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Wyoming and the Dakotas
August 15th - August 30th, 1999

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As Cathy and I head off into the Sunrise (aka the East), we both have started to notice a little bit of burnout.  This is something that is hard to describe unless you've experienced it.  Yes, we are still having fun, but as my friend put it, going from the "astoundingly amazing to mind bogglingly beautiful" takes its toll on your senses.  I'm not appreciating things as much as I should be.  The mountains really take on a special glow after sitting in an office all week. Seeing mountains day after day... it's hard not to take things for granted.   Sometimes, I look back through my pictures and say, "Wow! That was more beautiful than I can even remember while experiencing it."  Kinda sad, but that's the way it is. There are still things that stand way out from the rest of what I've seen.  Some things simply reach out and grab you no matter what kind of natural wonders you've seen before.  I will summarize these special places at the end of our journey in a journey wrap-up.

The rig has gone in for service in the greater metropolis of the Minnesota Twin Cities.  It was due for its 82,500 service and new rear brakes.  The steering column was making some funny sounds, but it turned out to be nothing major.. just a loose "clock" spring that needed to be replaced... they didn't have the part, so this repair will have to wait until Chicago.

Update

August 15-16 - Our next stop was the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho which boasts the largest stretch of untamed wilderness in the lower 48 states.  2.3 million acres!  The wilderness is completely road-less, but oddly enough, it sports a few ranger stations accessible by airplane or horseback.  The wilderness stretches for miles, and what little we saw was very beautiful.  We actually saw more of the surrounding National Forests than the Wilderness.  The Wilderness is surrounded by 6 National Forests (Payette, Boise, Challis, Salmon, Bitterroot, Nez Perce).  We drove through much of the Payette and Boise National Forests, which are also beautiful, with the exception of a few mines and clearcuts scarring the landscape.  Little did we realize what a pain it would be to actually get up to the wilderness.  There must be hundreds of miles of road in the National Forest, all gravel, narrow, and twisty.  To get from the wilderness border to a paved road it took at 3 hours minimum!  It felt like we spent most of our days on the forest roads rather than in the forest.  I did manage to do a short day hike into the edges of the wilderness area and got some nice views.  The area looks prime for exploring.  The majority of the wilderness area looks "manageable."   By "manageable," I mean you could probably go off of the trail without running into too many obstacles such as cliffs.  Just lots of rolling mountains stretched towards the horizon... at least that's what it looked like where I was in the wilderness area (Lookout Mountain Ridge).  And if you get bored with the natural scenery, there are plenty of scattered remnants of the mining era lying about.  We even got to see a replica of a Chinese miner's pit house.  Apparently, a Chinese man could mine enough in gold back in those days to support his family back home in China.

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View from Monumental Pass in the Payette National Forest
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Old miner's cabin near the wilderness border
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Old rock crusher at a mining camp near the wilderness border
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Meadows and Mountains in the Boise National Forest
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View of the Sawtooths from the Challis National Forest

August 17 - After another night in the Boise National Forest, we headed out towards Idaho Falls.  We stopped at Craters of the Moon National Monument, a very desolate, black landscape... almost charred looking, with odd shaped blackish volcanic rocks and lava tubes scattered about in the middle of the southern Idaho Snake River Plain.  This is one of those places where you wonder if you are in heaven or hell.  With the incessant heat, desert like climate, and fields of black or grey rocks, I say it looks and feels a heck of a lot more like hell than heaven!  On the other hand, head underground into some of the smaller lava tubes and the heat disappears.  Icicles form in the caves where the temperature hovers around freezing.  Some of the lava rocks above the ground are pretty amazing and the views of the surrounding hill country are beautiful.  Cathy and I wandered around in some of the lava tubes and did some of the nature trails. 

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Craters of the Moon National Monument Lava Field
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Lava tube entrance
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What comes out of Cathy's rear?

(her idea, NOT mine!)  :-)

Later that day, we wandered out to find a campsite and ended up going up an extremely steep road into the "National Forest."  But again, there were few trees... mostly grass... hardly a forest.  My little Trooper, as loaded as it was, couldn't make it up this incline in first gear.  I had to go into four wheel drive high to get up that hill.  But we ended up in a beautiful area with fantastic views.

