Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mountain Cattle, and Heading Back in Time

Geological time, that is.

I know I am telling this story way out of order (just like the formations on this mountain!). For those who are just coming in, or who have not seen us in a while, please know that we are home, and this is all a blogger-flashback. We are safe and sound, and planning our next outing...a bit closer to home. Now, back to the story...

So, after twisting and turning up a windy mountain road, we get to the top of Big Horn National Forest, and what do we see? A cattle-Xing sign. And there were cattle, crossing. We thought we were in Switzerland for a moment.

Does anyone know what kind of cattle these white ones are? They were a striking contrast to the white-faced black cattle the covered the mountain top.

As we traveled up the mountain, we noticed that the geologically- friendly denizens of Wyoming had labeled the entire mountain from bottom to top, with signs designating the geological period of the formations. As were were traveling, we were heading backwards in time, due to the syncline rising of the mountain, and subsequent erosion. We began at the bottom in the
Pennsylvanian, buzzed back through the Devonian, and finally ended up in pre-Cambrian granite covered by grass and grazing
cattle. What strange landscape had we encountered?

Little did we know, the strangest was yet to come.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are You Ready To...

Take a child outside? Because,

Take a Child Outside Week

is September 24th-30th!

Of course, the idea that we need such a thing is a bit depressing.

Have a great week!

(Photo taken on the Green River in Utah, in the Dinosaur National Monument, site of fossils, rafting, petroglyphs, homesteads, and more)

Monday, September 24, 2007


There are few more amusing pastimes than reading roadsigns as one drives along. The only thing better is having an 11 year old in the car who reads them aloud. We saw this lovely sign (left) in DeSmet, thanks to the Pork Board.

Paul, as usual, was tired of riding, and thinking more and more about ice cream. It became a bit of a joke. Everything, especially the pork sign, reminded him of ice cream. Don and I were too amused to give in right away. We wanted to see if he would forget, or just how long he could keep nagging us.We held out for three days--an eternity to Paul who was becoming more and more irritable. Mind you, we were feeding him, and we had an assortment of healthy snacks in the car for the road. But he wanted ice cream.

Don and I, of course, could hold out; we had the money, and we were driving. Trip and Annika were about to jump out of the car to get away from the boy-who-cried-ice-cream. Imagine our delight in finding this sign in an elevator as the doors closed. Not sure which photo more accurately captured the moment, so here are both.

Devil's Tower

The legend says that bears made the "scratches" in the side of the Tower, but it looks volcanic to us. I think we were lucky to have driven up to it when we did...just before sunset, when the light was just right. The boys went off to climb the base (there is a painted line above which one may not climb without gear). It was much more forested than I expected. If you look very carefully, or with binoculars, you can see hawks, vultures or eagles--I'm not sure which from the photo--flying around the top.

I hope you can see the difference the light makes in these photos!

Friday, September 21, 2007


The Sturgis Biker Rally was leaving Sturgis and breaking up just as we hit Deadwood. There were signs at every hotel in Deadwood--"Bikers Drink Free". Oh, my. The only one of our party who could have passed for a biker was Paul, who took Libby's leather jacket (a gift from Uncle Pete one Christmas) with him and was proudly wearing it. I have heard that a love of all things motorcycle is something one is either born with, or not. Paul definitely has the biker gene. In Deadwood, he was in Hog Heaven. All he could say was, "Aw! Cool!" every time he saw a different bike. I have a few more years to talk him out of this... The natives of Deadwood have a love-hate relationship with the bikers. While there were welcoming signs everywhere, one shopkeeper, with all the charm of Calamity Jane, called them G--dam- bikers and said she could not wait until they were gone.

Deadwood itself is a fascinating place. We ate at Kevin Costner's restaurant, and found that our waiter was one of many, many college students from eastern Europe who have found work out west. As we don't gamble, we just ate and when we finished, we explored. Trip, who packed for himself, didn't think it might be cool in the west, so we had to pick up a Deadwood sweatshirt for him at one of the 100 or so "gift" shops in town. We even found a bit of history as we strolled down the main street. It seems that many an outlaw had found himself in Deadwood at one time. Even today, the saloon business seems to be the only game in town, until you drive off the main road.

