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West 2016: Menor’s Ferry

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

The Snake River is generally a wide multi-channeled river as it flows through Grand Teton National Park.  There are only a few places within the park boundary where the river narrows to a single channel.  It is at one of these spots where Bill Menor settled in 1892, and established a ferry to cross the river, as well a General Store.  His brother Holiday settled on the other side of the river and operated a limekiln.  Bill Menor used this lime to whitewash his General Store.

The ferry was a reaction ferry, which used the current of the river to propel the ferry.  In the winter, when the river was low, he used a cable car to transport passengers.  Menor operated the ferry until 1918, when he sold the store and the ferry to Maud Noble, a Philadelphia women who came to Jackson Hole looking for adventure.  She operated the ferry until 1927, when the state of Wyoming built a bridge nearby.

Maud Noble was significant for another reason too.  She was instrumental in the movement to create Grand Teton National Park.  She hosted Horace Albright, then the Superintendent of the National Park Service, along with several local ranchers and farmers, at a historic meeting in her cabin to talk about the creation of the park.

The Menor’s Ferry history area contains the Menor General Store, a replica reaction ferry, the original well, a replica barn and Maud Noble’s cabin, which was moved to the site when she purchased the store and ferry in 1918.

 

 

 

Nearby is also the Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal Church that was built in 1925 on land donated by Maud Noble.  Services are held weekly between May and September, and the chapel can be booked for weddings with the stunning backdrop of the Tetons through the window.

 

 

 

Be sure to visit the area when you are in Grand Teton National Park – it is worth a look around!

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West 2016: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

It’s not everyday that one man gets a huge museum dedicated to him, but the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming is just that.  Here you can learn everything you want to know about Buffalo Bill.

Museum Entrance

Buffalo Bill was born William Frederick Cody in 1846, in Iowa.  His father died when he was only 11, and as the legend goes, he took work as a Pony Express rider and made a daring, physically challenging ride of 322 miles without a break (although the horses were switched out).  But the truth is, it never happened.  Bill was in school when the Pony Express was operating and never worked for them.  He did in fact ride for a messenger service, but he only transported messages a distance of three miles.  Bill did serve in the Civil War, after having been in some trouble leading up to it, and then gained his fame as a bison hunter after the war.  He worked for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, killing bison to provide food for the men who were working their way across the west building the rail line.  He was apparently a very good shot and killed an awful lot of bison.

He was also extremely good at promoting himself.  He told his stories, and was apparently a very likable guy, so people wanted to listen to him.  He started his Wild West Show – it ran in various versions for over 30 years, from 1883 to 1916, and it traveled the U.S. and even in Europe.  He was able to get famous Native Americans to participate, including Sitting Bull and Standing Bear, as well as horsemen from around the world.  There were trick riders and sharpshooters, and other types of cowboys, Indians, and Buffalo soldiers.  The show had it all…

The museum details all of this, as well as his personal trials, family life and death in 1917.  It is very well done.

Buffalo Bill Portrait

Of course, the museum is really five in one, with the Draper Natural History Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum and the Plains Indian Museum, in addition to the Buffalo Bill Museum.  There is also a research library.  You could spend several days there, and still not feel like you saw it all.

We spent a solid half day in the museum, and tried to see what we could.  We visited on the last day that we were headed into Yellowstone National Park, traveling that afternoon down through Grand Teton National Park to stay two nights in Jackson, Wyoming.  My mom had an advantage, as she had visited before on a previous trip.

I really liked that the Natural History Museum indicated where their mounted animals had come from (sadly, lots of them had been killed by cars).  The Western Art Museum had some really amazing pieces, and I enjoyed the reproduction art studio of Frederic Remington.

If you have a chance, it is well worth the $19 price of admission; be sure to allow plenty of time.

West 2016: Rapid City Oddity

Day 4: August 8, 2016

When you think of a gas station and convenience store, I bet you are like me and think about a place to fill the tank, and perhaps pick up some snacks for that long drive you have ahead of you.  You know…  Diet Dr. Pepper, coffee, licorice, pretzels… something to hold you over until you get your next meal (yes, I am a bit food focused, in case you were wondering).  But I bet it isn’t often that you think of that gas station convenience store as a place to view a whole host of stuffed animals from around the world.  And I don’t mean the cute, cuddly plush stuffies – I mean a collection of taxidermy animals!

