Chamberlain, S.D.

We spent the day in Chamberlain so I could participate in an online workshop for General Assembly, the big annual meeting of Unitarian Universalists.

In the morning we headed to the Akta Lakota Museum, which reportedly has one of the largest collections of Lakota artifacts. The collection includes late nineteenth and early twentieth century artifacts, as well as more recent works by Lakota people.

By mistake, we first wandered into an exhibit about St. Joseph’s School, a Catholic mission school for Lakota children. The museum is actually hosted by this mission school. It was a well-intentioned exhibit, but nevertheless hard to look at. The school took in children from kindergarten through eighth grade. One display talked about how early on, in the 1920s and 1930s, school life was highly regimented; they explained this away by saying there weren’t enough nuns and priests to maintain order unless everything was highly regimented. As an educator, I wasn’t sympathetic; I felt they were trying to justify regimentation when actually their educational model was essentially flawed.

Then another nearby display told how it was against the rules for children to speak Lakota, and that speaking Lakota was considered a major discipline problem. This makes me think the problems with maintaining order had as much to do with harsh and ill-considered rules as it did with staffing shortages. While I can sympathize with the positive intent of the school — to provide educational opportunities for Lakota children — the educational philosophy, educational methods, and school organization seem to me to be fatally flawed.

In fact, I got so angry at this poorly conceived educational venture, I left before I went through the whole exhibit. So I don’t know if the exhibit addressed the child sexual abuse scandal at St. Joseph’s School (read about this scandal here, and here). In any case, I didn’t think the exhibit adequately addressed the stories of people like Zigmund Hollow Horn who at age 65 recalled, “If you spoke your language [i.e., Lakota], they held you down, put a bar of soap in your mouth.” I don’t see how that kind of poor behavior by adults can be justified under any legitimate educational model.

The main exhibit was less self-serving. There were some fine examples of Lakota material culture on display. However, the exhibit as a whole looked like something out of the 1970s — artifacts placed together in cases without a clear organizing principle, meager labels, not enough supplementary cultural information. I also felt that some of the artifacts needed conservation, and were displayed in such a manner as to exacerbate existing conservation problems. Take, for example, the birch bark canoe that’s on display. The forward thwart has detached from the gunwale, allowing the hull to splay out. I felt this serious conservation problem may have been exacerbated by a poorly designed display cradle which tends to push the bottom of the boat up thus aggravating the tendency for the gunwales to splay.

Lakota birch bark canoe, Akta Lakota Museum — notice the detached thwart and splayed hull

I understand that the primary mission of St. Joseph’s School is education, and they may find it hard to justify paying to conserve the artifacts in their museum. But if that’s the case, then admit that adequately maintaining the museum is outside the scope of the institution’s mission, and give the artifacts to someone who can adequately conserve them.

It wasn’t long before I had had enough of the main exhibit, and walked out. I felt an excellent collection of artifacts had been ruined by outdated exhibit design and lack of adequate conservation. I couldn’t help but wonder what the museum would look like if it were adequately funded — and if the exhibit had been designed by Lakota curators rather than by well-meaning white school officials.

After leaving the museum, we ate lunch. I spent the afternoon preparing for, then helping lead the online workshop at General Assembly. So about half the day was really a work day.

In the evening, we walked around Chamberlain, a lovely small town with a population of about 2,200 people. It was a perfect summer day: in the seventies, windy, clear. We looked out over the river at the green bluffs rising up on the opposite shore. We both agreed this would be a pleasant place to live. As the sun set over the western bank of the Missouri, we walked back to the motel to get ready for bed.

Great Plains Yucca in full bloom on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River

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Gillette, Wyo., to Chamberlain, S.D.

We got a late start (again), so this will be a short post.

Heading east from Gillette, Wyo., we left the Far West behind and entered the Great Plains. It’s still spring, so the grasslands were brilliant green. As we entered the Black Hills of South Dakota, we saw how they got their name: in contrast to the grasslands, the hills covered with conifers appear black.

The Black Hills of South Dakota as seen across the grasslands

Carol asked a pleasant man at the visitor center just over the South Dakota border if there was anything we should see. He recommended the auto tour route through Badlands National Park. The more popular viewpoints were pretty crowded, with many overweight tourists. We decided to hike part of the Castle Trail. Within a half mile from the trailhead parking lot, there were no other people. It took an hour to go two miles, because I kept stopping to take photos of flowers (Plains Pricklypear, Sego Lily, several flowers in the legume family, etc.) and birds (Rock Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Red-winged Blackbird, etc.) and even a few photos of the dramatic landscape.

