Sunday, August 12, 2012

I am here in Bigfork, MT, , and my senses are so overwhelmed that it is hard to be anywhere but here.  And by here, I mean my own back porch with the scent of Douglas firs (you know them as balsam) wafting past my nose, while I'm buzzed by barn swallows, humming birds and . . .hornets.  The hornets are fine as long as I don't move fast, and don't worry, I won't. But just so you know how dedicated I am to my readers, it's hard tuning in to the keyboard.  But good for me to keep writing.

My backyard

Our sideyard

Do- do-do, looking out my backdoor.
My back porch. . . I am so happy to sit on it, no conversations (and no TV here, I have not watched one minute of the Olympics, I read about the highlights the next day in the newspaper). . . just the sounds of nature. The birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.  It occurs to me that new house designs are sadly lacking in that feature that allows a person to sit and survey the outdoors, wherever that may be, and that is the back porch.  So the top picture is the view of what I get from the bottom picture.

I have much to tell you, so I'll have to update daily now.  When I got here, a two or three year old bear was tromping back and forth from the woods in back of me to the spring at the bottom of the hill.  I felt a little creeped out about not having a dog to warn me when a bear might be right around the shed corner, so what did I do?  I mean, yes, I have Yoko, the Shitzu Princess, but she is no good in the regard.

I went to the Flathead County Dog Rescue, and looked at the dozens of dogs they have there, really overcrowded, with owners surrendering dogs as I looked.  People cannot afford to keep their pets. People are moving, and renting new digs, and cannot bring their animals. People are upset. Pets are upset.

I asked if I could "foster" a dog that needed to get out of jail.  They gave me an old dog to take home, he reminds me of Old Yeller.  He is a lab/retriever mix, and very very very happy to be living in my back yard for the time I am here. My job:  find a loving forever home so he does not have to go back to the pound.  Tucker has a sad story.  His owner died, and the neighbor brought him into the rescue.  He has a great disposition and a cold.  I got the medicine from the rescue to dose him with, twice a day.  He seems to be improving.

He is deaf.  He loves playing ball. His sniffer works great, he tracks like a bloodhound.  I don't dare let him off the long leash when we are out of the fenced yard because I know he'd go hunting.  Why is Tucker so happy?  The rescue vet told me he had spent most of his life on a chain.  I can't imagine ten years on a chain. No wonder he is happy.

He needs:  a guy or gal who loves dogs. Who might have a heated shed, porch or garage. . because he is an outside dog. In the house, like a bull in a china shop, I don't think he had ever seen a couch, and I know he had never seen a mirror, because he ran right into the full length mirror in my bedroom trying to say hi to the dog coming towards him, and then he swiped his nose back and forth on the mirror, trying to sniff the dog there. He is funny.  He scratches his back like a bear along the wire mesh fence.  He rolls in the grass on his tennis ball. He loves to go on a walk on the long leash, and is learning that when he gets to the end he's gotta not pull me. So he doesn't.  He stands next to my lawn chair for half and hour to get his back and neck scratched.  He looks deep into my eyes. He has many funny expressions. He barks when he sees a strange animal or person.  He stops if the strange person is friendly.  He just can't hear, so he sleeps like a stone, dead to the world till you actually touch him.  Or he smells something.  He'd like to chase the feral cat that lives on the property.  But he does not bug little Princess Yoko at all, in fact, he lets her eat out of his bowl.  That's amazing.

Part of my fostering is to put him out there, so that's what I'm doing!  I can't drive him back to Cape Cod, because. . . I am a tenant there, and can only have one tiny dog. There is no way I could hide this dog, and there's no way he'd like eastern suburbia.  He's pure Montana. And both he and I like just sitting in the back yard, observing all the things that nature presents.

Like these mama turkeys and their chicks who come to glean from the lawn. And eat our raspberries. Good thing turkeys can fly, and the chicks, too.

