Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In the Pink

August 10-12

We’ve been riding the pink highways of South Dakota for the past few days. 

From Keystone, we passed through the Black Hills and onto the Prairie to Pierre, which turned out to be a very tame place. 

The main attraction is its connection to Lewis and Clark. 

We stopped at Wall Drug on the way for some pie. Well, that’s what I had. I saw cherry pie looking very red and disgusting. I used to love it as a kid, but probably haven’t touched it in decades. 

So I had a piece of cherry pie and several of Wall’s nickel cups of coffee.

You leave I-90 at Wall and take U.S. 14 across the endless Prairie to Pierre. We crossed the Missouri River and right at the end of the bridge was our hotel.

The hotel is part of a convention center complex and had both restaurant and bar. Wow. My kind of place.

I forget what I had to eat on Wednesday night, but I remember the disappointment of the beer. I think they had four taps, including a wheat, Bud Lite, and another mainstream commercial beer. All that I could find palatable was the IPA from Goose Island, which is very good and comes out of Chicago.

The bar didn’t stock a single local or regional brew, not even in the bottle.

It has been much to my surprise to discover that this Bible-thumping part of the country is a powerhouse of great beer. And here’s a bar that didn’t have so much as one local product.

That night there was a wonderful thunder storm, so we opened the curtains to watch the lightning.

Next morning we walked across the parking lot to a park on the river. Part of the way is a gravel path. The stones are pink, like the surfaces of the highways here,

A black paved footpath runs above the bank and we learned that it is a 26-mile stretch called the Lewis and Clark Trail. 

The Corps of Discovery came through here in 1804. It was across the river from here, about two miles south at a place that is also a park, that the expedition had a tense confrontation with the Sioux.

The explorers and the Indians tried to have a meeting, but of course, couldn’t really communicate. Neither side had an interpreter.

Lewis and Clark took some of the chiefs for a cruise in one of the pirogues. When they put in to shore, several Sioux grabbed the boat and refused to let go. 

Apparently, they were on the brink of open war before one of the chiefs intervened to calm things down.

That was the first contact of the U.S. government and the Sioux.

According to some sources, the Sioux were apprehensive about the expedition’s purpose. What gave them that idea? After all, Lewis and Clark were merely mapping the territory so the U.S. could take it over.

We walked about a hundred yards on the trail to get into the spirit of exploration.

The site of the meeting with the Sioux is at Fischers Lilly Park in Fort Pierre, on the west bank of the river across from Pierre. We went there later in the day.

A smaller stream, known as Bad River, flows into the Missouri there. Water from the Bad is muddy brown, and you can see where it meets the blue of the Missouri. 

Later in the day we went up to the Capitol District. A neighboring park has a monument to service men and women called the Flaming Fountain. 

The water, I read, contains enough methane that you can light it. 

I had seen something like that in a tawdry display near Niagara Falls when I was a young boy. Burning water. Fascinating.

For whatever reason, the flame was out when we got there.

We had dinner at a restaurant in the hotel next to ours. The restaurant has the rather redundant name Redrossa.

It had a long wine list, but only one Italian wine, a Barolo for about $70 a bottle. 

I had a few glasses of house wines, a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir. They were all right. But remember, that’s coming from a guy who never met a bottle of wine he didn’t like. 

Years ago, I wasn’t crazy about Thunderbird, but I drank it readily enough.

I polished off the night with more reds at the hotel bar.

Friday morning, the 12th, we headed for Sioux Falls. We took a route along the east bank of the Missouri River that included the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. It was at Fort Thompson, the capital of the reservation, that we stopped for gasoline.

We had piles of clouds overhead in fantastic shapes. But because the sky is so big, we could see blue sky at the edges. 

Sometimes after a late afternoon rain, the sun comes in under the clouds at a sharp angle. You can become keenly aware of the direction the light is coming from, and the space around you feels so strange and very present.

We stopped at a rest area on I-90 and saw what looked like a toy church. It wasn’t part of the public rest area, but apparently was on private property with a welcome sign. It was behind a fence, with no lock on the gate.

It had a half dozen pews, each able to hold two or three people and a spare altar with a New International translation of the Bible and a few inspirational tracts. 

A rack in the back included some red, white, and blue cards telling us to “Vote for Jesus Christ.”

We got back to Sioux Falls in the afternoon and found the Dakotah Lodge again, with only a small error. I turned at the wrong intersection, but Joanna saw the sign for the hotel.

We found our way later to the Falls Park. This is a broad waterfall of the Big Sioux River, and it gives the town its name.

