Spring 2013, from the middle of the United States. We are on our way back east, winding down the journey. I am slowly getting back to recollecting our travels here for those of you checking in. We have told stories of the places and people we have encountered many times now and hope to have the opportunity to do that in person with you too. We are also working on a larger project of a book encompassing our experiences from the past many months and look forward to sharing that as well.
And a final goodbye to our new friends who had generously allowed us to stay in their home, as they had recently moved into her family home. We checked it out on our way out of town. It was a fascinating space, full of unique objects that reflected her parent’s interests. Her mother’s handmade stained glass, her father’s library situated in front of a bright light box and Jesus bid us farewell, along with our friend who reminded us to travel with open hearts!
A last lovely morning in Hamilton sharing explorations in paint with new friends in a sweet garden shop. A bright way to round out the visit.
Another lovely exploration of the Sawtooth mountains, higher up and at dusk this time.
Another great art making experience with kids at my mother’s friend’s after school program. The kid who created the piece on the far right was transfixed by the way ink moved through the water on the paper. We had dinner at her home afterward and got to see her recent paintings and drawings. It was wonderful to reconnect with she and her husband and meet their son. I realized how inspirational she had been to me as a young artist in middle school while she and my mother were in art school.
October 31, Hallow’s Eve! We had been talking about how we hoped to be in a cute town that celebrated the holiday, but little did we know that Hamilton was THE place to be. The town goes wild. Families from out in the country come in to trick or treat, the count for the night was around 1,500. Neighbors near the house we were staying in transformed their yard into a haunted house and I found it legitimately frightening. We stopped in front of a church to sit on bales of hay and roast marshmallows over fires while sipping apple cider. This Halloween was better than we could have imagined.
We hiked and explored the Sawtooth mountains that flank the town. We came upon a bobcat in the middle of the trail and got a fleeting view of it as it bounded up some rock and out of sight.
October 26-November 3, Hamilton, MT. We took another week of break from the road here. My mother’s friend from art school lives here and I’d heard about and imagined her life in the wild frontier of Montana for a while and was eager for the opportunity to see her. A second coincidence was that my mother had another friend who had grown up here and her sister offered her home in exchange for some help with it. Fall was in full swing here and it was a beautiful place to experience it. One of the things we did was rake the leaves in the yard, work we enjoyed, and I made paper from them on the side.
A beautiful day driving through ever-changing landscapes. We stopped off to climb up into the foothills and soak in Gold Bug hot spring. The top right image is the view from it. This was another gem, recommended to us by folks we passed in the backcountry in Yellowstone. Our last bit of drive was slow on this snowy road.
October 26, We stopped in Challis and had a funny night. Though it was a small town, it didn’t have the charm of Arco. We chatted with mine workers at a bar, who traveled down from Montana during the week to work in a molybdenum mine in the Sawtooth. We met other guys traveling from Boise to check on irrigation effects for the Bureau of Land Management at dinner. It felt like a transient town, situated at the convergence of two major highways north. Somehow the simulated nature we were surrounded by here seemed fitting.
It was a beautiful day’s drive through the Sawtooth Wilderness.
We traveled without a smart phone and purposely relied on gathering information firsthand or from conversations with people. This road is one of the best examples of that. The welding teacher at the high school in Arco had told us to take it from the main highway over to Ketchum. And thankfully, it was still open, despite the snow.
We climbed up into the mountains and looked down in the valleys. Snow and exploration of empty places excited us.
October 25, We were back on the road after a week’s rest. We stopped off in Mackay, Idaho to look at the abandoned mine and ghost town.
Goodbye Arco! This last glimpse of Arco shows their unique number hill. Each graduating high school class paints their year’s numbers on the cliffs, starting in 1920! We had really gotten comfortable here and it was hard to go. We extended our week by another night. We needed just one last meal at the Mello-dee. We had shared drinks at the bar several nights with the woman that ran the restaurant after she’d finished cooking dinner, which she did all on her own. She made incredible scones and Josh said the chicken fried steak was some of the best food he’d ever eaten. We have continued to talk about that food since leaving.
A snowy morning, matched the coziness we felt at our little place at the Lost River. While we made ourselves at home there, we got out and around a lot too. People were friendly and interested in what we were doing in Arco. We discovered connections everywhere. The beef that was served at dinner at the home of new friends was the same beef that was in the stew another new friend brought to a Monday night football potluck. And that beef had been bought from the daughter of an aforementioned cowboy. She had raised the cow for her 4H project.
Many friendships grew from the first night we walked in the Four Winds bar in Butte, just down the road from Arco. The population is around seventy-five people so the bar attracts the locals and folks out in the country between the two towns. This is the stunning view from the Four Winds parking lot. These pups and many other canine companions were regulars at the bar.
