Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

One of my favorite internet blogs is “A Note from Abroad,” by Tim and Joanne Joseph. They are (apparently) retired and do a lot of traveling, so their blog is much more interesting than mine. This week they shared their view of Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave National Parks, which are all in western South Dakota. I visited these sites in October, 2017, and posted my visit to Jewel Cave here, back in January, 2018, but I cannot say why I did not do the same for the other two. So, reading Tim and Joanne’s entry this morning was a proverbial kick in the pants and here, at last, is the second part of my little adventure to the area.

The best part of the day (for a guy from New Jersey) was the ubiquitous views of bison, lazily walking around the area surrounding the national monuments and national parks. In New Jersey we have herds of white tail deer, which sometimes bed down for the night in my backyard, but it is so ordinary it doesn’t give the thrill of seeing bison doing basically the same thing. I suppose people in South Dakota are so accustomed to the experience that would rather see a deer instead.

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There is another site, Custer State Park (its name can be seen on the sign above) nestled between the national park sites, where bison are common. At one point I drove down a road and saw a line of cars stopped on the opposite side and I slowed down, instinctively knowing something was ahead. It was King Bison the First himself, eating grass like we were his puny and uninteresting subjects. I took the first photo from inside my car and then drove thirty feet and got out, hoping he would not charge at me. But alas, he was so accustomed to being a movie star he barely noticed that I, or the others, were there to admire him.

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I had wandered around Jewel Cave earlier that day, and stopped at Wind Cave National Park. At the latter I had hoped I could just wander around a little and take a few photos, but once I got to the visitor center I learned there was a guided tour and a bit of a wait, and the day was getting on. Mount Rushmore had to take priority. There are apparently two ways to get to Mount Rushmore, and I must have taken the road less traveled, because it was such a winding and empty route that I was afraid I had made a wrong turn. Fortunately, the national monument is open after 5 o’clock, so I had time to find the parking area through the double secret back entrance.  There was an elevator up to ground level, and this is how most people see Mount Rushmore for the first time.

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For some reason, the park service thought it was appropriate to clutter the view with towers and flags – of all fifty states, I presume, because I didn’t check – but now it seems that park service will soon take them down. Fortunately, there is a cafeteria and outdoor seating area off to the right, with a better view. The Joseph’s seemed to agree on their own blog, because they took a nearly identical picture of themselves where I am standing. In this case, a woman was trying to take a photo of herself with a cell phone and I offered to take her picture standing in front of the monument, if she returned the favor, which she did.

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The seating area near the concession stand is popular with chipmunks, which jump on the tables and scurry around at your feet looking for pretzel crumbs and droplets of soda. It seemed a shame that people invade their space, but they get fed and are relatively safe. When the park closes, of course, they are in command, as if they were security guards watching over the stone presidents above them.

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Enough has been written about Mount Rushmore that it seems redundant to explain its charms, except to say that there is a trail leading through a small forest, closer to the mountain itself, and you  get a slightly different view.

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If I remember correctly, a wooden fence keeps people on the trail, but there was also an opening, where some rocks are scattered on a hill going up somewhere close to the view above. It was getting late; it was October. The sun would go down in half an hour or so. But it was tempting to make up an excuse to linger, and wait for a moment when the other tourists were out of sight, and scamper over the rocks and up the hill to get as close to the carved monument as possible. I did not do so, but I am sure others, slightly younger than I, have tried it and been somehow chased away by park rangers, or chipmunks, who have seen it all before.

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Homestead National Monument, Nebraska, and Marysville Pony Express Station, Kansas

This is the second posting on the same day, which I do primarily so I will not forget what amounts to Part Two of the story below. I was driving east from Wyoming to New Jersey, and wanted to make good time by using Interstate 80, which goes 400 miles across Nebraska. But the trip might be uninteresting if done all at once, so I was resolved to stop when possible. I had stopped at Sidney, Nebraska and drove several hours before pulling off the highway to find Homestead National Monument.

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It pays homage to the Homestead Act of 1862, which encourage settlers to go west  by giving them title of empty acreage and hoping they would settle down. Why this happened while the government was also urging men in the west to travel east to fight the Civil War is a discussion for another day. The purpose of the act was to encourage settlers, and people of all stations in life took advantage of the act, for more than a hundred years, and some of the remaining farms and remote cabins remain to the day. This is one of them, on the park site.

