Snow - My New Four-Letter Word
First, thanks to the many of you who inquired about my well-being over the past few weeks. Some of you who wrote were hoping for the best and I'm sure some who didn't write were hoping for the worst. Nah, I wasn't sick - or, any more sick than usual. I just needed a break and found a perfect opportunity to take one.
ON THE ROAD
The end of last month I turned the old Cauldron down to a very, very low simmer, jumped in the aging Cauldronmobile and headed for America's heartland - Omaha, Nebraska, to be specific - for the wedding of our youngest nephew, Doug, and his lovely bride-to-be, Kayla. The plan was for my sweet and patient wife to fly there to join me, where we would enjoy the wedding and all the attendant festivities, then use that venue as a jumping-off point for a very much-needed vacation. That part of it went perfectly, with wedding parties four nights in a row and wonderful outdoor ceremony that joined those two wonderful young people.
While there we saw the sights around Omaha, including the Strategic Air And Space Museum and the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, a wonderful drive-through animal park, with elk, deer, etc. And, perhaps the most surprising part of that segment of our trip was the sign we saw along a rural road that caused me to do a near-neck-breaking double-take before slamming on my brakes and spinning around on the road to take a snap shot of it. It seems the Round The Bend Restaurant has an annual weekend where "Rocky Mountain Oysters" are served. It sure got my attention!
I CAN'T ESCAPE HIM!
By the way, the county adjoining the one in which Omaha is located is called "Millard County", so I saw those signs everywhere! It's kind of like a bad dream you just can't escape. Arrgghh!
On our vacation trip home we planned visit the Badlands, the Black Hills (including Mt. Rushmore), then head to Yellowstone National Park and later visit with old friends in the Pacific Northwest. That was the plan. However, our dysfunctional federal government and the weather threw us a pair of major curve balls (oops, there's that "ball" reference again) and our plans changed - dramatically.
BADLANDS AND THE FURLOUGHED RANGER
After driving past more fields of corn than we could count, we arrived at our first stop, Badlands National Park on October 1st and began our drive/stop, drive/stop tour through it when we came upon a very unhappy Park Ranger - a Native American gentleman who was working on his first furlough day - who required us to backtrack our path and leave the park, even though we were traveling on a state highway. He was not in the mood to negotiate with us, so we returned and viewed some more prairie dogs on the way.
RUSHMOREThe next stop was our lodging for the next couple nights, the K Bar S Lodge, in Keystone, South Dakota - in the Black Hills and very near Mount Rushmore. In fact, we had a view of George Washington's left profile from our room. We signed in, then dashed to Rushmore to see it up close and personal. There we discovered more rangers working on their first furlough day, who advised us that the park was closed. So, we found wide spots along the highway - the next day they began ticketing tourists with similar plans - and snapped away with our cameras.
LOTS TO SEE, DESPITE SHUTDOWN
For the next couple days we toured the area in the Black Hills - Deadwood, Lead, Spearfish and Spearfish Canyon, Bear Country, USA, the Reptile Gardens and rode the 1880 Steam Train from Hill City to Keystone and back. Since we were having a lot of fun - and since Yellowstone National Park was now off-limits - we decided to extend our stay in the Black Hills for a couple more days and just enjoy the little snow storm that was predicted for Friday, then see more sights after it passed on through. Visions of comfy chairs in front of the big fireplace, sipping hot chocolate formed in our heads. BIG MISTAKE! That "little snow storm" turned out to be an all-time record storm that lasted two and a half days and stranded thousands! You read about it - at least tens of thousands of cattle frozen in their tracks all through South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, motorists stranded and hundreds of miles of Interstate 90 closed for several days.
We spent four days at the K Bar S Lodge without power and only that big gas fireplace in the lodge lobby as a heat source. Our room was 52 degrees! We made 170 new friends - those of us who were stranded in hip-deep snow with no way out - and came to admire the young staff at the lodge who managed to keep us fed and safe during the ordeal. One couple - a cook and her handyman-husband, trudged a mile through hip deep snow one icy morning to feed us! At 5:30 the first morning the General Manager, his assistant and a young Turkish fellow who worked in the kitchen took turns on a snow shovel to dig a path 50 yards through the snow to the building that housed the kitchen so food could be prepared. The lodge finally got their power back a week after the storm - a few days after we left.
I GOT THE MESSAGE
I had planned to keep up with local activities and post blog entries along the way. Those plans, too, were quashed. First, my trusty laptop died during the first week - my solo 1,600 mile drive to Omaha. Next, my Ipad became a balky, unreliable and cumbersome-to-use technological tool and was completely unavailable in Keystone when the wet, heavy snow toppled an ATT cell tower somewhere in the vicinity, taking with it my cell phone signal, too. You could hear the tree trunks snapping throughout the night and day. More than 1,000 power poles sheared off as a result of the storm. I decided that the "Big Blogger In The Sky" as trying to tell me something, so I just sat back and enjoyed the remainder of our trip and the undivided company of my sweet and ever-patient wife.
Once we escaped from the frozen prison that was our only shelter for nearly a week we headed south - we'd had enough snow, thank you very much - to Custer STATE Park - a place that was actually open and enjoyed driving the Wildlife Loop, encountering all manner of critters - Buffalo (who didn't care much if we were in the way or not), Antelope, etc. I thought I saw a couple of our elected leaders, but it turned out to only be two members of a donkey herd that begged for food at a wide spot in the roadway.
We also stopped at The Mammoth Site, in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for a visit to the largest covered site of Mammoth remains in the world. Tours are given regularly. This is also a place worth seeing if you're in the Black Hills area.
Then we chose a route that would not block us with snow. As I said, we'd had enough. We decided to take the route through Salt Lake City and St. George, Utah and Las Vegas, since we could time our trip on that route to avoid the snow storms that were scheduled for other roads, both north and south.
WORTH THE TRIPWe visited the Red Butte Gardens and the Utah State Natural History Museum, both side-by-side on the campus of the University of Utah (the team that kicked Stanford's fanny Saturday) and both are fantastic sites for a visit.
AGAIN?!We took a "road less-traveled" to St. George and stopped at the Cove Fort, a Mormon enclave that is extremely well-preserved and worth a stop if your in the area. It's located in Millard County, Utah. (Arrgghh!)
FAMILIAR DESOLATIONThe drive home from St. George was typical - desert, desert and more desert - broken up only by the vast intellectual wasteland that is Las Vegas, a solar generator and a few gas stops. The pace of the traffic quickened, the volume increased and people seemed just flat-out more aggressive on the road. Yes, we were almost home again.
READY TO RUMBLESo, after nearly three weeks, 4200 miles and over 2600 photographs snapped using two Iphones and three other cameras, I'm back and ready to rumble. Reading the local newspapers and blogs since I returned has been akin to pounding my shoulder pads in a pre-game ritual, Steve. The next post will begin to deal with what's been happening and what's on the horizon for our little slice of heaven. Thanks for your kind wishes and patience. Here we go again...