Friday, July 27, 2007

A loaf and a jug

Rolling across Kansas a few weeks ago, we were taken with the scenery, a little surprised at first that the state would be rolling hillsides and then a little bored when the hills flattened out to dead straight prairies. We had brought along a book which told what to expect at each exit on the major highways, but here wasn't a whole lot showing up at the exits in western Kansas. I, as I so often have to do on long trips, needed to visit the girl's room, but where might one be??? Well, we cruised over the border into Colorado and one of the first exits we saw was for a little place called Flagler and a gas station called the Loaf and Jug! I couldn't get over that name, how Biblical it sounded, as if we were crossing into the promised land to be met by a loaf of bread and a jug of timely! We just weren't prepared for the other pilgrims who were in need of the same things as we and had to wait in line behind a family of, oh, about 16 PEOPLE!!!! But, in the end, our needs were met and we purchased drinks and loaves or get us to Colorado Springs.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Feeling left out

I've been thinking back on our trip, mulling over various days and events and wanted to include some things we'd left out. Chronologically, they'll be out of order, since I'm writing them as they come.

Mormons....Travelling through a stretch of Wyoming that almost hurt my eyes it was so dry and barren, we came across a ranch off to the west of us that was advertising Mormon handcarts...Hmmmm...I had to do some really deep stretching, way back in my mind to come up with what a Mormon and a handcart had to do with each other. (This has brought to mind the Way Back Machine from Underdog. Anybody remember that and Miss Polly Purebred?)
Back to the subject! Long ago when the Mormons were heading west, looking for a place to freely worship, some of them decided to move everything they owned in handcarts, pushing and pulling all the way. What a thought! I'm not sure how successful they were, but I can't imagine pushing a handcart across my neighborhood, much less the country. Anyway, this particular ranch in Wyoming recreated these carts and sold them, and more than that, they offered a place for LDS members to come and recreate the experience. On this particularly hot day in June, the hillside was covered with people, many dressed in costume, pushing and pulling handcarts in the good old fashioned way. I assume they were teaching their children of the great hardships faced by their ancestors, but I'm not sure how far they went, how long it went on, whether they just pushed carts round and round and round in the heat until somebody dropped, then back to the rv for refreshment...not sure but worth mentioning. A curiosity for me.

Another day we visited Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO. The same day we'd visited the Air Force Academy and left out of there kind of late, but hustled over to the FOTF site. It was situated in a new clutch of buildings, high on a hill overlooking Pike's Peak. I told John what a pleasure it would be to work there everyday, gazing out on what God had created. The place was humming with activity, people coming and going despite it being late afternoon and a closing time of 5pm.

We were greeted upon entry by a young gentleman, enthusiastic in his welcome. Directed to the children's section, complete with soda shoppe, or the bookstore or business office tour, we filled out name tags as though we were at a family reunion and opted for the soda shoppe in the children's section. We ain't no dummies! The most fun we had was in the getting there.

To the back of the building we went, to a huge slide that started in the building, went out of the building and then back into the building. In order to slide in it, a person had to be as tall as Eugene from the Odyssey series, and as we were all that tall, we decided to give it a go. Feet in burlap sacks, and hands and elbows encased in socks, we clambered into the slide, whooped it up and shot down it in a flash. I managed to get friction burns on my hand in a couple of places because I couldn't quite right myself and was going down crookedly and painfully, but what fun it was. I dumped out at the bottom, at the feet of families waiting for just that purpose and laughingly moved out of the way for the big boys to come out. Barreling out they came, all laughing and so...we entered the underworld of Focus on the Family.

What a pleasure for small children. Mine were too old for the fun, even Jonathan declared himself not quite interested, but children under 7 or so would have been enchanted. All sorts of nooks and crannies where little ones could poke into and pretend and hallways leading to other areas where radio performances could be enacted and puppet shows performed made the space magical. Of course, mine were much too sophisticated to try anything so we meandered around, looking at radio broadcast rooms where children are allowed to enter and make all of the sound effects, on past party rooms for birthdays and finally into Mr. Whit's Soda Shoppe. Ice Cream Floats for everybody!!!! Now that was a way to end a day, slurping on cold sweet ice cream and coca cola. YUMMM.

A few minutes were spent wandering around the gift shop but since everything there was what we could purchase back home at the Christian bookstore, we didn't spend too much time. Everyone was super friendly and if we had had the time, I'd like to take the tour of the business offices, but what we did see was great. Finally, back in the car to zoom off to Denver and Casa Bonita for dinner.

More thoughts as they come to me :)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Plum Creek Photos

Evening sunshine on Plum Creek. Laura would have played right here in this place.

A view of the tableland Laura and Mary climbed with Pa.

On the tableland, this is what they would have seen.

Paula in the creek.

A view of the creek

Two little girls all dressed up for watching the pageant.

The actual depression in the dirt where the dugout stood.

Aaron and Jonathan in the creek.

The footbridge over Plum Creek.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More Pics of Ingalls stuff

I apologize that these pictures are a little out of order, but I'm technologically challenged:) Enjoy them and keep scrolling because there are gaps I can't get rid of.

These are the cottonwood trees Pa planted, one for each of the girls, Ma included. They are huge now, since it's been 130 years from their planting. The path leads up to the little hill where the original house stood.

This is the view from the little hill...Laura would have stood here to look toward town, watching Almanzo drive up this lane to pick her up for their Sunday buggy ride. When you read THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS, you'll be able to picture this very road.

Evan, Aaron, and Jonathan go to school.
Evan played the part of Willie Oleson, Jonathan was Cap Garland, and Aaron was Almanzo.
Jonathan gets to drive with the little girls who played Laura and Grace
Jonathan on a pony
Little boys on the Prairie
Ma's house at the Ingall's homesite.
The sod covered stable
The rear entrance of Ma's house...opening onto the organ room. The little window on the right is Ma and Pa's room.
Evan and Jonathan playing with 3 week old Firefly
Aaron at school "portraying" Almanzo.
This is the actual building where Carrie and Laura went to school. It's been moved from its original site and is with the other buildings at the museum.