I was fortunate to get to teach one morning at Butte County High School, where they do not have art, but do have a welding class. I brought ink, brushes and paper and demonstrated the way I use the materials to paint landscapes. I showed them what I considered to be the magical effects of water and ink and how they might describe elements of a landscape and encouraged the students to find their own. They were impressive, immediately immersed and fearless in experimenting with media and image. Their use of symmetry, shading, patterning and textures to describe these imagined places was striking.
Their teacher had taught them sophisticated skills in making things from metal. He believed in education that provided hands on technical ability so that students would be proficient in making and repairing things. He was realistic that kids may not choose to go on to college, so they needed this kind of worldly experience for their futures. And also, he believed that if they knew how to weld and fabricate, they would never be out of work and would be able to do more for themselves. He made himself an example, as one of his own projects, a motorcycle, lived in the shop classroom.
These images are from the drive to a nearby town, Howe and back to Arco. They represent first impressions further explored. This interesting building, growing a mossy layer that makes it feel a part of the mountains, struck me when we first drove into town. It influenced my immediate sensibility of the place, where old things are allowed to weather and in some cases, return to the earth. Our first night in town we ate at what would become a favorite, Pickles restaurant, and heard from a volunteer fireman about the recent fire that took what was left of the little town of Howe. That’s all you see here, a pile of ashes still smoldering days later.
Several connections we made led back to Howe. We met a cowboy who was a regular at another one of our favorite spots, the Mello-dee. He had grown up in Howe and still lived there. Apparently he saw us on this drive and honked, but we missed him. His grandparents had run the old store that was lost in the fire, decades ago. It was the only place where people could get supplies in that area, because Arco was a great distance before automobiles. His stories, particularly those of his family being stranded from one another during snowstorms, put the span of road between Arco and Howe into a greater context. He drove it daily as did many trucks piled high with hay from the valley and larger cities east.
And days later we met an old cowboy who had owned the restaurant in Howe, also destroyed in the fire, years back. He did all the cooking and he told us he made just one meal for dinner and that’s what you got if you came to eat. There was a regular, presumably a gritty local, who would come in and ask him if he had any of that “yella sauce”. It was actually Bearnaise sauce. This cowboy was full of exotic experiences and thoughtful insight. I could have listened to his stories for much longer than the brief time we shared together.
Craters of the Moon National Monument. Arco is the gateway for visiting this park. It is a surreal landscape. Ancient lava flows and sagebrush cover the ground. We heard spring was stunning because tiny green plants shoot up against the black rock. The colors were striking on the grey that day we visited. Fascinating patterns are embedded in the frozen molten rocks. These curious trails led to the lava tube caves and they made me laugh. Our feeble headlamps didn’t help us much as we explored these deep, dark spaces.
This is Arco, a town with fading facades and empty buildings. It was “the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power” as a sign above a municipal building states. You can walk the whole town easily. There are few businesses, a handful of restaurants, a library, a couple bars, a school, some gas stations and convenience stores, a grocery store, a laundromat and a brand new Family Dollar. The empty commercial buildings may outnumber these businesses. We considered the vacant hotels and the old elementary school for an artists’ residency. It’s a pass through town for most, but we were warned on our first night that if we drank the water from the river we would be destined to never leave. Many people have left over the past decade though. We heard about layoffs at the nearby Idaho National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s lead nuclear research and development facility. And we heard that some families just wanted more conveniences, like a Wal-Mart, so they moved to larger cities.
But the people that we did find who live there, some who always have and others that chose to make it home more recently, were salt of the earth folks. The motel owner was amongst those people. When we stepped into the office to let him know we would stay a week, I asked him about the many rock specimens strewn about. He had moved to Arco from Missouri, which made him instantly feel familiar. He said some people thought this landscape was barren but he said they didn’t look closely enough. He liked to explore and he said when you get out there, you find canyons and mountains and valleys, it wasn’t actually flat. I found his love of the land infectious.
October 17-25, Arco, Idaho, We were looking for a place to stop and spend a week. We needed time and space to recollect, reflect and record. We had stopped the night before in Rexburg, Idaho. It immediately felt odd to us, but we just needed basic comforts, a hotel to clean up and dry off in while watching a Presidential debate. We stopped to ask two young girls where a good, local place to get dinner might be. One recommended a “family style” chain restaurant. And at the hotel, the clerk said she was studying art at Brigham Young Wyoming and when I asked what kind of projects she’d been working on she said they don’t get to make anything until they’ve studied it and learned everything first.
So, we were looking for a different feeling from the place where we’d spend more time. We didn’t have to go far. This town struck us as a place we’d like. It is a small, dying desert town where several small highways merge. There seemed to be just enough happening to sustain its population. And nature was easily accessible and all around. This became home when Josh walked out of the motel office eating a piece of Halloween candy and said the guy who owned the place was nice. The aspens in front of our room at the Lost River Motel were cheery and we admired the sunset with our friendly neighbors.