The river breaks up and flows through several passes of rock. The rocks are all pink.

Pink rocks also protrude from the ground all over the lawn of the park. Maybe most of the rocks in South Dakota are pink. 

Anyhow, there are enough pink rocks in that state to make most of its highways pink. 

We got a few snapshots of the falls and then headed back to the car just in time. Yet another thunderstorm cut loose. We sat in the car and listened to the rain.

Then I drove downtown to find beer. I was actually able to find the area where we ate dinner last time, more than a month ago. I felt almost competent.

This time, we skipped JL Beers and went to the Mackenzie River Pub (which I later learned is a chain stretching from Ohio to Washington). We had bison burgers. We both figured that we’re almost out of bison country, so we’ll enjoy it while we can.

I had something called smoked red ale, made by West O Beer in West Okoboji, Iowa. I didn’t know they would even drink beer in Iowa, let alone brew it. 

I love red ales. I have had them heavily hopped and as sours. The smoking, whatever that is, added to the flavor of this one and made it a winner too.

I also had Driftboat Amber Ale from Great Northern Brewing Co. in Whitefish, Montana. Ambers are usually like English bitters, and also good. Driftboat was no exception.

You buy beer at gas stations here. Not a great arrangement, but I managed to get a six-pack of New Belgium Ranger IPA, a damned good bitter ale made not too far from here, in Fort Collins, Colorado.

It’s getting late. We’re back in the Central Time Zone, so we are only one hour ahead of my computer’s clock instead of two.

Good night, all.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Black Hills Redux

August 8-9

We took part in an Amerindian tradition at Devil’s Tower the other day. As we approached the trail around the base of the mountain, a sign told us not to disturb the prayer bundles and prayer ribbons.

We saw several of them, some elaborate, others very simple. In the visitors center we learned that praying at the mountain can make you stronger. 

I thought it was whatever doesn’t kill you. Or maybe it’s “Whatever doesn’t kill you merely delays the inevitable.”

Anyhow, having bathed the Buddha, lit incense in various temples and said the Hail Mary in front of Kwan Yin, we tied a piece of Joanna’s bandana to the limb of a Ponderosa pine and asked the powers that be to watch over the living and the dead.

They must be watching over bikers. We see motorcycles everywhere, sometimes dozens in a column. And a lot of the riders have survived long enough to have white hair and beards.

So far we have seen only one wreck, apparently of a biker who misjudged a curve.

This is the week of the big Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, which is centered on Sturgis, S.D. 

We left Gillette on Monday morning and went to Deadwood.

Can’t come to the Black Hills and not visit where Hickok died.

Deadwood is about a dozen miles from Sturgis, and the rally was spilling over. The town was packed with bikes, bikers, and concessions selling to bikers. Sidewalks were jammed and so were the streets. 

On the way into town, we passed one of several bikini bike washes. At one of them, a young woman held a hand-drawn sign promising, “We give a great hand job.”

We had been warned by a lady at the welcome center on I-90, so we left the car in the first public lot we found. It was a hike to the action in town, but it worked out all right.

I led Joanna to the Wild Bill Saloon, “location of the original Saloon No. 10.” That’s where Jack McCall killed Hickok in August 1876, about five weeks after the Battle of the Little Bighorn and about 140 years ago this week. 

It was a tough summer for guys with long hair and moustaches. So far, though, I’m OK.

The bar didn’t serve food, so we went a few doors up the street to Oyster Bay. Joanna had fried oysters, and I ate smoked oysters, along with an Odell’s IPA, a lightly fragrant ale with plenty of sharpness.

Back at the Wild Bill, I saw that there was a $10 charge for a half-hour tour of the location where Hickok was shot. It was downstairs. Main Street was raised years ago to avoid flooding (like Seattle).

But then they fessed up. It wasn’t even the real place, not the room or table or anything that had to do with Hickok’s last hand. It was just the geo coordinates.

The No. 10 Saloon burned down in the late 1870s, along with the rest of Main Street.

So I decided to have a beer instead.

One of the taps was for a red ale. The bartender told me it was from Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City. 

The balance of malt and hops was very good. Red malt is delicious, but too much malt tends to be sweet. This was not quite Hop Head Red IPA, but bitter enough that the malt didn’t take over. I think it qualifies as beautiful.

The tab came to $4.50. Change for a twenty was a ten, a five, and a Kennedy half. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those coins in circulation. But it’s appropriate, and probably calculated, the same color and size as an old silver dollar. 

