Category Archives: America 2006

The Black Hills, Part VI: The Badlands

There’s not much to say about The Badlands. They are beautiful. They are hard to describe. They are empty of life, except for the odd and visiting tourist.

The Badlands of South Dakota

We drove through the National Park. We saw what was to see, which sadly didn’t include Bigfoot.

The Badlands are quietly beautiful, so I will let these last photos of our Black Hills vacation speak as The Badlands themselves speak: silently.

Driving Past on I-90

A Beautiful Day

The Relics of Lakes and Streams

Life Amidst the Ages

Colored Rocks


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Part V: Goofy Custer

The men who made their nation. The man who lost his. The Black Hills of South Dakota contain monuments to all these legacies. As well as to whorehouse cat-fights:

A Working Girl and a Madame

The outdoors play, put on by the by a local playhouse a block from the Chamber of Commerce, ended with a shoot-out.

A Corrupt Sheriff Bites the Dust

Because, you know, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the Hills anymore.


If dens of ill repute are too much to stomach, Custer also contains a hyper-realistic re-creation of the late Pleistocene age, near the end of humanity’s Era of Evolutionary Adaptation

If Only We Could Somehow Re-‘Animate’ The Dwellers Of This Town…

Relics exist of their communication tools — but who were these “hand-axes for talking” actually used?

The Mystery in the Flint

We may never know.


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Part IV: Mount Rushmore

I saw (but did not take pictures of) Mount Rushmore in Beijing. I captured Meguode Guofu, though!:

CIMG1207_md

so in our trip to the Black Hills got to see him in South Dakota:

Keep reading for the story of a side-trip to the northern Black Hills, including Mount Rushmore and beautiful Sylvan Lake Lodge


We began our day with a breakfast at Sylvan Lake Lodge. The historical original lodge (which actually was on Sylvan Lake) burned down in 1935, and the rebuilt lodge looks down at the the lake from a medium-sized hill. However, the staff at Sylvan Lake has not been as good at keeping traditional atmospherics as the staff at the State Game Lodge. Though the hotel wings of Sylvan are nicer, these distract from the ambiance. Likewise, the foyer (which for the Game Lodge is quiet and sedate) is crowded and full of visiting artists and other distractions.

The Old Patio

Breakfast eaten, it was time to drive to Rushmore. The roads are well designed to give you teasing glimpses of the faces, and there are numerous places to park your car and marvel.

Pater Partriae

As one approaches the Mountain the view is purposefully obscured by a series of square arches and flags. Every state’s flag is there, including those that reference formerly independent countries (California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, and Texas) — as well as more loyal states, such as South Dakota.

Symbols of Our Multinational Economic & Political Union of 50 Member States

When we finally arrived, we joined others in staring at Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (the good one), and Lincoln. A theatre in the roman style is below.

Good bye, Mount Rushmore!

 


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Part III: Blue Bell Lodge

After the day-trip in Pierre, a visit to Crazy Horse (the same day), and adventures at Custer State Game Lodge (that night), it was off to Blue Bell Lodge. Blue Bell is also in Custer State Park, connected by a two-lane, modern highway and beautiful scenery. While the Game Lodge’s attraction is the building’s history and charm, Blue Bell is a placing for camping and (a more civilized option) cabin-ing

View from the Porch

With nothing much to do, I enjoyed some beer and read Matt Ridely’s Nature via Nurture. But my quiet evening was not to be…


because of a chuck wagon ride! Corny? Yup. Foolish? Yup. Good food and good fun? Yes.

The true Entertainment on the ride was the riveting adventures of boys who could have been Jack Bauer Jr. and William H. Macy, Jr. It was like traveling with the stars!

Dramatic Personae

Remember those safety-around-nooses lessons you had to take in Cub Scouts? Neither did anyone else. Hang ‘er high!

After really, really good food, the sun set and it was time to head back. Happy trails to you!

The night ended with a campfire, started with matches and newspaper but fed by whatever could be found nearby. As the darkness fell we ran out of wood nearby and began throwing in hatfulls and hatfulls of pine cones. A beautiful night.