Our feelings about Yellowstone, a place that holds such unbelievable beauty and a place that is our nation’s pride, were conflicted. We too wanted to see what there was to see here. We caught the tail end of the season and that was more than enough people for us. It is wonderful that people seek natural beauty on their vacations. But we thought maybe it has been made just a little too easy for us. We can drive right up alongside bison, the path to extraordinary geothermal features is laid out before us (sometimes paved, and wooded at others) and there are plenty of comfortable places to sleep and eat in the park. No exploration necessary, just a reservation.
But I wondered what if our natural treasures were treated more like they are in India, where six years ago I made a pilgrimage to the mouth of the Ganges in the Himalayas. It was not comfortable or easy. I sacrificed those things to experience something truly awe-inspiring. It was the first place I really felt a higher power in nature. I walked alongside bare-footed sadhus and families traveling with elders. One night during a blizzard I took shelter in one of the few tea stands on the route, among Indian families who were also caught out in the storm. I felt power in experiencing the best of humanity in the unity of people.
Yellowstone’s backcountry left me with similar feelings about nature. However, the more populated parts of the park left me more disappointed in humanity. We took what felt like sacred land, and undoubtedly was to peoples who traversed it before us, and made it an amusement. I watched the beginning of Burns’ National Parks documentary and know I may sound like a mirror of Muir here. But it’s really astounding and worth voicing again, particularly in this twenty-first century. The way we have made our natural places accessible spectacles seems so indicative of our culture. We want to get to something easily and then we want to understand it quickly. I saw a man running from geyser to geyser, taking a photo at each without a pause to actually look. Saving it for later, I suppose.
And thank goodness anyone did, save this land, before it was further developed. But it is rather astonishing how developed it really is. And perhaps it shouldn’t be able to accommodate the masses that it can. I believe nature is best experienced in solitude, or at the least with due reverence and respect. To me, that was lacking in the infrastructure and in the behavior of the masses of visitors in Yellowstone.
But we weren’t in the clear yet. In our last mile, we were pelted by hail while thunder and lightening crashed around us. On our last minutes of the trek there was the most glorious sunshine and crisp skies above. We had truly experienced what we’d heard, that the weather in Yellowstone could turn in an instant.
Our long day’s journey out of the backcountry. We had a thirteen-mile hike of ever-changing weather. First it was a steady downpour, then a rolling thunderstorm. We got across the big open field and our last river crossing in the eye of the storm. The sky opened up and we saw blue skies, then sun!
We spent a rainy morning at Mr. Bubbles. The cold rain falling on us as we sat in the hot water was a delightful mix. And the colors of the landscape exploded against the grey sky.
Walking out here at sundown was gorgeous, steam rising up and the light sifting through, it was a transformed landscape.
This hike is known for its waterfalls, which means several river crossings. But all well worth it to reach Mr. Bubbles! That bubble in the middle is HOT water, and the river feeds in to cool it and makes for a wonderful soaking spot.
October 13-16, Bechler, Yellowstone, WY, We headed back into the backcountry, in the southwest corner of the park. This trail had been closed recently because there was a moose carcass by one of the campsites causing heightened bear activity. I had already been fairly sleepless one night on our previous backpacking trip, recalling a story from a few years back about a man being attacked and killed by a grizzly while sleeping in his tent, in a Forest Service campground. I discussed this fear with the ranger, who happened to live miles from where this incident occurred. He assured me, before this moose decided to die there near the campsites none of the rangers had seen a grizzly all season. So I was reminded that it is a rare occurrence and while we should be aware and take precautions, it would be unfortunate to focus my attention on the random possibility, rather than enjoy the experience. I would try to remember this the night we would be the first people camping at the site nearest to the carcass remains since it had reopened.
As we headed out, it wasn’t hard to be present, as it was so peaceful and beautiful.
One last site before leaving Yellowstone’s loop!
Artists' paintpots and other thermal features.
October 11, Yellowstone National Park, Out of the solitude of the backcountry and back on the main drag. The thermonuclear features of the park are astounding. The experience of seeing them from designated walkways along with many others is not.
Return from the backcountry, past beautiful scenery, following bear tracks. We stopped for lunch but just as we sat down these Bighorn Sheep came towards us and then crossed right in front of us.
Enamored by these “Seuss” flowers, I photographed them each time I passed.
We gained a greater sense of perspective on this hike up Electric Peak. These are three consecutively more distant views of Cache Lake, where we stood the day before. We climbed 4,000 feet, stopping for lunch and to paint on the way up.
It greeted us again in the morning, melting away the frost and warming up the valley.
Glen Creek, Yellowstone, WY Oct 8-11, Home Sweet Home, where we set up base camp in the backcountry. We hiked up to Cache Lake in clouds but returned in the afternoon to glorious sun.
Grand Teton/Yellowstone, WY, October 7, A place we wanted to reach on this trip. We first took in the sites of the mountains, canyons and geothermal features. We stayed at Mammoth on the last night of the season and were officially the last customers in the dining hall. We heard behind the scene stories from the staff from all over the country, serving folks from all over the world during the busy summer. All formalities were shed as the place emptied and we were surrounded by celebratory shouts and relieved sighs.
