Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From the Blackhills to the Badlands to Boston

After leaving the Little Big Horn Battlefield area, we stopped in Spearfish, SD for the night which is just at the edge of the Blackhills of South Dakota. One of the towns in the area I wanted to visit was Deadwood. Custer had some impact on this town as it was members of his troops who discovered gold in the area which eventually led to the rise of Deadwood, the influx of white miners into the Blackhills and the elimination of the local Indians.
I loved the HBO series called Deadwood which also has been eliminated.
Besides gold, Deadwood is famous for being the place where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall. Wild Bill was playing poker and holding Aces and Eights when he was shot in the back (of the head). As Deadwood was a territory at the time and there was no real law, a quick trial ensued. McCall was acquited claiming revenge for the death of a brother. The verdict was later overturned and he was eventually hanged for the murder. Calamity Jane is buried next to Wild Bill.

Next on the Badlands tour was the Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer, SD. This is mammoth rock sculpture of Crazy Horse on a horse pointing to his land/people. It has a long way to go to be completed. The work began more than 60 years ago by Korczak Ziolkowski who was from Boston. The face was completed in 1998.

As there is no known photo of Crazy Horse, the image is meant to represent all Indian Warriors. He will be pointing to the land of his people. When asked "where is your land?", Crazy Horse said "my land is where my dead lie buried." The image on the left is the model and the right shows the progress. I don't think I'll live to see it completed.

Not far from Crazy Horse is Mount Rushmore, another place I've always wanted to see. It is pretty impressive but smaller than one might expect. In fact, all of the presidents can fit into Crazy Horse's hair on the Crazy Horse Memorial. Maybe we can add another head someday.

Next we headed for Wall SD for lunch, which gets its notoriety from Wall Drug, a 4 square block, one story emporium. Picture all the tourist shops from any tourist town all crammed into one building. Seems to be a destination spot for some people. I don't get it. But it is near Badlands National Park, so we took the Badlands loop road to get one last use of our lifetime, senior National Park pass. What a surprise. This place was amazing. The landscape really was from another world. The area had been a sea, then a jungle then a desert. Very little vegitation and rock formations that looked like dripping sand castles. Even though we had a 6 hour ride to Sioux Falls ahead of us, we kept stopping at each overlook. Here are a couple of shots.

Then there is the obligatory rainbow shot. This one is a double. You can just see the colors of a second rainbow to the right.

Well, folks, that will about do it for this particular tour. By the time some of you read this we will be home. The whole 3+ months has been an unbelievable time for us and I'm glad some of you didn't mind me sharing it with you. I was reluctant to do a blog, but I got into it and enjoyed it myself. I look at it like a reverse answering machine, you can get messages from me without having to actually talk to me. See you all soon. By the way, I will have a showing of any paintings I did from this trip in a gallery in Norwood in October. I'll keep you all posted.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Little Big Horn Battlefield National Park

Today's history lesson concerns the Little Big Horn Battle, formerly know as Custer's Last Stand. The lesson started when we saw a sign for the Little Big Horn Battlefield Trading Post with logos for Exxon and KFC. Judy said, "I didn't know Colonel Sanders was at the battle of Little Big Horn." We needed to brush up a bit on our history.
I love these things where one never really knows what happened like the Alamo, Little Big Horn, the 17 minute gap in the Watergate tape. I prefer to just go with the myth or legend. But archeologists have done a lot of work in identifying what troops were in what location and how the battle evolved. For example, they can tell from shell casings they found whether they were Indian of soldier shells, whether the soldiers were in an organized line or chaotic retreat and they can associate casings with a particular rifle to know where a soldier travelled on the battle field. It is really fascinating what they are discovering. A good book that includes a lot of the forensic analysis of the battle is "Son of the Morning Star" by Evan S. Connell. A bit dry but fascinating.

I've always wanted to visit this place and try to relive the battle. We bought an auto-tour cd at the visitor center which was really worth it. The park is laid out pretty well with a loop that brings you to where Reno made the initial attack to where Reno and Benteen tried to find Custer and finally to "Custer Hill" where 200+ members of the 7th Cavalry met their demise. It is pretty desolate but there are many hills and "coulees", which I think are like drainage gulches, that led to the Little Big Horn river. You can see that a lot of the action would have been hidden from view because of the rolling terrain.

Here are a few photos of key areas in the area.

This is the view of the Little Big Horn river from a knoll on the battlefield. The Indian camp would have been just beyond the trees. Custer had sent General Reno to attack the Indian encampment. Reno's men were repulsed and this is the view that he would have had as the Indians attacked and attacked his retreating troops. Those are the Big Horn mountains way off in the distance.

