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montana wilderness – indian paradise lost

Found on the way through the Crow Reservation (Hwy 212), this ruined ‘teepee’ must have once been a roadside attraction. But the Plains winds and neglect give it the aura of so many sadly deteriorating places in America.

After spending the night at Little Bighorn Battle Field with the Lakota and US Calvary re-enactors, I headed back to the Monument Headquarters for a Crow-native guided tour of the battle sites—told from the Native point of view.  The guide was one of the tribal officers, who led the tours in a small bus as a community service.

This monument in Little Big Horn National Park, according to the small tag at the bottom, was erected before any thought was given to the rights of Native Americans. It said ‘hostile Indians’ was an inappropriate slur, but Montana statutes forbid any alteration to the public monuments, and so it stays. There’s still a strong anti-Native undertow throughout the West, I discovered many times.

It was a top-drawer tour.  We stopped at several places on the ring road as the guide gave very detailed descriptions of the battle.  This is a unique battle field, because after the battle, most of the Cavalry were buried in unmarked shallow graves where they fell.  The graves were quickly hidden by dense grasses.  A few years later, marble markers were set by the graves, but there were many doubts about the accuracy of their placements.

 

In 1984, a wild fire cleared the dried grasses across the entire battlefield.  This allowed archeologists to thoroughly search for artifacts, and they created an accurate map of the battle.  Seeing how groups of a dozen grave markers shrunk to pairs was testament to how the soldiers assembled for safety, but as groups were decimated, many fled, and were cut down—explaining the many single outlying graves.

The Plains Indian War was a fearful posting for experienced soldiers, because of the danger of ambush, insufficient food, scarce supplies, and inadequate arms.  For example, while the Indians had acquired modern repeating rifles, the soldiers had only single-shot muskets.

Most of the soldiers were recent jobless immigrants from Europe, Britain and Ireland.  They joined the cavalry to eat, not suspecting the horrors they would face, nor the irony that they had fled their homeland due to genocide carried out by the English on their native minority.

After the early-morning tour, I ate breakfast at the ‘Custer Battlefield Café’ in the nearby town of Crow Agency.  It was part of the Crow Indian Reservation, and the restaurant/gift shop was tribe-owned.

Eric, a fellow traveler with his faithful dog, they were driving in an old Cadillac from New England to Southern California, to look for America.

I met another traveler, Eric, who was driving the back roads, just with his dog, from Connecticut to San Diego in a late model Cadillac.  They pulled over whenever he was tired, and slept in the back seat.

Eric was a freelance campaign manager for Democrats across the country, and so depressed by the recent election loss by his people, that he hit the road, without a plan for the future, thinking that America was now doomed.

Eric insisted that on my way back, I should visit Wounded Knee, on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation—where he had just come from.  It was one of the most emotional moments of his life.

The drive there, over the Blue Highways of Montana and South Dakota, was long and stunning in its remoteness.  No exits, no towns, sometimes for stretches of 75+ miles.

Travel Tales- AMAZING IDAHO

Amazing Idaho

I spent the night outside the Donner Pass town of Truckee.  After 12 days on the California coast, it was surprising to see there was still plenty of snow in late June.   In the morning, I drove I-80 nearly the entire length of dry-bones Nevada through Reno, Fernley, Lovelock, and Imlay, finally landing in God-forsaken Winnemucca, where I stayed in one of the hemisphere’s ugliest RV parks.

After dinner at possibly the greasiest Mexican restaurant ever, I walked through downtown, which had the saddest little strip of casinos in the hemisphere.  I went into one that was, with a fistful of quarters, but saw that slots the machines had gone boring digital with credit card thingies for money.  Plus, as with everything digital, they had a million choices, and I had no idea how they worked. Gone was the satisfaction of plunking in a quarter, pulling the arm, coaxing the spinning wheels, and hearing 3-4 or 100 quarters jangle into the metal coin tray, like little bells from heaven.

No fun there.  The handful of players scattered around the dark rooms were mostly grim-faced solitary middle-aged women pulling on cigarettes and sipping raspberry vodkas.

This stretch of I-80 is desolation row, passing ghost towns like Battle Mountain, Beowave, Golconda and Valmy.  Then you zoom by the little city of Elko, which according to Wikipedia “is also home to legal prostitutes and contains active brothels. Several geothermal features are located in Elko, the largest of which is the Elko Hot Hole.”  In winter, you can ski for $20.