August 18-19 - The 18th was Cathy's 30th Birthday!  This was kind of a lazy day... a day off really.  After a little bit of morning activity, we headed into Idaho Falls near the Wyoming border to update the website.  We went out to eat a lot and escaped from nature for just a few moments.  I've never seen anyone do this, but Cathy called her friends up and left messages singing happy birthday to herself over the phone to the lyrics "Me me me me me me!"  And what the hell, she deserved some attention... after all she was turning 30!  We had a wonderful lavish meal at the Cadillac Restaurant/Diner in Jackson and headed off into the Teton National Forest just outside the National Elk Refuge.

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Cathy playing dress up on her birthday as we wander around Downtown Jackson

Next day we made up for our laziness the previous day.  We hit the Grand Tetons National Park, or should I call it Tramaculate Keesobs National Park, or Large Breasts National Park?  Well, not that I'm that experienced, but I've never seen tetons that look quite like these.  First of all they are grey, and to suggest that they are shaped like tetons is to suggest that some woman has a very oddly shaped chest!   I guess someone had a good sense of humor when they named this range.  We entered the park stopping at various spots for photos of this fantastic mountain range.   The mountains in this part of the country seem to suddenly pop up out of the relatively flat plains with few foothills in the way.  You get some startling views as a result.  There are a number of picturesque lakes surrounding the Grant Tetons, some natural, some not.  Jenny lake is one of the more beautiful lakes, providing a nice natural reflection pool for the tetons when the wind is calm, which was not the case as we drove through the park.  Thunderstorms loomed on the horizon as you can see from the pictures.  As the day wore on, the weather got better and better and I chose to do a nice 6 mile flat hike around Two Ocean Lake which lies a good ways away from the mountain range.  It was a nice lonely hike; I only ran into one other group hiking the trail.  I did hear a crash in the surrounding forest, but saw no grizzly bears.   Oh well... perhaps next time.

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Cathy comparing her tetons to the Grand Tetons on Jackson Lake
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The Tetons from Jenny Lake
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Two Ocean Lake with the Tetons beyond

In my last update, I mentioned that Cathy and I chose to skip Northern Montana... an exchange of quality for quantity.  Even so, we didn't have nearly enough time to visit this area of the country.  We rushed though the Tetons, and did Yellowstone in about 5 hours... never mind that it takes 3 hours just to drive through Yellowstone.  We did get to see the geysers put on a show in the Old Faithful arena.   It seems that nearly a hundred hot springs, hot pools, and geysers stand nearby old faithful.  By the way, Old Faithful isn't so faithful anymore.  Old Faithful is named because it is the only large geyser that erupts with some degree of certainty.   It used to erupt every 65 minutes, but recent earthquakes shifted the fragile tectonic plates beneath responsible for the eruptions.  Now it only erupts every 80 minutes and can vary greatly.  We were lucky to see Old Faithful erupt in the dusk light after the sun had set... too dark for pictures.  However we did capture some impressive eruptions of the surrounding geysers.  The pools were just as impressive, showing off some beautiful blue colors against the clouds and the setting sun.

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Plume Geyser
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Hot Spring in the Old Faithful Area

We drove out of Yellowstone and camped near the town of Gardiner after a long day of sightseeing and driving.  One day, I will have to return to this area of the country to fully experience Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Glacier National Park in Montana.   We just didn't have enough time to really see it all.

August 20 - 21 - Long drive to the Devil's Tower area in Wyoming.  I was looking forward to hitting the Montana interstate to see how fast my Isuzu would go.  I was not happy to see speed limit signs in Montana.   75 mph.  What ever happened to the driver-determined "reasonable and prudent" speed limit?  Unfortunately, I just read a report in Motor Trend Magazine that described the dilemma.  First of all, some car clubs (IE Corvette) would arrange high speed drives through the state.  Second, a court ruling said that the law was too "vague" to be an enforcable law!  God forbid that a citizen should decide what speed he should drive!  We did make one quick stop along the Montana Interstate and paid $3 to see Pictograph Cave State Park.  Not really worth seeing if you've ever seen nice pictographs before.  The pictographs are hard to make out and the area isn't really that spectacular; it's barely a cave.  More like a cliff overhang.   But for us, on our long drive, it made for a nice break in the day.  Later in the day, we arrived in the Black Hills National Forest near the town of Sundance, Wyoming and pulled off on a questionable, recently cut road  for the night.

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Pictograph Cave

The next day I climbed out of the rig to make breakfast.  I went about the usual routine of boiling water for tea and oatmeal.  The second that oatmeal hit the water, I was surrounded by cows.  I guess they were getting sick of grass and wanted their oats... and they assumed I was farmer John!  I jumped into the car, closed the doors, finished my oatmeal, and sent some cows running as I threw the car into reverse to simply get them away from the vehicle.  They looked sorely disappointed as they reluctantly went back to eating grass.  Oh well... 

