Monday, May 31, 2010

Space Aliens, Pie Plates and a great Bar in Sundance

Okay, so some of you are wondering why it has taken me so long to get to the Wyoming part of the adventure? Well it took me a good part of thirty years to get back to this part of the world (just missed getting out this way back in 96' - got sidetracked in Sturgis for the rally) so what is the rush? Spam and I were stoked. Here we were on highway 24, driving through little settlements on our way to the Tower that had been made famous in that crazy film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and we had a photographic mission!

I had picked up two aluminum pie plates in Belle Fourche and I am sure that the store clerk thought I was on some sort of mood-altering substance as I left the shop giggling. I had brought with me one of those little green space dudes that were featured in Toy Story and in homage to the film and the tower Spam and I had decided to shoot an alien motif of the tower using 35mm and medium format gear. (btw the photo pictured here is not mine but I thought it was cool)

When I told Spam that I would be recounting this road trip she reminded me of the colour of the soil near the tower....a brilliant red. I have only seen soil this colour in parts of Georgia and in the tropics so I was left wondering why here? Perhaps it has to do with the volcanic activity that created this wonder. This region from Idaho right across to Wyoming has a varied and rather interesting geologic history and just for that one reason should be explored further and no, I do not mean going to see Old Faithful but rather getting out to the parts of Wyoming and Idaho that are just positively strange. This area is geologically-active and rumour has it, and this was long before the film 2012 came out, that a caldera will form that will be an earth-changing event.....bye bye humans!

As a side note here I highly recommend this book - RISING FROM THE PLAINS by John McPhee. McPhee, a very meticulous and prolific author, makes reading about the geology of Wyoming, amongst other places and activities he has written about, a delightful experience. I always feel smarter and more humbled after reading anything by McPhee. I hope to someday make his acquaintance and buy him a drink in some strange little watering hole. For me, he has made geology something that is not daunting but rather something to be appreciated so now when I am on any road trip there is invariably some sort of geological sidebar to be explored and studied.

Spam and I are definitely excited as we draw closer to this massive upthrust that comprises the tower. The day was however getting dull and we could see the gathering rain clouds forming so we had to move quickly if we were going to get the shots we wanted.

Perspective, depth of field, these are the elements one must appreciate when shooting. I wanted to have my props set up in such a way as to best display the tower, give it a certain size and focus and of course to add whimsy. Oh yes, we were dead serious about this endeavour so much so that we could not stop laughing as we composed the settings. Add to this mix, car loads of tourists going by gawking at us and pointing - it was fun. (see polaroid test shot on part one of this story) I am sure they were reaching for their cell phones to alert the authorities as to some nefarious activity we were up to.

Mission accomplished and none too soon for it did start to pour. Even if we had planned on hiking it was now out of the question. The fact that we had finally achieved a travel goal was good enough for us and we did have a hotel waiting for us in Deadwood, South Dakota, to get to but first, a needed diversion/side trip was agreed upon - the small town of Sundance where we were very sure we could find a cool watering hole to slake our thirst. A quick look at the atlas showed us the way and no, we did not have to double back - god, I hate doubling back unless absolutely necessary.

24 takes you to 14 where you cut back briefly to I-90 then catch the turnoff for Sundance, not to be confused with famous film fest but yes, definitely associated with Butch Cassidy and his famous sidekick the Sundance Kid. This is the town that gave the kid his nickname. Spam and I figured this was as good a place as any to have our first official beers of the road trip. One must pick and choose carefully the right spot for this activity...not any old bar will do and within a few minutes of arriving in the historic zone of the town we found just the right place.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Teddy, Spam and Me

Teddy Roosevelt, he of the Roughriders and of the era of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine....even with all of that crap he could see that there were many cock-ups with regards to the then push into the territories west of the Mississippi....imagine Teddy riding out to the Dakotas and actually govereeting with "the people" and realizing that they got fucked and fucked good. He could see the beauty in what was then a virgin landscape, no fences, no interference.....and this was all after Teddy was a conqueror for all things Etats Unis.....sometimes a road trip cleans the head of the detritus of the times....Bless Teddy R for he had the good sense to see that some things needed to be preserved for the future generations.