I can't imagine what it might be like to live in Deadwood. It's sort of like a very gritty Disney park. It's sort of like a movie set. It's not the kind of place where one can imagine raising a family. Still, it was a fun place to visit!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

3 Encounters with the Wyoming

Caution...this is a bit shocking, so you might want to read this before you let the kids see it. Really.
I had no less that three encounters with the law in Wyoming, each more traumatic than the last.

During my first ten minutes in WY, I was pulled over for speeding. I have never been pulled over for speeding before. Yuck. The very nice policeman gave me a warning. It seems the speed limit in towns is 30. I was doing about 38. It was unpleasant, but harmless.

That same evening, we decided to get a hotel room. We had been camping for three nights, with one night of nothing but driving, and decided to treat ourselves. We drove into Gillette, and found a decent chain-type hotel. I did some laundry and was relaxing in the shower, when a man burst into the room screaming, "This is my room!" I screamed. Think Psycho without the knife. Don and T got up (they were watching TV) and chased the guy out of the room and down the hall, down the stairs, and into his room. Don called for security. Security called the police. A few minutes later, I was giving a statement to 4 very sympathetic police officers. After hearing the whole thing, the police commended Don for being calm (!!) and one said, "I would have shot him." Don, of course, was an unarmed easterner.

At the "free-continental-breakfast" the next morning, people were asking the girl at the desk what all the commotion was. "Oh, it was just a misunderstanding," was the stock answer the girl gave. And it was, sort of. The guy was on medication and was lost. His room was right below ours, and he thought...yeah.

The third encounter was of the elk kind. While park rangers are not technically Wyoming police, they do enforce the law in the parks, and the park was in Wyoming. The rangers were very nice and they do their job well, though I think hitting the elk was the most traumatic incident we had in Wyoming.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wildlife Part I

Aside from the *ahem* Elk, we saw plenty of wildlife on our journey... This little fellow is, I'm pretty sure, a solitary sandpiper. It certainly was solitary! We found it in Big Horn National Forest. This strange-looking puddle (near a fresh water pump at a rest stop in the forest, well away from the vault toilets) was at an elevation of over 7000 feet. I never expected to see a sandpiper here. I love surprises like this.

BTW, the water at the pump was sooo cold and refreshing!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Does Anyone live in ND??

Don really wanted to rack up his state count. He insisted, as we made our original plan, that we hit North Dakota, Montana and Idaho, since he had never been there. This would leave only Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon off his list. But as we made our plan, we could not find anything to do in ND without heading pretty far north. In the end, we decided on a little town in the south west corner of the state called Bowman, with a natural history museum that featured family dino digs. Unfortunately, we managed to miss the dig date, and so we just admired the museum, which was quite well-done.

We camped at a state camp ground. After the boy scouts left (they were from Denver), we were alone, except for the cat. The cat was sweet, but Don is not fond of cats, so he kept shooing it away, and when Paul attempted to name it...well, Don made it clear that we were not keeping a campground cat.

That particular area of ND is very dry. When we emptied our cooler of excess water, the cat ran over for a drink, and the second night, when what sounded like a ferocious storm enveloped us overnight, we awoke to find that ground barely wet. The wind, we heard later, was gusting at about 40mph! It sounded like quite a storm!

We drove around a bit, and attended Mass in Bowman. The fun thing about Mass in a small town is that everyone realizes that you're "not from around these parts." The folks in Bowman were delightful. The church was fairly simple, made from materials found in the area, including the wall behind the altar, which was made from pieces of petrified wood. It was truly beautiful.

Using Bowman as a base camp, we headed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Pictures do not do this park justice. The terrain is beautiful. We were able to admire buttes and valleys, dry river beds, small ponds, salt flats, and more. The boys, anxious to get out and climb on the buttes, asked us to pull over at one point, so we did, and they ran down the embankment and over to the nearest hill. They got a good workout before getting back into the car.

We are glad that we visited ND. It is beautiful! And in the end, the emptiness made it seem more appealing, I think, than had it been crowded. After two nights in the loneliest campground in the world, we drove back to South Dakota, into the black hills, and the town of Deadwood...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

De Smet? You Bet!