Cathy and I both agree that there are way too many cows in this country, but of course that's not the cows' faults.  The only reason there are so many cows is because there is a  outrageous demand for cow meat in this country.  I recently read about the ecosystem destruction these animals have caused in the rainforests of our world (slash and burn for cow pasture) so Americans can have a 99 cent burger.  I think Americans should reconsider their diets.  It would be nice to see Americans start demanding buffalo, hence reducing the number of cows in the prairie country.  The buffalo actually MOVE around instead of overgrazing an area such as these cows do and their impact is less severe.  And these cows sure as hell don't belong in our National Forests.  Your tax money going to Farmer John who doesn't want to spend any of his own money on his own land.  And from the number of cows Farmer John has, I'd say he could afford it.

We headed out to the Devil's Tower, a few miles from our camp spot.   I was hoping to spend a day or two at Devil's Tower.  We soon learned, that unless you are a climber, it is hardly worth over a half day.  It is, however, extremely impressive.  These beautiful rock columns reach toward the sky and it is surrounded by a field of trees.  As you walk around the monolith, the structure changes form and looks different from every angle.  The Native Americans revere the Devils Tower with awe and believe the mountain has a spiritual power.  Meanwhile, all I could think about was the role that this incredible piece of rock played in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I couldn't get that UFO song out of my head as we hiked the two trails that travel around the tower.  Cathy hadn't seen the movie and said she was glad to see the rock "untainted."  In some ways I have to agree with her, but that movie gives the mountain a special kind of magic to us modern folk.  Add that to the Native American beliefs surrounding the place, and you have a pretty powerful site.  The place kind of tingles with energy. 

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Me at the Devil's Tower
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Another Angle
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Devil's Tower

After our hikes around the tower, we hung out with some of the prairie dogs in the nearby prairie dog town.  These little guys pretty darn cute!  They dig these tunnels, some which interconnect with others.  Their burrows lie right next to each other, hence the "town."  When an intruder comes near, one prairie dog will sound a warning "bark" and the alarm goes out across the town.  After the adults have raised their young, the adults relocate to another home, usually on the edge of the town.  Perhaps they refer to it as a suburb.  Their kids get the old home.  What a deal!  They even mow their lawns regularly with their rodent like teeth.  Just like living in the suburbs.  I wandered into the town and decided to check out some of the residences and the residents... Maybe they have some nice apartments in this part of town?  One of the denizens even posed for me.

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Prairie Dog checking me out

August 22-25 - We entered the Black Hills proper and hit what we thought was a mountain biking trail the next day.  The book we had on the Black Hills mentioned that this cross country ski trail doubled as a mountain biking trail in the summer.  We attempted to ride the trail, but some of the hills were un-rideable except perhaps by MTB expert class riders.  A good portion of the trip also took us through waist high grass.  Nonetheless, we rode the trail and ended up at the top of Bear Mountain without getting lost.  The trail was pretty poorly marked for mountain bikers... so while circling back to our car, I managed to get us lost.   The book said "stay right of the pond"... well we stayed right, but a bit too early... we ended up on a dead end road.  Eventually, we fumbled our way back to the car right through the middle of a boy scout camp.  To top the trip off, we later found out that the trail isn't designated for mountain bike use by the USFS.   Oops...  Still had fun though.

Later that evening, we arrived in Custer, SD to meet up with Cathy's parents for the next few days.  The motel they stayed at had an indoor pool, hot tub, and sauna.  I took full advantage of the sauna and hot tub, soaking myself to my hearts content on a few of the evenings we spent with them.  Our daytime hours were spent wandering out to Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park and picnicking.  For a nature lover as myself, Mount Rushmore was a disgrace... a defacing of a beautiful mountain scene.  I have to say, I'm sure that Teddy Roosevelt, the president who was instrumental in creating a number of our national lands, would be appalled at his image carved into a beautiful mountain scene.  The unfinished Crazy Horse monument is going to be even larger, and yet again, I'm sure Crazy Horse would disapprove!  We drove through Custer State park, enjoyed looking at the buffalo, and having a nice picnic along the lake.