Wyoming Oct 6-7, We caught the last bit of sun while setting up camp high in the pines. It froze in the night and we felt like this grass in the morning, covered in ice from a sprinkler that was left on.
Northwest Colorado and crossing into Utah, October 6, We drove north through sparsely populated land and saw evidence of former homesteaders. Miles of dirt roads brought us into this colorful canyon and across this swinging bridge out into a wildlife refuge.
We peered down into the canyon at the Yampa River and felt small.
Dinosaur Monument, CO, October 5, A vast, varied and rather otherworldly landscape largely devoid of human touch, eerie and exciting. Despite the desolation, there is life. Home, home on the range… played over in my head after this sight.
Northwest CO, October 4-5, Back in the saddle, westward, ho! We stopped at dark to set up camp behind a hill on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, a newly discovered gem in the west-free, open land for public use!
Denver, CO, October 3, A birthday we were able to share with a new and old friend on a lovely final day in Denver. We had an incredible dinner cooked by the guest of honor, complete with beer from his refrigerator tap supplied by his favorite local brewery.
We came back to Denver via Gold Hill, a small and historical gold mining town that was hit by a forest fire fairly recently. There is probably the sweetest cemetery I’ve ever visited there. The residents span a century and I really felt the weight and levity of life in that place. Life, found in the surrounding nature, kept the dead company.
Gateway to the west! It felt like the real start of our westward expansion; huge skies, big mountains, tall trees and lots of space.
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, October 1 & 2, He asked me, how, with parents who have probably never spent a night outdoors in their lives, did I get into camping and hiking and such pursuits in nature? I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but have formulated it since. It feels natural. It feels right for my being. The time I spend walking, observing other living things; flora and fauna, in their environment, calms me. It makes me feel small and remember a larger sense of life. And then sometimes, it’s just a challenge. To live without many comforts and conveniences and push your body to go and habitat places many people don’t makes me remember what it is just to live.
And we got just such an opportunity on this camping trip. We ate a delicious camp dinner of vegetarian pozole in the company of this bird that we spent a great while trying to identify in a bird book back at home. Then we watched the moon rise in increments over the ridge above our campsite (which they said had been completely wooded years earlier but was now exposed and barren from the beetle that is killing Colorado pine. The forests have been devastated by it, to understand it better, go here-http://www.westword.com/2012-06-28/news/colorado-mountain-pine-beetles/). We turned in fairly early because of the cold but were awoken in the middle of the night by elks bugling, their warning sign to other males while they are in rut, or mating. We peeked out of our tent and saw two males on either side of their tent. We could hear the cows chewing grass all around us. In the ice-cold morning (our water was freezing) we all recounted similar stories from the night before.
Denver, CO, September 27-October 4, I had the opportunity to return to a place deeply familiar and comfortable to me. A home I visited many summers as a kid, my mother’s childhood friend’s home. She was my mom’s tall, elegant friend with long hair and expressive hands. My mother had known her since she was 2, from growing up in a small town in Missouri. It felt like going home after so much unfamiliar territory covered while traveling, it was that comfortable. And it felt much the same as my memories. These patterns from their home were deeply embedded in my visual memory. The guest room in the basement that I shared with my parents had the same nice smell. I remembered the boys’ rooms where we read bedtime stories, the backyard where the camper that we played in was parked and the row of yard between their home and the neighbor’s where we ate raspberries off the bushes.
Reconnecting with these friends who had always been my parent’s friends, and like parents to me too, was enlightening as an adult. We related over a love of nature, experiences teaching, an appreciation of simple living, and shared stories and laughs over good beer and food. To gain a mature understanding of these people was invaluable yet also somewhat unnerving in that it transformed the understanding I’d had of them for the majority of my cognizant life. And it isn’t that I hadn’t seen them at all, I had, as I’d grown older. But I realized that it was always with my parents, so I was never truly an adult. I had to let go of my childhood memories and understandings that had been with me for so long. I had to admit that I had a slight residual fear of him, from the memory that he raised rabbits for food and I remember trying to convince their older son to set them free. I reconciled the memories with the present people and enjoyed every minute of it.
Pine Ridge, SD, September 26, We stopped at the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School where we heard of an art show. Run by the Jesuits, it had a positive feeling and an emphasis on the arts. This was an installation that invited students and community members to voice their feelings about and reactions to the U.S. government’s apology to the Native Americans. It was powerful to witness. There was a sense of anger, victimization, confusion and sorrow in the statements. We were overwhelmed, embarrassed and speechless.
The rest of the museum contained handcrafted Native American items of moccasins, clothing, pottery, weapons and carriers of all sorts that led me to reflect upon their sensible way of life in the past. The resourcefulness and wholeness of the systems they developed to sustain life in nature seem so right. It is difficult to understand why our ancestors felt they needed to disrupt them.