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Part II: Custer State Game Lodge

The beautiful and historic Custer Game Lodge in Custer State Park, South Dakota. Two small wings have been added for extra guests, and a campground is down the road, but the original building just oozes beauty, class, and style. The “Game Lodge” is the epitome of nature and comfort in the state. My cousin’s dacha near Scotland has been described as “Game Lodge East,” both in reference to his brilliance at decoration and as an homage to what all South Dakotans aspire to.


The Game Lodge has played its role in American history, serving President Coolidge as the 1927 version of the Western White House. Eisenhower, who vacationed here, gets a small and obviousl added-in plaque

The Game Lodge is surrounded by small hills. Decided to climb one, and half way up we met (hid from at close range behind big rocks) a buffalo. This creature, who is not referred to by any non-pretentious South Dakotans as a “bison,” is not tame and kills a tourist or so a year.

Even the flowers are tough out West River!

The Black Hills, which Wikipedia describes as “island of trees in a sea of grass,” itself is a sea of trees with islands of grass above. A bad fire years ago burned much of Custer State Park, and it is through miracles (as well as firefighters) that the historical lodges survived. The top of the hill we climbed was destroyed, and offers the sort of views not seen anywhere else in the state.

Evidence of the destruction:

Welcome back down, decided to take a “short-cut” (actually, it was my idea). “This looks like an easy trail!” I thought. Ha!

The last part of our stay at Custer State Game Lodge was the famous wildlife loop. Buffalo move in small herds from one place to the next, and we followed the migration of one such group.

The grasslands of the Hills also are home to more graceful herbivores.

Not native to the Hills, the “begging burros” are the cute descendants of donkeys once used by the Park to bring visitors to the top of hills. They were let loose, and they learned (as the deer and buffalo never did) that visitors will feed them if they act docilely. These donkeys are spoiled. Unlike regular donkeys, who will east grass out of your hand, the begging burros want good food.

All is not peaceful, however. Several of the animals had visibly nipped ears, presumably from intra-donkey rivalries.

 


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Part I: Crazy Horse

While I was at the University of South Dakota working on my thesis in Computer Science, an engineer visited us from the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. The massive project is an earth-moving masterpiece, not so much sculpted into a mountain as mined from one. The setting, in the southern Black Hills, is gorgeous.

Crazy Horse in Thunderhead Mountain

Crazy Horse’s initial sculptor was the Polish-Bostonian Korczak Ziolkowski. Ukraine or Ukraine-style flags (never explained, and possibly an effort at a pseudo-Native theme) littered the park.

Ukraine’s Glory Has Not Perished, no matter what you say

A dramatic miniature of the future of Thunderhead Mountain reference Crazy Horse’s statement, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” Like Ogalala Lakota Indians were the “Iraqi Resistance” of their time, fighting in mobile bands against a better organized, more numerous foe. Also like the Sunni Iraqi Arabs, they made the mistake of attacking a numerically superior majority that wouldn’t go away.

Further images of the memorial are available at Wikimedia Commons.


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

The Black Hills, Prologue: Pierre

There are some blogs — particularly Catholicgauze and Coming Anarchy — that one can’t read without feeling a love of places. I also feel that way when visiting my native South Dakota. I’ve been lucky to be to some amazing places this summer — like the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square — and to visit less famous places that are home to folks I truly love, like Fort Wayne, Indiana and Nacogdoches, Texas. Yet South Dakota will always be South Dakota.

A Country Church at Fort Thompson, Crow Creek Indian Reservation

If you’ve made it to this bizarre sculpture, you’ve probably driven for 3.5 hours and are still half an hour away from Pierre on SD 34

The Imposing Capital Building. Our Governor‘s personal secretary gave me a baseball card with his face on it. Rounds ’06!

The All-Seeing Eye of the People Looks Down On Their Legislators. Or something. Actually it’s just the capital rotunda, but it’s fun imaginary what some of the symbolism means

This is easier to figure out. Girls with their tops misadjusted are good.