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Cathy Squishing George's face at Mt. Rushmore
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Buffalo at Custer State Park
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The wild and ever elusive Cathy Buffalo at Custer State Park

After Cathy's parents left, Cathy and I headed up into the Black Hills yet again, but this time we headed to a just-completed gravel rails-to-trails project called the Mickelson Trail.  The Mickelson trail runs 114 miles through the black hills with no grade greater than 3 percent making for an easy mountain bike ride, horseback ride, or walk.  Cathy and I started just South of a deserted town/railroad stop named Mystic and headed North for 11 miles along the trail.  We ended up in a tiny town (no paved roads) called Rochford and decided to eat lunch.  It was a little hole in the wall called Moonshine Gulch Saloon.  The food was pretty good, but the atmosphere and the friendly owner, Betsy, made the stop well worth our time.  The place was covered with signs labeled with clever cliches.  My favorite was "If you are drinkin' to forget, pay in advance."  One ceiling was covered with hats, the other with business cards from various visitors from around the world.  When we went to sit down, we discovered the local dog, Bud, under the table.  A little bit later, Betsy went outside to call for an abandoned fawn she had adopted.  She named the fawn "sexy" and feeds it once a day.   After the fawn can fend for itself, it eventually wanders off according to Betsy.   We shared some intelligent talk about other topics as we finished our beers.   As we headed back to the Mickelson trail, I realized how many places like this I'd probably missed in my journeys, both far and near.  When I'm in unfamiliar territory, I usually look for familiar things... just like anyone else might do.  Now I wonder what I've missed!

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Moonshine Gulch Saloon, Rochford, SD
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"Sexy" being fed at the Saloon
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The rocks along the Mickelson Trail
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Tunnel
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Me and the Tunnel
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Valley and stream in the Black Hills
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Cathy and Waterfall

Since I've been on this trip, I've stopped at a few hot springs and had a fantastic time.  So we headed off to Evans Plunge in Hot Springs South Dakota to try out their claimed hot springs.  Umm... I wouldn't exactly call it hot springs.  Maybe tepid water... at 87 degrees, I had chill run through my body when I hopped into the huge pool at Evan's Plunge.  The huge pool was concrete lined, indoors, had a few games/waterslides about, and of course, along side the games/waterslides, kids.  And, as you can tell by reading Cathy's report, I turned into one of those kids... running about from waterslide to waterslide.  Didn't feel much of the "healing power" from these waters, but turning into a ten year old certainly couldn't have hurt my health; maybe it is like the famed fountain of youth?

August 26 - The following day, we headed North again into Wind Cave National Park.  Wind Cave was a sight to behold.  Unlike Carlsbad Caverns, you had to have a tour guide in this cave.  The trail wandered up and down, and you had to watch your head as you wandered around the breakdown (boulders), the crystal formations, and the unique boxwork that Wind Cave is so famous for.  According to our guide, there is more boxwork in Wind Cave than all other caves with boxwork combined.   The boxes are formed from crystals which are left over after the rock surrounding them washed away after thousands of years of erosion.  The crystals are also fantastic, but none of my pictures of them came out.  Our guide was excellent... This is the first guide I've had that actually was a "professional" caver and had a passion for caving.  He even brought in a old caver's headlamp which runs off of ascetelene (sp?) gas formed by a chemical reaction between carbide rocks and water.  More buffalo and a restored prairie lie above the cave on the National Park grounds. 

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Ceiling of boxwork
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Boxwork
Close-up
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Cathy and a tunnel begging to be explored

August 27-28 - Before we went into the Badlands, we had to stop at the self proclaimed gateway to the Badlands, Wall, South Dakota.  And about the only thing worth seeing in Wall, South Dakota is Wall Drug Store.  This place represents everything that has gone wrong with America.  Or perhaps everything that has gone right?  A good while back, Ted Husted, owner of Wall Drug was trying to figure out a way to make his little drug store profitable.  His wife came up with the idea of giving away free ice water to thirsty travelers and Wall Drug took off.  Now you are bombarded with billboards up to 200 miles away... and maybe even further.  It has been said that a sign in the Antarctic south pole reads "Wall Drug, only 11,000 more miles!"  And it ain't no simple drug store anymore.  You can purchase any number of Wall Drug signature items, from frisbee cow patties to Wall Drug snow-domes and there was so much more.  They have these booths you can walk up to.  Throw in a quarter and you can watch mechanically animated Indians or cowboys put on a show for you.  Every 12 minutes, a huge mechanical T-rex comes to life breathing smoke and scarring tiny children.  They still sell 5 cent coffee, homemade ice cream, and oh yes, drugs.  There's a restaurant, an outdoors shop, homemade fudge shop, arcade, photo processing, and we were sure there was a barber shop somewhere in the complex, but we couldn't find it.  There were also walls of old photos and articles about Wall Drug.  One of the articles was by Dave Barry.  He claimed that if his wife divorced him, her first complaint would have been "he drove right by Wall Drug without stopping!"  Dave might have been able to resist the temptation to stop, but we couldn't resist.  We discovered Wall Drug is truly one stop shopping.   Lure 'em in with something free; then take them to the bank!  Even on our tight budget, we came out with a number of items.

