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It’s The Weekend!

Every day has its pros and cons.

Yesterday, I didn’t have to be out of the house quite so early, because I had a dentist appointment first thing.  I got to have a bit of a leisurely morning, but I had to have one of my old silver amalgam fillings replaced, complete with Novocain and that horrible grinding.  The good news is that I now have a tooth colored filling that isn’t noticeable.  Unfortunately though, my mouth is still a bit sore – hopefully that goes away soon.

The other plus yesterday was that my later departure meant that I captured a beautiful sunrise!

Happy Weekend everybody!

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Circus Trip 2018: Split Rock Creek State Park

Day 14, Sunday, July 29, 2018 – Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

After the Corn Palace and lunch at a Taco John’s (this was on the recommendation of a friend – I wasn’t that impressed), I stopped at a rest area.  I did some Googling and found a small state park in the middle of nowhere, not far across the border in Minnesota, and near my next destination of Pipestone National Monument.  A call to the state park reservation line revealed that they had a site for the next two nights.  Score!  I was going to decompress and just relax for a bit!  Instantly, I started to feel better, knowing the pressure was off.

Minnesota! My 5th State!

I made my way there, driving down back roads by farm fields, and heading off on a gravel road to the park.  I was a little unsure, thinking there surely couldn’t be a state park here.  But soon enough, I arrived.

Split Rock Creek State Park is on a man-made reservoir that was created in 1938, when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) dammed the creek in order to provide a lake and recreational area to fish during the Great Depression.  It was small, and beautiful.  My little tent site was right on the lake, with a dock that I could walk out on, and lay on to enjoy the sunshine.  The fish there were so plentiful that they were just jumping out of the water.

I took a nap when I got there, to shake off the fatigue that I had been feeling all day.  Then I set up camp and checked out my surroundings.

Split Rock Creek State Park is small, as state parks go.  There was an RV area and a tent area and a total of 55 sites; the tent area had no more than 10 sites.  I liked my site a lot, as it was just steps away from the lake and that little dock.  The lake had a little trail that followed the lake for a while, and there was a swimming area that was completely deserted the entire time I was there.  In fact, there was very little going on here; there was only one other tent camping family for the first night of my stay.  I never saw the camp hosts the entire time.  The busiest creatures there were the muskrats, which seemed to be plentiful. I saw at least four during my stay.

The dam is made from Sioux Quartzite, a red rock that is local to the area.  The dam and a nearby bridge made from the same Sioux Quartzite are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I spent two quiet and relaxing days there.  I didn’t say much more than hello to a soul there at the park.  I set up my tent to have a respite from the mosquitoes and the periodic rain showers, but slept in my car.  I wrote in my journal, relaxed on the dock, and took walks by Prairie Lake.

I enjoyed watching the muskrats working on their lakeside homes, cutting down reeds to build.  I loved seeing the fish jumping out of the water to catch bugs, even though I was never able to catch that with my camera.  I watched a snapping turtle checking me out from the middle of the lake, even though I couldn’t see what he was until I blew up the photos from home.  Deer ran in front of me while I was walking, I saw lots of bunnies, a woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Mourning Doves, and a Great Blue Heron.  It was peaceful and quiet, a true oasis tucked in among the farm fields.

I watched the sunsets each evening from the little dam over the creek.  Those sunsets were stunning!

Watching the sun sink lower in the sky, shooting rays in every direction, reminded me of the purpose of the trip.  To let go of the hard parts in my past, to be renewed, and to find joy.  And I did find joy there, tucked away in that tiny little oasis in a corner of Minnesota.  More than I possibly could have ever known.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Badlands Evening

Day 12, Friday, July 27, 2018

After my visit to Ellsworth Air Force Base, I continued on my way to Wall, South Dakota and got a space at the Sleepy Hollow campground.  It was $15 plus tax for a tent site, one of the cheapest campgrounds on my trip.  I set up my tent, took a nap and then went to Badlands National Park nearby to see if I could find any wildlife.

Tenting it in Mellow Yellow

I wasn’t planning to stay that long at Badlands, as there was a thunderstorm in the distance – and I would be spending more time there the next day. It was interesting to see the storm approaching on the horizon – that light!

I drove slowly down the Sage Rim Road, where I found Bighorn Sheep!  They are so cute! And those babies!  I loved just watching them amble by.

It was too dark for good photos, so I made my back towards camp and stumbled upon one of my favorite photos of my entire road trip.  The recent rain had soaked the road, making it shine like chrome.  The road, the sky, and my car hood made for a spectacular but unexpected subject.  I still love this photo!

Back at camp, I had left-over sausage and rice, along with a Huckleberry lager.  And I did laundry.  Because not every evening on a road trip can have over-the-top excitement…  It was a great day!

My Huckleberry Lager – this was a pretty good beer!

 

Moving On

Somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight.  That’s what grief is. No one prepares you for how heavy that weight is, how hard it is to carry, or how long it will linger in your heart.  But you have to feel it in its entirely, in order to feel the light begin to peek in the cracks on the other side of grief.  It will never go away completely; you will always carry some of it with you.  It changes you, but in time the light will come back and you will see the road forward with new eyes.

My last three years have been largely about grief.  The end of my marriage, a job with a toxic environment, the loss of two beloved cats, and having my life upended by my father’s sudden death.