Afterwards, we headed out of Pine Ridge via Whiteclay, NE. It is a town just over the border outside of the reservation with a small population that exists just to sell alcohol to the Native Americans, since it is illegal on the reservation. It was a bleak place. I, having lived 13 years in New York City, can’t remember ever having seen such a large group of hopeless alcoholics. Some were passed out in the dirt or on porches of vacant buildings, another was being shielded by others to relieve themselves in an exposed parking lot, and many were lined up all around the few stores where they could purchase alcohol. The sought after stuff is a high alcohol content malt liquor Budweiser makes to sell only in such a place. I hope anyone who reads this strongly considers never purchasing or consuming another Budweiser product. If you saw its effects in Whiteclay and within the community on the nearby reservation, you would be disgusted enough to stop supporting them. The family we met at Wounded Knee suggested that the high suicide rate among adolescents on the reservation might be due to the junk that is in that beverage.
A passing home that ran us off the road.
Badlands National Park, SD, September 26, An odd park to visit. It sprawls across the land, skirted by the reservation. The place where we camped is disjointed from the main part of the park, and much quieter as a result. We passed big SUVs and campers full of tourists who stopped at each scenic overlook and awed. We tired of this, the place felt too grand to be taken in from a view. The land is incredible and holds variety and surprises in fauna, formations and wildlife. But we felt that we were not really experiencing it, but just looking at it.
Scenic, SD, September 26, We have experienced many synchronicities during this trip and a striking alignment happened in this area. I had gotten a used copy of Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog’s autobiography, in Kansas City. I had been reading it on and off but the part I read the night before, after visiting Wounded Knee, was her recounting of the ’73 occupation there. She came from Rosebud reservation and joined the movement and even stayed to deliver her baby there. A picture of this same bar appears in her book, but it shows it from a time when the sign read NO INDIANS ALLOWED. Now, it appears that the NO has been painted over.
We enjoyed a long morning there, watching the sun rise and spread across the valley. I began a series of paintings that I have continued to make as we travel. They are landscapes painted loosely, with watercolor on wet paper, two done in unison to quicken and free the process. This dusty landscape was fitting for the technique, nice the way it all came together.
Sheep Mountain, Badlands National Park, SD, September 25-26, This is where she recommended. The few designated campgrounds in the park seemed sad and we thought we understood that we could camp anywhere off this road and so this is where we were when the sun went down.
Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, September 25, Somehow we got lost on a small road we thought we were following into the Badlands National Park. After passing Red Shirt, we ended up above a valley of the badlands landscape, the part that was on the Pine Ridge reservation. The only infrastructure for viewing it was from a simple wood shelter with a rudimentary picnic table; we pulled over for a look. The landscape had changed dramatically from the forested hills and a haunting site I saw that seemed to foreshadow the bareness and dryness of life on this land was one cow looking down a hillside at a dead cow lying stiff on his side on the slope below. Their dark bodies punctuated the muted land.
Trash started showing up in greater masses, clinging to the barbed wire on the fences, and then suddenly we were in Pine Ridge proper. We were surprised to see chain restaurants and not surprised to see a shuttered local furniture store. Unemployment on the reservation is at 80-90%. We wound our way around past trailer homes, largely in varied states of disrepair. Heading north we had our eyes open for the Wounded Knee site. We overshot it and as we were heading back, slowly reading a humble roadside sign, a woman waved us in where there were several cars and a few rows of craft stands.
We talked to her for a while, about life on the reservation, the “battle” of Wounded Knee and the ‘73 AIM occupation, before making our way up the hill to the memorial. One small marble monument stood above a long, narrow mass grave. It reportedly contains less than 200 bodies but it is believed there were nearly twice as many deaths in that massacre. On the chain link fence surrounding the grave are tied small fabric bundles in the colors of the four winds that represent prayers. Something in the humility of this remembrance made me feel a greater respect for this culture than for my own.
We returned to our car and as we tried to imagine our new route for the evening and specifically, where we may set up camp, a young Native American man came over. He was weaving a dream catcher. He showed me his toughened hands; cut by the sinew he stretched tight to create tension to make the web of the ornament. We spoke to many of the craftspeople that were part of an extended family that tried to support themselves by selling their work to visitors to Wounded Knee. One man had just been named an elder at 55, and proved to live ten years past his life expectancy, as a male Native American living on a reservation. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the government’s law and all the ways that a Native American could maintain sovereignty. I bought a dream catcher from Dakota, the young greeter, and a feather carved out of buffalo bone from his aunt, I think. She gave us directions to a place to camp.
Custer State Park, SD, September 25, We skipped Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse for more natural beauty. The hills still showed signs of man’s intervention in these neat piles of beetle kill pine, which will be burned to clean up the forest. There were great masses of rocks to climb and we hike up to this view called Lover’s Leap, where legend says an Indian couple leapt to their death.