There were others who were visionaries like Audubon, Muir and Adams....but they came after Roosevelt, he of the gilded Transcendentalist movement. Those good "Walden" folks had some great ideas that to this day are still considered radical or too romantic. Now one can beg the question as to why America has taken several steps back from that movement? I shudder sometimes. I shudder for the future of America because I believe that too many folks have become disconnected from the vision of Roosevelt....when did America become a dollar store of apathy?

Who knows....all I knew then was we were getting to our hotel in Bowman, North Dakota....a classic motel from the fifties and very clean indeed. No crackheads in sight like I had seen in this one poor motel crossing into Idaho from Kingsgate, British can always tell a crack motel from the telltale signs of burn marks everywhere....and the overall skankiness and bad vibes.

This motel was classic....and very comfy and inviting. And at that time, had net access. God bless access is all I can say. It makes for a semblance of assurance but can also be amusing when there is shit to see on HBO.

The next day I cannot recall what we had for brekky or where....all I knew was the map and just how close we were to Devil's Tower....I had to get props for the shoot I had in my mind's eye....I already had one prop but "he" was missing his ship....hehehe. We had to get down further on HWY 85 to Belle Fourche, there would be a store that would accomodate my prop needs.

From what I recall of Belle Fourche was seeing the older architecture....some homes redolent of a particular style of that exuded comfort and security. Oh well, we had a mission and that mission was to get some aluminum pie plates....hehehe.

From Belle Fourche we managed to find the sidespur road #24....that would take us to the Tower and to our first real artistic and childhood mission.

Because of how tourists are generally herded, highway-wise, it can often be a bitch to find these beyond-secondary routes. But hey, why should a small town be obligated to make my journey easier - like I said earlier, the fun is in just doing. Do we all have to be so bloody Baedeker?

Pheasants, Old Cars and a Changing Landscape

Ah, Missile Silos - one does tend to see them in the rural areas of America like Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. Thankfully they are now silent, a reminder of a past that one would hope never gets resurrected. I could not help though doing a compare and contrast between the Cold War era of detente and what was unfolding that day in Iraq. Had much really changed? Oh well, muse about that later perhaps, after we found the right watering hole for political discussions in America should be held in places like bars and diners and not on some over-produced talk/schlock fest whose hosts were really out of touch with reality.

The landscape, we both knew, would be fairly consistent in its bits of flatness interspersed with small hills until we got further west. Sometimes we could go on for long periods of time not saying a word to each other, so involved we were with the drive and then magic would happen in the form of a deserted farmstead that we would have to poke around in. There are many spots like this on the prairies, reminders of a past that will most likely never come back. North Dakota, South Dakota, and the three prairie provinces are peppered with ghost towns, most of which disappeared when the secondary rail lines that they existed beside were decommissioned in favour of the great tarmacked ribbons of the Interstates and TransCanada Highway. Local wheat granaries, those lone sentinels that dotted this region, had been torn down and replaced with soulless behemoths of concrete courtesy of Cargill and other multinationals....the co-ops, there are still a few, gone and with that an era of the truly independent farmer.

I remember driving out with some friends a few years ago to show them my childhood roads and told them the story of the little settlements like Mowbray and Jordan on Highway 3 in Manitoba, places which no longer existed. They did not believe me until hours later at home I dug out the old maps that proved their past existence. Just because something is not there anymore does not mean it was never alive.

Whenever Spam and I came upon one of these places we never got sad but instead got out the cameras and went exploring for evidence that these farmsteads had been vibrant and full of life. To me, finding old postcards yellowed and stained with mud, these were treasures to be savoured. The flowing cursive lettering, a lost art form these days, and eloquent sentence structure....I could never understand how one could not save these treasures but I suppose that those who composed these notes of visiting past big-city fairs, their Grand Canyon honeymoon that would have involved driving the infamous Route 66 - they were not there to vouchsafe the importance of those moments. Life goes on, people migrate so it is up to those of us who are crazy artists and travelers to remind others of their heritage.

As we pushed more to the southwestern reaches of North Dakota, destination Bowman, we started to see pheasants, brilliantly plumed and not scared to pick for grubs and seeds on the graveled shoulders of the secondary roads. We were getting close to Teddy Roosevelt territory. The landscape became more undulating and there were far more sloughs, populated of course by the many varieties of ducks that were returning to the prairies.