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We can imagine a young Abraham Lincoln sitting by a fire, reading a law book, or Ma Jones calling to her children who were out playing in the fields, to come in for supper.  There is a modern building at the monument with displays about frontier life, with farms tools and old newspapers. Down the road is Freeman School, where the children of homesteaders took classes between planting and harvesting crops.

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A few miles to the east of the monument is Beatrice, Nebraska – a town pronounced as “Be – AT– trice.” It is the county seat of Gage County, which is named for a Methodist minister and not the more famous British general Thomas Gage, of the Revolutionary War. Beatrice has a main street, called Route 77,  going north to the state capital in Lincoln, and south towards the Kansas border.  It features what a movie director would love to use as a typical American town.

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It also features something still found across the country: a Carnegie Library. Andrew Carnegie was an industrialist and one of the richest men in America in the late 1800’s, and he put his fortune to good use by building libraries all across the country, which were just as beautiful architecturally as they were functional. At least I think so. It is now the Gage County Tourism and Visitor’s Bureau.

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I took Route 77 south, and meant to keep going with no particular stop in mind. Yet I was distracted fourteen miles from Beatrice,  by a site in Wymore, Nebraska, which has just 1400 people and is on the Big Blue River. Yes, that’s the real name. In town is a surviving school, a little larger than the one outside Beatrice. It is preserved in a park, and has a sign above it: Pleasant Hill School District, Gage County, Nebraska, organized June, 1876. The school itself is from 1906.

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I continued on Route 77, into Kansas, not knowing what I might see before my next destination, in Topeka. I crossed the state line and drove into Marysville, where I found another delightful surprise. The town was similar to Beatrice, and Sidney, Nebraska, which I had seen earlier that day. But Marysville, Kansas had its own charming historic site: an original Pony Express Station, built in 1860 when central Kansas was the western frontier – until you got to California, of course.

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The site has a statue of a Pony Express rider, galloping across the Plains to the next station while hoping to avoid the native tribes.  He carries a proverbial mailbag for the bravest of settlers, farther west, with letters from worried family members and business interests which might have staked them a claim to some wonderful, and dangerous, opportunity.

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The station itself remains, and hints of what the pioneers wanted: a stone building that could be safe from a tribal attack, or cattle rustlers. Like the Carnegie Library, and the little Homestead cabin, people a hundred years ago had the good sense to leave it standing for future generations to enjoy.

 

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Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and Cheyenne County, Nebraska

I was on a seventeen day trip through the west, highlighted by visits to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore, among other places already shown on this blog. But I had to get back to New Jersey and return to my job, so I stayed as long as I could and then, on a Sunday, started back east from Wyoming. Along the way I had to make stops to get out of the car and walk about, and I was tempted more frequently than I could actually indulge in my desires. Yet. I did turn off Interstate 80 in eastern Wyoming to briefly explore Medicine Bow National Forest.

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I did so again an hour or two later, in Cheyenne County, Nebraska.  I cannot remember now, eighteen months later, if I pulled off the highway to see the Cheyenne County Fair and Rodeo, or whether I wanted to see the metropolis of Sidney, the county seat. Let’s pretend it was both.

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I don’t think the rodeo was open at all, because I was there in October, and someone had simply not bothered to take down the sign above. I was pressed for time, so I did not walk as far as I would normally have gone, hoping to see some cattle or ranch hands twirling a rope, or carrying a weathered saddle in their hands.

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Yet I was restless, and looking for an excuse to not get back on the interstate, so I drove into Sidney. I found the post office on the main street, officially known as State route 30, and took this photo while standing in front of “Points West Community Bank.” That’s the real name, as if invented by a movie screenwriter.

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Sidney is, apparently, a railroad hub, because there was more than one rail line going through town, and these rail cars were just a few of the many lined up to be taken somewhere else.

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As luck would have it, I did find a charming historic building, something local residents likely brag about when talking about their small town on the prairie. It was a stone building, no bigger than a house, once used by soldiers at Fort Sedgwick, Colorado, when they protected workers who were building the Union Pacific Railroad. The house was built in 1867 and remains as a reminder of the Old West.

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Nearby is another reminder, which is colloquially called “Boot Hill,” a cemetery holding the graves of early settlers. It hosted so many people killed on the frontier, and the cemetery became so run down over time, that the U. S. Army removed soldiers from its sacred grounds in 1922. To this day there is some mystery as to how many people are really there.

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I reluctantly got back in the car, and drove farther east, which led to an afternoon at another symbol of early Nebraska, the Homestead National Monument – which (for me) will be the next post, and (for you) the post you may have just read.