This pictures shows the markers where soldiers fell when trying to rejoin Custer and the remaining troops on what is now Custer Hill. You can see the monument in the top left. Custer had split up his troops and a group of them were trying to regroup, but to no avail. Some made it to join Custer, but, you know the rest of the story...PS, I love the Big Sky you get in the west.

In the 90's, the park was renamed from Custer's Battlefield to Little Big Horn Battlefield and a memorial was set up to honor the native Americans who died in the battle. They were just trying to defend their way of life. I guess they didn't get the memo about Manifest Destiny. It is a beautiful monument. There are names of all the Indians who are known to have died there. They are listed by the tribe they belonged to along with Indian drawings of parts of the battle.

The national park is in the Crow Reservation and there are some horse ranches interspersed throughout the battlefield. It is really cool to see the horses grazing freely throughout the park.

Also, the place was very quiet, partly because there weren't many people there. The only sound we could hear came from a variety of song birds. There were no trees to be found but the birds were hidden in the long grass so we couldn't see where the sounds came from.

I really enjoyed this stop on our return home.

For more information on the Little Big Horn Battlefied, click here

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lewis and Clark Trail

When we left Yellowstone Park, I found myself driving north then west. This didn't seem like the right direction to get home. But, we were trying to experience a little bit of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I've always been amazed at the courage and determination it took to venture into an unknown land with very little knowledge of where one was heading. However, we did feel a bit like Lewis and Clark as we weren't sure where we were heading or where we would find food. We were starving, hadn't eaten in a couple of hours, and had no idea where the nearest MacDonald's was. And yet, we persevered and did what any good explorer and adventurer would do to find food, we settled on Pizza Hut.

So, we visited a few places along their route. First, Great Falls, Mt is a place of importance for them. They were following the Missouri and had to take a few forks in the road so they weren't always sure they were on the right path. But when then hit the falls, which the Indians had told them about, they knew they had taken the correct course. What they didn't count on was 5 sets of falls that forced an 18 mile portage of all their boats and gear. Here are a couple of shots of falls (there are dams there now but they have kept the integrity of the falls)

The next spot we stopped at was Three Forks where we find the headwaters of the Missouri. In the photo at the right, the Madison River is on my right, the Jefferson River is behind me to form the Missouri on my left. They named the rivers, which previously had not been named, after the president and secretary of state. There wasn't much there but it was still great to stand in that spot

The last stop on this Lewis and Clark 101 tour is a place called Pompey's Pillar. It is a large rock formation along the Yellowstone River which Clark spotted on the return trip and named it after Sacagawea's son, Jean Baptiste Charboneau. Clark had nicknamed him Pomp which might be Shoshone for "little chief". This is the only spot on Lewis and Clark trail that has existing physical evidence of their presence at the spot. Clark carved his name into the rock with the date. See below, left.

OK, that concludes the lecture portion of this blog. But a great book on the subject is Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Some of you may have read it. I know Kim has.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yellowstone National Park

Although the weather has been pretty poor here, Yellowstone park is really outstanding. Some of the main roads are still closed and most of the roads leading to trails are closed due to snow. At the high elevations there are several feet of snow. At the lower elevations, there is very little snow. We experieneced all kinds of weather. Here are just a few photos of what one can see here.

Objects in Mirror are Closer than they appear! A little rain can bring some beautiful scenery. These thermal hot spots are all over the park. This is "Roaring Mountain". Bison grazing in the snow... How about a herd of elk grazing? Looks like they were planted there.

Did you know there was a "Grand Canyon" of Yellowstone? These are the falls. So, we are at the ranger station at Old Faithful, and the next eruption is going to be at 4:11, give or take 10 minutes. So, at 4:10, I started my video and this is what I got. BTW, it was blowing snow and we were freezing. Too bad the sky was the same color as Old Faithful.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Well, it was a busy last week with packing, cleaning and trying to get a few more paintings off the ground. So, I haven't been too good at the blogging. . Anyway, we took one last off-road adventure with Bill and Sarah to one of our favorite loops through cattle ranches, up into some little canyons near Sycamore Canyon and back over to the Red Rocks near the Hunanki ruins. It was a great day and I took many photos of things I had already photograhed. Just so many photo-ops. We finally got to see a reasonable sized snake in our travels. We think it is a gopher snake and Judy saw a few Javelinas before we left Sedona on Monday morning. We left Northview Rd at 7:45 with a destination of Moab, Utah. We wanted to explore Arches National Park and do some more Jeep'N before settling down. We arrived in time to spend a number of hours touring the park and visiting some of the many natural arches. What incredible scenery.

The next day, we took the Jeep over the Gemini Bridges trail. This was a relatively easy trail but we took a few side trips to play a bit on the slick rock. Remebering I had about 3000 miles to cover, I didn't do anything drastic, just a little fun. Here is a photo of the Gmeini Bridges. From there we stopped at a few interesting sites in Canyonlands National Park before taking the Shafer Rd trail back to Moab. Here is the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands NP. The trip down from the very top of the mesa was pretty scary. The swithbacks were very tight and VERY steep. It was the most nervous I had been on any trail, but once through that first 30 minutes of terror, the scenery was absolutely breath-taking. Here is brief video of the landscape after dropping down from the top of Shafer Rd.

