building, but also of the memorials to SD military veterans situated next to the lake below the capitol.

It would have been nice to stay longer and tour the capitol or explore the town a bit more.  However, I had a goal of reaching Badlands N P in time for sunset, and to stay there overnight for sunrise the next day.  Having visited Badlands twice before, I knew it can be very hot in the middle of a summer day, and that a good sunset or sunrise can add quite a bit to the photo opportunities.

As it turned out, I arrived at the park in plenty of time to get a few shots before sunset.  There was even time to have a steak dinner at Cedar Pass Lodge in the park before going out again.

The Badlands were formed about 75 million years ago when the area was located in the tropics near the equator.  Sand and silt were deposited by an inland sea and subsequently by rivers and streams after the entire area was uplifted.  In the past 500,000 years, erosion has sculpted the spires and pinnacles we see today.  The place is different every time you go due to continuing erosion by wind and rain.  The park has been one of the richest fossil excavation areas in the country, with such animals as alligators, camels, three-toed horses and many others having been found here.

Heavy cloud cover prevented the kind of spectacular sunset I was hoping for, but there was just enough color in the sky to warrant a few photos.

I got a room in one of the motels just outside the park and went to bed early, hoping the sunrise would be better.  However, the photos from the following day will have to wait for the next travelogue.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sherburne Wildlife Refuge (8/27/2017) and Minneapolis (8/28/2017)

It seems to me that most people in the US are basically unaware of the National Wildlife Refuge System that was started by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903.  Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this system consists of 600 properties totaling more than 150 million acres.  This vast acreage is primarily for the protection of fish, wildlife and plants, but also allows for human visitation to a small degree.  Most of the land is accessible only on foot, although some roads are provided for vehicular traffic. 

Sherburne Wildlife Refuge is a 20,000 acre tract of both woods and wetlands established in 1965.  An auto trail, 7 miles long, enables limited access to a very small part of the refuge.  It appears the refuge is most heavily used during the fall migration season.  On the day of our visit, we spotted bald eagles, sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans.  Any waterfowl present were able to stay out of view on the large lakes and ponds available to them.

A trip to downtown Minneapolis was intended to take a tour of the new Vikings Stadium, officially known as US Bank Stadium.  Unfortunately, because of a Vikings game the night before, tours were not offered on this day while cleanup was in progress.  We had to settle for a walk around the outside, watching as workmen used high-level lift equipment to replace some windows damaged since construction was completed.  The stadium's design is meant to mimic the prow of a Viking ship, and is certainly spectacular.

We consoled ourselves by making a run to Buster's On 28th, a pub once featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  As one might expect, the restaurant is located in an "eclectic" neighborhood featuring interesting shops and murals. 

Buster's is such a revered institution in the area, neighbors helped rebuild it following a fire that might have put it out of business.  The food is great and a wide selection of beers and wines is part of the appeal.  A few tables are available on the sidewalk, but we found it cozier inside.  Due to this favorable experience, I've added the "Triple D" website to my favorites so I can check out other colorful restaurants in my travels.

The afternoon included a quick visit to Fort Snelling, which is unfortunately also closed on Mondays.  However, it was interesting to learn that this fort was used in the US-Dakota (Sioux) War of 1862.  After the war, many Dakota leaders and warriors were imprisoned here.  More than 300 Sioux were convicted of killing civilians and sentenced to death.  President Lincoln pardoned all but 38, who were hanged in the largest mass execution in US history.