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The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

As I write this entry, the afternoon of April 15, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is on fire. The spire collapsed a few hours ago, the roof is collapsing piece by piece as the fire gets closer to the two towers in front. People all over the world are watching updates, and commenting on social media. With each passing minute the situation gets worse, and at the moment news outlets are speculating whether the walls themselves will survive. Many people on Twitter and Facebook are talking about when they visited Notre-Dame. A few have even posted pictures from yesterday, or this morning, in a feeble attempt to show what existed just a few hours ago.

Like so many other people, I spent years telling myself that I would visit Paris “someday.” There was always something more urgent and the years went by with the vague promise hovering like a cloud behind a distant mountain. Yet last year, in January, I went to Paris. Now I am so glad that I put away the procrastination and excuses, imagining what I would be feeling right now if I had not gone.

Notre Dame is on an island, in the Seine River, apparently the first place people settled in the area thousands of years ago. It was easy to defend from attack, I suppose. The Cathedral was begun in the twelfth century, and took hundreds of years to build into the treasure that existed this morning.  When I went there, on a Saturday afternoon, the line of tourists was so long that I gave up, promising to return. I did so the next day, when (to my surprise) there was a much shorter line.  The bells in the tower were ringing, and when I got through the side door – the main doors were closed, which might always be the case – the inside of the cathedral was dark. The crowd slowly went in a circle, along the edges, as another crowd stood in the middle for Sunday worship. I lit candles for mom and dad, just as I do in every Catholic church that I visit. That might be against the rules, since I am a Protestant, but I don’t think the Lord would mind. As I followed the crowd, people held up their cell phones to record the church service, and priests in green and white robes offered communion to the worshipers who were there for a much more important reason than tourism. Each section of the cathedral had its own small chapel, which is or was really just a curved space with smaller accommodations, plus some dioramas on the history of how the cathedral was built. As I write this, I suppose they are gone.

I left the cathedral, but went back at least once more, maybe twice. There is no admission charge to get into Notre-Dame, unlike Westminster Abbey or Saint Paul’s in London. It may be selfish to think I am lucky to have gone there; it is hard to imagine at this moment when the cathedral will open again – even more so to dread that it may never reopen. It is now 4:36 in the afternoon on the east coast in America, which means it is pitch black in Paris, yet I am sure there are thousands of people still in the streets, watching the glow of flames that are currently destroying one of the greatest pieces of architecture in the world.

 

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

This post is a hint of my own procrastination, because I wrote the entry for Yellowstone National Park in January, and the trip itself occurred in October, 2017. As one can imagine, I went to Grand Teton at about the same time as Yellowstone, since they are ten miles apart. Yet I am sad to admit I did not spend a great deal of time there, as I had to get back to New Jersey, and I spent so much time wandering around Montana and South Dakota that Grand Teton became a stop on the way home, rather than a stop in itself. I had come south from Yellowstone, then got to Jackson and turned around, because I did not see a sign on the southbound road. This is looking north.

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There is a good reason why Grand Teton is a separate national park from Yellowstone. The mountain range itself is spectacular, as you can see, and it is possible to climb the Tetons if one has the time.

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Nearby is Bridger- Teton National Forest, and the a careful review of this site will show several national forests and wildlife refuges which I visit as a way of proverbially getting away from modern society.

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The entire Rocky Mountain area has an authentic Old West feel to it, and it is not surprising when driving to see something charming, like this old car which has probably been on the side of the road for decades.

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It is tempting to schedule a trip back to Wyoming simply to join a mountain climbing “expedition,” which would be more accurately described as following a guide with a dozen other tourists. But the very idea of casually saying, “I climbed Mount Teton this summer” has a nice ring to it. And, if I get around to it, that would be a separate entry with even more intersting photos from up in the mountain range itself.

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Central London, England

It seems unfair to stuff a week in London into one post, but most of my time (this past April) was spent at the National Archives, the British Library and a few other research sites, so I only spent a day exploring. I had also spent a week in London in 2004 and (unsurprisingly) the city was unchanged.

For the purpose of this post we will go through the city in a circle, and technically we are not in London at all. We are in Westminster, a suburb of the ancient city, but the government buildings and palaces are there, so we all conveniently call the area London, by default. Here is your humble correspondent at Buckingham Palace – official residence of the Queen.