Paha Sapa (The Black Hills), SD, September 24-25, A land sacred to the Lakota that we found curiously contrasted by tourism and cattle ranching. We made a lovely mountaintop campsite and enjoyed astounding silence. Looking out across the mountains, we experienced the phenomenon of the mountainside looking black, although we knew just before us, that the trees were green dotted with bright gold aspens.
Spearfish Canyon, SD, September 24, Little did we know that we hit this wondrous spot just in time for peak leaf peeping!
Custer National Forest, SD, September 23-24, We drove into dusk and happened upon a turnoff for a campground in the National Forest. It was a real gem. We were in solitude up on a butte and better yet, it was free. At night we made a roaring fire in a big rocked in fire pit and looked at the moon through binoculars from a field. In the morning we used one of the cook tops to make pancakes and enjoyed a view while we drank our coffee. Then down from the butte and into a field to investigate. As soon as we entered the cattle came running towards us, expecting to be fed. But we told them we had no food for them and they understood. The last bit of this heaven we enjoyed was a spring to clean up in!
The Enchanted Highway, east of Dickinson down to Regent, ND, September 23, Back in Thief River Falls, at Dees, a trucker we met recommended seeing these gigantic metal
sculptures that span 32 miles of highway. A local artist created these sculptures out of scrap metal and used farming equipment. They are huge!
Dickinson, ND, September 23, We were just passing through and witnessed more effects of the energy boom in North Dakota. What a lovely neighborhood, complete with its own oil drill!
Prairie dogs!!! I enjoyed watching these hilarious and intelligent creatures. Perhaps smarter than humans?! That sign, next to the trash can, says DO NOT FEED THE PRAIRIE DOGS.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND, September 23, After witnessing mans hyper development of the land, we retreated into natural beauty! Aspens at their peak, great distant views and buffalo abound.
Watford City, ND, September 22, We had intended to go to Williston, to see the heart of the Bakken oil boom. However, in the morning I had spoken to a friendly woman at the camp showers who discouraged us from it and said wed see the same effects in Watford City and it was also closer to our evenings destination in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We passed gas flares and oil wells in the middle of fields, mile after mile. And we shared the road with large trucks, many carrying water for the extraction process. The roads were not graded for such heavy loads and showed grooves from the stress. We knew we were approaching town because of the man camps spread on every possible piece of land. The dust and traffic was overwhelming and we stopped at a Mexican food truck and were surrounded by men in the industry. Josh got a job offer and I just wanted to get out.
White Shield, ND, September 22, Just after having breakfast at our campsite, we saw children running through the fields above. As we packed the car we spoke to a man who was with the group that turned out to be the White Shield Elementary School cross-country team out for a fun run. He was an Inupik man from Alaska who had moved to the area with his wife because she wanted to be with her people, native tribes who were displaced by the Garrison Dam from their home in the bottoms to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. An opening statement he made to us was about how he felt that nature was a sacred space. He was out volunteering with the group and shared his views on education through experience, which he had learned through his own childhood and practiced as a teacher. He shared some incredible examples such as his first dog sledding trip that his father sent him out on as a young boy, in which he truly learned by doing.
As we made our last trip from the campsite, we stopped to talk to the larger group of parents and lingered with a couple whose granddaughter was running. These people were warm and open and we meandered through subjects of nature, the nearby oil boom and politics. As we parted, she said we would be in her prayers. But we had several reunions, one in which we shared contact information a ways down the road and another meeting in town in which they invited us to their home to see something he had made. We met them there and were welcomed and amazed. He had worked on a stick while watching the aftermath of 9/11 unfold. It consisted of an intricate peyote bead wrap using the colors of the American flag, along with a deer antler, tassled leather and feathers. He had written a beautiful description of what each element represented to accompany it. He gifted us this decorative drum he had made and I gave them paintings. Then he and their son performed a traditional Arikara song with drum and singing. As we parted they kindly contributed to our gas funds.
We traveled on across the reservation, stopping several places including this haunting and beautiful abandoned church. We felt full from our experience with these people and overwhelmed by their generosity. The spirit they shared with us has continued to resonate and we are happy to have the reminder to look out at each day on the road.
We also enjoyed spending time in the town of Garrison. We frequented an old style soda fountain with homemade meals and desserts. There we met two young guys from LA, out working on the natural gas drilling in nearby Minot and housed in overflow trailer parks known as man camps in Garrison. We happened to be there during Homecoming weekend and when the park ranger told me hed be dressed as a raccoon in the Homecoming parade the next day, I felt we had to stay. It was our first real layover and time to get to know a place and the people a little better. We went to the parade Friday afternoon and watched with a retired farmer and his wife whose granddaughter was in the marching band.
That night we played bingo at one of the three bars in town and won our admission cost to the Homecoming football game. There we met more friendly folks in the stands while watching the kids and teens mingle around the field. Sadly, the hometown team was losing badly. Apparently the town the rival team came from, Watford City, is part of the Bakken oil field boom so people said their team had an advantage because so many families were moving there that they had a large pick of kids for their team. So with little hope for victory and the temperatures dropping, we left after seeing the Homecoming King and Queen crowned. Nice people, nice place, good place to stay for a bit. good place to stay for a while.