This is a view of the inside of the school and Kristin who was my tour guide...aka Laura.
The little hill where Laura and Almanzo's shanty stood.
Laura would have seen this view from her front door.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

De Smet Photos

Front view of the Surveyor's House

Ma and Pa's house on 3rd Street

Back of Ma and Pa's house...visitors have to use these steps rather than the interior steps.

The Congregational Church where the Ingalls attended

This corner is where Pa's little store stood.

National Parks Summary

Over all we visited six National Parks, three National Monuments, and one National Battlefield. The National Parks were all worth visiting for a variety of reasons, but here is my summary of how we think they compare. Here are the ones we visited in the order in which we visited them:
  1. Mammoth Cave
  2. Rocky Mountain
  3. Grand Teton
  4. Yellowstone
  5. Glacier
  6. Badlands

Paula and I both concluded that the Grand Teton National Park is our favorite followed closely by Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks which are essentially a tie for second. The same conclusion from both of us surprised me since my wife is not a professed lover of the mountains, yet she also chose the three most prolific mountain parks. The Grand Teton National Park essentially had everything without having to work for it. The Teton mountain range offers breathtaking views from everywhere in the park. They are just always there as a backdrop to everything like a huge painting on the horizon whether you are sitting in a restaurant, going somewhere or just hanging out. You don't have to hike or drive or see them or even get a better view of them. The huge Lake Jackson that sits at the base of the mountains helps offer unique mountain views with water in the foreground plus offers additional recreational activities.

The accommodation areas (such as Colter Bay) are well thought out and offer everything you need within walking distance. We didn't have to drive anywhere. There was a Visitor Center, a marina, restaurants, camping area, cabin area, and even a service station and convenience store all discretely laid out within walking distance and obscured by tall pines so we didn't feel we were in a commercial strip. There was fishing, boating, hiking, and biking all available right there with reasonable prices for food, boat rentals, canoes, and fishing licenses. The weather was simply gorgeous with temps maybe getting to 83 in the day and going down into the 40's at night. Wildlife was abundant too. We did take a 15 minute drive down to OxBow bend in the Snake River in the evenings to see Beaver and Moose. Elk were abundant everywhere. We also saw a bear. Overall, it was relaxing, beautiful, and exciting all at the same time. Plus our cabin was very nice and very comfortable even for 5 people and the first class Jackson Lodge was only 10 minutes away in case you needed an espresso, additional choices of restaurants, or a wireless hot spot and a comfortable sofa on which to view the magnificent mountains.

Both Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks are a close second place. They also offer spectacular views and hiking and biking plus they have the same gorgeous cool weather, but what they don't have are the added water activities plus you have to drive their respective roads to get the views. OK, so it isn't such a hardship to drive Trail Ridge Road or the Going to the Sun Highway, and unlike Grand Teton National Park there are many different gorgeous views along the roads plus the same wildlife viewing opportunities, but the only drawback is you do have to load the family and gear into the car and drive to experience these views and your days adventure.

Our accommodations at Glacier's Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge didn't hold up to our large and comfortable cabin at the Tetons and both were similarly priced. The room was a small hotel room that was more than cramped with 5 people plus it was dated. Then again, we were staying in probably the remotest part of the country one will ever experience so the fact that there are accommodations at all is remarkable, especially when you consider the park is only open for 3 months out of the year. I didn't mind the "hardships" of the room given the location right in the middle of the park and at the starting point for some of the most popular hikes in the park like the hike we took to Iceberg lake. Bighorn and Mountain Goat viewing is a popular evening activity on the front porch of the lodge. Paula saw some bears through her binoculars too. We saw a Moose family up close at the lake within a short distance from the lodge. Paula and I nearly bumped into the male along the trail as we approached the lake. The restaurant and little store at Swiftcurrent were more than sufficient and provided anything you could want. Many people simply had a beer, a slice a pizza, or an ice cream right there on the porch and watched the sunset on the ridge while talking about their day's adventure. The higher class Many Glacier hotel is also just a 5 minute drive away in case you needed a little more pampering. Although I didn't go in I think it is comparable to the Jackson Lodge at the Tetons.

Our accommodations at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) were our own pop-up trailer so I will compare the views and conveniences. The view from our campsite was very similar to the view from the Swiftcurrent Inn at Glacier. In two directions you viewed the steep mountain ridges that swooped up from the valley floor. The large rock outcroppings on the top of the ridges at RMNP were more rounded and smooth, a rock climbers paradise. One could walk up perhaps 3/4 of the way, but rock climbing gear would definitely be needed for the rock outcropping on the top. At Glacier the steep ridges were only walk able about half way and then the top of the ridges ascended straight up from there with jagged rock that simply has been sheared off by an ancient glacier. Rock climbing gear and even more ability would be needed to ascend those ridges. Our camp, the National Park Retreats, bordered the national park and offered the usual little camp store plus a coffee house with a large beautifully shaded deck offering a spectacular view of the adjacent ridge and an overactive humming bird feeder. Like the Swiftcurrent Inn, it was a great place to sit and talk about the day's activities while enjoying an espresso, soda, or snack.

Yellowstone National Park is next on our list. The fact that it is this far down on our list is a testimony to the beauty of the other aforementioned parks. Yellowstone is still a must visit destination, but it just doesn't have the magnificent mountain views the other three parks offer. The mountain views are replaced by the unreal beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its upper and lower water falls. They were fabulous, but we enjoyed it with about 500 other people including a bus load of kids running wild. Yellowstone offers the volcanic activity of geysers, thermal pots, boiling mud and the like which is unique and interesting, but not as picturesque as the mountain parks. The kids were thrilled with Old Faithful and the ice cream we enjoyed there, but were uninspired by the other thermal activity. We drove the entire park circumference and saw what I term "the big west", large rolling hills or small mountains with prairie grasses, scrub brushes, pockets of pines, and beautiful streams and lakes. It is the kind of terrain you can see yourself riding on horseback across. The wildlife viewing opportunities were equal to the other parks as we practically played with elk near our camp at the edge of Lake Yellowstone, viewed many buffalo from the road, and came across a couple of black bears. The weather was equally as beautiful, but perhaps a bit warmer in the afternoon and definitely even cooler at night. One night it went down to 37 degrees which was the low temp for the state. After driving the circumference of the park on one day and taking in the stops, we simply enjoyed hanging out by Lake Yellowstone and out campsite the next day.

