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Published: September 20th 2009
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: 2009 GREAT WESTERN ADVENTURE
WEEK SEVEN: CUSTER , SD TO BARABOO , WI
Tuesday, July 07
Custer is a cute Western town on the edge of Custer State Park
. After checking out of President Harrison’s Cabin we drove into Custer to a little bistro for an egg burrito (I also had a great chai) before heading out to the park. We then drove along the edge of the park for some time before seeing anything. Suddenly as we rounded a bend a herd of buffalo
were on the crest of a hill munching on yellow sweet clover. It was a beautiful site! The smell of the buffalo announces their presence long before you see them and if you are lucky to get close enough you can hear them snorting and chewing the clover. Dave had to drag me away to see the rest of the park.
Not far from the buffalo was a small herd of pronghorn
. They too were dining on the beautiful yellow clover very close to the road. Further along we found the wild burros
; the whole herd was eating in the meadow near the road. Many of the burros came up to cars
poking their heads in looking for food. While I was out in the meadow photographing these wonderful animals, Driver Dave sat in the car reading his book. I am sorry I missed the burro licking Dave’s leg (he had stuck his foot out of the car as he was reading). I was told it was a site to see!
Most of the hiking trails were around 7-15 miles. In the interest of time we found a nice short trail into the prairie and up a hill. Prairie flowers
were in bloom and I stopped to see bee balm, white poppies, purple coneflower, yarrow, prickly pear cactus, sweet clover and poison ivy. It began to get very hot at the top of the hill on exposed rocks laced with poison ivy so we decided to shorten our walk so as not to risk a sunburn, rash or rattlesnake bite.
Our next destination (Dave?) was Wind Cave National Park
, just a short drive out of Custer State Park . This park is also dominated by antelope, buffalo and prairie dogs and we enjoyed these animals from a distance over the beautiful rolling hills along our drive. As we approached the
cave we began to see an accumulation of fresh buffalo “chips”
on the road. We continued for some time until we rounded a bend and a huge herd was crossing the road three cars in front of us! Babies were nursing and romping, two adults were joined in a headlock, some were rutting and rolling in dirt piles while the rest just grazed in the meadow. What a site! And then my camera battery died.
Wind Cave was formed some 320 millions years ago and is the fourth longest underground cave in the world
. It is one of the most complex caves in the world and to this date the full extent of the cave system has not been mapped or discovered.
The Lakota people spoke of a hole that blew air from underground. They considered this place sacred and mysterious. Later exploration found the cave “breathes in and out”
according to barometric changes. We traveled some 300 steps down into the damp and dark cave looking at “popcorn”, boxwork and frostwork formations with our headlamps and flashlights. It was a fascinating way to escape the heat!
On our way to Hot Springs
we noticed one of
the tires had a puncture so we limped into town for a repair. This gave me time to make reservations for the night. We stayed in an old cabin at The Historic Log Cabin Motel
on the crest of a hill overlooking Evan’s Plunge Hot Spring. In the lobby was a poster announcing a Cowboy Poetry Festival with the legendary local poet Baxter Black. I hope you all are fortunate to listen to his wonderful poetry on NPR.
The visitor’s center, located in one of the smallest train stations in the country, is in the center of town along the River Walk. The river is full of hot springs and is the source of the springs at historic Evan’s Plunge
. The buildings in town are mostly constructed of pink sandstone that took on a warm hue in the late afternoon light. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Hot Springs as one of America ’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2009”
. We walked along the river until we found the Blue Vervain Restaurant
in the Red Rock River Resort, and what a find it was! Two young women chefs started this restaurant two years ago and it is already seeing
national acclaim. The dinner we had was remarkable in taste, presentation and creativity. We highly recommend a visit here!
After dinner we walked across the street to a river park to listen to an outdoor bluegrass concert
before finding the hot springs and our cabin. Wednesday, July 8
We woke to another beautiful morning with sunshine and cool breezes. After our first several weeks of rain I am appreciating every wonderful day we have. From the 1929 log cabins on the hill we looked over the town of Hot Springs. The rusty pink roofs and sandstone walls in the distance below reminded me of Florence, Italy.
In 1974 a major paleontological site was discovered in Hot Springs at what is now known as the Mammoth Site
. Indications of the remains of 58 mammoths including 55 Columbian and 3 wooly mammoths as well as 80 other species
have been preserved in what was once a prehistoric sink hole discovered by a developer’s bulldozer as it rolled over a tusk. Research and recovery of these and more remains (such as the llama, camel, giant short-faced bear and ancient prairie dog) is currently in progress with scientists and volunteers painstakingly
digging and brushing away tons of dirt to carefully expose the remains in-situ. I was amazed at the size of the Columbian mammoth. A full grown elephant could easily walk under its trunk! This site is ranked as “…one of the world’s greatest fossil treasures known to mankind.”