Garrison, ND, September 20-22, A gem we happened upon. Stevenson State Park on Lake Sakakawea, created by the damming of the Missouri River. It resulted in an unusual landscape of muted colors. Walking on the soft beach of clay, we admired petrified wood, lignite and layers of earth. It was an eerie and inspiring environment to experience, a place created by mans intervention in which natures processes had taken affect.
Central North Dakota, September 20, First signs of the change of the season.
Backroads of central North Dakota, September 20, We turned down an unmarked road and wandered for hours without seeing another car or person. Evidence of how strong the winds blow on the plains, they even give flight to the ubiquitous plastic bag here. A welcoming entrance to a ranch.
Buffalo Lake, ND, September 20, Breakfast by the buffalo! A sweet spot we found, but littered with trash from a wedding that I picked up as Josh made breakfast. Then we went up the hill to check out the view but looked down and sadly found more trash.
Minnewaukan, ND, September 19-20, Just a place to camp one night. In the city park on Devils Lake, next to the school, where the bartender said we could. We hit the road early though, as kids were getting dropped off and we were climbing out of the tent. But what a friendly place, see!
Northeast North Dakota, September 19, Traveling across the land seeing farming on a massive scale and other human interventions in nature.
Thief River Falls, MN, September 18-19, We asked at the Reztaurant on the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians where we could camp and the cook told us about this sweet spot. A long drive in the dark and we set up the tent then headed to the bar where we shared conversation with a like-minded local. He told us the place to have breakfast in the morning, Dees, where we met more kind locals. Folks shared personal histories and local lore and gave us suggestions and well wishes for our travels west.
Ely, MN September 15-18, A beautiful strike of synchronicity hit us and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit a place dear to our friends, their family cabin on Burntside Lake. Arriving after dark, we witnessed a still and quiet night while warming up in the wood heated sauna lakeside. The long days of comfort and rest provided us time to reflect and create. Observing the changing weather and light on the lake gave rhythm and shape to our time there.
Hanson, MN, September 14-15, Driving through back roads skirting preserved land and farms, it was surprising to run across this massive quarry tucked inside a forest. As the sun was going down we searched for a place to camp and took a chance on pulling in to a farm and asking if we might stay on their land. We were fortunate to ask the right person, a kindly and engaging man, Richard. He had been raised on this land and returned to raise cattle here on what had just become a century farm. We enjoyed conversation with him in the evening and again in the morning as he shared insight into his peaceful way of living in nature and a small community. His great interest and knowledge in his environment was striking and inspiring. We look forward to continued correspondence with a new friend.
Franconia, MN, September 14, The right time of day to experience sculpture in the country just outside of Minneapolis. After visiting the Walker, where art felt stale, it was refreshing to walk among fields of grass and corn and discover creations interacting with nature.
Minneapolis, MN, September 12-14, A sweet city with good food coops, nice neighborhoods, classic charm and lots of bicycles. We had excellent hosts and company in friends and family and unique experiences encountering a sea of Target employees and nature in the Mall of America.
As we are two months into our eight months of exploration and travel across the country, the questions keep arising in my mind, Why are we doing this and what is our purpose? At times I am shocked at myself; that I dont have a job, that Im not spending every second doing something and that I dont have a plan, and ask again, What am I doing?! But then I relax a little and remember the shift we are making. And I think maybe that is the answer. We are transitioning out of a lifestyle that has demanded progress and productivity. We strived for accomplishment and filled our schedules with things to do. We worked for the money we had to make to maintain the things we had. We did not question much in order to just keep going.
And now there has been a radical change. There is no schedule and are no certainties in the way we are living each day now. We wake up somewhere and most likely will be sleeping elsewhere that night, but we dont know where. All we know is that it will be somewhere. There is always a somewhere. That is the known. We put ourselves out in the world and our needs are met.
Those basic needs are all we have. Food, water, shelter. I just watched a ridiculous promotional video about industrialized pig farming that stated the pigs have only three needs: water, fresh food and climate control. Maybe it isnt so absurd now that I see my own parallel, but I thought it left out the spiritual well being of the animal. However, I am starting to understand that comes simply by living.
And by living I mean in the most fundamental way that calls on a persons full consciousness. It means waking up knowing breakfast needs to be made and seeing what is available and making it the most elegant* that one can from those ingredients. This morning there was chickpea flour combined with water and eggs to make crepes filled with a fried apple and nuts and raisins, topped with maple syrup. These basic ingredients make up nearly an eighth of the foods we are limited to on our trip yet we dont feel constrained. Rather we feel liberated by the limitations. We rest easy in knowing there is always something to eat in our traveling pantry; it just requires our ingenuity and inspiration to make it delicious, facilities we are eager to employ. Taste becomes something different when there is the simple need to eat and be nourished along with the space and time for attention to this basic need.
