Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts

October 26, 2018

Back Across the Wide Missouri: This Explorer's Record Was Real

Leaving Pierre for Fort Pierre. You know it is pronounced "Peer," right?
When I re-crossed the wide Missouri at Pierre, South Dakota, homeward bound, I stopped to see a historical spot that I had never visited.

Looking across the Missouri R. at Pierre, South Dakota, from the Verendrye Site.
The Verendrye Site is in Fort Pierre, Pierre's smaller sibling on the west side of the river. The leaders of a French expedition in 1742-43 left a lead plaque here memorializing their visit as they gazed over the junction of the Bad and Missouri rivers.
There is a small public park at the site today.


The French explorers placed their lead plate in a cairn, which fell down or was destroyed, but local children found it again in 1913.

Unlike the Thoen Stone, which is sort of the Kensington Runestone of South Dakota, the veracity of the  Verendrye plate has never been questioned.

Found in 1887, the Thoen stone was supposedly cut by the last survivor of a group of gold prospectors who had entered the Black Hills illegally in 1834..  If you know the history of the Kensington Runestone, you can see a certain parallel: "I (we) am (are) the last survivor(s)"
Looking downriver across Fort Pierre from the Verendrye Site.

October 22, 2018

Across the Wide Missouri

The bridge across the Missouri River on US 212 near Charger's Camp.
Friday found me driving through western South Dakota's buttes county. There was the famous Bear Butte — state park and ceremonial site —hazy to the south, like one of the Black Hills that had wandered out from the herd. 

Mud Butte (also the site of a famous T-Rex skeleton, but not as complete as Sue's, was close to the highway. There must be stories about it that go way, way back.
"Hey, remember the time when there was that little herd of mammoths on the north side of the butte? Crazy Kid, Many Arrows, and White Dog were going to circle around on the west side, but they bumped into some of those really big wolves that had the same idea. They about shit themselves."

"Oh yeah, those big big wolves. Haven't seen any since I was a kid."

"Me neither. Not so many mammoths either."
"That's all right. I like the taste of bison better anyway."
The story of Charger's Camp. Click to enlarge and read.
The Missouri is wide here, but what you are seeing is Lake Oahe, backed up by a dam down by Pierre, the state capital. One of those big Corps of Engineers projects from the 1960s. Still, the river was big enough for 19th-century steamboats, at least during a window of high water from late spring into late summer.

If we followed the geographer's rule that a river is named from its longest piece, not for a tributary, then the Missouri (2,341 miles/3,767 km) is the main river, while the Mississippi (2,320 miles/3,734) is, by a riverine whisker, the tributary.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim would have rafted the Missouri River. The bluffs at Vicksburg and Natchez would look down on the Missouri. Some people like that Missouri Delta blues sound, while levees keep the Missouri from flooding New Orleans.

Most of all, instead of the Mississippi dividing the 48 states into East and West, the Missouri would divide the continental US on a sort of northwest-southeast line, and I wonder how differently that would make us think about ourselves — how it would line up with cultural patterns.

For instance, "East Dakota" and "West Dakota." West Dakota would have been scenic but economically struggling until the Bakken oil came in.

October 19, 2018

That Steampunk T-Rex named Sue

It was big news in paleontology circles in the 1990s when private fossil hunters in western South Dakota unearthed an outstanding Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that was given the name of Sue, after  discoverer Sue Hendrikson.

A lengthy custody battle ensued (hah), with an FBI raid and a state-private-tribal-federal kerfuffle, since the site where Sue was found was managed by the Department of the Interior in trust for the Sioux nation. Ultimately, the private fossil hunters lost, and the skeleton was auctioned by Sotheby's and bought by the Field Museum in Chicago for $7.6 million.

"Sue" by John Lopez.
So Sue is in Chicago and now quite famous, but in Faith, South Dakota, the little town nearest the site, she is also created in a very fine and sort of steampunk-ish sculpture by South Dakota sculptor John Lopez (here is his studio website with other examples).
Built to last. Note the heavy drive chain.



December 08, 2014

What U.S. CIty Has the Least Predictable Weather?

How many places have I visited where someone said, "If you don't like the weather here, just wait a while"?

Where is that statement truest? Rapid City, South Dakota.

So say Nate Silver, statistician and predictor of sporting events and elections, and his associate Reuben Fischer-Baum.

Among large metropolitan areas, it's Kansas City.