About 80 miles from Elko, at the only town in the West with two Flying J’s on the same exit, I turned north onto US 93 North. One of the great American desert highways, it runs mostly two lanes for 1,457 lonesome miles from Phoenix to Canada, crossing five Interstate Highways, and passing hundreds of ghost (or nearly) towns.

On the border, there is Jackpot, Nevada, which has a 15 story hotel ‘convention center’ that lures gamblers from Twins Falls, Idaho to this D-grade border sin city.

Then, the West blossoms into Idaho, which has some of America’s most bizarre natural features.  Craters of the Moon National Park, St. Anthony Dunes, and the back end of the Rockies.  The ghost towns and sleazy casino villages of Nevada are replaced by refreshing views, lakes, and electric green fields of wheat and potatoes, and Nuclear Reactors.

A bit further up the Road, I passed a little time with this vagabond couple at a Flying J in Twins Falls (they were thumbing their way to Vermont).

Idaho has its share of lonely roads, if you like to feel alone in the world.

And one of the most bizarre sights in the USA, Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Hundreds of square miles of volcanic cinders line the road.  The most recent flows were just 2,000 years ago.  Not a place to be barefoot.

Idaho was one of the most surprising places, I’ve ever been, but the potatoes  I had weren’t the best, and they’re not promoted much.  But then again where will you find a landscape that looks like a herd of dinosaurs just took a dump.

Travel Tales – SELFIES IN THE PARKS

A SEA OF CELLPHONE WATCHERS,
AND NOBODY IS REALLY THERE

selfie1

This young lady wants to be at the center of one of the earth’s most breathtaking views, the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. She’s not enjoying the scenery, but watching herself on her phone.

I love the US National Parks.  So do many people around the world.  They are packed with international tourists. Buses are full.  Especially of Japanese.  Watching them juggle selfie sticks,create the perfect facial expression, arrange their colorful clothing just so, then finally snap themselves looming in the foreground of every corner of the park, oblivious to the real world around them, fascinates me.

The young lady in yellow again, with an enigmatic smile. The bubbling pools don’t grab her attention much. The person in the foreground is on the phone– of course!  Historical note:  Travelers once got to know each other by asking strangers to take their photo.

A recent article described obsessive selfie photographers, as budding sociopaths disconnected from the real world, and unable to appreciate anything their big face on a 5×4 screen.  They visit scenic places but never really see them, and never really experience the intense emotion of being there.  Every event is a selfie event, to be captured for later, or maybe to impress acquaintances, waiting breathlessly on Instagram.  The author mentions that at rock concerts, the audience is a sea of cell phone watchers, and nobody is really there.

Love the very serious expression on the young lady in the foreground, not to mention her stylish dress, hat and sunglasses. The guy in back, also seriously contemplates a high angle shot, while his partner, of course, watches her phone. The pink lady on the left scowls— maybe at me, or was it breakfast? I’ve seen Japanese tour groups at hotel restaurants to eating an all-Japanese cuisine meals. Maybe hotels specialize in that to attract the Japanese tour bus trade.

The little thing in her right hand is a plush toy bear.

My all-time favorites! All I can say is, HUH?

This couple make an interesting composition. White hair vs. black hair, but matching outfits. Incredible geyers and pools in the background. His glasses up, hers down. Could be he’s narrating a video, live. Nice.

OK not a selfie, but the grey face mask was a revelation. She didn’t look like a Muslim, and the bright, giant brim hat seemed un-Islamic. After a little googling, I found that color-coordinated masks were an emerging fashion statement in Japan. The future is here. Except her camera looks pretty vintage. I suspect she was a Japanese fashion model on a secret shoot in Yellowstone.  Hope it get to the USA soon.  Why should antifa have a monopoly?

OK, not a selfie either, but on the same stroll. I heard this young family speaking French, and their clogs, cute outfits, and shades made them look well-put together. No phone or selfie stick– even the kids. They seemed healthy and happily occupied in this breathtaking setting, hands free, interacting with their each other and the surroundings, and not self-absorbed with their friggin’ fones. Vive la France.