The Supreme Court has its own cozy nook.

Foreground: The lush capital grounds. Background: the arid Great Plains.

Our old Governor’s Mansion was a 1930s WPA project, and in such bad condition that our Governor, who is from Pierre anyway, moved back to his old house. Eventually we built him a new one, and this is about the view he has from his back yard.

The main division in the state is East River – West River. South Dakota is split in two by the Missouri, with a Central Plains, crop-based economy in the east and a Great Plains, cattle-based market in the west. From this park one can stare out into the frontier-but-East-River City of Pierre to the barbarian West River lands beyond. The uncouth locals of Fort Pierre, West River, South Dakota stare back at us. (In the entire history of South Dakota, no one from West River has ever been elected Governor.)

Last images from East River on this trip. When I worked for the state in Pierre I lived about a block from this spot.

Over the River, and to West River’s unending steppes!


The Black Hills, a tdaxp series
0. Pierre
1. Crazy Horse
2. Custer State Game Lodge
3. Blue Bell Lodge
4. Mount Rushmore
5. Goofy Custer
6. The Badlands

From Nacogdoches to Lincoln

The bus ride from Kilgore, Texas to Omaha, Nebraska went well. Nothing on it compared to the indescribable beauty of the sky-scraping Sears Tower in Chicago, but then nothing compared to the hideous awfulness of travel in the American South, either. All in all a fair trip. It also was quite social, with Rob driving me from Nacogdoches to Kilgore.

But before some neat pictures and regular travel commentary, a word on “Steve.” Steve (Me: “What’s your last name?” Him: “You don’t need to know.”) was my terrible, terrible bus driver from Kansas City to Omaha. I have no idea if “Steve” is a real name or a nom de autobus, but whatever that creature is legally known is he was the driver of Jefferson Lines JL-0502 on between roughly 8 AM and 12 PM, Friday, July 28, 2006.


“Steve”

My friendly encounter with Steve began as follows

Steve: That (pointing to my second carry-on bag) is not coming on the bus.
Me: Why not? What is the problem?
Steve: Don’t get smart with me. That’s not coming on the bus. It needs to be checked.
Me: It’s been carried on nine trips so far this journey. It is the correct size and weight for a carry-on.
Steve: Listen, that’s not coming on the bus.
Me: I’ll go over to the Information Desk, and ask them if there is a problem with my carry-on.
Steve: Do you want me to call the police? I’ll have you escorted out of here. When you work for Jefferson Line for twenty-five years, you can tell me about their Standard Operating Procedure.

Steve’s general build and his hilarious use of military terminology (from his quixotic, personal “SOP” to his hilarious use of the word “tarmac” to refer to “parking lot”) imply a background in the United States Air Force. His personality does not. I am fortunate enough to count several Air Force officers among my first friends. The way these men conduct themselves — their combination of warmth and seriousness — always impresses me. Military service, to any country, is a serious business, and I am always impressed by how patriotism and true manliness bring out the best in each other.

Clearly, Steve was an exception.

That rant over, let’s begin the photo tour!


Kilgore, Texas (a town that always brings to mind an extremely embarrassing moment from a 2000 Campaign, when Vice President Gore attempted levity with a woman from that town) is an oil town. Oil rigs were everywhere.

Compared to rainy Houston, Dallas was gorgeous. Even pictures took from inside the book looked great. This is undoubtedly the best interior shot I took the entire trip.

I was in Dallas for a little more than an hour, so I took the time to explore Downtown. The Magnolia Building is particularly impressive, with a neat skywalk a la Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur.

Nighttime went relatively quickly. A huge gentleman across and behind me snored worse than I thought possible, but once he got off in Topeka I was able to sleep for a few hours. I awoke in Kansas City, Kansas, and took this picture as arrived near the bus station in that city’s Missouri-state twin.

Finally, back in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium and downtown greet travelers.

There may be a “best off” photo collection or two, but this concludes the real-time photoblogging of my trip to Indiana and Texas. I hope it hasn’t been a waste of your time.