Leaving Hot Springs we drove north on 79 passing beautiful golden rolling hills and the mountainous woodlands of Custer State Park. We picked up route 44 east driving through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
to the tiny “town” of Interior, SD at the southern edge of the Badlands. We saw just a few lone buffalo on this leg of the trip as we passed large expanses of prairie grasslands glistening in the late afternoon sun.
The craggy peaks of the Badlands National Park
were glinting in the sun as we arrived. The temperature had climbed from the mid 70s at Hot Springs to 98 degrees
at the edge of the park (but it was dry and breezy). There were several campground options and one or two motels outside the park. We opted for a campsite inside the park at Cedar Pass Campground
. The steep senior rate was $5! After we
declared our site the winds picked up and across the western horizon dark black clouds began to form. An ominous sign.
I was determined to camp so I begged Dave to wait awhile for the winds to die down and the storm to pass. We met some fellow campers who agreed with me so as the rain began, off we went to fill Dave’s tummy. The storm did indeed pass and brought us a beautiful double rainbow promising good weather for our first night under the stars. We drove through the southern edge of the Badlands for me to capture the fading rays of the evening sun on the stony spires before heading back to set up the tent. Once the tent was up we joined our neighbors to enjoy the incredible lightening show inside the huge mushroom shaped cloud in the east. By 10:30 we were safely tucked in our sleeping bags until 12:30am when one of the worst wind storms experienced in the park came
roaring through, rattling our tent and bones and repeatedly slamming the tent poles into our faces as we prayed for it to just go away. It did. Finally. After several hours. We later
learned that wind gusts approached 60mph
. I can attest to that. Thursday, July 9
To say I was groggy this morning is an understatement. At least the storm brought cool weather and the temperature was in the 60s last night and remained in the 70s throughout the day. Since the Badlands is known for its very hot weather we at least caught a break on that point. So off we went to enjoy this amazing landscape formed from a giant inland sea and a volcanic uplift millions of years ago. After coffee and a marginal breakfast we began our journey along the Badlands Loop Road
passing on the movie at the Visitor’s Center so I could take advantage of the early morning light. The grey sandstone jagged peaks were softened with bursts of golden clover in the valleys and then grassy green tops of flat buttes “connect the dots”. I spent as much time as I dared capturing the fleeting morning light but I was also eager to finally see the elusive big horned sheep that graze in the early morning. In my many attempts, I had not been able to see these animals in Yellowstone , Glacier or
Custer so I was trying to accomplish both missions with gusto! We stopped at the beautiful yellow and red mounds at Dillon Pass
looking for the sheep that had been seen there earlier. No luck. We continued on the narrow winding road up to the Pinnacles Overlook
and finally my goal was achieved! Nearly out of range of my new lens was a beautiful family of big horn sheep
with three adults and two kids perched on the edge of a cliff. I spent a good deal of time trying to capture these creatures with my shaking long lens and then I saw a herd of about twenty romping and jumping up the cliff’s edge. I waited a long time for this and enjoyed every minute of this wonderful entertainment. I later was told by a ranger that it was unusual for the sheep to be so close to the overlook area.
Instead of leaving the park via 240, we drove west on the Sage Creek Rim Road
looking for buffalo at the prairie dog town. I had been told the majority of buffalo were in Custer State Park and not to be excited about viewing them in the
Badlands. For several miles we enjoyed the rolling hills and prairie until I saw many black spots on the horizon. Buffalo! An enormous herd
was beginning to cross the road ahead! For nearly 20 minutes we watched as the herd of buffalo snorted and marched across the road in front of us. One old male was gimpy but there were many feisty mature males who rolled in the dust of the prairie dog hills close to where I stood. We thought the migration was over but as I turned around a large lone buffalo came bounding up the hillside right next to me! He was so intent on catching up with the herd that thankfully he paid me no mind.
To say that Wall Drug
is filled with unnecessary plastic objects or is a junk store on steroids would be accurate but incomplete. We stopped here for lunch and I read the amazing history of the Husteads, founders of this gigantic “Drug Store”. Ted Hustead was indeed a pharmacist who opened a drugstore in Wall in 1931, just after the depression. After five years they still were not financially sound until Ted’s wife Dorothy suggested they put out Burma
Shave type signs on the highway offering free ice water to hot travelers. People began stopping and oh by the way, buying ice cream and eventually building a booming business beyond the little pharmacy.