Mammoth cave just can't compete with the aforementioned parks. The sheer size of the park cannot be experienced as all but 12 miles of the 367 total miles of the cave can be entered. Of those 12 miles, I think many probably look the same. We took in the most popular 2 miles on the History Tour. The previous most difficult part of the tour, Fat Man's Misery, was easily done by old and young alike as crawling on your belly has been replaced by just crouching a little. The hardest part now is climbing the couple hundred stairs back out of the cave through the Mammoth Dome which is quite an impressive feature.

The Badlands are just desolate. Walking off the path in the park is acceptable and even encouraged as erosion by wind and rain is so great it pales in comparison to damage that can be done by human feet. However, there are only a few short hikes even mapped out to experience. It seems that 98% of the park is just designed for driving. Mom was happy with that as every stop had a rattlesnake warning message to read. We did a short hike called The Door and played among the sandy spires and rocky ravines for about 30 minutes after eating our lunch. The kids enjoyed that and would have enjoyed a longer hike and scramble through the winding and undulating terrain, but none were readily available. Picnic tables are covered with a semi-circle of boards to provide some shade as nothing seems to grow in the eroded terrain that makes the Badlands interesting and only grass grows in other places. The breeze on the prairie was enjoyable during our visit, but the intensity of the sun and high-80's temps seemed hot to us after so many glorious days with cooler temps. Many very cute Prairie Dogs were viewed scurrying among their many holes on the mesa. We also stopped at a paleontology dig where bones of ancient animals about 30 million years old abound. A 12 - 18 inch jawbone was being uncovered during our visit. All-in-all our park visit was probably only 3 hours. We tried extending the visit by continuing on the dirt road portion down to the Prairie Dog Hotel and to an area where Big Horn sheep are frequently seen, but the seemingly rather smooth road had washboard ridges that rattled the car too much for our liking. We visited the very touristy Wall Drug store for the experience on the way out and had an early dinner at the Cactus Cafe there.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Plum Creek for the Pigpen

I hope you girls enjoyed the De Smet post:) I'll try to describe our trip to Walnut Grove without making you read a book!

We left De Smet and in two short hours were in Walnut Grove. I know this was a big move for the Ingalls family and Ma and the girls went by train, but it was just a hop, skip, and a jump for us. In fact, route 14 goes right through both towns, so we didn't even have to change roads.

We arrived at the visitors center to find it absolutely crammed with people. This was the first night of the pageant which portrays the Ingalls at Plum Creek and people had come from far and wide to see it. In fact, an entire bus of Amish men and women were clustered about in the gift shop, and waiting in the line for the bathroom. Hurry people!!!! I was a little confused as to how Amish can take bus trips when they can't do modern things, but that's a question for another post.

The boys were all Ingallsed out for the day, so we let them off the hook and only bought two tickets for the museum. John was such a good sport to traipse around this site with me, but he knows how much it means to me. The boys went outside to play hackysack (wonder what the Amish thought of that!) The museum was filled with lots of pictures, most of which I'd seen before, but there were some neat new things for me. A quilt Laura and Rose had made together was displayed, her little fur cape and muff from On the Banks of Plum Creek was there as well. A big buffalo coat like the one that Pa wore was behind glass and John thought it was pretty spiffy since it was double breasted and had a different kind of fur (muskrat I think) on the collar.
There was also a picture I had not seen, of Laura and a grown up Rose standing behind bushel baskets of apples from Rocky Ridge Farm. Pretty cool.

The rest of the site was a combination of buildings brought to the town block for display. They were not actual buildings associated with the Ingalls family, but fun to look at. One was a duplicate sod house and was much nicer than the one in De had whitewashed walls...and another building was supposed to be a replica of the house Pa built for Ma...the wonderful house. It was certainly nicer than the shanties, but was innacurate because it didn't have the loft and the ladder for the girls to climb to bed. I'm a stickler for accuracy and I thought they could have gone the extra mile and put the loft in.

Also on display were items from the television show. Two little house replicas were charming and lots of little girls were clustered around them, oohing and aahing. Lots of autographed pictures of the stars were on the walls, but what I found to be the neatest was the actual fireplace mantel and hearth from the show. The props guy had donated it the museum:) Doc Baker had donated his black suit and doctor's bag too.

We were finished with this little place in no time, but we HAD to get over to Plum Creek. Remember in the books that Pa and Ma undertook a journey into town several times, one time returning on runaway oxen and the other time, Pa was stranded by a blizzard, only being saved by his buffalo coat, eating the Christmas candy in a snow cave. So the little drive, 2 miles, seemed such a short distance to go when I've read about all of the dreadful things that could have happened along the way.

We drove down a little lane, past the farm of the people who are current owners, put our 4 dollars in the drop box and went on to the creek. Parking in the shade, we hopped out in a hurry, ready to get our feet in the creek. We had listened to Plum Creek on CD on the way out, so everyone was up to date and looking for familiar territory. A sign pointed us in the direction of the dugout, so we crossed a little wooden bridge and within seconds were standing by the sign marking the home. It has been washed away, but there is a little indentation and with a great imagination, it's entirely possible to see Laura standing by the rushing creek, getting soaking wet in her nightdress and cap. We walked the little path and imagined Laura and Mary paddling in the creek and looked for the big gray rock and the table land where the girls climbed one hot afternoon with Pa. All of this is still there, but the rock has been covered by silt and the size is not visible. The table land is covered by trees in one part and, again, a person has to use all the powers of the imagination to visualize it.

We went down to the creek and waded and let the minnows nibble at our toes. They were flashing around like litte silver darts in the sun dappled water and I could have stayed there all day. I met some grouchy ladies from Kansas who were disgruntled that they had paid 4 dollars just to see a muddy bank and a little creek. I told John I would have paid a lot more that 4 bucks to see it, but again, I have an imagination and I can picture what it must have been like.