Along Castle Trail, Badlands National Park

By the time we got to the Saddle Pass Trail, the sky was looking pretty dark. Lightning flashed in the distance.

Dark clouds from Saddle Pass

We headed back as quickly as we could; the return trip took a little less than half an hour. A few drops of rain starting falling as we got into our car.

Light rain continued most of the way from Badlands National Park to Chamberlain, S.D. And right now, the rain is coming down in buckets, pounding on the roof of the motel. “We got here just in time,” Carol just said. “It would not have been fun driving in that.”

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Rock Springs to Gillette, Wyo.

After driving for about 80 miles, I decided I needed to stretch my legs, so we took Exit 184, Continental Divide Road, and turned right onto a dirt road that led to some wayside markers. One of the signs explained how Henry Bourne had an idea for a cross-country auto road. But, as usual, I was looking at flowers, and I followed my gaze down a dry wash. By chance I looked up, and there was a Pronghorn Antelope staring at me. I got out my super-zoom camera in time to catch a blurry photo of the antelope running away from me.

Pronghorn Antelope running away

Our next stop was Rawlins. Carol wanted to go to the library there for an online meeting she had scheduled at two o’clock. We arrived early, and walked around the downtown. Carol stopped to admire a piano on the sidewalk that was painted with a Van Gogh design. A friendly woman came along and said, “Play something for us!” It turned out she was the economic development director for downtown Rawlins, and she told us about some of the city’s accomplishments. I noticed that she often spoke about involving children and teens in city projects, and asked if she used Search Institute’s Developmental Assets model for supporting the healthy development of children and teens. She said that she did indeed use that model.

After Carol’s meeting was over, we headed to Gillette. While Carol drove, I got out my laptop and worked on a PowerPoint presentation that was due today. The slide deck was hosted on Google Drive, so I used my phone as a hotspot as we drove across the high plains of Wyoming. Working remotely has become so easy that you can do it on a cross-country trip. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

We stopped at Independence Rock Historic Site. Independence Rock is a huge outcropping of granite that served as a landmark for the Oregon Trail. We walked around the base — me looking for flowers as usual — and then we climbed partway up the rock.

Carol on Independence Rock

It was so windy that we decided not to climb to the top of the rock. We walked all the way around Independence Rock, and as every tourist does we admired the nineteenth century grafitti scratched into it.

But for me, the highlight of our stop at Independence Rock was seeing a Plain Pricklypear (Opuntia polyacantha) in full bloom.

Opuntia polyacantha in bloom

We arrived in Gillette after dark. We’re both pretty tired. It’s time for bed.

(Random facts from today’s trip: We crossed the continental divide three times today. The highest point of our trip was when we crossed the continental divide on U.S. Highway 237, at an elevation of 7,174 feet above sea level. Our gas mileage for the second half of the day was over 36 miles per gallon, even with the canoe on the car — this afternoon’s gas mileage was higher than usual because we were driving downhill from the continental divide.)

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Wendover to Rock Springs, Wyo.

Our room in Wendover looked out onto a rock outcropping which rose up a hundred feet or more behind the motel. After a quick breakfast, I went out and followed an ATV trail up the outcropping. Soon I was fifty feet above the motel, on a level area below the summit of the outcropping. From there I could see the Union Pacific rail lines heading east. A long train squealed slowly around a loop of rail, heading towards the main line. The main line was a straight line across miles of white salt flats, paralleling the interstate highway, both disappearing into the distance. I spent a quarter of an hour on the level area looking at the desert plants there — ephedra, with no leaves to speak of, just stems with chlorophyll; prickly-pear cactus, with a red blossom just gone by; saltbush; sagebrush; and so on. Once again on this trip, I spent far more time looking at the world at my feet, rather than looking up at the awe-inspiring landscape around me.

Prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia sp.)

We stopped in Salt Lake City to meet Sandy, an old friend of Carol’s, for lunch. I was fascinated to hear them reminiscing about their days in middle school and high school: the hierarchies of their schools; the track coach who years later would be arrested for molesting his step-daughter; a favorite English teacher, Miss Mountford; the differences between their two families; and so on. I felt they both must have been nice teenagers.