I was intrigued by a sign indicating one of the regions best collection of Western paintings. I expected to find reprints and bad art but among the mixed groupings of paintings plastered on nearly every wall were some surprises. Ironically, an original N.C. Wyeth painting
along with originals by Harvey Dunn
and some lesser known talented artists (as well as those not so talented), hang on cafeteria walls with busloads of elbowing hot dog and hamburger munchers.
After lunch we briefly explored the cavernous buildings and I found to my delight on wall after wall, historical black and white photographs of Native Americans, pioneers and a myriad of other photos depicting historical events that took place in the west.
Since we were unable to go to the physical site of Wounded Knee I asked Dave to stop at the “Story of Wounded Knee Museum”
, at the unlikely place of Wall, SD. I entered this small unassuming building not expecting much more than a
From the Story of Wounded Knee Museum
"They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land and they took it." Chief Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota
little history lesson. I received much more. This museum is akin to the holocaust museums in its power and emotional portrayal of the horror and injustice that has been perpetrated on the Native Americans in the name of greed. I walked through this little museum with tears in my eyes as I read each account of the history and facts leading up to this unspeakable tragedy. It is a terribly important museum that should be seen by every American
. If you ever pass through Wall on route 90, please stop here. You won’t regret it.
The journey to the Mississippi River is a long one from here so I planned to stop in Kadoka
for the night where we could see the Petrified Gardens before leaving town. When we arrived in this tiny farm town, of the 9 room choices most were rather primitive and the two that were not were over priced but we ended up staying at the clean and quiet Sundowner
which was welcome to our tired bones. We had time on our hands so we drove out to the grain elevator where we learned all about emptying loading the millet to and from the grain
elevators and into trucks that carry the millet to a bird seed packaging plant in North Dakota. I asked why they didn’t have a packaging plant here since thousands of pounds go out a year. He had no answer. Friday, July 10
For a rock lover like me the Badlands Petrified Gardens Museum
in Kadoka was a delight for rock hounds like me and a nice respite on the long drive across South Dakota. Out in the backyard of the very basic building I found a large array of petrified tree trunks (ancient remains that had been turned to stone after being buried in the mud, sand, or volcanic ash 150 million years ago). In addition, this eccentric rock collector had fossils, stones and bones of varying ages collected in the region of the Badlands. I picked up some surprises for the kids before Dave urged me on the road again.
Our next stop was, of course, lunch, this time at “Friendly Casey’s” on the Missouri River
in Chamberlain, SD
. With placards touting write-ups in the New York Times and Reader’s Digest we figured (as was the intent) that it couldn’t be that bad. It seemed like this
The French called them Sioux, Akta Lakota Museum
Oceti Sakowin or the Seven Council Fires are represented in this informative historical museum
place was an attempt to copy the Wall Drug model for you had to go through a maze of junk to get to the tiny restaurant at the back of the store. Like many of our near-Midwestern restaurants, iceberg lettuce and Jello was beginning to be standard fare. At least they had information about the sightseeing opportunities around the area.
Through Casey’s we did find out the location of the wonderful Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center
on the Missouri River at the edge of town. Akta Lakota means “to honor the people” and that it surely does. The building is circular in design because the circle is important to the Lakota people. Echoed in their round tipis and sacred Medicine Wheel, the circle represents the sacred outer boundary of the Earth. The Sun Dance Circle or the Sacred Hoop exemplifies the continuous pattern of life and death.