I picked a little black eyed susan and pressed it in a book and found a couple of stones in the creek as keepsakes and we got into the car and drove away. As much as I hated to see it end, my day with the Ingalls was over.

There you go, pigpen girls. I hope I was able to help you see these two very far away places, and someday, maybe you all can go see them for yourselves. Just remember, take along great imaginations and you'll be able to see Laura and Mary in the creek, Pa catching fish in the fish trap, and Ma and Carrie standing on the hillside waving everyone in for supper.

Best of.....Worst of.....

Best View
Gorgeous Mt. Moran in the Tetons...beautiful every day.

Best National Park
Grand Teton- great views, variety of activities, nice accomodations, friendly people
animals everywhere

Best Hotel
La Quinta St Louis, great staff, clean and comfortable and perfect pool

Best Kid friendly hotel
Holiday Inn Topeka...home of the Turbo Twister water slide.

Worst hotel
Rimview Inn, Billings, MT....stinky poo

Most expensive grocery stop
Toss up between Choteau, MT and Colorado Springs, CO

Best Roads

Worst Roads
Interstate 90 through South Dakota and Minnesota

Worst overall roads

Best Restaurant
Leeks Marina Pizza Place
not for food, but for atmosphere...we got to see a bear in the parking lot

Worst Restaurant
Chuckwagon Restaurant in Colter Bay, Teton...nasty food, crazy prices

Best Hike
Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park

Worst Hike
Mammoth Cave tour...too many people...felt like a herd of cows

Best state rest areas
tie between Minnesota and Ohio

Worst State rest areas

Highest gas prices
anywhere on National Park property or Chicago

Lowest gas prices
Greensburg, PA

Best Internet service
east of the Mississippi

Worst Internet service
Glacier National Park...nonexistent

Best Campground
Rafter J Bar in Hill City, South Dakota

Worst Campground
Swift Current Motor Inn..not a campground, but we'd have been better off camping. Not a comfortable stay at all!

Most unexpected sight
Camels in Wyoming

Sunday, July 15, 2007

For Annie, Katie, Joanna, and Rachel..."the Pigpen"

This is another post on De Smet, and while it is for the girls, everyone might like to read it because Evan, Aaron, and Jonathan play important roles in the afternoon's events.

When I left off of the De Smet day, I was picking up the boys at the hotel. They were ready to roll and very amenable to taking in the last site of the town. I wanted to see Pa and Ma's original claim site and the 5 cottonwood trees Pa planted for the girls as a windbreak. It was right outside of town, less than 1/2 mile from our hotel so we were there in a flash. It's hard to believe they were so close to town, yet in the stories, walking to town was a serious undertaking.

We got to the claim and were so pleased to see a living museum built on the 160 acres! There were so many things to do and see...I didn't know where to start first. A little movie introduced us to the place and with our map in hand, we set off to do everything we could cram into a few hours.

Up the observation tower we went to overlook the place and decided to go clockwise, starting with the dugout. There was no actual dugout on this particular property, but there was one constructed for all of the fans, for us to see how it was made and how it might be to live in one. First of all, it was tiny! Sod blocks stacked on each other formed the outer walls, and the total space was no more than 10x10, the floor was packed dirt and the window miniscule. I personally don't know how they got an entire family in there along with beds, stove, etc. A tight squeeze isn't enough to describe it! John read the directions on how to make it because I really want to have one and someday I will.

Down the bank we went until we got to a claim shanty, the size Pa had built for the girls when they first staked the claim. It was a great little space for a play house, but for a real house, one in which an entire family would have to spend a winter cooped up....NO WAY! It was furnished with a rope bed, a little stove, a drop leaf table and a few other items. Pioneers had to be smart about storage and they used every item they could get their hands on, so in this case, a wooden crate was hung on the wall and shelves had been built into it to hold dishes and pots/pans. I know Pa built one of these for Ma because when they moved into the surveyor's house in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa loaded it up and took it with them. The place was stiflingly hot, and the only breeze came from the tiny side windows and the open door. Along with breeze, flies entered and I would have been miserable because South Dakota flies bite and they appear to love me.

Down the slope to the sod barn. It was a square building, with the door on one side, a chicken run on one and a little window on the other. We were pleased to see a gentle, reddish-brown mama cow in one half, chewing on some hay. I began to pat her head and she rolled an amber eye in my direction, checking me out, but not shying away. Evan discovered her little calf in the other half of the barn, but it was too tired to be bothered by us. The barn was small and not enough space existed for the horses, so I don't know if Pa had his animals crammed in that space or if his sod barn was bigger. The horses on this particular farm have their own space in a bigger stable.

On to the pump where we had a little fun bringing water up out of the ground. I drank it, and Evan did too, and we decided that it was metallic tasting, but cool and refreshing. It was closer to the stable than the house, but I'm sure much more water was required for the animals than for the humans.

Next we came to the replica of Ma's house. The people who built these buildings closely followed the descriptions in the book and so looking at this house was special for me. It helped me to visualize Little Town on the Prairie better, and how the family would have been arranged within the structure. 4 rooms, including 2 bedrooms, a kitchen/eating space, and the organ room was the entire house. The original building was one room, with the stove up front and the beds in the back. I don't have a clue how they got it all crammed in, but they did it for a YEAR! Pa added on as he could afford it and as he had time and materials, and the next spring, had added the second bedroom space and then the next year he added the parlor. All together it was still small, but much more realistic as a family home.

Laura shared a room with all of her sisters, 4 girls in a space about 8x8. So, Pigpen girls, imagine all 4 of you in two rope beds shoved into the corner, having to climb over each other every night and the only storage for your stuff is an L shaped shelf up above. No pictures on the wall, just beds, quilts, and about 2 feet of extra space for the door to shut. Doesn't sound like a space that would make you good friends, but these girls were thrilled to have their own room! Pa and Ma were next door and their larger bed took up the space in that. I think they had a little dresser for clothing storage, but that's it. All the windows had little white cotton curtains over them.