October 21, 2014

Bible Verses for Pheasant Hunters

You drive through the prairie states at this time of year, and there are lots of "Welcome Hunters" signs on motels and stores. Pheasant season is at its peak, especially south of Interstate 94, which seem to follow some kind of climate boundary—there are fewer pheasants north of it.

Where I am staying right now in Valentine, Nebraska, I can see people walking bird dogs under the motel's red neon lights. On the highway, pickup trucks with dog boxes, some pulling duck boats, flash past.

But it was a Days Inn in Pierre, South Dakota, that took the prize. Its sign read, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat. Acts 10:9."

November 05, 2013

The Tumbleweed Menace

Colorado Springs Gazette columnist Bill Radford notices the tumbleweed hordes of 2013. 

Oh yeah. I am not one of those people who goes around mowing everything mowable — that is so Midwestern— but this year I mowed one little meadow that I had not touched in twenty years, because it was sprouting kochia and Russian thistle, the baddies:
In El Paso County, the two chief culprits are Russian thistle and kochia, [rancher Sharon] Pattee says. The Colorado State University Extension labels them both as "troublesome annual weeds of rangeland, pastures, fields, disturbed areas, gardens, roadsides, ditch banks and small acreages."

Both are non-native species. Russian thistle originated in, yep, Russia, and is believed to have come to the United States in the late 1800s through contaminated flax seed. Kochia is from Asia.
Tumbleweed Christmas trees? Been there, done that. One year when I was little, I was sick in bed during Christmas, so my older sisters decorated a big globe tumbleweed with glass ornaments and put it by my bed.

This was when we lived in Rapid City, S.D., where they were easy to come by.  This year in southern Colorado, every barbed wire fence looks like a fuzzy brown wall. Yeech.

October 17, 2013

South Dakota As You Have Never Seen It


Dakotalapse is a site featuring time-lapse photography videos created by Randy Halverson of Kennebec, S.D. (That is the White River in one series.)
I shot Horizons from April - October 2012 mostly in South Dakota, but also some at Devils Tower in Wyoming. From the rugged Badlands, the White River valley and the Black Hills, the horizons seem to endlessly change.
You can download the videos for a small fee. They are gorgeous.

March 04, 2013

Passing of Mary Crow Dog

The New York Times reports the death of Mary Ellen Moore-Richard, better known under her other name of Mary Crow Dog, which she used for her books Lakota Woman and Ohitika Woman.

An early member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), she remained a defender of its influence:
“Before AIM came, people didn’t have their long hair, people didn’t have their Indian pride,” she said. “Everybody was assimilated. These people still put AIM people down, but now they are having sun dances. Before, nobody did it because everybody was Catholic and nobody knew about the Indian ways until the AIM people came. Now they are a lot better off, but they still don’t recognize the movement.”

January 25, 2013

Walking the Keystone Pipeline Route

This guy sets out to walk the length of the Keystone pipeline, starting in Alberta and going south, and makes a blog of it, Pipe Dreams.

It starts here, in September 2012.

November 22, 2012

Blog Stew: You Can't Buy It at the Mall

• Dead malls of Denver: A slideshow.

• A second wild colony of black-footed ferrets has been found — in South Dakota. 

• in the southern Rockies, we think of ghost towns as being mining towns. In the Pacific Northwest, there is another type.

March 17, 2012

Still Carving Crazy Horse

As a Forest Service district ranger in the Black Hills, Dad was present for the creation of Korczak Ziolkowski's huge Crazy Horse monument. I remember seeing it as a little boy, when it was just a ridge with a notch in it created by dynamite and earth-moving. I was familiar with Mount Rushmore, and I could not see how this ridge and notch would ever be anything like that.

From Crazy Horse Memorial website.
Dad always dismissed Ziokowski himself as a nut.

Fast forward twenty years: I go back as an adult and yes, I can see where the warrior's head, his outstretched arm, and the horse's head are supposed to be.

When I visited two years ago, there was a face.

The New York Times visits the Ziokowski family's ongoing project, now in its sixty-fifth year, to build the world's largest sculpture. It's a little like one family deciding to build a Gothic cathedral. Progress is slow.

The Indians' own response has been mixed over the years.
“I’ve never heard a single Native American, not one, ever say I’m proud of that mountain,” said Tim Giago, the founder of Native Sun News, based in nearby Rapid City. 