How many states have you explored?

Houston, Texas

“Houston Rain,” my friend Rob said, “is like any other kind of rain, but worse. It is worse than South Dakota rain. It is so thick that you can’t so the front of your own car. It will be like a wall, which is just there, in the distance. Then you drive closer and closer to it. Then you are in the rain, and you’re blind. I hate driving in Houston Rain.” Obviously Rob’s thoughts were absurd, I thought, as the morning in Nacogdoches was warm and sunny.

Until we came closer to Houston


The storm grew worse and worse as we approached Houston. It never grew as bad as Rob feared, but driving was pretty terrible.

We had heard about the storm, but the fact that a storm was predicted for our town about two hours north of Houston yesterday, and nothing happened, led us to think that the weathermen may just be crazy. Nope. It rapidly became clear that in Texas proximity to the ocean means proximity to moisture. The only time we

The rain would stop from time to time, sometimes leaving the city in a dark gloom. The hour we were lost in Downtown was beautiful.

After helping some friends move our first destination was to the Nautral History Museum. Nearby there is a nifty statue of President Samuel Houston on a horse. It was raining too much to take a clear shot, but the monument to the old war hero was beautiful in the rain.

As we parked the rain suddenly stopped, and we passed the Fragrant Gardens. Fearing a return of Houston Rain we hurried on, but it brought back memories of the much more lush Fragrant Hills outside Beijing.

There was a definite Asian, if not Oriental, them to the gardens. A statue of Gandhi is below, walking away from the viewer. See also a side view of the man.

The museum charges for admission, so we mealy walked the main corridor. Overall it had the feel of a gigantic McDonald’s (a feel fueled by the appearance of two McDonald’s counters near each other). Still, there were some neat sites (obviously intended for children) available for free. A ghoulish “bone bike” sits in the main hall, as does a dinosaur from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (specifically, a Dracorex Hogwartsia)

Some random sites in Houston included a Greyhound Bus (hoping not traveling to the South)…

The Toyoto Center, which was locked up and thus unavailable for further exploration

And Palm Trees, which are crazy-cool for this blogger from South Dakota

Some sites made me think of Foreign Countries, and not just in the gardens sense. The love of Texans for their flag was obvious

Other times foreign influences were more… inexplicable. For instance, the payphone and postage station in honor of George VI, last Emperor of India, last King of India, last King of Pakistan, and first Head of the Commonwealth.

Some of the unAmericanisms were anti-Americanism. The front part of the message is illegible, but it ends “… it. Those towers were hideous,” with a drawing of the World Trade Center beneath the text.

Happily, another plastered note we say was happier. “LOST. Winning lottery ticket worth $28 million. REWARD: $10 if returned (no questions asked).”

Stephen F. Austin State University

I am currently in Texas visiting my close friend Rob (he of Trumpy Productions). Rob left our common home of South Dakota to move to Nacogdoches some time ago to prepare for a career in film. Now a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin State University, Rob has made everyone proud with his original, technically demanding, and often hilarious work.

In the middle of the University is a giant statue of Stephen Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the Republic’s first Secretary of State.

Interestingly, two nearby plaques appear to have been written by a tumultuous committee. Both are polite towards Secretary Austin, though the first refers to him as the one person whose vision and leadership led to [the Republic’s] creation and the other uses a somewhat more Leftist formulation

But whatever one thinks of the past, the present of the campus is beautiful. Read more, and see for yourself!


Like IPFW, which I saw while visiting my other friend Dave in Fort Wayne, SFASU has the mandatory anonymous pseudo-pagoda.

Samuel F. Austin also has something much more beautiful: a series of walking paths with a variety of flora known as the Arboretum.

The greenway begins, gorgeously, immediately behind the Film Department where my friend studies

Walking back to the main campus, the mandatory tall scary building (seen even at Peking University

A last reminder of Beijing: construction! SFASU’s new student union promises to be snazzy. For now, it’s only a headache.