No western visit to Ingalls land would be complete without a visit to De Smet, SD, named for Fr. De Smet, S.J., who established missions in the American West. The town of De Smet was made famous through Laura's books as the Little Town on the Prairie. De Smet, the Ingalls Homestead, The Surveyors House, and more, make this a "don't miss" stop on the Ingalls tour.

The Ingalls Homestead is such a well-done interactive attraction that I cannot help posting quite a few photos. I hope they load easily!

In P's view, few things are more fun than laundry done prairie-style. The washboard, the wringer and the line all got a workout. Twice.

Done with a long wash day, he took a break to rope a calf. After a drink at the pump (more trouble than it was worth??) the kids all headed over to the barn to drive the covered wagon to school. This is a very hands---on living museum sort of place, and they got to do everything, including drive the wagon!

At the school house, they were greeted by Mrs. Nelson, a very nice teacher. All the students put on aprons and bonnets, or straw hats. Each took a seat and the teacher talked about pioneer schooling. As she described a typical school day, she gave each student a "job". She assigned T to fill the water bucket for the class, but when she looked in the bucket, it was empty. She called T up to the front of the class, and drew an X on the blackboard.
"Do you know what this X is for?" she asked. "Yes. My nose," answered T. He put his nose up to the X and stood there until he was dismissed for the spelling bee. All the kids got their words right, including a Japanese exchange student, who was just learning English. I bet she was not expecting a one-room school house!

A dismissed the class by ringing the school bell, and the kids drove the wagon back up to the barn, where everyone had a lesson rope-making, each coming away with a length of colorful rope.

We did not stay on the property, but had we known...we could have "camped" out in a real covered wagon! Maybe next time.

Of course, there are more photos. Check them out here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oh, I almost forgot!!

At the gift shop (we visited many, many gift shops) the kids were thrilled to find reminders of our friends. Not only does the shop carry Melissa Wiley's Little House Books, but the kids immediately turned to the dedication in one, and found the names of their dear friends! "Awwww! We miss them!" they cried! And it was true.

Also, thanks for the kind and informative comments, everyone. Yes, the Pilot is better now. It actually had more cosmetic damage, except for the cracked radiator and smashed windshield. It has nearly 10,000 miles on it, and is a solid as a rock.

Little Derhams on the Prairie

Nellie's Cafe? Olsen's Mercantile? Little House Museum? Where could we be now? We're on the banks of Plum Creek!

Walnut Grove, of Little House on the TV fame, is a very sleepy little town, fueled by soy diesel and E85. These alternative fuels are clearly marked on the pumps, but with prices well below the going rate for regular unleaded, Don was a bit tempted. Fortunately, he checked the manual before filling up! We just looked on with envy as farmers pulled up in flexible-fuel-worthy vehicles and paid smaller bills.

I promised a young friend that I would, should we head out to Little House country, get a photo of T wearing a bonnet. This photo was as close as he would let that come to pass. P seemed to find it more amusing than T, who had to be bribed.

The museum is small, but quite nice. It features records and photos of the pioneer families that settled here, as well as an assortment of TV memorabilia. In fact, there was an episode on the screen in one room.

There are several out-buildings at the museum, including a chapel with a pump organ. Warning: If you want to get anywhere, do not put a musical instrument in front of a Derham kid. The sign "Hands ON" is quite an invitation, and no one could resist. Suddenly, the little church filled with the sounds of a certain John Williams theme, followed by Buffalo Gals (sheet music provided), and, finally, Amazing Grace. I had to yank them out of the church and pull them into the next area. More Walnut Grove photos are posted here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The jawbone of a beaver?

You never know what you might find on the trail. We pulled onto a dirt road (early in the trip, when we had the Pilot) and pulled over at the top of a hill. We were in Montana, and we wanted to take a long view of the surrounding countryside. As the kids and Don wandered off, Paul found a skeleton and called me over. This skeleton, the first of two we found, was hard to identify...especially because I was not expecting, in this dry country, up on a hilltop, to find the remains of a beaver. Paul was so excited to have found such treasure.