*The words elegant, graceful and beautiful keep coming up for me. They have seemed to convey class in traditional context but this is something Id like to work beyond. For me, these things are about doing whatever needs doing in a way that honors ones self, abilities and resources most greatly. The word grace holds the best definition in the idea of giving thanks. So doing something gracefully means simply to be doing it in a way that gives thanks, to the gift of life. And to me this means doing things in a way that is spare, respectful and cleverly simple.
Glenville, MN, September 11-12, Tired of the seemingly endless flat fields of corn in Iowa, we headed north into Minnesota. Wed given up on the idea of swimming after passing low lakes that didnt look appealing and searched for a beer instead. The American Legion in Lake Forest had posted on their sign Public Welcome so we went in. A draft Miller never tasted so good. Conversation was quick and lively and folks were curious about us. A new friend bought as our second round and when the bartender gave us wooden coins good for another, we said we'd need a place to camp if we were going to keep drinking. Our offer was accepted and we followed him home through fields where farmers were using the last hours of light on the day before rain was expected to harvest the corn. The evening was great, art making and hanging with the three kids and fun visiting with the parents. We camped out in the yard with the dog keeping watch and were awakened by little hands patting our tent in the early hours. We left our new friends with delicious homemade pickles for the road.
Across Iowa, September 10-11, More fields of corn to support the many hog lots and ethanol processing plants. High winds in use and lunch in the only remaining and protected prairie in Iowa.
Lincoln, Nebraska, September 8-10, Fun times with old friends recently relocated in the city of the Tower of the Plains.
Northeast Kansas, September 8, Back on the open road; small farm towns and a distant view four states: (clockwise from bottom left) Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
Kansas City, MO, September 6, Making paper from dried corn stalks and drawing portraits of strangers who become fast friends as they share stories.
Kansas City, MO, September 3 & 4, Visiting with friends: Flick and Birdie sit pretty and a long lost friends enchanting place to collect and make.
Kansas City, MO, September 1, Green reappears after a much needed drenching.
Kansas City, MO, August 26, Noticing nature on neighborhood walks, death, dryness and the discarded.
Crossing Missouri, August 23, Kettle corn on the road! Drought stricken fields of corn: rows upon rows for miles upon miles.
Middlebrook, MO, August 22, Cooling off at Johnsons Shut-Ins.
St Louis, MO, August 20-22, A collection of feelies whittled by my first cousin once removed and part of his many alluring collections he shared with us, kindred to my own accumulations. A view from within City Museum where we crawled, slid and climbed our way around.
LaPorte, IN, August 17-20, Great times at the Hook Pottery Paper homestead included experiences in papermaking, weeding, animal feeding, cheese making, brush clearing, harvesting and making every day fun, living in harmony with nature. Inspiration abounded in textures, colors, patterns, shapes and light.
Chelsea, MI, August 16-17,
towards Tantre Farm. We picked delicious shitake mushrooms off these logs and pitched our tent under the crane in the field. In the morning we picked beans and weeded these young radish sprouts.
Detroit, MI, August 15-16, The looming, empty Michigan Central Train Depot greeted us on our way into the city. We walked around the Heidelberg Project and got personal insight from Wilson Picketts nephew, in front of their former home. We worked at Earthworks Urban Farm in the morning, which directed us onward
Big Star Lake, MI, August 13-15, Shrine of the Pines, a log cabin built by Raymond Overholzer and filled with his original furniture and fixtures, including this chandelier, made from pine roots and a secret homemade glue, no nails. Sunset on Big Star Lake.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI, August 12-13, We did the Dune Climb then camped near a less populated stretch of beach.
St. Ignace, MI, August 11-12, A long day of driving to get back to the States, enjoyed the sunset behind an Ojibwa teepee, sunrise breakfast on Lake Michigan after camping in Hiawatha Forest.
Lake Nipissing, Ontario, August 9-11, Red boats for rent at Lakair Lodge. We didnt get out on the water but stayed in our cottage making art and whittling on the porch, while chatting with neighbors who were a traveling family gospel bluegrass band.
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario August 5-9, Landing just after the rain, waking up to a very beautiful morning, entering a peaceful lake with a great rock to dive off.
Worthington, MA to north Adirondacks, NY, August 2-4, Morning surprises in the field where we camped, a refreshing swimming spot in the Champlain Islands, VT, suppertime at sunset.
Sandisfield, MA, July 26-27 New friends Tallie and Stellie welcomed us, their house built by hand out of materials from the land, Flick finds a cool, damp bed.
Nature creating ever changing forms, the patterns within them overwhelming, resting in the beauty of it all.
Townshend, VT July 18-25, Vast space created from a meditative place alongside new friends and wise teachers, finding harmonious incidents in the woods, listening to the sounds of the fields in the late afternoon.
Goodbye NYC! We hit the road July 17th and are heading north. More to come...