We tried to get up early to head for Yellowstone today. It was a long drive. We crossed Utah from south to north, then a bit of Idaho, Wyoming and stopped in Montana. We passed through parts of Yellowstone on our way to our lodging in Gardiner, Montana. Parts of the park are still closed. I never thought of that. The bad news is we can't go all over the park, the good news is that there are very few people here. We almost have it to ourselves. Have seen lots of wild life already and some beautiful rainbows. This is the first thing we saw upon entering the park. Then this guy appeared. There are elk and bison everywhere.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pastel Session

When Judy's cousin Bonnie and husband John were here recently, Bonnie and I tried to get out painting one day. Bonnie is an accomplished watercolorist and wanted to try her hand at some plein air red rocks. But, alas, we were having too much fun touring to squeeze that in.
So, instead, Bonnie and I sat down for an indoor pastel session. She had never tried them before and was anxious to do so. We picked a photo of a subject that wasn't too complicated to draw and both did "studies" of the same location on 5x5 pastel paper. As she had never used pastels and I had already done 3, I was the master. Actually, I just took her through the process that Kim took me through to create a quick piece and frame it (thanks, Kim). It was very rewarding to complete something and see the results in a frame. Of course, we could have worked them to death and then not been happy at all with the results.
Here they are. Quite a difference in styles. It is always fun to have several people work on the same scene and see the results. Guess who did which one.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Photos

Here are some new photos you might find interesting. No real blog, just photos.

Is this where designs for Navajo rugs come from?

Mike Noble had to get in some exercise in Monument Valley

Pam and Judy help me get over a major hump on the Broken Arrow trail.

This view of the Little Colorado River Gorge was impressive.
Here is the first view of the Grand Canyon from Desert View.

Bonnie needs some help getting the close-up shot in the Canyon.

Close up view of the Grand Canyon (sorry about the wind noise in the video)

Road to "Nowhere". The back road to Jerome from Williams, AZ.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Turkey Butt(e)

Friday, we went out with Bill and Sarah on a search for the fire lookout at a place called Turkey Butte. According to our topo maps, this location would give a good overlook of one of the many canyons in the area. To get there, one had to go north to Flagstaff and then come south on backroads. So, we headed to Flag, took route 66 west for a few miles and then went down Woody Mountain road in search of the lookout towers. The first part of the way was on a maintained dirt road. The secondary roads were described as "unmaintained, upaved roads". None of the roads posed a problem for the Jeep or even any SUV. The only problem was when the road turned into a washboard and the Jeep would bounce sideways.

We found the access road to the fire lookout tower at Turkey Butte. It was gated, so we had a quarter mile hike up a steep grade to the tower. At 7500 feet, the air was a bit rare and we were sucking wind. On the way up, we came across an intersting discovery. More on that below. Once at the tower, we were treated to a great view across Sycamore Canyon as well as a view of the Sedona area all the way to Jerome. It was very clear and we could see for miles.
As the travelling was easier than expected, we set out in search of more vistas. Along the trail, we spotted an opening to the right and pulled over and walked to a cliff. What a great surprise. A panaramic view over a rocky ledge toward Sedona. See the photo on the left. We then continued to East Buzzard Point for another terrific view across the canyon to (for those who know the area) Hardings Point and Oak Creek Canyon in the distance. See photo on the right.

We did see a lot of wild life while on this trip. Here are some of the more dangerous critters you could come across.

Speaking of critters, we saw a lot of mule deer, elk and wild turkeys. Some of the mule deer were quite large and one male only had one antler. It really was a place where the "deer and the antelope play". Except for one deer. Above, I mentioned something interesting on the climb to the Turkey Butte lookout tower. On the path up, I noticed in the distance what looked like very white branches sticking up. As we got closer they looked more and more like ribs. Seeing the fur spread all over and the skull and verterbra, we quickly deduced that, sure enough, it was bones. Probably a deer, but it was hard to tell. Most of the body parts were missing. A CSI agent would probably say they were carried away by coyotes. Not sure what attacked the deer, but it was pretty good size as the deer seemed pretty large. The bones were picked clean but the fur looked relatively fresh, so we don't know how long ago the attack took place. Double click on the photo to see the skull and the ribs at the top right.

