Friday, November 27, 2015

RonnieAdventure #180 - Eastern and Central Wyoming - 2015

I have driven through Lusk (Wyoming) a number of times, but I have never stopped for a visit. Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we found a campground just outside of Lusk and decided to stay the night. In the morning we went by the Stagecoach Museum, but it was closed.

The old Redwood Water Tank located adjacent to the railroad tracks on the east side of Lusk was built  by the Wyoming Central Railway in 1886 to service steam engines. It is one of only six remaining in the United States.

Above the front door of the old Niobrara County courthouse it states "A Public Office is a Public Trust." It is too bad that our current politicians don't remember this saying.

The ruins of the old C&H Oil Refinery are small by current refinery standards, but they are typical of the multitude of small oil refineries that sprang up near oil fields across the nation in the early 1900s. The C&H Refinery produced 190 barrels a day and, unlike most of the small refineries that closed after a few years, the C&H stayed in business until 1978.

Just outside of Lusk is the grave of George Lathrop, Stagecoach Driver, who was "A good man whose life was filled with stirring events."  The marker is located on the old Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail that passed through Lusk.

The Railroad Museum in Douglas contains a massive 317 ton steam locomotive (#5633) that was one of the last steam locomotives produced. Because this locomotive was so fast and capable of pulling very heavy loads, it stayed in service until 1956. Only five of this type of  locomotives have been preserved in parks and museums.

The Railroad Museum also contains a number of Jackalope statues. According to an information sign in the park, the Jackalope "is one of the rarest animals in North America."  

The White Wolf Saloon in downtown Douglas is more like a museum that contains a bar. 

The Ayres Natural Bridge is a 150-foot sandstone bridge located across the LaPrele Creek between Douglas and Glenrock. This is a great place to stop for a rest break when traveling through the area. 

The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper is one of three Historic Trail centers in Western United States. The Casper center explains the history of the Oregon, Mormon and California trails through a variety of exhibits and audio-visual presentations to help visitors experience first-hand the hardships pioneers suffered to get to the "Promised Land." This is an amazing center and should not be missed if you are ever in the area. 

Independence Rock is a large granite outcrop along the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails (now Wyoming Highway 220) where emigrants carved their names in the rock as they passed by on their way west. It is a steep hike up the face of the rock outcrop, and there are no trails, handrails, or steps cut into the rock face; so you need shoes with good soles to make it to the top. The bulk of visitors that visit the site just walk around the base of the rock outcrop, but the best preserved names are on top. 

"Devil's Gate" is located a few miles down the road from Independence Rock and, contrary to what many people believe, no trail ever went through the "gate." 

The Mormon Handcart Historic Site is located a short distance from "Devil's Gate" on the old Tom Sun Ranch that is now owned by the Federal Government, under management of The Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Much of the surrounding area is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka LDS Church or Mormon Church), so the LDS Church now manages the Tom Sun Ranch and surrounding Federal Lands for the BLM. Our tour guide told us that during the summer months of 2015, over 25,000 young men and young women came to the Handcart Site to pull handcarts on three-day treks to see what the early pioneers had to endure. We were offered the opportunity to pull a handcart around a loop trail up to Martin's Cove, but it was late in the day, so we declined the offer. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

RonnieAdventure #0179 - Black Hills, South Dakota - 2015

Did you ever wonder where the center of the Nation is located? According to the National Coast and Geodetic Survey, the center of the Nation is located at latitude 44 degrees 58 minutes North, longitude -103 degrees 46 minutes West, which is a few miles north of Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  Unfortunately, the exact coordinates fall on private land and the rancher does not want a commercial marker on his property. Therefore, since the margin of uncertainty is 10 miles in any direction; the Center of the Nation Planning Committee constructed a Center of the Nation Monument and Visitor Center in Belle Fourche on the grounds of the Tri-State Museum. Tourist now have a public place where they can go to take Center of the Nation pictures.

Official Center of the Nation - Photographer Unknown
Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche
Belle Fourche is located at the north end of the Black Hills and was a wild western town in the 1890s. At one time Belle Fourche was the largest shipping point of range cattle in the world. To keep the cowboys happy, there were 13 saloons and a number of brothels located along Saloon Street. The local milliner gave the prostitutes the first choice of any new hat models that were released and once the prostitutes had made their choices, those hat model were taken off the market "so proper women of the town would not be seen wearing the same hat."

In 1897, Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch robed the Great Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche and got away with $97.

Although Calamity Jane is typically associated with Deadwood, in her later years she worked in one of the Belle Fourche brothels as a cook and laundress until she died in 1903. After her death, she was granted her request and buried in the Deadwood cemetery by her good friend Wild Bill Hickok.