The kitchen had a drop leaf table to one side, with cooking stuff on it, and in the opposite corner was the wood stove and the wood box. By the wood box was the door into the parlor. An ironing board was set up, as was a quilting frame. A sewing machine like Ma used was under the window and the wall between Ma/Pa's room and the parlor was the organ purchased for Mary. The house was very plain in its decorations, yet I remember Laura remarking about how cozy it was and the way she described it, it was beautiful. I suppose her opinion was that when you are with the people you love and you have everything you NEED, your home is beautiful.

Next, off to the stable, but first a stop by a little colt lying in the grass. His name was Firefly and he is a three week old Shetland pony. We fell in love with him and he let us pet him and stay by him until a very cute boy named Matt came to tell us the wagon ride was getting ready to start. I asked cute Matt if he was going to play Almanzo in the pageant that night and he blushed and said "no" and I teased him a little. Remember my tour guide that morning was Kristin, the girl who would play Laura...and I asked Matt if there would be any kissing in the pageant. Again, he blushed and said yes, and that wasn't enough of a temptation to get him to portray Almanzo:)

On the wagon, there were two little girls sitting up front "driving" the horses. They were the cutest things! We rode out to a little school house, an original to the area, but not one that Laura and Carrie attended. There was a lady who met us at the door, an actual high school teacher from the area whose summer job is to be the teacher for tourists. She slapped straw cowboy hats on my boys (they were the only boys on the ride) and all the little girls got aprons and sun bonnets. Then class started and we had to do some things for her. Now is when the fun started! Evan got to portray Willie Oleson, Aaron was Almanzo and Jonathan was Cap Garland. Aaron had to go up front and read a poem about trying hard in life, and when Willie (Evan) admitted he had not brought in a bucket of water for after recess, he had to go to the board and stand with his nose on an X. Evan is pretty tall, so he had to stoop to do it, and when the teacher asked him if he would forget the water in the future, he answered emphatically, No Ma'am!
After that, the 2 little girls led the 5 children around the room while the grown ups sang Yankee Doodle. She said this was what they would do when they arrived to school cold in the winter time. So, imagine my boys, marching around a little one room school, straw hats on their heads while the grownups sang for them. Priceless!!! This was followed by a short spelling bee between Cap, Willie, and Almanzo, and then a few riddles to solve. We got to ring the bell as were leaving and class was dismissed! What a great time we had and the boys were such good sports!

Back on the wagon and this time Jonathan and I got to drive. I actually got to steer two big work horses and now I'm inspired to take riding lessons.

To the barn we went to make rope (fun!), corn dolls, and learn how to make hay twists. It's remarkable that the Ingalls survived that horrible winter with only hay to burn.

I picked some wheat to keep and stood by the wheat field for a while knowing that only 10 acres or so were planted with oats, wheat and corn, and for Pa this represented all he was physically able to do. It seemed so small compared to the vast fields with which we were surrounded, but to Pa it meant financial independence. Of course, he had to nearly kill himself to do it, and it's understandable why his heart condition would keep him from continuing on the farm.

What a glorious day for me and what a fun time the boys had. They allowed themselves to get involved and enjoyed it. Once again, when I get the pictures figured out, I'll post some. Sorry for the length of this, but there was so much to see!

I'll save Plum Creek for another post.

Seeya pigpen girls:)

Indiana by midnight

We struggled to get through Chicago yesterday evening. Saturday, 6pm, we figured there would be no rush hour, but we figured wrong. Something big was going on somewhere and we and our little trailer were smack in the middle of it. We had chosen to take 90 right by town, rather than taking the beltway, so perhaps we asked for it, but we wanted to see the cityscape and any ballparks that were visible from the road. We got to see all of that, but in a disappointing way. We were close, but not close enough. We did manage to see the Sears Tower and Comiskey Park, but laugh of laughs, the Sox were playing the Orioles in Baltimore!!! We got out of town, finally, and found an Applebees and watched the Sox/Orioles game on television. The Os were losing, but at the end of 10 innings, the Os take that Chicago!

A detour to take a bathroom break led us to be on the wrong road and an effort to get back to familiar ground and our hotel. John is a great navigator and got us back on track, but by this time it was midnight and we were wiped out! Arriving at the Country Inn and Suites, so ready to collapse, we found that our assigned room consisted of one bed and a roll away. Not enough space for 5 people, so back to the front desk I went to see what I could arrange. Sorry, just one room left and that a smoking room with a king bed. Can you give both to me for one price, I ask, not ready to get testy, but fully prepared to go there if she said no. She thought about it for a minute and gave us both rooms for the one price and we split up...John/me/Jonathan in one room and the rowdy teenagers in the other. I haven't heard anything from them since, but I assume they are still unconscious, lost in dream land.

We may be trashing our plans for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By the time we leave here and drive 4 hours to Cleveland, the place will be closing. Rock and Rollers closing at 5:30pm???? I thought those guys could party all night! I think we're all getting old!

More later, but I must go help Jonathan pry John from bed to take advantage of the pool.



I looked everywhere for Oprah as we drove by Chicago yesterday. I thought I saw her in a white fancy Cadillac, heading to the same Applebees, but no deal.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

We've been robbed!!!!

The Illinois highway system around Chicago stinks! We've gone 30 miles and have paid over 12 dollars in tolls!!!! What a rip-off!

Surveyor's House and Ma&Pa's House

Yet another Little House post....

The tour of sites in De Smet began in the surveyor's house, which was the original building in town. Laura and her family lived there during the winter of 1879-80, which gained them the title of the first town residents when it was officially begun in early spring of '80. In the books, Laura was so impressed at the house, how big it was and how well made and stocked. It's amazing how spoiled we are in this century, how much we have and how much we think we need. This little house would confound us in it's unpretentiousness, and it's total lack of space and modern conveniences, but Laura and her family felt they were living royally.

As with most tours, there were utterly annoying people, those who wouldn't control their children, and those who asked stupid questions and then there was the 15 year old guide who was ill informed about many things. I say this from the perspective of a fanatic, so I've cut her some slack in my overall review. Her name was Kristin, and she was dressed as Laura and she later informed me she was to play Laura that night in the local play based on the Ingalls lives in town. So....I had a tour directed by a 15 year old Laura Ingalls.