We kept our eye out for more animals on the drive back. We saw lots of tracks on the road we were on, so we were searching the forest for that one-antlered deer. Judy had spotted most of the animals, so when she told me to stop the Jeep and back up, I figured she saw some more deer. When I didn't see any, I thought she was looking for rocks. But, look below to see what she found along the trail. Not sure what we will do with it, but it makes an interesting souvenir.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Plein Air Painting Postponed

Today, I was supposed to meet local artist Dawn Sutherland to paint at one of the area's many spectacular locations. Dawn is a founding member of the Arizona Plein Air Painters Association. I had met her at the Sedona Art Center and she invited me to go along with her on some painting excursions. She has a gallery in the old high school in Jerome and recently won top awards at the Sedona Art Center and at APAP shows and plein air painting competitions. This is the second time we were supposed to meet, but the weather has been a problem. Today it was overcast and cool, so we bagged it. (The rocks are much better with sunlight and shadows. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) The artists I've met have been very friendly and welcoming. I was looking forward to painting with Dawn. Oh well, next year.

So, I decided to finish off a painting of one of our friends that we met a few weeks ago on one of our Jeep trips through a local ranch. I also finally broke out the pastels that I bought before coming to Sedona and took a crack at one of the iconic rock formations of the area, Cathedral Rock. Just to prove that I am actually doing something besides abusing my Jeep, here are my latest works.

The pastel is mounted in an Ikea frame (thanks for the idea, Kim) and is about 4 3/4 inches square. Pretty small. I'll try to tackle another one today while I feel inspired. As for my friend, I'll let that one percolate a bit to see if it needs anything before I claim victory.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Southern Utah

On Saturday, we planned to go to Monument Valley in southern Utah with Mike and Pam. The day began auspiciously when we heard that snow was forecast for Flagstaff. We left Sedona in a drizzle but by the time we got half way through Oak Creek Canyon, the rain turned to snow and almost white out conditions at the high point in the canyon. We were driving in the clouds. Once we got past Flag, though conditions improved.
We drove through the Sunset Crater loop again and the Nobles were equally impressed with the mile long field of lava that looked as fresh and craggy today as it must have looked 1100 years ago when the volcano erupted. That is a fascinating place.

But the goal was to get to Monument Valley in the early afternoon so we could take their 17 mile self-guided tour. So we carried on.
We got to the new Navajo hotel called The View . It was aptly named as the view was stupendous. However, it is a new hotel and not quite ready for prime time. The food wasn't great, the service was slow, but the staff was very nice and friendly. All that can be accepted when you take a look at the view from our room in the photo on the right

We drove the Jeep on the loop. The previous time we were here with the Bronchuks, we took a guided tour with a Navajo. This time we did our own tour. The weather changed a lot while we were there. From the restaurant you have a view of the valley from horizon to horizon and can see all different types of weather. A band of snow move in and dropped a white cover on one formation while others nearby were in the sun. Really amazing. Here are just a couple of photos to show what I mean.

I just about filled my camera with shots from Monument Valley, but I won't bore you with all of them (now!).
We had my Utah Off-Road book with us and found a couple of trails nearby that looked interesting. So, after a quick trip back through Monument Valley in the morning we set off to find the John's Canyon trail about 25 miles north. We found the trail easily enough. There is not much out in this part of the country. The dirt road led over a flat mesa where the only other occupants were the cattle grazing. I have a ton more cattle photos now. The book said we would enter the Glen Canyon recreaction park but all we could see was the mesa we were on and cliffs leading up to higher mesas. Until we went around the corner of one of the cliffs and we all let out a collective, simultaneous "WOW!". To our left appeared Glen Canyon, below us. What a sight. The road led right along the cliff at many points that made the ride interesting. Here are just a couple of shots of the canyon. Notice the rear view mirror in the one on the left...

The book also said there were petroglyphs to be found along the route, so we made it our goal to find them. We succeeded and found the etchings on boulders that could be more than 1000 years old. Just laying out in the wilderness.

On the way to actually enter into John's Canyon, we rounded a blind corner and found a herd of a dozen or so cattle in front of us on the road. We crept up on them to kind of egg them on to move out of the way. As there was no place for them to go, up or down, they just walked along the road stopping to look back at us and then continuing until they found a place where they could get off the road. I wasn't sure if one of them might turn and charge us, but we made it safely by.
John's Canyon was also spectacular, as we came in on the canyon floor and looked up at the walls. It went on for miles. We headed back for our next adventure.

We needed gas, so we stopped at a station to fill up and we ate our Easter Dinner at the Shell Food Mart in Mexican Hat, Utah. We enjoyed rice cakes, crackers, peanut butter and some banana bread.

Our last tour, and the last entry in this post, was The Valley of the Gods. This area is north or Monument Valley and just about its equal in beauty. The loop through the valley is an upaved road that is pretty suitable for passenger cars. There are lots of named formations. At different times we had the impression that we were looking at ancient Roman ruins or parts of a cathedral. Parts of Planet of the Apes were filmed there. It was really stunning.