I drove as we left Salt Lake. Carol dislikes twisty mountain roads, and the road from Utah into Wyoming is definitely a twisty mountain road. We pulled over at a rest stop at about mile 170 on I-80 for a mid-afternoon snack. There were picnic tables up a steep paved sidewalk, and up another even steeper paved sidewalk was an observation platform. Behind the rest area, a plain dotted with sagebrush sloped up to peaks above.

A sign on a fence said that this land was a wildlife management area. I walked through the fence, and out onto that sagebrush-dotted slope. There were flowers everywhere. I spent a happy half hour looking at flowers and taking photographs, until my cell phone rang. It was Carol asking where I was. “You don’t have to hurry back,” she said, “I just wanted to know where you were.” I took her at her word, and spent another quarter of an hour looking at flowers. My favorite was the Sego Lily: three white petals marked with yellow and deep red at their bases, over three cream colored sepals.

Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)

When we got to Rock Springs, we followed the signs to the “Historic Downtown” area, parked the car, and walked around. We saw some people cooking something outdoors. “Want to go over?” Carol said. At first I said no, but I realized I was hungry, so then I said yes. A talkative woman greeted us, and pointed to a whiteboard with the menu: hot dogs, Kronski’s, and funnel cakes. We asked what “Kronski’s” were, and the woman told us that they were sausages that were made here in Rock City, in fact they were made in the building that we were all standing in front of.

I ordered a Kronski, and Carol ordered a hot dog. A man — who, as it turned out, was the woman’s brother — cooked the sausage and hot dog for us, and the woman gestured to the tray of condiments. We both put sauerkraut on our meat. The man invited us to sit at some tables behind him, and offered to turn off the Ozzy Osborne he’d been listening to, but we said we liked Ozzy. We had a long chat with the two of them. They had just started out this new business, and were trying to figure out how to make it work.

When we finished eating, we thanked them, and finished our walk around the historic district. It was getting dark, so then we drove back to the motel.

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Fernley, Nev., to Wendover, Utah

We drove past dramatic scenery today: the Forty-Mile Desert, the green Humboldt River valley in between sagebrush plains, towering 11,000 foot mountains…. But what stays in my mind are the flowers we saw blooming near Pequop Summit.

We parked in the Pequop Summit rest area, elevation 6,967 feet above sea level. We walked over the cattle guard to a dirt road cut into the side of the hill, and then I saw a flower up a fairly steep embankment. I scrambled up to look at it. There was a small Single-leaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla) just beyond it, then a pale yellow Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) above that, and then some purple Hooker’s Onions (Alium acuminatum) above that. “Be careful coming down,” said Carol from the dirt road twenty feet below me. I decided that going up was easier than trying to slide down, so I scrambled up to the top of road cut. By now, I was more than thirty feet above the highway, so I must have been over seven thousand feet.

It was beautiful up there. At seven thousand feet above sea level, it was still springtime. Flowers were blooming everywhere. In some places you couldn’t move without stepping on a flower. In among the pungent-smelling sagebrush (Artemisia sp.), sprightly yellow Groundsels (Packera sp.), like tiny little yellow daisies, grew next to low-growing Lava Asters (?) (Ionactis alpina). The Mule’s Ears (Wyethia sp.), with their leaves like the ears of mules and their flowers like little sunflowers, were mostly past their prime, but in the shade of some big sagebrush bushes a few sheltered plants were still in full bloom.

The yellow flowers are Hawksbeard (Crepis sp.), the red ones are Paintbrushes (Castilleja sp.), and the small purple ones are Hooker’s Onion (Allium acuminatum)

In addition to the flowers, small grasshoppers were buzzing and jumping all through the scrubby growth. Birds sang throughout the sagebrush, and as I approached them were apparently surprised that a human was walking through their territories.

All this was happening within sight and sound of Interstate 80. Most of this was happening below the level of my waist. I was so fascinated by the sights, sounds, and smells that I never even looked up to admire the view from Pequop Summit, if there was indeed a view.

Eriogonum sp.

Earlier in the day, we had stopped for a rest break near Oreana, Nev. This was at a much lower elevation, and I didn’t expect to find any flowers in bloom. But I walked a little way down a dry wash, and there found two or three clumps of Desert Prince’s Plume (Stanleya pinnata) blooming. Pollinators swarmed around these flowers, including a Western Pygmy Blue butterfly.

Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis)

In Oreana as at Pequop Summit, I barely noticed the grand landscape scenery around me: my attention was on the small, intimate landscape at my feet.