The museum’s low lighting and soft music enhanced the mood of contemplation making it easier to absorb the lessons. The Lakota people believe they are related to animals and the displays in the museum show the relationship and sensitivity these people have with the land and animals. The beautiful displays
of clothing, tools and pottery, along with the history of the Lakota and the Plains people are encased in glass around the outside walls. The many uses of the buffalo are explained in great detail including an example of skinning the buffalo showing the body after it was skinned, an education to be sure. The Lakota, Nakota and Dakota were the people of the Seven Council Fires or Oceti Sakowin
. The French called them Sioux
shortened from the derogatory Ojibwa word Nadouwesou or snake. Understandably Lakota is the preferred name. Like the museum of the Wounded Knee, the Lakota Museum, in addition to its many positive lessons, detailed accounts of injustices and hatred for their people. It was another moving tribute to this once proud nation. Sioux Falls
, the largest city in South Dakota located in Minnehaha County, is in the Central Time Zone
so already we were behind before we got there. We checked into the Red Roof Inn and did two weeks of laundry before leaving for dinner and a laser light show at Falls Park
. The light show provided early history of the region from pioneering days to Carrie Nation
and the John Dillinger
robbery, all the while lighting up the beautiful (but odiferous) falls. Saturday, July 11
It was hazy and cool when we left Sioux Falls , SD heading west on 90 for Minnesota . We drove through fields of corn and flat prairie for miles until we reached the largest wind farm I have ever seen. Windmills
were everywhere. Route 16 takes you south and east into newly established Amish country
. The terrain became hillier with small farms tucked into fields of young corn. Preston
was the first town we stopped in and American flags were flying from every lamppost. I did manage to see some horse and buggies on the road, one of the few glimpses of the Amish. In Lanesboro
a few remaining Amish were just packing up from their Saturday market. Horses were let to run in the park by the lake and a lone horseless carriage was parked on the grass near the parking lot. As we were leaving I saw a sweet little girl in a long brown dress carrying water to her team of horses.
We left the flags flying in historic Lanesboro and drove along the Mississippi River to Winona
. I had planned to camp at Great Bluffs State Park but found it was just too far from town so we headed over to Prairie Island Campground
right on the Mississippi River
. The location was lovely but the campground was crowded. We set up our tent in as quiet a place as possible with a view of the river, and then set off for dinner. Betty Jo’s
, near the Mississippi River in the historic district of Winona
, was jumping when we arrived. Seven TVs were on in the bar with all channels on the Twins and the Cubs. The food was great although the iceberg salad reminded me that we are indeed in the Midwest . All I needed was a Jello mold salad and my Midwest experience would be complete.
No one seemed to know about the Jazz concert, the Shakespeare Festival or the Choral music but they did know where the Lakeview Drive Inn
, famous for their home made old fashioned root beer
was so off we went for our special dessert. With burgers and BBQs for $2.50, this 1938 drive in restaurant is a throwback to the old-fashioned car hop when fast food
was fast and actually good. We parked right in front and the owner’s daughter came right out to our car for our order. One small and one medium root beer float please! The Glowczewski's root beer is the best I have ever tasted! The owner knew all about the Jazz, Shakespeare and other festivals in town but unfortunately their performances were in the afternoon or early evening so we savored our root beer floats while driving around town as the sun was setting.
The whole town seemed to be in bed…except at the campsite
. Unfortunately our neighbors were not asleep and hadn’t planned to be in the foreseeable future. I didn’t mind the fireworks (judging from the flags and fireworks I think Minnesota extends this holiday for as long as possible) and I didn’t even mind the children’s occasional screams but my tolerance was extinguished after midnight. This example of humanity is what gives camping in the east a bad name. The loud drunken adults who didn’t care that their children were exhausted and awake, listening to their deplorable language at 2am, who scattered the remains of their celebrations throughout the park, were unfortunately the same boorish neighbors
we camped next to. I was awake for the fireworks, then at 11pm I plugged my ears with classical music from my iPod but that did not help. Finally, sometime in the middle of the night, our neighbors collapsed in their drunken stupor but the train with its hourly whistle did not stop waking me like clockwork throughout the night. Ah well. No more campsites with hoards of campers or train whistles for me. Sunday, July 12
The sun poured into the now quiet campground around 6am waking me but not the revelers. I dressed and grabbed my camera for some sunrise shots as the mist hung above the Mississippi then did some birding in the National Wildlife Refuge
. After coffee and a carwash we came back to break camp and leave this less than idyllic campsite with its smelly pit toilets and rowdy crowd. Winona ’s Blue Pelican Café
with chai, fresh coffee, homemade scones and wifi was a welcome haven to restore body and spirit. La Crosse
is the first town we came to across the Mississippi in Wisconsin. We took a stroll along the Mississippi in the lovely Riverside Park
and checked out the Pump
House Regional Center for the Arts with its Painted Pelicans before heading east to the Wisconsin Dells
Dave and I had both been to the Dells sometime in the ‘50s and found it to be drastically changed from what we remembered. The billboards assault you miles before entering town announcing water slides, amusement parks and endless shops selling unnecessary knick knacks from the area.
We bought our tickets for the riverboat excursion to the Upper Dells
in spite of the hazy conditions. As soon as the boat began its journey a rush of memories flooded my brain and I settled into a comfortable journey of my own down memory lane. The haze cleared and bright sun highlighted the dark green bluffs and mossy sandstone that lined the brown waters of the Wisconsin River
. There is some debate over how this river
(and ultimately the state) was named
but the consensus seems to be that the Winnebago Indians called these waters the “Meskousing” meaning where dark waters gather among flat rocks. The French pronounced the river Ouisconsin which morphed into Wisconsin.