This odd Taxidermy Gas Station, as I came to call it, is located in Rapid City, South Dakota inside a Mobile gas station.  It has an actual name – The Call of the Wild Museum, but Taxidermy Gas Station has a much better ring to it, in my humble opinion…

I knew about it before our trip, having stumbled upon it while I was researching things to do on TripAdvisor. I put it on the list as an interesting potential, but wasn’t convinced that we would make it there because there were so many other things we wanted to see in the area.  In the end, we just kind of ended up at the intersection and decided to make the stop as we were heading home from our busy day at Badlands, among other places…

I have mixed feelings on big game hunting…  I am sure others have different opinions, but I don’t think that anyone should be permitted to hunt endangered animals.  I think if you are going to hunt common animals, you should be hunting it to eat it.  But regardless of your views on hunting, this place is here, an exhibit showing the ‘kills’ of a hunting family that needed a large display room.  The Taxidermy Gas Station was born…

The exhibit is free – a big room attached to the convenience store, and it contains dozens, maybe even over a hundred taxidermied specimens.  Common animals and exotics from all over the world.  Lions, an elephant, a polar bear, an alligator, a wolverine, a Canada goose, a few different species of prairie dogs…  You name it, and you can likely find it there.  Well, now that I think about it, they didn’t have a manatee – that’s a good thing.

The taxidermy on these animals is very well done, and it is morbidly interesting to walk through the room checking out all the different animals.  However, it is also sad.  I will leave you to decide for yourself…

 

Thoughts?

After the Taxidermy Gas Station, we wrapped up our drive back to Custer, South Dakota, traveling through Custer State Park after dark.  I will tell you more about this wonderful park in another post!  Winding through the park after dark was a surreal experience, especially since at one point I had to slam on the brakes to narrowly avoid hitting a large male bison, who was standing in the road, in the fog, staring directly at us…  Creepy…  My heart jumped into my throat!  But after we stopped the car, he lazily walked by the side of us, without a care in the world…


Distance for the Day:
Custer, SD – Minuteman National Historic Site – Prairie Homestead – Badlands National Park, SD – Wall Drug – Call of the Wild Museum – Custer, SD (4 hrs, 45 min, 254 miles)

Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD
Gas – $2.19 / gallon

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

A man walks into The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and tries to attack a painting with a knife. Fortunately, Robert Oliver is restrained before doing any damage to the painting, and ends up being involuntarily committed for mental illness.

His psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew Marlow, begins to treat Oliver and in doing so, embarks on a journey to solve the mystery of the beautiful old-fashioned woman whom Oliver is obsessed with painting. His journey takes him to Oliver’s former wife and former lover, as well as halfway around the world. What he uncovers is a tragic love story; while along the way he finds a love of his own.

The Swan Thieves was written by the same woman that wrote The Historian (I recommend it highly), and Kostova weaves an intricate tale of love and relationships, and the nuances of the human mind. Her character development is superb, with each character possessing their own strengths and flaws; their own triumphs and tragedies.

I was captivated from beginning to end, trying to anticipate what was around the next corner, hating to put the book down to go back to the real world. The conclusion leaves questions, and just like life, things don’t always get wrapped up neatly. As is always the case with true love, the story will stay with you long after the end.

Note: I listened to the audiobook version, which was wonderfully narrated by different voices.

Free Ice Water at Wall Drug!

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Is there such a thing as a trip to the Badlands without a stop at Wall Drug? This iconic store, originally a pharmacy, has become an American legend, due to the road signs that line I-90 for miles in both directions. Additionally, they give away free bumper stickers and people erect signs in far off places announcing how many miles it is to Wall Drug.  These marketing strategies have absolutely aided in their success.

Wall Drug was opened by Ted Hustead and his wife in 1931; they were looking for a small town with a Catholic church where they could establish their pharmacy business. Wall is currently in the “middle of nowhere,” and I can only imagine that it was even more remote over 85 years ago. His wife Dorothy deserves the credit for its ultimate success. Mount Rushmore had just opened, and she had the idea to offer free ice water to tourists traveling west to see it during the hot, dry summer. The idea brought lots of people in and the store took off!