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San Mateo to Fernley, Nev.

We got up early, and kept working from six thirty to twelve thirty. We put a few last items in the moving container, tied the canoe on the car, did some more last minute cleaning, loaded up the car, argued about little things, did a walk-through of the house with Kathy the cemetery superintendent and Joe from the cemetery’s board of trustees. The truck came by at about 9:30 to pick up the moving containers — what a relief that was. The car was packed by noon. It was a “Spare the Air” day, and the smog was unpleasant. We were ready to go.

Thank goodness it was a holiday, the new federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth. A holiday reduced the traffic from intensely unpleasant to merely horrible. We drove out through the inner Coast Range and into the Central Valley. We stopped at Dixon Fruit Stand, but they had mediocre fruit and durly clerks. We kept driving. Just past Davis, I said, “Let’s get off at Yolo Bypass.” “Where?” said Carol. “Right here, this exit,” I said. Carol zipped off the freeway at the last minute, saying she was willing to do something I wanted to do; meaning I should be nice to her when there was something she wanted to do later in the trip.

We drove to Parking Lot B, three quarters of a mile into Yolo Bypass Wildlife Management Area. Carol stayed in the car to take care of some business on her phone. I got out into the Central Valley heat, into the intense sunlight. I walked down a road. Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) lined the road, but just a yard or two from the road, there was a band of tall Bisnaga (Visnaga daucoides), the white umbrels of flowers waving above the feathery green foliage. Beyond that, bulrushes (Schoenoplectus sp.?) grew where the road dropped off into marshlands. Off to my right, green rice fields stretched into the distance. A large flock of White-faced Ibis circled overhead, then settled into the rice fields.

Ibis in a rice field

I felt different. I felt sane. Packing up and emptying out the house had felt strange, not completely moored in reality. The first two hours driving in the car still felt a little detached from reality. But the brilliant sunlight, the flowers, the pollinators, the birds, the jackrabbit loping lazily across the road — it felt like I was reconnecting with reality.

While I was photographing a flower, a man pulled up in his car, and spoke through the open window. “Um, I was just curious what you’re doing there. Not that you have to tell me, but…”

“Do you know this social media app iNaturalist?” I said. He didn’t. I explained that you could take a photo of a plant or animal, upload it, and get an identification. “I got into flowers recently,” I said, “and that’s how I’m learning them.” He asked me a few questions, then got ready to move on. “I’m Thomas, by the way,” he said. I introduced myself, then he drove off.

I walked slowly back to the car. Carol got out to take a short walk with me, but we agreed it was too hot, so we started riving again.

We stopped again at the Donner Pass rest area, and walked the little half mile loop next to the parking lot. It was already summer in the Central Valley, but it was still spring in the High Sierras. I saw a manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) still in bloom. We came to a small pond, and on the opposite shore there was still some unmelted snow.

Unmelted snow near Donner Pass

Then down the eastern slope of the Sierras into Nevada. Now we were in the dramatic landscape of the Great Basin. I noticed the canoe on top of the car cast an odd shadow as we drove.

Near Reno, on I-80

As sublime and awe-inspiring as the landscape was, it had been permanently marked by humankind. The philosopher Martin Heidegger, Nazi sympathizer though he was, had a useful insight with his concept of “Enframing”: part of the logic of modern human technology is to exclude all other ways of thinking about the world.

Patrick, Nev.

That sublime Nevada landscape is completely surveyed, marked out with roads and power lines, dotted with trash and effluvia; the habitats of plants and territories of birds must fit into the interstices of that human framework.

We drove on under the awe-full evening sky, and checked into our motel in Fernley, Nev.

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San Mateo

The day before a road trip is usually busy. When you’re taking a road trip to move across the continent, the day before a road trip is especially busy.

Tomorrow we start driving to Massachusetts. We spent the day packing up the last of our belongings into moving containers. In the morning, we felt a bit frantic thinking of all we had to do today. Fortunately, Nancy and van came over to help out. They also brought food and, best of all, conversation. We had a pretty cheerful day.

While I was packing the moving container, half a dozen neighbors stopped by to ask us where we were moving to. Two of those neighbors were people I had never seen before. We’ve had a hard time meeting people in the neighborhood; I guess we should have moved out sooner, we would have met more people.

We face a busy day tomorrow. I’m going to crawl into bed — no, I take that back, I’m going to crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m so tired I’ll probably fall asleep immediately, even though I will be sleeping on the floor.