The  amazing well preserved original 1876 two-story Johnny Spaulding log cabin (first house built in Butte County) is also located in Belle Foruche. The cabin is a popular tourist attraction for people that want to see an original log cabin that is completely furnished with period items.

And, there is a large quilt store in Belle Fourche!

Johnny Spaulding Cabin
Dakota Quilt Company
Spearfish Canyon is a popular tourist destination that contains several beautiful waterfalls.

Lead (South Dakota) is known as the "richest 100 square miles on earth" because over a 126 year period the Homestake Mine (the largest mine in the western hemisphere) produced more than 41 millions ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver. When the mine closed in 2001 there were 370 miles of underground tunnels that extended down to the -8,000 foot level. Today, the depths of the mine are used as a Sanford Lab Underground Research Facility for solar neutrino experiments and the search for dark matter. The general public is not allowed underground, but one hour surface tours of the mine are available from June through September.

Because of its colorful history, Deadwood is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Black Hills. On August 2, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was playing cards in the Saloon Number 10 when he was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. At the time, Wild Bill had aces and eights in his hand, which is still known in poker as the "Deadman's Hand."  At 1 PM each day, there is a reenactment of the shooting and the original chair that Wild Bill was siting in when he was shot is still on display in the saloon.

Grave marker of Wild Bill Hickok
Grave marker of Calamity Jane

Everyone should experience the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally once in their lifetime. The Rally is usually held the first or second week in August and people come from all over the world to attend the event. The streets are lined with motorcycles, the storefronts sell everything from alligator on a stick to tattoos, there are one-of-a-kind custom bikes on display, and there is even motorcycle racing, which is how the annual event started. 

One morning I drove by Reptile Gardens and it reminded me of a time several years ago when we were in the Black Hills for a wedding and several of us decided to go out to Reptile Gardens for a visit. Before we entered the facility, my brother-in-law reminded us that in the "old days" when you stopped at Reptile Gardens, the staff would always put one of their advertising sticker on the bumper of your car (when cars still had chrome bumpers) and then you had to work for a hour to get the sticker off.

While we were in the complex, our 2+ year-old grandson had trouble remembering his uncle's name; thus, his uncle said just to call him "Wacky Dude."  So, while Wacky Dude was looking at some exhibits, my grandson and I obtained a Reptile Gardens bumper sticker and lightly taped it to the back of Wacky Dude's new car (no chrome bumpers). I told my grandson not to say anything, but at the end of the day when we were all on our way back to the cars, my grandson ran ahead and immediately started shouting "Wacky Dude! Wacky Dude! Look at your car!" Everyone had a good laugh, but the best part was yet to come!

We decided to stop at McDonald's to get something to eat on the way back into town and Wacky Dude was holding the grandson in a long, crowed line of tourist. Suddenly, without notice, the grandson passed some of the most lethal gas that I have ever smelled. Everyone standing in line started looking around, so our grandson said in a very loud voice, "Hey! Someone tooted!" This caused everyone in the place to look at Wacky Dude, who was turning a bright shade of red. For the remainder of the trip, I don't think Wacky Dude ever held the grandson again.

The Rushmore Borglum Story Museum in Keystone has the Largest Borglum Art Exhibition in the World and shows a continuous film on the carving of Mount Rushmore. The museum is referred to as "A must see before going to Mount Rushmore." Outside of the museum is a replica of Borglum's famous Seated Lincoln. 

Mount Rushmore, "The Shrine of Democracy," is one of the most recognized and largest icons in the world. Each head is about 60 feet tall and the monument is about 250 feet across. About 400 workers labored for 14 years at a cost of $989,992.32 to complete the monument. For a project of this size, amazingly, no one was ever killed. Over the decades, "Mount Rushmore has grown in fame as a symbol of America - a symbol of freedom and hope for people from all cultures and backgrounds." The Avenue of flags contains 56 flags, representing the 56 United States and Territories. Evening programs are held from May through September. 

After visiting Mount Rushmore, it is always fun to drive Iron Mountain Road Scenic Byway (Highway 16A) to Custer State Park, which is one of the largest state parks in the nation. The Park also contains one of the largest buffalo herds in the world, along with other wildlife such as antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, deer, elk, wild turkeys, etc. 

 Along the Scenic Byway there is a monument to Peter Norbeck, who was responsible for much of the road development in the Black Hills. He wanted to make the natural beauty of the Hills accessible to as many people as possible; so that they could have "intimate contact with the forest, the rocks, and the streams."