So what does Tucker the Foster Dog look like:

Tucker, our foster dog
Loves his tennis ball
Tucker hanging out with princess Yoko.

If you are Tucker's  new person,  let me know!  Oh, I have not seen the bear since we got Tucker.  I think it's because he's marked every rock and tree trunk on the property.  Whatever works!

Friday, July 27, 2012

from Wyoming to Bigfork, MT. . . my western home

Day 6.  July 26, 2012 Last Day on the Road. . . I’m going to do it!  I woke up in Sheridan, Wyoming.  I’ve overlooked the fact in the past when I’ve zoomed by this town on the Interstate that it has one of the best rodeos going in the west, and this year, I just missed it.  This town was home to Buffalo Bill Cody, he lived right down near the tracks at the big old hotel.  It’s a big town, a cowboy town.  But today, I have the northwest corner of Montana on my mind, and I gotta scoot. 
You can't see this from an airplane

A lot of the pavement on I-90 is a reddish color in the big wide west, and it makes the roadway all the more scenic. Yesterday I saw antelope drinking at cattle watering tanks.  Too far away for a good shot from the road, but nice to see we still have some antelope out here, those white-butted creatures in the song, Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam.  No roaming buffalo to be seen, though.
Today. . . saw a few more of the antelope on my ride, the first destination: Billings. 
I love the red pavement

The sky is blue blue blue this morning with no clouds, which makes the landscape more stark, no shadows. I pass the Tongue River and the water’s still flowing, a good sign. There’s a mountain range to the south, and a lot of the landscape is just scrub and hills and gullies up here. 
see? you can't see the cattle. they're up there, though.

  The black cattle dot the landscape like pepper. But the “summer pasture” up here looks like slim pickings. In about 25 miles, I hit the state line into Montana from Wyoming. . . There is a big blue sign that says, “White crosses indicate highway fatalities.”  If you die on a Montana highway, you get a white cross. Also a big sign: Welcome to Crow Country. We’re on the res. I have a question for the Montana Highway Depatment. . . what type of grass is planted along the side of the highway that is stays greener. At mile 546, for instance. Or is it greener because the cattle can’t get to it due to the barbed wire fences?

Soon I’m seeing the  signs for the Custer Battlefield and all the accompanying attractions. I have visited the scene of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and it is a sobering experience. It all happened not so long ago.  The Little Bighorn River meanders back and forth across the valley, so very like it did then in the 1870’s, and the railroad runs along the road here for miles. I’m down in the lowlands now, and every creek or river is surrounded by cottonwood trees, and sage trees where it’s a little dryer.
I get a call on my cell about a family matter, and I decide not to do anything. Then the red tail hawk totem flies right over my car, so I pick up my cell and make a call. I leave a message hoping it will do some good. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t but I obeyed the hawk. Back up onto the high plains, and then down again, into Billings: a large city with refineries and the accompanying smell. I’ve only come about a hundred miles, 500 to go.
Billings, MT

 And the Yellowstone River starts running along the highway. A sign says: Butte 225 miles, so I go for that. A mindless hour later, I pull into a rest area, and see smoke form a lightining fire in the Beartooth Mountain Range. Planes flying over it, to support the firefighters on the ground. 
Fire!  Lightening is wicked.

It’s a brand new fire, started last night, so says the radio. I go by Livingstone, and wonder what it would be like to live there and write. They say it’s a writer’s town.

Before Butte is Bozeman, and that’s a big university town. I’ve only gone 269 miles, many more to go.  It’s lunchtime, and I pull in to get some chicken for lunch. Kentucky Fried. I do pull off the fattening skin, honest. And Yoko is in heaven, chicken is her absolute favorite thing to live for. Yoko and I sat there eating. I have the air-conditioning on in my car. There is a homeless man begging at the stop light, sitting on the green lawn. He is hot.  I walk over to him and give him a Dixie cup full of quarters that I didn’t have to use on tolls (I have E-Z pass now, remember?) and a cold bottle of water. You’d think I had given him a new house on that reality show on TV.  I leave, wondering what the rest of his day would be like. I feel bad for Bozeman, a lot of their forests have turned red.  What a tinder box. The pine beetle has been hard at work, thanks to the much warmer climate. It is not cold enough long enough to kill them in the winter.  Ahead. . . wheat Montana.  Yes, there are lots of golden wheat fields here. 
Yoko snoozing in the jump seat