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Wall Drug
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Here I am being comforted by one of the ceramic call girls at Wall Drug
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Cathy ridin' a Jackalope in the backyard of Wall Drug

Next stop, Badlands National Park.  The Badlands are a pretty amazing site to see.  These fragile, rapidly eroding hills reveal millions of years of geology.  They shrink an inch in height each year due to wind and water erosion.   Back in the old days, this area was referred to as "bad lands to cross over."  The name eventually shrunk to The Badlands.  This is our third visit with Badland type formations.  We first saw Badlands in the Painted Desert and later in some areas of Capitol Reef in Utah.   We made a grand tour around Badlands by vehicle after visiting Wall.  After a night in the surrounding Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, we headed into the Badlands on foot from the Conata picnic area.  Thanks to the rapid erosion, there are few trails in this wild park, so we trekked out with GPS and map.  Our hike was a bit shorter than I would have liked, but we got up into an eroded valley and caught some fantastic views of the badland country and the prairie below. 

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Cool Panorama of a "bowl" in the Badlands
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Panorama of Badlands and prairie beyond

During and after our stay in the Badlands, we got to experience the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Unfortunately, nearly all of our experiences with the Native Americans have been bad.  Similar to our experience in Canyon de Chelly, we ran into yet another drunk Native American.  This individual was a bit more persistent and direct when he began to beg us for money.  And the alcohol on his breath told me that the money we might give him would only be spent on more alcohol.  A sad sight.   When you take away a people's heritage and religion as our government has done with the Native Americans, it is easy to see why they would resort to alcohol.  The "high" once available to the natives via their ancient religion and practice of spirituality is no longer allowed, so they move onto other legal methods such as alcohol.   Yes, in case you didn't know, our government has thrown Native Americans in jail for practicing their religion in the past.  So much for freedom of religion.   Things are changing, but it is too late.  Some Native peoples are moving back to the old ways, but these people are rare, and there is still much fear of being prosecuted for practicing their religion and spiritual skills.  The damage has been done and the result is a sad sight.

We also wanted to see the monument at Wounded Knee in the middle of the Pine Ridge reservation to pay our respects.  But as we approached Wounded Knee, there were signs that we weren't welcome.  First of all, there were NO signs leading to the memorial, so we never could find it.  Second, someone had vandalized a sign for the town of Wounded Knee; it was as if someone had attempted to scratch out the arrow for the turn into the town of Wounded Knee.  We did find the turn, but again, no signs for the memorial.  We left feeling a bit unwelcome, but such as it is.  I hope the trust between us, the American people, and the Native American nations can be rebuilt.   Thanks to recent movies like Dances With Wolves, I think most Americans see the Native Americans as a magical people.

August 29-30 - We spent the next few days making our way into Minnesota.   Along the way, we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota.  Yet another cheezy place we got from our book, The New Roadside America.  Every year this town changes the fascade of their Corn Palace building.  They decorate the building with corn cobs and other agricutural products arranged to form a work of art.  And if you find that hard to swallow, they've been doing it since 1892!  We managed to arrive during their annual town fair.  During this week, they work on the new fascade.  So the Corn Palace was actually closed as they were still working on the design for the year 2000.

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The Corn Palace

Oddities From the Road

  • Large sign, US 26 East to Jackson out of Idaho Falls reads "WARNING to tourists:  Do not laugh at the natives."  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry!
  • Oriental restaurant in Jackson called Lame Duck... doesn't sound too promising!

Reading and Listening

  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann - Mandatory read if you care for your children and grandchildren!  Fantastic book about how we are about to destroy all we have worked for as a society and how we can fix it.  It is very well documented and appears to be very depressing, but towards the end, it presents a very hopeful outlook.  A great read and must read for anyone interested in the state of the society in which we all live in.
  • "Movin' to Montana" by Frank Zappa, off of the album Apostrophe/Overnite Sensation - While driving through Montana.  The lyrics go something like this:

    Might be movin' to Montana soon,
    Just to raise me up a crop of dental floss,
    Raisin' it up, waxin' it down,
    In a little white box that I can sell uptown.

Coming Next...

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See ya in the Northern Midwest!

My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com

Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Andrew Koransky

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