There were several artifacts that belonged to the family, but over all, most things had been donated by locals. The place was well done and it was easy to imagine it during the time of the pioneers. We weren't allowed to go upstairs, the reason being the stairs were too steep and narrow. There were many of us on the tour who wanted to risk it, but to no avail. They had decorated the loft area as it would have been when the girls shared it, and had placed a mirror so the people below could see it. Very cute space and any little girl would have felt as though they were in a miniature doll house. Ma and Pa's room was just big enough for a double bed with a trundle below. Pa must have had to take a running leap every night and vaulted over Ma in order to get into bed. Could have been fun!

The surveyor's room was on the left side of the house and it contained the equipment necessary to lay out the railroad lines. The curators had marked out with blue painter'tape an 8X10 square on the floor and told us that most settler's shanties were that size and a whole family would have to share that space. When presented like that, I could understand why Laura would have thought the house so big.

Behind the surveyor's house was a small shanty school, moved to the site for preservation, and next to that was the original 1 room school that Laura and Carrie attended. This was super cool because it had been lived in for 100 years of so as a home and they had just bought, moved it to the site and it was only opened for viewing 2 weeks ago! It is a work in progress, but if you're like me, you like to see the layers of life, the stuff found in the walls, and the digging into what is at the bottom of the layers. They want to get it back to it's original state, but I think it's quite interesting like it is. Nowadays, we have white boards, in my youth we had chalkboards, but apparently in Laura's day and age, they just painted large rectangles on the wall black and that served as the blackboard. De Smet's school had blackboards on three sides...pretty advanced.

From there, on to Ma and Pa's house on 3rd street. Pa and Ma had only lived on the claim outside of town for 7 years when they moved into town permanently. Pa was getting a liitle older and his heart was not in great shape. Back in those days, people didn't have surgery, they just had to take it a litte easier. For Pa, that meant no more farming. They sold the farm and Pa build a four room house in town. It had one bedroom downstairs and that was for Mary. Other than that it had a front parlor/dining room, kitchen and an uptstairs room for sleeping. They moved in on Christmas Eve 1887 and Pa and Ma lived there until thier deaths. 1888 or so, Pa added more rooms on until it was a 7 room house, three bedrooms upstairs, two down, a formal parlor, dining area and kitchen. The absolutely cool thing about the house is that it is 95% original materials, meaning that the doorknobs, windows, siding, etc, is what Pa put there so many years ago.
The decorating left a little to be desired, but then again, it was the Victorian era and people liked crazy wallpaper, but true to Ma's character, the beds had quilts, the kerosene lamp stood on the table and rag rugs decorated the floor. The kitchen had the original cabinetry that Pa built and three generations of dishes sat on the shelves, Rose's, Laura's and Ma's. I liked Laura's and Ma's best. Rose's were 1950s avacado green...not so nice for me.
Upstairs, Carrie and Grace had their own rooms and there were items in them from each girl. Carrie's had a horse hair coat, some jewelry and books, and Grace's had a very elaborate diary (looking like King Henry VIII would have owned it!) and some dishware.

As much as I would have liked to poke around, and I could have poked around for days in that little house, I had to get back and pick up my boys. Checkout of the hotel was 11am and that was my cutoff time. I had managed to squeeze in a cemetery tour, a countryside tour, surveyor's house and Ma/Pa's house in 3.5 hours. Pretty good I thought. The day wasn't over though because a visit to the old homestead site was planned and later on a wade in Plum Creek!

Oh...the ladies that had come the night before and hadn't made it in time, they spent the night as I had recommended and they were on the tour with me! Margaret and Shelly from St. Peter, Minnesota were such nice companions, seeing how my male cohorts were not very interested. So, thanks a bunch Shelly and Margaret!

Friday, July 13, 2007

De Smet, South Dakota

Little House on the Prairie warning!!!

I made John drive so I could absorb De Smet as we drove into it last night. We forgot about the time change...lost an instead of getting into town at 5:30 it was 6:30 and the town was shut up tight. We found a tour map on the outside of the visitor's center, so we drove around a little and saw some of the sights, most of which are contained in about a 4 block radius. What a super little town! I have fallen in love with it, despite the rather downtrodden appearance of the main street, but the side streets are pretty and laid out in nice, easy to manage squares. That's easy to do in such a flat area.

Main street (Calumet Ave) is like most small midwestern towns, running perpindicular to the railroad, and all parking at an angle so that cars jut out into the street. The downtown speed limit is 15mph so you can imagine an after-hours, sunsetty sort of feel, very slow and pokey along a street lined with small shops. We cruised past the Surveyor's House (I took pictures) and then around the block to Pa and Ma's house (I took pictures), saw the Loftus home, the old Congregational Church which Pa helped build, and the park which Mr. Boast helped organize and plant. There were two other ladies in front of Pa and Ma's house taking picture, fellow fanatics, and I introduced myself to them. We chatted for a while, (the boys and John were playing hacky sack) and I encouraged them to stay the night and see everything in the morning. They had just arrived, too late, and were planning on heading back to MN. Can you believe it???Go all that way and take your picture in front of the house and then leave??? Not me!

On to dinner at the Oxbow restaurant, the only gig in town, and then on to the hotel. Mutiny occurred and 3 out of 4 boys informed me they didn't want to see Laura stuff and wanted to sleep in. I offered a reprieve. John would stay with them, I would get up early, and on my own, would tour the Laura sites. Fine with everyone.

Up at 7am, breakfast at the hotel, and off to see the sites that were not monitored by the visitor's center. The De Smet graveyard on the edge of town was my first stop, to see Pa, Ma, the girls and Laura and Almanzo's baby boy. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool, very dewey and fresh. I could see where Laura's senses would be stimulated and her descriptive ability would be enhanced because everywhere I looked it was lovely.