Working with engineers, Norbeck came up with the idea of a series of "Pigtail Bridges" along the Iron Mountain Road that corkscrewed around to lift traffic up to three different tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. Norbeck later became Governor and then a U.S. Senator for South Dakota and was responsible for establishing the Federal Duck Stamp Program, Badlands National Monument, and Grand Teton National Park. 

The South Dakota Game Lodge is located in Custer State Park and is a great place to stop for lunch if you are on a day trip, or a nice place to stay overnight if you have more time to spend in Custer State Park. The Chapel that my nephew was married in is just down the road from the Game Lodge. 

Badger Clark was the first Poet Laureate of South Dakota and had his cabin (named "The Badger Hole") just a short distance from the Game Lodge. 

When I was in the 8th Grade, I was selected to give the opening address at the annual YCL (Young Citizens League) conference held in the South Dakota Capitol Building and was seated at the head table next to Badger Clark at the evening banquet. He was really an interesting person to visit with and at the end of the evening he gave me two signed books of his poems that I still keep on my bookshelf.  

Photographer Unknown

When Peter Norbeck wanted to build a highway through the Needles section of the Black Hills, he was told by engineers that it would be impossible to build. He finally found an engineer that said he could build the roads if given enough dynamite; so, two years later and 150,000 pounds of dynamite a road had been constructed through the Needles - now known as State Route 87. 

Harney Peak is the highest peak in the United States located east of the Rocky Mountains and two of the trailheads that lead to the peak are located near Sylvan Lake. Back when I was much younger, the peak was accessible by a four-wheel drive vehicle; but now you have to walk the 3+ miles to the top. I did not hike up to the peak on this trip, but a few years ago I hiked up the east side trail and then came down the old "Jeep Trail."

Custer is generally considered to be the oldest town established by European Americans in the Black Hills. Gold was first found in this area during the 7th Cavalry 1874 Black Hills Expedition, which was led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The first building was constructed in 1875 and is now on display in downtown Custer. 

Crazy Horse Memorial, located north of Custer, is the world's largest mountain carving in progress. Korczak Ziolkowski original started carving the Memorial June 3, 1948 to "honor the culture, tradition & living heritage of North American providing educational and cultural programming; by acting as a repository for American Indian artifacts, arts and crafts through the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center; and by establishing and operating the Indian University of North America and, when practical, a medical training center for American Indians." When completed, the sculpture will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide. No completion date has been set for the project.

The day we visited the memorial, some people from the Lakota Tribe were performing various dances at the visitor center. 

The Black Hills Institute in Hill city is probably best known for the discovery and excavation of "Sue," the largest, most extensive and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found. After ownership disputes were settled, "Sue" was sold at auction for $7.6 million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil. "Sue" is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Even though the Institute lost ownership of "Sue," there are still a large number of fossils on display in the Museum. 

Across the street from the Institute is Teddy Bear Town, which contains the largest Teddy Bear collection in the World. 

Hill City is also home of the 1880 Train that takes tourist on a two-hour tour of the Black Hills between Hill City and Keystone. 

While in Rapid City, we decided to reminisce old times. 1910 Ivy Street is the first house we lived in while I was attending the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. This is a very small duplex and we had the north half (left side) of the house,

925 9th Street is the second house we lived in and we had the upstairs unit. 

The Museum of Geology is located on the School of Mines campus and has collected more than 500,000 specimens of fossils, rocks, and minerals. 

Dinosaur Park was established on Skyline Drive in 1936 and has been visited by millions of people over the years. On the day we visited the park, the Brontosaurus was wearing a School of Mines cape to celebrate homecoming. 

The South Dakota Air & Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base contains 52 Indoor/Outdoor Exhibits and Aircraft and is also home of the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame. One of the people in the Hall of Fame that I remember best is Governor Joe Foss, who was the leading Marine fighter pilot ace in World War II. He later became Governor of South Dakota and while he was Governor he was my Sunday School teacher. 

Did I mention that there are three quilt shops in Rapid City?

Our last stop before leaving the Black Hills was the Hot Springs Mammoth Site. The site was discovered in 1974 and excavations at the site are still ongoing. To help preserve the site, a building has been constructed over the entire sinkhole where  61 Colombian and Wolly Mammoths have been discovered so far, with substantial areas left to be excavated. In addition to the mammoths, camels, wolves, giant short-faced bears, and a trove of other fossils have been discovered in the sinkhole.

While we were in South Dakota, Titan had the opportunity to visit some of his country cousins. I told him that he could go play on the dirt roads, but not to get dirty because we had to go to a wedding that evening. So much for not getting dirty! Anyway, all of the other vehicles at the wedding looked as bad, or worse, than Titan!