It felt good to hold. It goes well with the golden dollars in my left-hand pocket.

The barroom is packed with western memborabilia—photos of Hickok, hats like his, a glass case full of pistols. A few artifacts were damaged originals found in the area, including most of a repeating rifle found in a nearby river.

Joanna stopped at a store advertising official Sturgis Black Hills Rally clothing and bought a black T-shirt with sequins and large vents in the sides and back. Very biker.

We detoured to Sturgis after Deadwood. We crawled along the main street among bikes and tents set up for the big biker market. People were offering motor trikes, bikes, parts, mechanical and legal services, accessories, and God know what all. We couldn’t find a parking spot, so we didn’t get a close look.

But you can believe it was loud.

We got to the motel in Keystone a while after we left Sturgis. It took four tries to get a room. No, literally.

First, the desk man wanted to put us on the third floor. Do you have lift? No. 

What is this? I’m thinking. Cambodia? Who has a three-story motel and no elevator?

All I said, though, is that we can’t haul the luggage to the third floor. 

Well, I guess I could manage if I were paying about a quarter of what this Super 8 was charging.

He rebooked us for a first-floor room. When we got there, we met the people who were already in it.

The next open space was on the second floor. He told us of a ramp to that would take us to the floor, so we wouldn’t have to drag everything up the steps. The climb, as it turns out, involves only three steps.

We got to the room, and the toilet seat fell off.

After some delay, he came, took the seat, and said he’d call maintenance. I called a halt.

I don’t want to sit here for an hour or two waiting for maintenance. I want a room, and this time I want to see it before we move in.

Well, fourth time is a charm. There’s no fridge but I have beer cooling in the ice bucket.

Super 8 is one of the hit-or-miss hotels. This is one of the misses. The bed is clean, but the rug needs some work. The wifi so far has been working.

We have several eateries next to the motel, including a bar offering tastings of local wines and pints of local beer. We needed food first, but all we found was DQ, pizza, and a bake shop.

Several bikers sitting outside a barbecue store and drinking light beer told us about Grizzly Creek Restaurant, a short walk the other way. We took their advice and I’m glad we did.

There was buffalo sirloin on the menu, Joanna had a beef sirloin, and I had a few of the craft beers. 

They were out of Knuckle Head Red, so I had a Caught Looking blonde ale from Blacktooth Brewing in Sheridan, Wyoming. I had tried this one before. It is light and almost citrusy, but sharp enough to have a bite, and tastes like a distant cousin to a Pilsner, but without the strange aftertaste I get from lager beers.

There was Honey Badger Brown, an ale from Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City that was malty, like most browns, but not sweet, which is often a characteristic of browns.

Then came 11th Hour IPA from Crow Peak Brewing in Spearfish, S.D. It had good body, and the hops gave it a floral aroma and sharp bitterness.

I got up late Tuesday, the ninth, so breakfast in the lobby was pretty much gone. We walked to the mall next door and found a coffee shop with muffins and yogurt. 

We went back to Custer State Park and got a close-up view of a solitary buffalo bull. A few burros were stopping traffic about where we saw the herd before. Most of them were grazing in the distance.

Four or five had invaded the rest stop, where people fed them apples and carrots. A lady gave one burro a carrot and got to hug its neck.

Another was drooling all over an apple. He was a little shy, though, and tended to pull back when people tried to pet him.

Trees of the Custer State Park grow on the hilltops and frame large prairie meadows. Joanna saw a small pond and noted how much the landscape looks like a huge golf course. 

From the wildlife loop, we drove back to Mount Rushmore on the winding Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.

The road was finished about 20 years ago, but was proposed much earlier by Peter Norbeck, a South Dakota Senator who died in 1936.

Among its features are single-lane tunnels. Most of them face north and frame views of the faces on Mount Rushmore.

There are also pigtail bridges, large timber bridges over ravines that lead into tight curves, so the road passes under itself. There’s something like that involving a short tunnel through the rock in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Aside from the fun of looking at the Mount Rushmore Monument, we went back for the food. No kidding. It is the only place we have seen so far to offer buffalo stew. 

It is delicious, a little tangier (I think that’s the best way to describe it) than beef stew. Very savory and tender.

We sat in the cafeteria, which is my favorite part of Mount Rushmore. You get to view the sculpture through huge glass windows. The room is lined with state flags and portraits of presidents. It’s fun to see how many you can identify without coaching or reading the captions.

When we got back to Keystone for a break, Joanna took a nap and I started on this message, which maybe helps explain why it is so long.