I was the only one there that early in the morning, and that was fine by me. I like graveyards because of the historical factor, but you can tell quite a bit about the town and the people by how they treat the cemetery. De Smet takes great pride in their and it's run by a sort of association that runs on donations. It overlooks cornfields and cow pastures and is one of the prettiest spots for a final resting spot that I've seen. The family were all gathered in one spot, lined up next to each other, with Baby Boy Wilder right in the middle, between Ma and Mary. I thought that was sweet, considering his parents were buried in another state. Just a few steps away were Grace, her husband, Nate, and other characters from Laura's books. I saw the grave of the Boasts, the Loftuses, the Wilmarths, and Mr. Fuller who nearly outspelled Pa in the town spelling bee. I had to manage my time in order to be back by 11 and pick up the recalcitrant bunch who didn't want to tour with me.

Off then to the north side of town to see the sites of Laura and Almanzo's 2 claims. There's nothing left of them now, seeing how the shanty on one of them burned to the ground when the couple lived there, and the trees on the other one mostly dried up as a result of severe drought. On the first, the hill where the house stood has a small dip in it where the cellar was, but that's it. I walked up it for a ways, as the gate was open and took a few pictures of what the view must have been like. It seemed so close to town for Ma and Pa and the girls to mourn Laura's marriage and move to the claim. 2 miles then must have seemed like another town entirely, but driving 55 mph made it fly by.

The tree claim wasn't marked, but since the brochure said some of the trees still existed from the first planting, I looked for big trees planted fairly uniformly, and I found a place that I think looks right. All still within easy reach of town, but isolated back in the day. I wondered what Almanzo would think if he were able to see the trees he had tried so desperately to save and the saplings that Laura faithfully carried water to, big, strong, and thriving. I'm sure he'd be pleased and confounded at the same time. Dakota was in the middle of a 7 year drought when they lived there and nothing they could do would make that much of a difference for most of the trees.

Back to town and a little drive around until the visitor's center opened. I stopped at the local market for a Diet Pepsi and purchased it on the spot where Almanzo's feed store used to be. Kind of neat.

Off to the visitor's center, which was open, and bought a ticket for the tour of the Surveyor's house and Ma and Pa's house on 3rd street. John has been teasing me that I have been acting more excited than if I got to go to the Holy Land, and the boys have found it difficult to understand, but I explained it to them in Harry Potter terms. Imagine, I said, that you had read Harry Potter for 30 years and then found out he really existed, Hogwarts was real, and you could go visit. That's all I needed to say for them to better understand. After 30+ years, I was finally in the Little Town on the Prairie and it was and a huge deal for me.

I'll post a little later about the tours and the rest of our day at the Ingall's homestead and the Plum Creek dugout search

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Photos from Glacier, Rushmore, Crazy Horse

Sorry. Our blog site is being very uncooperative with accepting our photos now. I have tried multiple times and it just hangs right at the end of the upload and never completes. That problem combined with only sporadic Internet access here in South Dakota and very slow performance once connected is driving me nuts. Therefore, this is my last post of photos. AND the photos can really be found at our Kodak photo gallery. Try using the link above or below. Sorry for the inconvenience. No username or password should be required after clicking the link.

Live Blogging South Dakota

9:04 Broke camp, headed out of Hill City, SD...beautiful morning, 67 degrees..headed to De Smet

Update: Flat, I see cows.

Update: Rolling for a while. Flat again. I see more cows and some corn.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Here is a front view of the shepherdess in her little dome.

This is the view from the store where Carrie's house used to stand. I like to think she came out of her home and looked up this hill, and had a quiet moment to herself. If we had stood there long, we'd have been run over.

This is a photo of Carrie's husband's grave. The shadow on the right comes from a FreeMason marker, a sort of club to which David belonged.

This is me standing across the street from where Carrie used to live. Her home was a little red frame house, very cute and very flammable. This is the tacky tourist shop in its place. We went in and wandered around but it didn't feel much like Carrie's place.

Here is a side shot of the shepherdess. You can see how small she is when she's compared to the print on the paper in front of her.

Searching for Carrie Ingalls
Warning: If you can't stand Little House on the Prairie, read no further!!

This post is almost exclusively for Annie, Katie, and Rachel Wright, and any other Little House fans out there who may be reading. Today I got a chance to do a little exploring in Keystone, South Dakota, which was the last hometown of Carrie Ingalls. The town is mostly tourist stops, gold dust souvenir shops, restaurants and any other money grubbing establishment, but here and there were a few relics from the past.

Rachel and Lisa, you requested that I try to find out what happened to Ma's little china shepherdess and today I am able to report back to you that I saw it, I took pictures of it, and I'll post them later when I can figure out how to do that. It is a tiny little thing, approximately 4 inches tall, and very cheesy looking, as if Pa had won it for Ma at the county fair back in 1859. In fact, this little girl looks like more of a little boy from the front and it's only from the back that she looks to be wearing a skirt. The colors are quite faded and from what I remember of Ma's description, don't quite match up. Oh well, Keystone Historical Society declared it is THE shepherdess, so I think we'll have to go with that. I'm of the opinion that it was special to Ma because it came from Pa and not so much for the actual value of it. They have it housed in a curio cabinet, in a little glass dome with some fake greenery under it, very sad and depressed looking, but it has pride of place in the museum and I believe it is their signature piece.

There were other items of Carrie's, including her jewelry, an enameled glove box, a black jet beaded capelet, and a fan from her niece, Rose, Laura's daughter. Most of the jewelry looked like what you'd expect to find in an elderly lady's jewel box, but some pieces were pretty neat, including an amethyst bar pin and necklace. There were also some pictures of her I hadn't seen,
and some mining items used by her husband, David Swanzey.

The museum itself is in the old schoolhouse in Keystone. It's quite big, sits high on a hill and was used as recently as the 1980s for classes. Students are now shipped to a neighboring town for school and the building is being preserved and used as the museum. Next door to it is the original school which is just a little log cabin, maybe 12x12, with only a door, no windows. Once in school, you were trapped!

Down the street, maybe two blocks, was the Congretational Church, now the Church of Christ, where Carrie worshiped for the 35 years she lived in Keystone. Apparently she was very active in the community.