Thomas Shortbull, president of Oglala Lakota College, which receives a number of scholarships from the foundation, acknowledged the discontent. “But most people see the positive of filling the void of the lack of recognition that we have in this country for Indian people,” he added. 
Giago is a longtime journalist, and I expect that he knows whereof he speaks.  On the other hand, the Ziokowskis say they got a sort of tribal go-ahead back in the 1930s:
Although the idea originated with Indian leaders — “this is to be entirely an Indian project under my direction,” Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, wrote in a 1939 letter to the sculptor — Mr. Ziolkowski discovered after his arrival that the local tribes had little to give, either in money or labor, Ms. Ziolkowski said.
Dad last visited the Black Hills in 1999, a few years before his death. We did not visit Crazy Horse—his agenda of people and places to see was more personal to him. I go by it now when I am in the Hills and realize that as a boy I underestimated the Ziolkowskis' tenacity. Maybe one day the Crazy Horse Memorial will be seen as an important American site.

The motto of "Never Forget Your Dreams" has wide appeal, and meanwhile, Crazy Horse has a webcam.

February 12, 2012

Revisiting the "Buffalo Commons"

Back in the 1980s, two New Jersey professors raised a ruckus on the High Plains by arguing that, given falling populations and the gradual depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, the plains should be given over to some combination of parks and a different, non-irrigated agriculture including buffalo ranching, activities that would support a smaller but sustainable population—a concept known as the Buffalo Commons.

Few people wanted to hear that. Not only was it coming from New Jersey professors who by definition could not know anything about anything, but it was a slap in the face to the whole survivor mythos of the High Plains—that the people there had survived grasshopper plagues, droughts, blizzards, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, ups and downs in commodity prices, isolation, and indeed, a gradual decline from the "good years," the first two decades of the 20th century. In general, they reacted angrily to the proposal that they "surrender."

But population was falling:
Their continuing research showed that hundreds of counties in the American West still have less than a sparse 6 persons per square mile — the density standard Frederick Jackson Turner used to declare the American Frontier closed in 1893. Many have less than 2 persons per square mile.

The frontier never came close to disappearing, and in fact has expanded in the Plains in recent years. The 1980 Census showed 388 frontier counties west of the Mississippi. The 1990 Census shows 397 counties in frontier status, and the 2000 Census showed 402. Most of this frontier expansion is in the Great Plains. Kansas actually has more land in frontier status than it did in 1890.

My personal connection: in the early 1920s, the era of prosperity, my maternal grandparents as a young couple ran a store in the High Plains town of Arriba, Colorado (pr. "AIR-a-buh"). When I saw Arriba in the 1970s, it had no business district at all except a Flying J truck stop and an antiques store. Now there is a wind farm too. My grandparents got out before the collapse, but it caught up to them elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the professors, Frank and Deborah Popper, geographer and urban planner (yes, ironic) have not given up on the Buffalo Commons idea.

At a recent conference in Salina, Kansas, Frank Popper said, "We never really expected it to have the impact it did and does. We would have recoiled then that we would still be talking about it 23 years later. It's clear that in the intervening years a quiet muscle of reality, a lot of the trends we saw in the depopulation of the Plains has continued."
"I've been accused of having a slightly un-American approach to the land and the environment, where growth is not always the be-all and end-all, where growth can go too far, and the Buffalo Commons implies a quietism or defeatism," Frank Popper said. "Instead, the Buffalo Commons implies too much growth can be a mistake, overburdening the land, overmastering the environment and in the end always getting kicked in the rear or the pocketbook--or someplace else.

"I realize there is a social comedy in two people from back east who are telling people in the Plains what to do with their land. I've enjoyed it, but there are important things to look at in how we treat this vast, characteristically American chunk of land. There are lessons here on how to live on the land that can be applied to the Corn Belt, the lower Mississippi delta, and parts of our largest cities--like Detroit--that are depopulating like the Plains. It's about sustainability. It's about being American."
 Some politicians are quietly coming around, he notes, and a Great Plains National Park "may actually happen."

March 08, 2011

Blog Stew at These Prices

• Snarky people like to call Boulder, Colorado, "twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality." So what do you call Aspen? "Disneyland for adults" has been suggested.

• In my corner of Colorado, my rural DNS service got a grade of D, "slower than 72% of US." (Why we do not watch streaming movies—not at download speeds of 1.29 megabytes/second. Hurray for Qwest "Heavy Duty Internet/Broadband Service.")

• You can compare your broadband-connection speed to the rest of the country too.