Exit 241, Pipestone.  This means I am going up onto the Continental Divide now. . . and up up up we go, though the rocky fields called pipestones. I get up to the top to the rest area, and get Yoko out to pee, so she can water both sides of the country.  And then, I bend over to pick her up and put her in the car.  I am three minutes away from the rest area, heading down the mountains when my Blue Ant tells me that no mobile device is connected. Where is my phone?  Shootsky.

Up and over the Continental Divide.  Three times.
I go down the mountain, take an exit, come back up the mountain (eastbound), wave at the rest area on the other side of the divided highway, go down the mountain, take an exit and go back up the mountain (westbound), pull back into the rest area, and get out, looking for my phone, It is under my car. I have driven over it. I pick it up and it works. Thank you, God! Thank you, Goddess.  I have put an extra 20 miles on the car, and driven over the Continental Divide 3 times.  It’s actually funny.
I go through Butte, the copper mining town, (PICTURE). I hear on the radio that it is Evil Kneival days, and one of the Wallenda’s is going to do something tricky.  Evil was from Butte. Exit 127
Now 114 miles to Missoula, my next destination. Deer Lodge flies by.  I’ve stayed there before. It’s the old prison town of Montana with a creepy old prison from the 1800’s.
But not staying there tonight, too many ghosts, plowing on. Yoko is snoring. It’s the chicken, it puts her to sleep.  I’m going through beautiful rolling hills. The Little Blackfoot River is there with me.  I go by Exit 170,  Phosphate! Exit 154, Drummond. Clark Fork River, joins us, 
Clark Fork River

and then I pass the Bear Mouth RV Park, and then a little waterfall coming out of the cliffs with townspeople under it, getting cooled off. I think I want to stay at that campground sometime, you can fly-fish right there in the river.
And now, finally, Missoula, I am 2 hours from Bigfork.  But I miss the exit for 93 north and I go ten miles before I realize. I see a sign for Idaho, and then I know I’m on the wrong track. Turn around, go back.  And take the proper route north. Gas up, too. This is my third fill up today. And now. . I am heading up through the Flathead Indian reservation, and I love it. I love the signs they put up, because they are in English and also in Indian language. In the Evaro area, an actual animal bridge has been built for the wildlife to pass over. Not a tunnel, a bridge. The sign says, "Animal Bridge."

It is late, after 8. But it’s still light here. Sunset is about to happen in an hour. Then I’m in Lake county, in Arlee. I see they have done lots of work on their sidewalks. Looks good. I come to the National Buffalo Range, and of course, the Buffalo are not near the highway.  Good news. . . the grass here looks green! 
Mission Mountains
  Not yellow, like in the high plains I’ve been crossing, but green! Northwest Montana has it made in the rain department. I pass Saint Ignatius, and then the Nine Pipes Museum. Aha!  Sunset over the Nine Pipes Wetlands area. Bugs all over the windshield, a big hatch going on. I come to the People’s Center, the museum for the tribe.  A sign across the street, “Meth Sucks.”   Right on.
I’ve traveled 571 miles. Another 30 or 40, and I’m there. I stop at the Mission Mountain rest area. It’s too beautiful to pass up. 
Add caption

The setting sun is right there. And I come up over a rise, and I see it there before me. . it’s always so startling.  The Flathead Lake with its southern islands. 
Dead ahead through my buggy windshield: Flathead Lake

I am almost home.
My house the next morning. . . green grass!
I go through Polson, up the west side of the 30 mile long Flathead, and then I’m crossing over the top of the lake, into Bigfork, and out to my western home, and my daughter, and my granddaughter. Trip accomplished.
Nita telling her Grampie Jim: Yup, Nana's here. 