Meanwhile, a few yards off, Don and the middle kids were puzzling over a second find. The second was easier to identify, but even more mysteriously out of was a large snapping turtle skeleton. Worse, the snapper had an i.d. tag. Both skeletons were bleached by the sun, but neither was old or dirty, and the i.d. tag made us really wonder what had happened on that hillside. In the end, we decided not to contact the owner, figuring that if his pet had gone missing that he might prefer to imagine it swimming and free rather than ripped open and dead on a deserted hilltop. Paul took the jawbone of the beaver as a souvenir, and we drove off, feeling a bit uncomfortable about what we had seen.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Last summer, our family enjoyed a Mormon Film Festival in our backyard and living room. It all started like husband was looking for good family films, and on a whim, he typed "Mormon" into the search box on Netflix. The result was an interesting assortment of films for families, each with a Latter Day Saints theme.

No, we are not converting. But the films not only provided us with entertaining weekends, but also helped us to learn a bit about the history and beliefs of Mormons. Since we had some time on this crazy road trip, after we hit the elk, and Wyoming nights were getting quite cold (30s!!), we drove south to warm, dry, sunny Salt Lake City. While there, we paid a visit to Temple Square, which Don called "The Mormon Vatican," to see the real thing.

We were greeted by a young missionary woman (missions are optional for women), and she took us on a tour of all the accessible parts of the Temple Square. Since we are not LDS, we could not go into the Temple itself, but the history and museum information, as well as the genealogy records are all available to anyone.

The coolest thing in the whole place is the Christus, an amazingly impressive statue of Jesus. Curiously Latinized Greek title for the statue...hmm.

No visit to Salt Lake City would be complete without a visit to the Great Salt Lake. It's salty! And nothing lives there, except brine shrimp and brine flies. The former are cute sea monkeys, and the latter are scavengers, but mostly harmless. Swimming in a body of water without flora or significant fauna is strange. The buoyancy is more strange. Don and the two younger kids floated for a while, then then tried to dunk each other.

One thing they don't tell you about the Great Salt Lake is that it stinks, especially in areas where birds congregate. Still, it was worth the visit for the float, and for the birding. I have never seen so many grebes in one place before.

We attended Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral Of The Madeleine in Salt Lake City. Mass was packed, and the music was good, with the cantor leading a Communion Antiphon rather than a hymn--perfect! Great Gargoyles, too. Do click on the link above for a "tour" of the architecture.


I was going to write about Utah, but this is much more exciting. Utah later, eh?

In case there are any sacred music directors out there who have not heard, check out the Chabanel Psalm Project. These are psalm settings for Mass in the ordinary form, in English. We have tried a couple, and they are much nicer than the missalette versions of the psalms. Plus, they are free, and printable.

Friday, September 7, 2007

About Elk, Mini Vans and the West

I'm not sure how big she was, but when the car hit her, she was thrown behind us, and the car was badly damaged. A Tetons Park Ranger shot her, and the car was towed into Jackson WY for repairs. We were uninjured. But I am not one to let an elk stop my vacation, so we rented a car and drove back up to Yellowstone to finish our camping and touring before picking up Libby in Aspen.

Meanwhile, Libby was having a great time at the Aspen Music Festival. She had excellent roommates and good friends, as well as an outstanding musical experience under the baton of several famous conductors. We were all so happy to see Libby! We attended a rehearsal for the Aspen Festival Orchestra, and got to hear the conductor giving his last-minute instructions. The venue is lovely. Orchestra concerts are held in the Benedict Music Tent, so that later that afternoon, when we did not have tickets, we could sit out on the lawn and hear the concert. We met up with Libby and her friends after the concert backstage.

Due to the elk, we did not drive her home as we had hoped, but we put her on a plane with her brother, and we continued our western adventure. For the most part, I avoided driving at night after the elk incident. I am sure the elk are thankful.

A brief word about rental cars (this is for all of you car rental place owners out there). A Toyota Rav 4 is NOT a mid-sized SUV. A Dodge Caravan is not an adequate substitute for my beloved Honda Pilot. A Toyota Sienna is the nicest mini-van I have ever driven...but it's nothing like my Pilot.

Without the SUV, off-roading, or even dirt-roading, was out of the question. Even one campground we visited was a challenge for the Caravan (rented during week 1 of our repair wait). Mini vans have no clearance. So after checking up on the car in Jackson, and spending three rather cold nights under the stars by the Snake River, we headed to nice warm Utah.....