The Famous Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug is basically a shopping mall where you can buy all sorts of kitschy souvenirs, including a mounted “jackalope,” which is a jackrabbit with antlers.  I have no idea how this thing ever took off, but I guess I need to remember that we have a long history of venerating mythical creatures, and why not – it is fun!  Apparently in Douglas, WY, where the first taxidermy jackalope was created in 1932, they have an “official” jackalope hunting season, which occurs for only one day.  In case you are interested in bagging your own jackalope, the season occurs each year on June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 a.m. The hunter must have an IQ greater than 50 but not over 72.  Permits are available from the Douglas, WY Chamber of Commerce.  I think that would be pretty awesome to get one!  But I digress…

Mom and I combined our visit to Wall Drug with dinner.  I had a buffalo burger, which was good, but somehow I neglected to snap a picture…  We decided to forego the ice cream for dessert, although it did look really delicious.  Instead we took a bit of time to go find the rideable Jackalope out back!  Because a trip to Wall Drug is not complete without sitting astride a 10 foot tall fiberglass Jackalope!  The stirrups were too short for this equestrienne, but I tried to make the best of it with my long remembered equitation skills.  Mom even played along and climbed up there too.

The Wall Drug Cafe – I got to stare at the ice cream counter all through dinner!

 

Me riding the Jackalope

 

Mom riding the Jackalope!

We also found a stuffed bison to pose with – she had seen better days – I imagine she’s been petted by millions over the years. And we checked out an exhibit on gold mining, where you can pan for gold for a fee, but it was closed when we were there.  The mall has a Western art museum as well that would have been cool to check out if we had more time – it is free to visit.

Me with the stuffed bison – up close and personal

In the end, we departed with full bellies but passed on purchasing the mounted jackalopes or other Wall Drug souvenirs, and got on the road towards home (Custer, SD, that is…).  We still had a fair bit of driving and one more, very odd, stop to make…

West 2016: Deadwood – Mines and Museums

Day 3: August 7, 2016

After our busy morning in Deadwood, our next stop was the Broken Boot Gold Mine; it was named for the old, falling apart boot that was found in the mine as the current owners were getting it ready for tours.  For $12 ($5 for the tour and $7 to pan for gold), we took a tour of a now defunct gold mine.  Our guide was a chipper high school student, working through the summer for his family’s business.  He was upbeat and fun, and although he mostly stuck to his script, he explained the inner workings of the gold mine.  This particular gold mine didn’t make that much money, but it was an interesting tour.  He showed us the equipment that the miners used, and explained that they had to purchase it themselves.  We also got to experience the pitch black of absolute darkness in the mine, as well as the VERY dim light of the candle that the miners worked with.  The conditions would have been difficult.

The entrance of the Broken Boot Mine

The entrance of the Broken Boot Mine

 

The inside of the Broken Boot Gold Mine

The inside of the Broken Boot Gold Mine

At the end, if you chose to add it onto your tour, you got to try your hand at panning for gold.  Of course, they seed the dirt and rocks with some gold, so it was a “miracle” that both my mom and I found some!  Our guide was great about showing us the technique, although I think my mom did much better at it than I did (she has done this before).  We both had a lot of fun with it though!

Mom panning for gold. She makes it look effortless...

Mom panning for gold. She makes it look effortless…

 

Me? Not so effortless...

Me? Not so effortless…

After the Broken Boot mine tour, we checked out the Days of ’76 Museum.  That’s 1876 in case you were wondering.  The entire focus of the museum is to celebrate 1876, the year that Deadwood was first established after the gold rush began, as well as the Days of ’76 festival, an annual celebration.  The Days of ’76 has a rodeo, a parade, and lots of people in costume.  The celebration began in 1924, so it has over 90 years of history!  The museum has exhibits with photos and historic saddles and costumes from the festival and rodeo.  They even have a whole floor of historic carriages from days gone by, as well as other forms of transportation, including a horse drawn hearse and a beer wagon.  Strangely, there was no wine wagon…  Who wouldn’t want to have a wine wagon?!  But they did have an exhibit showing a historic saloon.