My field's are green Unbelievable after what I've seen.

 So I'm here, and I'll update as soon as I take a ten hour nap.  I did over 600 miles today, a record for me, for sure.

Finally, I see Devil's Tower for the first time ever

Wednesday, July 25
So, no sleep last night at all, and I’m ready to roll, because I need to focus on something other than phantom nerve pain, and driving will do that. I’m leaving South Dakota very soon after hitting the road from Rapid City, and by the way, Rapid City is a cool place.  The Super 8 where I stayed was great, very small eating area for breakfast, though. Main Street was jamming last night, and there is a very cool water park with fountains and neon lights, little kids splashing and playing there on the hot summer night, having fun with their families. Nice. And a few doors down, an outdoor cafĂ© with a string concert going on. . . you could hear it all over the block. Lots of statues of famous important people, right there at your level, not up on pedestals. Very approachable. And then, after I was safely in the Super 8 room, a huge lightening storm let loose. And got my phantom nerve pain jangling. . . I don’t know if it was the low pressure or the pure electricity, but whatever, it was like pressing a torture button.
So off I go, out onto Interstate 90 to meet my Big Sky again, I am so addicted to looking at the big wide west.  I want to see Devil's Tower today. Just at the Wyoming border, I stopped out of curiosity to see the Vore Buffalo Jump.  I got a surprise.  The natural sink hole has been there for centuries, and was re-discovered in the 1970's when I-90 was being worked on.  The Highway was diverted around the Buffalo Jump. . . and well, read it.  If you can click on the picture, you can enlarge and read it all. (above). It is currently being excavated by archeology students, and the whole process is there for observation, at the bottom of the very deep sink hole. I could just imagine the scene, hundreds of years ago, with cooperating tribe of Indians harvesting the buffalo that had fallen to their deaths. Because, now we have Walmart (gag), and back then, the buffalo was Walmart. Buffalo provided everything, from clothes, to shelter, to sewing needles, to tools to cooking vessels, to FOOD.  Nothing was wasted. See the pictures below for your own visit to the Vore Buffalo jump.

And then I wind my way 30 miles through the back country to Devil’s Tower, and rest there. In the car under the ponderosa pines. Taking pictures, many pictures, of the awesome Devil’s Tower.   

buffalo bones

archeologists at work in the bottom of the pit

Trustee Glen telling me about the project

Prairie dogs near Devil's Tower

Cute little prairie dogs live nearby, so got some shots of them, too.

Then I drove back to I-90, and went up onto the high plains and enjoyed the show of clouds and geography. Hardly any traffic.  The pictures say it all, I think.
Honeybees summering in Wyoming
Great red cliffs near Devil's Tower
Belle Fourche River Reservoir

coal operation near Gillette, Wyoming

At one point, I felt like I was driving on the top of the world, seeing the weather for miles ahead. And then the rain hit me, way up there, and blew over. Just the thrill of seeing so much wide open space made me happy.

I did pass a high-tech coal mine operation in Gillette and pulled into a McDonald’s for a salad and a drink. The car ahead of me had a bumper sticker. . . "Don’t like coal? Don’t use electricity."  Yup.  Makes sense. There is so much big wide space out here, you can quickly drive away from a mine if you want to, but, in one way or another, or many ways, we all use coal.