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I happened to be there the week of an international conference, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in which prime ministers from current and former British colonies came to chat and pose for photos. Here is the view of The Mall, which is the street leading from Buckingham Palace to the National Art Gallery, and beyond. I assume the placement of the flags was based on population, with those of Britain, Canada and Australia closest to the Palace, behind me in the photo

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and the flags of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (on the left) and Brunei and Antigua (on the right) farthest from the palace, which stands in the distance. You may notice there is no car traffic, because they street is usually closed on Sundays.

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Going farther up The Mall is Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery of Art, but I am remiss to explain why I did not take a photo of the gallery. Instead, I took one of the Canadian Embassy. Its official name is High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, which is not nearly as impressive as the building itself.

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Turning back from The Mall we go down Whitehall, leading to the government buildings. Halfway between Trafalgar Square and the houses of Parliament is something called Horse Guards Parade, the place where men in jovial uniforms and shimmering helmets ride in on horseback, to the delight of tourists. This is the parade area. For the purpose of the photo, this was taken on a side street, with Whitehall on the other side of the buildings.

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Farther down Whitehall is the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets, and (again) the space is so confined I had to take a photo from across the Thames River to get the full effect. The famous clock tower called Big Ben is under renovation, and obscured by scaffolding. On the left of the large tower with the flag, in the distance behind the trees, are the towers of Westminster Abbey.

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Now imagine you are in the same place I was when I took the photo: the southern bank of the Thames River. We will proverbially turn around to the sight of Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest ranking clergyman in the Church of England (a.k.a. the Anglican Church). This is the side of the palace that runs along the river. The modest black door leads to a courtyard behind the wall, then goes to the palace archives, where I did some research for a book. It was in this archive that I found a letter written in 1762 which warned that the American colonies might someday want independence. It happened fourteen years later, of course.

 

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To the right of the photo above is the brick guardhouse, built about 1495, and here is the same guardhouse from the front. I had mistakenly thought this was the entrance to Lambeth Palace itself, because it looks so old. Alas, it is not. Beside it on the right is a former church called Saint-Mary-at-Lambeth, now turned into a museum of gardening.

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Now we will cross over the Thames River again and go on to a better known religious site, Westminster Abbey. It is across the street from the Palace of Westminster – where Parliament meets, remember? – and it is also in a rather confined space, so I had a devil of a time (pun intended) finding the right spot to get a photo of the whole building.

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It is here that many in the royal family are buried – Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V, Mary, Queen of Scots, and others, along with some bishops and nobility from hundreds of years ago. It is beautiful and dark and spooky inside, but one thing that struck me about the site is this: the British charge twenty pounds (each) for tourists to enter Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, a mile or so away, while the French charge nothing for tourists to enter the equally famous Notre-Dame, and other medieval churches in Paris.

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

This is a brief entry, inspired by that of three days ago, with the photos of antelope in Wyoming. I live in New Jersey, where a deer is the biggest mammal one can see in an everyday setting, and they are so ubiquitous that you hardly notice them by the side of the road. This is likely true for people in Wyoming, of course, who see antelope all the time.

Thus, when I drove to Colorado (before getting to Wyoming), I was aware that I might see big game mammals. After crossing the Kansas-Colorado border and having breakfast at the I-70 Diner, with a floating pink car to lure in customers from the highway

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I crossed the Colorado plateau, then skipped Denver and took the bypass to Estes Park, which is the trendy, happening, expensive tourist trap/paradise just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Apparently, the town is jammed with tourists in summer, which is another reason why I went in October.

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As you can see, it was overcast and drizzly that day, but I was there and did not want to find a hotel for the night in such a trendy, happening, expensive tourist trap/paradise (did I mention that already?). So I went into the national park. This is Fall River Visitor Center.

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Like other national parks, there is a loop road that leads visitors on a prescribed route, and they frequently stop their cars by the side of the road to take photos.  Many visitors are from Colorado and go to Rocky Mountain N.P. on a routine basis, while others (like me) make long journeys to see the wonders of the West. In this case, it was a herd of elk, something I had never seen before, and although they are simply bigger and fancier versions of the white tail deer I see in New Jersey, it was a thrill to see them for the first time.

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Below is a pair of males jousting with their antlers. It was the rut season, but these two appeared to be too young to actually mate, because they would dip their heads and rattle their antlers a few seconds, then turn and walk a few yards, then do it again, then walk away, then joust, and so forth, with no attempt to actually win the contest.

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It was already afternoon when I got there, and the sky was not cooperating, so I am intent on returning someday – perhaps in summer to battle the crowds, or perhaps in early spring when the view is better and I have more time for a few days of exploring the mysteries of the Rocky Mountains.

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