A milk wagon at the Days of '76 Museum.

A milk wagon at the Days of ’76 Museum.

 

Me in the Stagecoach at the Days of '76 Museum.

Me in the Stagecoach at the Days of ’76 Museum.

We had gone to the Visitor’s Center to get some information at the beginning of the day and they had a passport card where you could get stamps at various places (the bus tour, the Adams Museum, The Days of ’76 Museum, the Broken Boot Mine, the Trolley, etc.).  We ended up being one stamp short for the day to get the prize, but the woman took pity on us.  I think she was secretly impressed that we managed to make the most of our day…  Either that, or she just didn’t care…  But either way it worked out well for us because, we each got to  redeem our passports and we both chose the historic photo playing cards…  Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a complete and total nerd.  So?

There's gold in them thar hills!

There’s gold in them thar hills!

We left Deadwood and made our way to our home for the next three nights; the Mystic Valley Inn in Custer, South Dakota.  Along the way we got caught in a huge rainstorm which sent bikers trying to find places to shelter along the side of the highway.  They looked pretty miserable standing out there in the rain; it made me pretty happy for our wonderful, yet dented to hell, car.  The rain had cleared along the way though, and when we got to our motel, it had stopped.  We got checked in to the cute 40’s/50’s roadside motel with a nice arbor and outside seating area, and then ventured out again to find dinner…

The Buglin’ Bull Bar and Grill in Custer, South Dakota looked intriguing, so we got a table and ordered our meals.  I had the beer sampler (The Wapiti Wheat, the 1874 Black Hills Gold (an Amber), the Armstrong Ale (an ESB), and the Custer Nut Brown Ale) – they were all good, but less complex than the Washington beers I have gotten used to.  For dinner I had the Pheasant Flatbread with kalamata olives, peperoncinis, feta cheese and tomato.  The pheasant tasted like chicken, but more oily and gamey.  It was delicious!

My beer sampler at the Buglin' Bull

My beer sampler at the Buglin’ Bull

 

Pheasant Flatbread at the Buglin' Bull

Pheasant Flatbread at the Buglin’ Bull

We ended the evening relaxing in our room, watching a bit of TV, journaling and reading.  The perfect end to a great day!

 

Distance for the Day: Belle Fourche, SD – Deadwood, SD – Custer, SD (1 hr, 49 min, 84 miles)
H
otel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD

West 2016: Big Horn County Historical Museum

Day 1: August 5, 2016

I love those museums that have collections of historic buildings that have been saved and moved from their original sites.  So after we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, we headed a few miles down the road to the Big Horn County Historical Museum in Hardin, Montana, about 15 miles west of the battlefield.

It is one of those small community historical museums, with a twist.  The indoor exhibits included a collection of Western Art and items, and a cool local photography exhibit and sale.  They had a replica tipi, a stuffed bison (we were to learn that stuffed bison are a dime a dozen around the West), and several other cool historic items.

The outdoor exhibits were fascinating.  The museum had a whole collection of dozens of buildings that had been moved to the site over the years.  There was a church and a dentist’s office, resort cabins, stables, a schoolhouse, a mortician’s office – they even had an original Pullman car!  The Pullman car was in very rough shape, and the inside was empty save for some debris, but it was really cool to see.

We wandered around outside for awhile, poking around in all the buildings.  They were connected by a series of boardwalks, and most of the buildings were open to explore inside.  We strolled slowly due to the heat until we needed to get on the road to our destination for the night.

And then there was the drive – a long, monotonous drive.  We broke it up with a stop at Top That Eatery, in the tiny town of Forsyth, Montana.  I had the twin taco – a hard shell taco inside a soft shell taco – smothered in fake cheese and olives.  Not healthy at all, but YUM!  It brought back memories of those awful, but delicious, convenience store nachos (at some point in my future I really should eat better…).  I did get my steps in for the day though, so I figured I could end the day with something terrible for me!

We hit Glendive, Montana after dark, and I was so ready for sleep!  Mom stayed up for awhile, but I didn’t know it – I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

Hotel for the Night: Comfort Inn – Glendive, MT
Distance for the Day: 275 miles (4 hours, 4 minutes)