I only drove 250 or so miles today. Pulled into Sheridan and set up camp at an American Inn, and now I can’t get on the Internet, so this whole day will go up late. But, the nerve pain finally stopped clamping down on me, and tonight I will sleep.  And tomorrow I will travel all way across Montana to the green of Flathead Valley. And Bigfork.  And people.
Rest stop at the South Dakota-Wyoming border

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vintage Trout on I-35, Minnesota

Wednesday, July 24
On day one I made the transition from clams to corn, and today I made the transition from corn to cows.
Spent the night last night in a fledgling motel. .  . a former Super 8.  Apparently the company has just cut it loose due to low occupancy, and a group of young entrepreneurs have taken it on to create jobs for themselves. It has a new sign, and it is called the Magnesun Inn in Albert Lea.  I wish them all the best. Right next door is the Burger King, and only two people were there running the whole show at 8 AM this morning.  Drive-thu’s took precedence over me, standing at the counter. My oatmeal took about ten minutes to get.  I headed out on the road, hoping things pick up for Albert Lea, Minnesota. The first thing I did before getting onto I-90 West for the big trip across Minnesota and South Dakota was to head north just one more town on Route 35, to exit 16, I wanted to take a picture of a giant fish for my husband. I told the folks in the Go-pher store:  Don’t ever get rid of your fish.  They said, Don’t worry, we won’t. That’s our little piece of history. Here’s for my husband Jim:

So my first goal is Sioux Falls, and that’s 160 miles away. Second goal is to drive across the state of South Dakota.  It’s 11:20 before I get myself and Yoko all ready for the drive, gas and snacks and dog walks and luggage loading and all that.  And we begin.  Vast fields of corn. And soybeans. What else? The Native Americans (Samoset, actually) who showed the Pilgrims how to grow corn their first winter in Massachusetts would be horrified to see the corn growing all over this country in the way it does. Chemically assisted. Otherwise, the bugs will get it, the soil will get it, all kinds of reasons why we eat chemical corn these days. Chemical fertilizer, chemical crop dusting, and the seeds are genetically altered with guess what? OK, I’m ranting.  Here’s a nice picture of some Minnesota corn.   

There was enough water in this southern area to make it grow.
I’m seeing random wind turbines in Minnesota, and it is windy. Very windy.  87 degrees F. when I get out of the super field areas for awhile and into some hills, there are cottonwood trees. 

And then, starting at about exit 87 near Esthersville, and a tourist stop called Fort Belmont, there is the beginnings of a huge wind farm that it turns out goes on for many many miles. It looks beautiful over the fields, some thriving, some not, and all the windmills are harvesting lots of power.  I finally see a sign for a hotel called Prairie Winds motel with a picture of the windmill so that’s how I learned the name of this huge initiative, with the turbines mostly facing south, the wind is blowing right across the Interstate from that direction.  More here:  
The wind is blowing so hard I feel like I am sailing my car along the highway, and the tractor trailers and RV’s are swaying in the wind. 

Lots of tiny towns and roads to some town far to the south or north, and then I come to Jackson, near exit 80.  Big tractors are “proudly made” in this town, says a billboard. The billboards save one from monotony, and they are grouped near the exits, most of them.  Corn and soybeans. Corn and soybeans. I hear a lady on the radio complaining that they are going to take the milk out of school lunches here in Minnesota.  Really?
I’ve gone 164 miles, I’m seeing CHS silos, they are the big buyers of most of this agricultural harvest. It’s getting dry as a bone out here. And hotter every hour.  I see a sign at exit 402: US Geological Survey. Also a sign: Home of US Senator John Thune.  We are near Sioux Falls, now, the border city.
I cross into South Dakota, and there are many exciting billboard signs touting the attractions of the state, even the attractions on the other side of the state, like Mount Rushmore, and before that, Walls Drugstore, and the Pioneer Auto Show, all hundreds of miles away. But they don’t give mileage, just exits.
I see a big billboard that says, “Enjoy Life.”  Nice. And one that lets distressed farmers know they can find help at   A major sponsor: Walmart.I could not find the website.
It is now 104 degrees. Road kill evaporates quickly and becomes a dry rug within the hour. My hands turn the steering wheel off Exit 350.  A sign on the highway says: Home of Laura Ingalls, de Smet, South Dakota. When I get to the top of the ramp, a sign points north and says: de Smet, 55 miles. I go right back down the other side of the ramp.  I am in the middle of nowhere. The cows are trying to shade themselves under billboard signs. When the water holes have water, the cows are standing in them up to their bellies. Good thinking.
Yup, it says 110 degrees