There were nights I cried myself to sleep, and days I felt so numb that I thought I may never cry again.  I walked with that weight pressing me down, invading every inch of my soul.  I walked even on days when I thought I couldn’t possibly have any more strength.  I lay awake most nights at 3 am, turning over every word, every feeling, every look I had received, trying to make sense of what went wrong.  I did this even when I knew logically that I did the best I could, I did exactly what I was supposed to do, I upheld my end of the deal.  Not perfectly, but I did the best I could.

I lay awake with the weight of knowing that you can’t make somebody else step up to the plate, or keep the promises they made.  Knowing that sometimes you just run into assholes, and kindness won’t make them stop being assholes.  Knowing that sometimes we all get the shitty end of the deal, no matter what we do.  When I did sleep, I had vivid nightmares.  My brain is very, very ruthless. For me sleep came and went, with the insomnia returning with each new trauma.  At some point, the sleepless nights once again became nights where I slept more peacefully.  It creeps up slowly, so you aren’t really sure exactly when it happens.  I still have those nights that I wake up at 3 am and turn over everything in my mind; they are coming less often now though.

The light seeps into the cracks, and you find your smile returning.  Sometimes other people notice it before you realize it’s there.  You find yourself laughing where you faked it before.  You find yourself looking forward to things again, instead of seeing each day as something to be endured.  My road trip helped me immeasurably.  With each mile that I drove, and each place I visited, and each kind person I met along the way, the weight lessened.  My heart lightened.  But time played a part too – and the distance that time creates.

No, it never really truly goes away.  You still have the memories.  The good memories, that bring you joy and peace.  And the bad memories hit you like a gut punch when you least expect it.  They also remind you that you can get through it, as long as you don’t give up.  You change.  The grief will still be a part of you.  But it will no longer define you.  So yes, somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight – there isn’t any other way.  I’m not quite there yet, but one day, it will feel lighter.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Old Montana Prison

Day 7, Sunday, July 22, 2018

After I visited the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, I still had plenty of time in my day.  I headed over to the Old Montana Prison.  For some reason, I have a morbid fascination with old prisons, and this one didn’t disappoint!

The Old Montana Prison was in use from its construction in 1871, all the way to 1979.  Much of the present facility was built using convict labor, and the sandstone walls are 24 feet tall and extend 4 feet down into the ground to prevent prisoners from digging their way out.  Construction of the exterior walls began in 1893.  The oldest buildings currently standing at the prison are the original women’s building from 1907, and a 1912 prison building.

 

The prison is huge, and you can wander on a self-guided tour to see the cell blocks, cafeteria, women’s block, exercise yard, warden’s office, workshops and more.  I don’t think I would want to visit at night though; I’m sure the place is haunted!  The exhibits in the prison included information on the 1959 riot there, which resulted in the death of Deputy Warden Rothe and the murder-suicide of the two inmates who initiated the plot.  Several guards and other staff were held hostage for about 36 hours, before the Montana National Guard stormed the prison and ended the riot.  The inmates were rioting over the poor conditions at the prison, which got worse after the riot ended.

 

Another notable story is that of “Turkey Pete” Eitner, who was convicted and sentenced to life for murder in 1918. He became a model prisoner and was eventually put in charge of the turkey flock, which he proudly cared for.  His mental illness led to him believing that he owned the flock, which he then “sold” for a profit.  More entrepreneurial ventures followed, and he soon “owned” the prison.  Prisoners were permitted to humor him, and they printed checks on the prison printing press to pay for various things, and Turkey Pete “paid” for all the expenses at the prison.  When he died in 1967 after being incarcerated for 49 years, he received the only funeral ever held within the prison, and his cell was retired.

Turkey Pete’s Cell

The Old Montana Prison site also has four other museums on the site, and your admission fee of $15 (you get a discount with AAA) gets you into all of them.  The Montana Auto Museum has over 160 cars ranging from the invention of the first cars to muscle cars and sports cars.  Many of them are very unusual, including historic campers, and a replica of an 1886 Benz, which had one of the very first internal combustion engines.  I am not that into cars, but it was fascinating!  I was also impressed that they could get them all crammed into the building.  That would take a lot of planning to determine in which order they needed to be moved in, as well as some very good three-point turn skills.

 

The Frontier Museum has artifacts of items that were used by ranchers, farmers and frontiersmen during the Old West period.  There are firearms, saddles, spurs, a wagon, and Native American artifacts.  The Powell County Museum has artifacts that include mining industry items, and a local wood-carver’s collection.  Lastly, Yesterday’s Playthings has exhibits on model railroads, and dolls and toys.  Outside, you can explore an Old West Town, with homes and businesses that have been moved to the site.  None of these other museums take too much time, but are worth peeking into!

 

The museum complex also has a very unique museum shop.  The current prisoners in the Montana State prison system have the ability to make an assortment of arts and crafts, which are sold to the public through the museum store.  There are some very beautiful and intricate items, including paintings and tooled leather bridles.  I was in awe of their talent!

 

 

Soon though, I had to be on my way.  I drove to Dillon, Montana and found a KOA campground for the night.  I wanted to be close to my destination for the next morning!  I got there in enough time to enjoy the swimming pool and sit listening to the creek that ran alongside my campsite.  It was a nice place to park for the night.

Me at the Pool!

 

The creek at my campground, Dillon, Montana