We went back to the Grizzly Creek later. I had my main meal of the day at Mount Rushmore, but no beer. Grizzly Creek was still out of Knuckle Head Red, so I had another brown, one that I had drunk before, called Moose Drool.

I think the Honey Badger is better. This one was all right, but a little sweeter.

I went back to the 11th Hour, which was as good this night as it was the night before.

I got to the Naked Wineries store next to the motel when it was open this time. I’m working on a Sick-n-Twisted imperial IPA called Hop on Top. More brewers who are Dr. Seuss fans. (You may remember that Flying Fish out of South Jersey brews two of my favorites, Hopfish and Redfish.)

OK. This is time and a half long enough. I’m going to start rhyming next. And it’s just as well that I don’t subject you to that.

So good night, all, from the Wild West.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cavalry and Devilry

August 6-7

We stopped in Hardin because it’s close to one of the most famous sites in the Western states, and maybe in the United States, the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It was the subject of a Budweiser print that used to hang in bars all over the country.

Going there, I found, is an experience very much like visiting the Alamo. Errol Flynn, Richard Mulligan, Robert Shaw, and countless other actors died at the Little Bighorn. Just as Fess Parker, Sterling Hayden, John Wayne, and hundreds more died at the Alamo.

It has been fictionalized, rationalized, and lied about so often that I half expected it to be like Stonewall Jackson memorabilia in Virginia.

But the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, like the Alamo, brought this wise-ass up short.

The parking lot and visitor center are next to a National Cemetery. None of the dead from the Little Bighorn battle are buried there. Many of the graves are reburials from cemeteries at frontier forts that were closed. The identities of many of those remains are unknown.

Others are from the Spanish-American, First World, Second World, and later wars.

We saw the grave of someone whose name I know. Marcus Reno was one of Custer’s officers, who was court-martialed, essentially for surviving the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but then exonerated.

Reno led part of Custer’s command in the initial attack on the huge Indian camp. It was a diversion while Custer took a larger, though still inadequate, force to attack another part of the encampment.

Reno’s force was driven back by overwhelming numbers of Indians, who then turned their attention to Custer.

Reno fell back to join another part of Custer’s command, led by an officer named Benteen, who were holding a hill a few miles away. Many of them would die, too, in a siege that lasted about a day. 

Then all the Indians withdrew. They buried their dead and moved away.

The Seventh Cavalry dead, their scouts, and a few civilians who were with the group, are buried in a mass grave under a monument that lists their names on top of Last Stand Hill. 

Years ago, I was driving back from Mexico to Houston and stopped for the night in a small town called Beeville, not far south of San Antonio. 

The next morning, feeling really irreverent, I detoured to the Alamo. I waited outside with a small crowd of people until the place opened. I expected something really tacky, and expected to be amused.

Just outside the door of the mission church I read a sign that changed everything. “You are about to enter the Alamo Shrine. Gentlemen, please remove your hats.”

I choked down the lump in my throat and the last thing that occurred to me then was to make a wisecrack.

I had the same feeling here. After walking through the cemetery, we rested in the visitor center and saw the orientation film that discussed events leading to Great Sioux War of 1876-77 and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

I favor a theory I’ve read a couple of times about Custer’s motivation that day. 

His name already had high recognition. A victory against the Sioux, even if it was an unarmed village, would make him an even greater national hero.

It would give him a shot at the Republican nomination for the presidential race. The Republican Convention was due to begin in Kansas City about a month after Custer rode down the hill to attack the entire Sioux Nation, most of the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho.

We all know it didn’t go as Custer planned it. Almost 300 American soldiers and civilians, and many Indian scouts died there.

Marble markers all over the battlefield look like the headstones in the cemetery, but these mark where each man’s body was found. There are many on Last Stand Hill, including one in the center with Custer’s name on a black shield.

There is a ravine with many more, where an officer named Calhoun led a contingent that was wiped out.

There are other markers dotted around in the grass in twos and threes.

Many markers simply say “U.S. Soldier.” Their names are etched on a stone monument at the top of the hill, so there is a record of who died there. But private soldiers carried no personal identification so individual bodies couldn’t be identified.

Most of them are in the mass grave. The officers’ remains have been buried elsewhere. Custer’s grave, for instance, is at West Point. 

A second set of markers, dark brown and distinct from the marble, record where Indians fell. 

There is one right on the edge of the National Cemetery, for instance. It says that O Xasehe, or Cut Belly, was a Cheyenne warrior who fell at that spot on June 25, 1876, “while defending the Cheyenne way of life.”