 

Travel Tales – AT LITTLE BIG HORN ON THE BATTLE’S 141ST ANNIVERSARY

A friend called Sunday afternoon, while I was crossing Montana on the way to the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation.  He recommended I should make a 100 mile detour to Little Big Horn Battlefield, because it was the 141st anniversary of the death of Gen. George Custer.

Old CSA flag

This is the first version of the Confederate States of America flag. It was later changed. . I don’t know if it was a political statement or just part of an authentic 7th Cavalryman’s kit. The re-enactor was an authentic knowledgeable guy.  Interesting that Custer was in the Union Army, but this battle was fought June 25, 1876– well after the Civil War ended.  At that time, the US Cavalry on the frontier was mostly foreign immigrants and probably disaffected ex Confederates– so the flag.

5-star interesting man. Born in Israel. Moved to US as a young boy, but didn’t feel welcome or comfortable with white US culture. Ran into a Lakota Sioux Chief in Los Angles, whose son had just died after struggling with alcoholism. He told the chief he would like to be his son, and was then raised in LA as a Lakota Sioux. At 18, still an Israeli citizen, he had to return to Israel to serve in he Army. It was a terrible experience, and he returned to the US with severe PTSD. The Sioux community  welcomed him, and took care of him as a wounded warrior. He completely identifies with the Lakota community and leads a rich spiritual life, — he’s also a successful electrician in LA. His passion is reenactments.  Spellbinding fellow.

Another LA resident, this man is a Lakota Sioux community leader. In the summer he leads reenactments. In the winter, he is a school security officer in East LA. He’s an expert in Sioux culture and history. Film and TV Casting agents in LA call him when they need Native background players, and he brings trained people of all ages with their costumes, gear, and stage training, including shooting, riding, and safe hand-to-hand combat. He urged me to come back next year and spend a week with them. They were welcoming, warm, but firm and professional. What amazing people, and what hell the white people put them through. How well they treated a stranger like me.

Custer’s last stand, at the Battle of Little Big Horn is a famous moment in US history. It was part of The Indian Wars, 1610 to 1924–310 years.  In school, I learned that Indians were treated fairly by benevolent ‘pioneers’- Thanksgiving and all.  On the other hand because they were ‘uncivilized savages, attacking white settler families’, whose only problem was they were taking the Indians’ land, they had to be put on reservations.

US Cavalry

The U.S. Calvary School was formed by US Army Cavalry veterans to instruct re-enactors in the methods of 19th century 7th Cavalry. They use authentic gear and uniforms, and  teach theatrical combat and horsemanship skills to intensely interested individuals– men and women. The school participates in re-enactments across the US. It has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows. Interesting dudes.  Most are serious historians and live to display and discuss their work, uniforms, arms, horses and camping gear.  They act out their aggression in a safe and entertaining past time.

Touring Indian reservations from Eastern NC to the Pacific coast, seeing and reading their side of the story over many years, I’ve decided that all I’d learned about Native Americans in school had been a lie—to make white people look good, and excuse their own violent conquest of the Native population.

This was the campsite where re-enactors- both Natives and Calvary set up their period tents, slept, ate, dressed, took care of their horses,gear, and tack, and prepped for their battle re-enactment.

During the Indian wars, the US government spent the equivalent of many billions of dollars, removing millions of Indians from the best hunting and farming lands they had occupied for 10,000 years.  To do this, they used broken promises, theft, and mass murder.  It was genocide.

This is a combined group of Indian and Cavalry re-enactors. I sat with them for 3 hours keeping warm in the Montana night chill. We discussed Custer, Native/white relations, history, horses, arms and stage fighting. They were pros, and preferred trained re-enactors. Though their knives and spears were rubber, and the guns shot blanks, an untrained person could be dangerous. In this reenactment, one Indian was shot point blank by a volunteer, and got a pretty bad powder wound in the chest. Injuries abound when over-enthusiastic volunteers lose their heads in the heat of the ‘battle’.

This young man was a Montana rancher who loved working as a Native reenactor. I’d never seen a person so at home with a horse. He didn’t use a bridle or saddle, could stand on the horse’s back and ride sideways or backwards. He seemed to direct the horse with invisible instructions. I asked if my flash bothered it. Naw. When he heard about the need for more campfire wood, he guide his horse in the to a tree, pull down dried branches and toss them to us. He was pretty quiet, but always listening and figuring a way to be a part of the campfire group. A real cowboy, or Indian– in his element– no smart phone, no video games.  All natural.