it's so hot out there for the cattle! these are lucky.
Little town I pulled into to get gas
I come to the exit for the Mitchell Corn Palace, and there is also a pre-historic Indian Village 3 miles north of Mitchell. A big sign says Mitchell Technical Institute, with a huge blade for a wind turbine on its side. Good thinking.
It’s 3:25, and now it’s 110 degrees. Wowza.  You know I take very quick pit stops at rest areas and leave the A/C on. I wake a mom up who is sleeping in her car, motor running, three kids in the back.  Thank you, she said. Thank you. 
At Exit 272 we come to the top of a hill and look down at the Missouri River. She’s big, she’s beautiful, and she’s not flooding like she was last year at this time. Much lower than last year, but still impressive.

On the other side of the river we go up to high elevation again.  Still a few corn and soy operation, s but now the real ranches start, with the cattle round-up pens, the honey bee hive groups summering up here, and the dry, golden grass that can’t give cattle much nutrition. 
Yoko's never felt such a hot wind, except for a hair dryer
5:08, have driven hundreds of miles today, very hazy up here. At Vivian, around Exit 214, there is a rest stop.  Yoko gets out to go pee, she’s been standing and looking out the window, that’s her signal. So hot the blackbirds were panting, I kid you not.  Blackbirds flying with their beaks wide open.  Sitting on the roof with their beaks wide open, trying to cool off in the stiff wind.
Every flag I see flying at half mast for the victims of Colorado movie theater shooting.
The geography is so different than the east side of the Missouri.  I can fix my eyes on a point up the road and clock it to see how far it is to get there. . .and I’m clocking 4 to 7 mile views.
Exit 170:  After many billboards proclaiming the features of the 1880’s town, as seen on Discover Channel and reviewed by the New York Times, I pass it.  No one in the parking lot. Too hot to wander around and view the town. No A/C. 
Soon I’m at Exit 152, the gateway to the Badlands.  Jim is on the phone with me. He’s describing my route to me, he’s on Cape Cod looking at Google Satellite Earth.  He likes to trace my trip this way. But he can’t see the amazing views, this is one of the reasons why I must drive. These views are like medicine. The sky is unbelievable; I can feel a whopper of a thunderstorm up there.

And now I start to see the Badlands landscape off in the distance, first to the south, and then soon, on the north and south.
A National Grasslands exit at 150, and that’s also the exit for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Anyone my age will remember what happened there not so long ago.
I stop at a grasslands overlook, and get Yoko out again. The sky is amazing. It’s starting to cool down.  102 degrees.  I pass the beckoning Exit 131 “Badlands Loop.”  Could have taken that and driven for hours in the Badlands. Did that with my hubby in 2007. Not ready again yet.  70 miles to go to Rapid City.  I haven’t passed a city all day, it seems.  I pass the exit (61) for Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. And finally, I make it to Rapid City around 8:30 PM after stopping one last time at the Cheyenne River rest area. I got gas three times today.  With heat like this, I don’t let it get down less than 1/3 of a tank.  No way.  Took a tow down to Main Street in Martin City. . . and it’s upscale urban with lots of stuff going on.  Very nice to see out here on the high plains.
And so I can’t think of a segment of the trip where the geography changed more dramatically in 500+ miles. A huge thunderstorm did hit, late, around 10:30.  I was inside my Super 8 motel room, carbon fiber leg off. The thing makes me into a walking lightening rod.  And then, I stayed up all night with phantom pains in my “residual limb,” something I haven’t done for a long time. Electrical storms get to me, I guess.  Good thing I had this blog to write. Man, do I need some distraction. Pain killers don’t work. Never did.
the last rest stop of the day, storm brewing and brewing
The Cheyenne River
No development
Development. But, gotta say it looked good after the long day

Big sky. . .big medicine