It is estimated that 60 to 100 Indians died in the fighting.

Not far from Last Stand Hill, there is a monument to the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho who fought here.

It is a very eerie place. Broad and mostly very silent. The markers stand in grass that waves in the wind. 

We didn’t bother with any of the commercial attractions in the area and made it to Gillette shortly after three. 

I did an Internet search for places to eat and found a couple of steak houses. We got the directions to one of them and the route took us past the other one.

We pulled up at the Chophouse. I tought we were early. Joanna thought the place was closed. Joanna was right. The windows were papered up.

That’s how we wound up at the other place, the Prime Rib. It was fun. We shared a dozen snails and sopped up the butter with sourdough bread. That was already a lot of food, so we shared one order of New York strip. 

Here’s how we did it. It came medium rare—way too red inside for Joanna’s taste. I cut it in half and Joanna sent hers back to the kitchen to cook some more.

We shared the salad, potatoes, and string beans that came with the steak and were stuffed before it was gone. Joanna took a few ounces of her steak and some beans away in a box.
We had a California pinot noir with it. It was surprisingly light for pinot. It had a good ending, but not as much flavor up front as I like.

I lost all track of time again. I got up on Saturday morning and found out it was Sunday. I lived all day yesterday thinking it was Friday.

Enough of that. It can make my head hurt,

Sunday, the seventh, we made it to another very interesting place made famous by the movies. 

Devil’s Tower is all it’s cracked up to be. Crossing the passes in the hills, we could see the top of it miles away. 

We stopped at a scenic turnout and met a bunch of bikers in the area for the Sturgis Bike Rally this coming week. 

One of them came up to us and asked to have his picture taken with us. He said he gets his picture taken often with non-bikers. How could he know I was not a biker? The rally is the reason we are not staying in Deadwood, or even in Rapid City, but in a town a few miles south. 

I expect there are plenty of bikes on the highways here all summer long, but August is peak season. Sturgis closes its streets to cars for the bike rally in the second week of August.

According to the Park Service, there is a mass ride to Devil’s Tower on Wednesday of Rally Week. They have to make special arrangements to park all the motorcycles.

I have photo somewhere taken during a rally some years ago. It shows Lorenzo Lamas, who was a motorcycle rider in a TV series called “Renegade,” with Pee-wee Herman, whose connection with motorcycles is dancing in white platform shoes on top of a biker bar. (If you don’t now what I’m talking about, that’s OK. See “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”)

I may have lost it, though. Some weeks ago, before I left for this trip, I spilled beer on my other computer. I took it to the Great Apple Graveyard to be recycled.

We met climbers who had scaled the tower and saw several others in the process. Doesn’t it harm the rock, we asked. They showed us a removable piton that clips into a crevice and leaves no trace.

Joanna got the best shot of climbers on the Tower.

Another climber we met is a park climbing ranger. He gets to scale the mountain three or four times a week. The round trip takes about eight hours.

His companion, not a ranger, said he found the experience “terrifyingly awesome.” Now that it was over, he was glad that he did it. He might do it again some time in the future, he said, but he’s not sure about that.

The tower sits on the remains of an eroded hill. It rises more than 800 feet. People climb up through the crevices between the columns of rock. 

I got the best (only) shot of Joanna photographing the climbers.

The tower was formed by magma under the surface of the Earth. As the hot rock cooled, it cracked. At least, that’s what I remember from one of the signs along the trail.

Over millions of years, wind and water eroded the surface and left the tower exposed. You get a similar story at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

I’m more inclined to accept the Kiowa story. Seven girls were chased by a bear. They leapt onto a rock, and one of them prayed to the rock to save them. It started to grow higher. The bear tried to chase them up the rock, but kept slipping, leaving his claw marks in the stone.


My grandson Liam has a birthday later this month, so I sent him a card a little early. Devil’s Tower has its own post office.

What better place can there be to send greetings to a little devil? Especially when they’re coming from a big one.

We found a promising looking Italian retaurant in town and decided to go there for a pasta fix. That was closed, too. Restaurants around here have been really catching hell.

Rather than go back and start another Google search, we went to the one place we know was open in town, the Prime Rib.

Both times we went there, I got to park next to the fire plug and not get a ticket.

Joanna had chicken Parmagiana and I had something called chicken Italiano. The sauce was too sweet, the onions pieces too big, but the Banfi Chianti classico riserva (2012) was terrific.

I am polishing off the last of the bottle now.

And am wrapping this up, too, because it’s already too long.

Love to all and to all a good night.