 

Reenactors make their own clothes, tents, sometime shoes, etc.

I arrived to find a re-enactment of the battle, from the Native American perspective, was scheduled for 1 pm.  It was 5 pm, and the grounds were empty.  I went back to the tribal-owned café for dinner, and think about where to spend the night.  Three ladies sat at a table near me, and we struck up a conversation about the re-enactment.  One of them owned the ranch on the Little Big Horn River, where it had taken place.  She invited me to camp where about 75 re-enactors were still cleaning up, and spending the night.  I could stay with them.

Washing in the Little Big Horn River. The Indians were camped above the river, which helped defend from the cavalry.

This young lady had been working with the Calvary School for years. She was a school teacher, but in summer worked reenactments. She was passionate about horses and everything about them– cleaned all the tack and organized it lovingly in crates to be ready for the next battle.

They were an amazing group:  US Calvary re-enactors and Sioux re-enactors.  Serious living historians.  I introduced myself, and was welcome to hang, shared buffalo jerky, and their other foods on a bench around a campfire where two battle foes got along in a way that would have pleased Jesus Christ himself.

It was an incredible  experience, and one I’ll return to next July—at their invitation.  It deserves a book, but for now, here is a gallery to help tell the story.

 

 

 

Travel Tales – SURPRISE! THE CRADLE OF POT

Met this pleasant nouveau hippie couple at a restaurant in Garberville, California, Humboldt County.  She’s from France, and he’s from New Zealand.  They informed me that Garberville /Humboldt County had been one of the world’s hottest pot spots for decades– even rivaling Amsterdam as a nouveau hippie mecca, for the variety and easy availability of cannabis.

They were happy to talk about their lives, and had come to the area for the pot harvest,  having become experts in how to pick the best buds quickly and carefully– from stints in Mexico, Africa, and Asia.   They could pick plums from area orchards, but plum picking paid $9/hr. and pot picking upwards of $50/hr.– for their level of experience.  Could be an interesting alternative to your kids’ coding camp– good healthy outdoor work and all.  They did look fit, healthy, and happy.

Recreational weed is legal in 9 states, with others on the verge.  However, Jeff Sessions is threatening to arrest every American stoner and throw them in jail for violating federal anti-pot laws.   Pot saved many Humboldt county families from bankruptcy decades ago, when the timber industry went bust.

The locals, who are tough country folk wouldn’t cotton the Trump administration dropping Agent Orange bombs on their beautiful California farms.

Good luck with that General Sessions.

 

Also, Colorado recently reported that state sales tax in the first quarter of this year, from the infant legal weed industry  had exceeded the entire alcohol tax income for the previous year!  Taking on the pot industry will likely be as successful as building a wall on the Mexican border.  Watch out North Carolina and other Bible Belt states, that giant sucking sound you will hear in a few years will be people exiting West for good pot-economy jobs.

Had no idea coming into Garberville as we crossed from the Northern California Coast that it would be such a cultural throwback and economic success story.

Friendly boomer hippies still wander Garberville’s Main Street too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tales from the Road – STALKING SELFIES IN THE WEST- YELLOWSTONE TOURIST MAGNET

Walking through the Norris Geyser at Yellowstone National Park, found selfie-snappers more interesting than bubbling springs.

Instead of geysers, I snapped selfie snappers. Here’s my favorite- ‘millenial with tiny bear’. Didn’t want to look like a creep or stalker (using my big, loud Nikon), so no time for proper focus.

What are they thinking?  More snaps of selfies coming.

Travel Tales- ST. ANTHONY DUNES ATV AND RV PARK, IDAHO

Never expected this.  Camping tonight, accidentally, at a campground especially for ‘sand’ jockeys. This was a surprising introduction to an American sub-culture I had no idea existed.  Some of these dune buggies cost $35,000+ (but used ones- probably for sale after their previous owner broke his back– can be had for just a couple thousand).
Got into a conversation with these two guys.  When I admitted I’d never been on a ride, they insisted I try it.  In my younger years I would have relished it.  This time, I hesitated, but said yes– for art’s sake.