Our two hour ride brought us along the river with two stops to hike into the
Colorful Downtown Baraboo
The Al Ringling Theater Museum, in the left corner of this photo, is also operating as a movie house. The Gem City Candy Company is in the right hand corner.
rocky canyon with its unique layered sandstone pillars before returning us in time to drive the seven miles to our B&B in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
My memory of Baraboo
was more vague than that of the Dells and the Gollmar Guest House
was even more elusive. This restored home of the Gollmars, Ringling cousins who once owned a circus with the Ringlings, was not easily found and no one in town seemed able to help. After a “scenic tour” of Baraboo and several stops and phone calls, we finally located the charming home and guest house where we were at once made to feel at home. Our hosts Sharon and John Warner were more than kind in preparing a lovely room and tips on local history that included providing me a contact with the local historian for my research the next day.
Our tour of town would have to be postponed until tomorrow since we both were tired and hungry. The Ho-Chunk Nation of Indians
, who had been residents in the Dells for centuries before the Europeans arrived (and I am told were also known as the Winnebago Tribe
) now have a large casino outside of town.
Circus World Museum, Baraboo, WI
Few know that the Circus World Museum has live performances, elephants, and an amazing collection of circus wagons. Go visit soon!
I had never been to a casino before and upon the urging of my daughter Mandy to try my hand at gambling, and the urging of my husband Dave to get something into his stomach… and fast, the decision was easily made to eat and play at the Ho-Chunk Casino
Although I am competitive, I don’t like to lose money so after a bad dinner I won back the cost of that meal and decided to take the money and run. Since Dave was exhausted he thought that was a pretty good idea too so “home” we traded the noisy casino for a peaceful evening at the Gollmar Guest House. Monday, July 13
My father tells me Baraboo was known as a “train town”. I understand this because the trains whistled throughout the night but I was so tired I slept through most of it anyway. Our hosts provided a large and impressive breakfast along with local history and tips on how to pursue my family research. My family roots run deep in Baraboo, Wisconsin
. My grandfather was the Baraboo City Attorney before becoming the attorney for the Ringling Brothers Circus after which he drew up
John M Kelley, Founder of the Circus World Museum
My grandfather worked tirelessly to make this museum happen.
the contract to join them with Barnum and Bailey. Grandpa also was founder of the Circus World Museum, also in Baraboo.
The local historian Bob Dewel was to meet with us at the restored Al Ringling Theater
but our wires were crossed and we never found him, but we did find Ralph Pierce, President of the Circus World Museum, Inc.
, along with Secretary Sandra Gollmar Edwards
and several other circus officiandos at the Gem City Candy Company
(owned by Ralph). These kind people filled me with wonderful family stories and histories as we passed the time in our ice cream parlor chairs watching the Baraboo world go by.
At their suggestion I “walked the wall” by the Courthouse
across the square taking note of the tributes to circus people
embedded in the concrete. My grandfather was mentioned twice for his circus contributions. I spent the rest of the day following my personal history trail from the Sauk County Historical Society
to the special Baraboo Ringling Circus 125th Anniversary Exhibition
and I had the pleasure of meeting with several notable authorities on circus history in town. Following my father’s copious notes I discovered that most of the homes
that my family had owned were no longer standing or had been repurposed. Grandpa’s large farm was now the high school, my granduncle Alf T. Ringling’s home was now the hospital and so it went.
The Circus World Museum
had grown since I brought my children there 30 years ago. This time I brought Dave to the museum to show him my family legacy and meet with the archivist at the museum’s library (which is now the foremost research facility on circuses in the world). The museum had a ghostly feel to it since over 50 of the historic circus wagons were still in Milwaukee for the annual Circus Parade
. This year would be special marking the 50th anniversary of the Circus Museum
I paid homage to the elephants, my grandfather’s favorite animal, before leaving for the last stop of the day: the cemetery. After quite a while I was able to locate our family plot where my grandfather, my uncle Harlan, former District Attorney for Wisconsin and my uncle John, former Prosecuting Attorney in Miami, Florida are at rest.
It was a long emotional day so we drove out of Baraboo (where the streets roll up
at 5pm sharp) to the Barn Restaurant
for dinner, a place I am convinced I have been to as a child. Fully sated we retired to the guest house to sum up our day with the Warners before dragging our tired bodies to bed.
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