• On the other hand, our friend the Sun could easily make the whole question irrelevant, destroying online connectivity overnight.

• Corson County, South Dakota, sheriff has more buffalo than people in his county.

• And what's this "singing sheriff" stuff? Custer County's Fred Jobe is "the singing sheriff." Do we need a Singing Sheriff Showdown?

February 20, 2011

Firefighters Protect Endangered Dinosaurs

Photo: Rapid City Journal
A grass fire on a ridge in Rapid City, South Dakota, swirled smoke around these icons of my childhood—lifesize concrete dinosaurs built as a WPA project in the 1930s.

Pushed  by a brisk breeze, the fire burned about five acres on Dinosaur Hill.

I know just where the trucks were parked, because in September 2009, I stayed in a nearby motel, walked Fisher on Skyline Drive, and revisited the dinosaurs up close for the first time in many years.

Watch some raw video of the Rapid City FD in action.

Via Wildfire Today.

January 03, 2011

Die Volkswagen ist die Jägerwagen


When Dad got a Volkswagen Type I in 1956, he treated it like an off-road vehicle. Maybe he had seen the Kübelwagen when he was in Germany at the close of World War II. (You can sitll buy a replica Kübelwagen in New Mexico.)

Here it is on a South Dakota antelope hunt with his friend Harry Linde, a Black Hills sawmill operator and frequent hunting partner, sitting on the front bumper.

October 10, 2009

A Plot for Black Hills Bears

I wonder how many people drive past the Bear Country USA private zoo on US 16 near Rapid City and find themselves modifying Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." (Video here.)

It would be something like, "Took all the bears, put 'em in a bear museum / And charged the people fifteen dollars just to see 'em."

(Doesn't scan as well as the original. Blame inflation.)

All through our recent trip, I would do something like leave the cooler outside our pop-up trailer, catch myself—"A bear might get into it!"—and then realize that there are virtually no bears in the Black Hills.

Sadly.

I read that the last Black Hills black bear was shot in 1968 near the hamlet of Rochford, which means there were a few around when I was a boy, but I do not recall anyone needing to be too "bear aware" with garbage cans, etc., back then. (Grizzly bears were extirpated earlier.)

If you see a black bear, you are supposed to inform South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, which categorizes them as "state threatened," and fill out a "Rare Species Report Card," available as a PDF download from the web site.

But if I had (a) lots of money and (b) some close-mouthed co-conspirators, I would acquire the following:
  • one or more large culvert-style bear traps
  • one or more small cargo trailers, modified with additional air vents
  • large pickup truck to pull the above
And we could do our own bear-reintroduction program. After all, there are plenty in Colorado, where they have been taking food out of the mouths of the poverty-stricken Aspenites.

From capture to release should not take more than ten hours, on average—not too long for the bear to be confined. It's feasible.

Really, I am surprised that more black bears have not wandered over from the Bighorn Range or elsewhere in Wyoming. Too much open country, coal mines, Interstate 90, etc. in the way?

Quieter Skies in the Black Hills

Just a couple of things left to say about our trip to the Black Hills. One sneaked up on us after we had been there two or three days--the quiet skies.

Wherever you go in Colorado, you are under some air route centered on Denver International Airport. High-altitude jet noise is just part of the background--and the higher you climb, the closer the airplanes are.

I remember how quiet it right after the Sept. 21, 2001 hijackings when all air travel was shut down. I was sitting over a spring in the Sangre de Cristo range during muzzleloader season when a Learjet streaked overhead (Mr. Big coming back from the coast?) and all I could think was, "Oh shit, we're back to normal."

But Rapid City Regional Airport has far fewer flights, and about a third of them go eastward to the Twin Cities or Chicago, making for much quieter skies.

October 07, 2009

The Hot Springs Mammoth Site & Other Proboscid News

Earthwatch volunteers at The Mammoth Site. Photo by Chas S. CliftonAbove: Earthwatch volunteers excavate Columbian mammoth skeletons. The skull of a short-faced bear sits on the green sheet of paper at lower center.

Thirty-five years ago a bulldozer operator clearing ground for a subdivision on the edge of Hot Springs, South Dakota, grazed some Columbian mammoth bones—and realized that he had hit something important.

Today that spot is The Mammoth Site, a combination of working excavation, museum, laboratory, and gift shop.

Its structure covers a site that 25,000 years ago was a sinkhole that trapped dozens of mammoths who, perhaps while grazing in lush vegetation growing by the warm spring water, slipped in and could not climb out. (This was thousands of years before the accepted date of human arrival in North America.)