The amazing location is St. Anthony’s Sand Dunes Nat Park in St. Anthony, ID. It has about 11,000 acres with some dunes rising 400 feet at 80+ degree angles.  The folks have souped up dune buggies, noisy as hell. Reminds me of Saudi Arabia– but in the middle of Idaho? There are drivers in their 60s and pre-teens, running up and down the hills like demons. Harley riders and NASCAR drivers frequent the place. You have to love the sound of screaming internal combustion engines to handle the place.   Ends at 10 pm thank god. Some carry buggies for kids and adults– 4 in a huge trailer pulled by their huge RV.

I didn’t expect to sleep much, but it had been a long day to the middle of nowhere, but I had no idea.   It was one of the most insane, scariest thing’s I’d ever done.  No video or photo will capture it.

I think I was the highlight of these two fellows trip.  As I screamed like a little girl with a spider in her hair, while holding on for dear life, sure I’d only get out of there in an ambulance, they laughed so hard they could have pissed themselves.  Was happy to make their day, I think.  I’m not in a rush to do it again, but appreciated their friendliness and generosity.  While I was still shaking after the ride, they assured me mine was a baby ride, and I should try the big boy’s ride next.  Maybe later.

Welcome to the USA!!

Tales from the Road- A FLOCK OF MISSISSIPPI BATHTUBS

Stumbled on this scene outside Batesville, in northern Mississippi. Batesville, you probably already know is the namesake and home of the Batesville Casket Company, America’s largest coffin producer– for more than 100 years!  I’ve seen their delivery trucks across the USA.   Sadly, they don’t offer factory tours– I asked.

This inspiring piece of sculpture is found on old US 278 between Tupelo (Elvis’ birthplace) and Clarksdale, MS (Clapton’s ‘Crossroads’), two notable towns located in the AMERICANA MUSIC TRIANGLE.  http://americanamusictriangle.com/driving-trails/ — bet you didn’t know about that either!

 

Travel Tales – SNOW BIKE ON BEARTOOTH MOUNTAIN

I don’t know what this was all about, at the top of Beartooth Mountain, in Montana, just over the Wyoming border.

Travel Tales – DONUT SHOPS OF THE WEST

Homemade donut shops are a big thing in the rural West. If a deteriorating town along the back roads has any business, it’s probably a donut shop. And not a squeaky clean and bright national chain like Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts, but usually in an abandoned laundromat or ex-burger joint. I’d been driving past them for a week.

After my night camping in Goodlett, Texas, I stopped at my first—for coffee. It was dark and empty of people except the clerk. Surprisingly, he was a Cambodian. He explained to me, in a still thick Asian accent that his aunt in New Orleans owned the shop, and he managed it. His one employee came in at 2am to make the donuts, then left by 9am. He came in at 6am to run the counter. He could make the donuts, but didn’t like it, and certainly did not like coming in at 2am. Most Western donut shops close at 2pm, his favorite thing about the job.

I wondered how he felt, being in this lost place, so different from his home. He told me there were maybe 4 Cambodians in the town, and he missed home. He urged me to visit Cambodia because it was so lush and beautiful. Quite unlike the dry and barren Texas panhandle.

A car beeped at the drive-up window. It must have been a regular customer, because the manager handed her a ready-made box, the size of a giant pizza, with at least 2 dozen donuts of different colors, toppings, stuffings and shapes. I asked him if he ate donuts.

“No, they’re very unhealthy. Asians eat fresh vegetables; healthy food. Americans eat the wrong things, they only eat food from cans, no fresh vegetables. So they’re fat and sick.”

“Well, I’d say you’re contributing to that aren’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t care, they eat what they want, but they should know better.”

I paid for my coffee, and he handed me a neatly folded paper bag. “Something for your trip,” he said with a smile.

It was six glazed donut holes. I thanked him with a smile and wished him the best. Out in the van, I tasted one. Greasy, sickly sweet, gummy. I pulled into the Walmart at the edge of town—the one that had obliterated most of the local businesses on Main St. I needed a bottle of super-strength bug remover for my windshield—a necessity after a couple days of deep South driving. The donut holes, despite the kindness of the donut man, I  slipped quietly into the trash bin out front.