When Ma died, Mary came to live with Carrie on the "quiet little lane" where the Swanzey house stood. Those are Carrie's words and the irony is that that little lane is now route 16 which is the main thoroughfare through Keystone and is busy, busy, busy!!! Carrie's actual house burned down a while ago (pictures in the museum) and to honor her (I'm saying this sarcastically), they rebuilt the Mt Rushmore Souvenir shop right it its place. I have a picture of me in front of that as well. Be looking for it. Mary died in Keystone and was taken back to De Smet for burial and when Carrie died, she was taken back to De Smet as well. Carrie's husband, David Swanzey, is buried in Mt. View cemetery and I made John take me there to find it. Supposedly, uncle Henry, Aunt Polly and three of their children are there too, but try as I might, I couldn't find the cousin's graves. I tramped around for a little while, and found David's grave, took a picture, and felt I couldn't torture the men of the family anymore, or else I think I'd still be there looking for Aunt Polly and little Ruby.

So, all in all, Keystone is a tourist trap, but it is possible to find a few quiet places where Carrie's story still can be heard. Most people in town for the day were gawking at the shops and chowing down on buffalo burgers, but I enjoyed my time searching for Carrie Ingalls.

Feel free to e-mail me, girls, if you have any other questions about my day. In two days, I'll be in De Smet and I'll write more about Pa, Ma, and the gang from there.

Friends and Family Back Home

We wanted to thank you again for the comments on our posts. It's so much fun hearing from you all and finding out little snippets of your lives. Pam, I'm glad you're getting better, but hope you can drive again soon. Karen, we missed you all on the 4th as well, but it sounds like you had a great day. I hope the crape myrtle is still blooming when we get home and you can tell Sam we'll catch up over some graham crackers. Marie and Emil and gang, thanks for taking such great care of Daisy. She would never have made it with us...the prairie dog village at Devil's Tower, WY would have been her undoing. She'd be in doggie jail for sure! Take care all!
South Dakota/Rushmore

We drove into South Dakota yesterday (9th) and it looked like Wyoming. I keep thinking we're in Colorado...what's up with that? Anyway, the weather was perfect, a little warmer than we're used to, but it's good for us to get reacclimated before we head east for good.

I wanted to head through Deadwood because of the history associated with it, and so we did. There's still history, but you have to look for it nearly submerged under casinos and gift shops. It would be a neat town to stroll through, but we were on a mission to get to camp. Hill City is another quaint little town, lots of shops and the tourism industry is obviously the driving force behind the economy. Still, lots to look at and plenty of people out and about.

Got to camp, the Rafter J Bar, and were pleased to see how clean and well run it is. Lots of campers but not jammed in like some campgrounds do it. We hurriedly set up camp, realized that instead of having no electricity, we have power in the outlets, just no overhead lights. So, things are improving, but we're still ticked off at WY roads for shaking our camper to destruction.

Left camp and went to Mt. Rushmore where we had to pay to park. The park is free but he parking garage isn't. Gotta make money somehow. We were directed to park on the top because of the pod we carry on top and John kept saying how he didn't want to because a storm was brewing. I am a rule follower to a fault so I insisted that we park on top as directed. I was to regret my suggestions and I remembered all the lessons in BSF about wives submitting to our husbands. I remembered them too late.

The park is beautiful and very patriotic with lots of flags of the states, great views of the presidents and giftshops. We were, at first, a little underwhelmed at the size of the sculptures, but as with all things out here, distances and sizes are misleading because everything is so huge.
We had dinner at the Carver Cafe, another overpriced National Park restaurant, and went out to tour around. No sooner had we stepped out than lighting appeard over the prezzes and we went scurrying off to the giftshop. Then the fun really started when crazy hail began to rain down and all I could think about was the van parked on the top level of the parking deck. I was miserable, but John was philosophical. His theory was that the van is the car I drive, so the dents would be mine.

Rain finally ended, and we went to watch the evening show. Ice cream first, then off to the amphitheater where a stiff wind was blowing making everyone miserable. John trotted back to the car for jackets and a blanket and we were cozy for the patriotic ending of the day. The most touching part for me was the lowering of the flag because all servicemen/women both retired and active were called to the stage for recognition and the standing ovation for them was beautiful. It went on and on. Finally, the flag was lowered, folded and saluted and the people filed out. We stopped a little out of the park for a lit view of George Washington's profile and then back to camp to sleep.

A great first day in SD!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Our first full day at Glacier went something like this: Up with the sun at 9:30 MT –out of the room by 11:30 Drove to St. Mary entrance (Going to the Sun Road) Began the climb, stopping every few feet to take pictures Lunch at Logan Pass Visitor Ctr (chased off the tundra by vigilant park ranger) Hiked to Hidden Lake (more in a later post) More Going to the Sun Road (more later) Back down, stopping every few feet to take pictures Dinner in St. Mary’s (John realizes he’s misplaced his credit card-YIKES!) Prayed about that so it’s under control! Back to Inn-Paula cleans out car (looking for CCard) John off to front desk in search of CCard CCard found (Praise the Lord!) Paula and John share quiet time on porch Lights out on 5 tired travelers

On top of Logan's Pass at the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road. Took a hike in 80 degree weather over the snow to Hidden Lake.

A mountain goat in the sub-alpine environment at Logan's Pass

Paula hiking across one of the many snow fields on the way to Hidden Lake

Evan and Aaron engaging Dad in a snow ball fight on July 5th on an 80 degree day

A view of one of many waterfalls that grace the park

The first view of the park from the Many Glacier entrance

The Many Glacier Hotel

A small view on the Going to the Sun Road. The camera is simply not big enough to capture the entire view.

Heaven's Peak view from The Loop on Going to the Sun road

View of Jackson Glacier from Going to the Sun Road

John cooling off in a mountain waterfall

A typical Glacier Park view

An entry view from the St. Mary's entrance

On the right, Evan the mountain goat climbin a ridge on the way to Hidden Lake

Below, some Big Horn sheep getting a drink

A bighorn sheep posing for a photo