It is disquieting and sad, as M. noted, that all these big animals died struggling to breathe—except, perhaps, the short-faced bear. Did it climb down to gorge on mammoth meat and eat itself to death? Couldn't a big, agile bear make it up the slippery slope of decomposed shale? Or not?

It's a little touristy—get your mammoth hand puppets and key chains here—but definitely worth seeing.

•••

In other ancient proboscid news, a baby Siberian woolly mammoth found nearly intact has provided more information about the species not obtainable from fossils.

"We had no idea from preserved skeletons and preserved carcasses that young mammoths had a discrete structure on the back of the head of brown fat cells," said Prof [Daniel] Fisher.

Meanwhile, on June 1, 2009 two Colorado boys were poking around in a creek bed. They were not engaged in organized youth activities, mentored by adults and involving clear boundaries and a rulebook. They almost certainly were not wearing helmets.

"We were just thinking about walking up and down that stream and looking at the side of the banks to see if we see anything," said Tyler [Kellett] . "That would be fun."

They found a mastodon skeleton.

October 06, 2009

A Tale of Two Caves

Park Service ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.Above: Kids peer up at calcite crystals as our Park Service tour guide describes the formation of Jewel Cave.

Outdoor travel in late September is always chancy. More than once we have faced the "disappearing campground blues," when forest and park campgrounds start closing, forcing you into more crowded quarters at the few the authorities deign to leave open (e.g., Madison Junction at Yellowstone).

In Yellowstone last year, I kept thinking, "If this is the 'off-season,' I am glad that we did not come during the high season." There seemed to be plenty of people at all the auto-accessible geothermal features, not to mention the scores of wolf-cultists.

Likewise the Park Service thinking on ranger-led tours.

When we came to Wind Cave on September 29th, all of the cave tours were canceled but one, the "Garden of Eden" tour, which M. and I decided should be called the "geezer tour." It lasted an hour, but most of that was just standing around listening to the ranger guide tell stories. He told them well, interweaving geology and history, but still, of miles of public cave trail, we saw maybe a quarter mile and three rooms, chiefly the room called the Garden of Eden by its discoverer in the 1890s.

I assume there are staffing issues with seasonal rangers, etc., but it also seems that the Park Service assumes that anyone traveling after Labor Day is decrepit and unable to handle a longer walk and a few more stairs.

For that "geezer tour" you pay $7. And, yes, we had a full tour group on a Tuesday afternoon.

Things were somewhat better over at Jewel Cave National Monument. Again, some of their most interesting tours are offered only in the high season.

But we were able to take the Scenic Tour—a half-mile loop, one hour and twenty minutes, $8 for an adult ticket—a better value than Wind Cave offered. There were more than 20 people in our group, on a snowy Thursday, October 1st, and another group was entering as we were leaving. There are plenty of "off-season" visitors.

You spend a lot of time trooping along clanging industrial aluminum catwalks and stairs, which give the cave a sort of "secret lair of the super-villain" feel. But wood would not last well in the 99-percent humidity. And you see enough rooms, passages, formations, etc., to give you a real feeling for the cave, which actually includes about 140 miles of mapped passages.

Notice the absence of geezers in the photo above. Home-schooled kids? Kids whose parents thought that they would benefit more from a cave trip than the classroom? Either way, I was happy to see them there.

October 05, 2009

Parkitecture in the Black Hills

Above: the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park, built in the 1920s, with its two recent wings.

One way in which Custer State Park resembles a mini-Yellowstone is that it offers a few examples of "parkitecture," the building style of the 1900s-1920s that features massive timbers, rustic stonework, and an overall "hall of the mountain king" effect. (You can see more examples at the Parkitecture web site.)

Norbeck Visitor Center, Custer State Park. Photo by Chas S. CliftonCuster's Peter Norbeck Visitor Center (above) suggests the Norris Geyser Basin Museum in Yellowstone--classic parkitecture. Here (below) is a detail of the copper downspouts:



Wind Cave National Park visitor center, 2009. Photo by Chas S. CliftonThe visitor center at Wind Cave National Park (above), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, offers a relaxed and inviting face as well.

Although I do not visit just to see the buildings, I make a point of experiencing them—having a drink in the bar while watching tourists interact with the buffalo, wandering the museums, eating a meal in the dining room. It's all part of slowing down and being there.