Off in the distance, glinting in the sharp afternoon March light was a sight that had the two of us transfixed for we did not know yet what it was we were looking at as it was a good two to three miles away. As we drew closer the telltale shine of chrome, acres of it, came into view. This was a car graveyard but not of the forlorn kind that one usually sees on these roads. These cars had been arranged methodically in rows with military precision. I kept thinking how some dudes from California, given the chance to play here, would be in heaven. We too were drawn in enough to consider stopping and exploring but I wanted to make Bowman before it was too late as I had no desire to run into deer once the sun went down. I made a note of the location in my road atlas, vowing to someday return.

It is something that now, I tend not to do - keep driving past something or not go out of my way to check a place out. Who wants to regret missing perfect light or perhaps on returning to the scene someday to find it changed or gone? Somehow though, I do believe this place of cars will still be around.

America owes a debt to the vision of Teddy Roosevelt. He too was a road tripper but when he went venturing there were few roads.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Wyoming and both Dakotas Road Trip

File this one under Two Gals Leave Canada for some Artistic Mayhem and Further Examination of Landscapes, Bars and the Rural American Political Temperament - Day One of America's Second Invasion of Iraq....interesting times? You bet. This is why I road trip. I, nor many of my traveling companions, do not take road trips to ejjimicate myself in a forced way but rather just to see what happens when we randomly stop somewhere to hang out and absorb....or get drunk and gamble? Have locals dial the cops to have us busted? Scare the crap out of little children maybe?

Nah, we just be fun-lovin' modern-day explorers....damn I love my attitude.

My co-conspirator in travel mayhem is one of my best GF's Miss Spam. She works in the educational field and as such is often seeking a means of escape from her charges. Let us go back to March Spring Break 2003, not much time but she knew she could count on me to plan something cool, affordable and somewhat decadent. Because we both have a love of road tripping, weird geography and geology and just plain weirdness she left it to me to plan a circle tour of North Dakota, the far North Eastern chunk of Wyoming and parts of South Dakota that bikers love. A stay at Deadwood and a ranch somewhere in the badlands was to be included in the itinerary.

Of course I am doing all the driving so it is up to me I suppose to decide where we will be bunking. Normally I just go with the flow but I had a reason to be totally planned and it had nothing to do with time constraints. Our scheduled day of departure just happened to coincide with the American invasion/campaign against Saddam Hussein and I knew that aside from the usual silly border crossing questions that we would be asked it would be expected that we had some sort of itinerary - well, the two of us having had somewhat checkered lives and I do not mean necessarily because of any nefarious or illegal activities. Paranoia was at an all-time high post 9/11 so it would have been dumb not to have been organized. Mind you I read somewhere about profiling that being overly planned was also a reason for suspicion on the part of authority figures.....typical bureaucratic Catch-bloody-22's!

My road atlas at the time was well-worn and marked in various hi-liter colours....I go through a lot of road atlases and each one reads like a ship's log with pre-twitter anecdotes, reviews, time signatures for photography purposes and mini hotel reviews. I always tell folks not to be cheapskates when it comes to a road atlas....they are a tool that a road tripper cannot be caught without. Besides, it can be quite frustrating trying to go over five or six fold-up maps - at least it is for me.

So here was the plan of action.....leave Winnipeg via highway 3, drive west past Morden and cross the border into North Dakota via Windygates, down highway 1 to Langdon (where I used to buy all of my tack back in the 70's), head west on the secondary highwway 5, then meander around some deaky roads to hook up with highway 83 (a road that will take you through many states headed south), then onto highway 2 headed west, meandering a bit more but who cared until we hooked up with 85 south which would take us to our first hotel stop of the day to Bowman, North Dakota.

Spam and I were both familiar with these roads from our many childhood trips cross-border shopping and venturing down to the Black Hills and the Badlands. Anyone who says the prairie landscape is boring obviously never stopped long enough to appreciate it on their way to whatever tourist trap or ultimate destination. This is why I love secondary roads. Freeways, or rather Interstates, were not designed for leisurely travel but instead exist for the rapid transit of goods and some very impatient folks, the latter of which I am not a part of when it comes to my many journeys across America. There are just some journeys that need not be rushed and this was one of them.

When we arrived at the appropriately named Windygates border crossing the lone sentinel of Homeland Security came out to ask the requisite questions of where are you going, what is the purpose of your trip, what is your nationality, have you had any intergalactic liaisons? You know, the usual stuff....I got all excited and told him of our goal to get to Devil's Tower in that all those years of childhood trips neither of us had ever gotten out that way and since it was not too far away from Deadwood why the hell not go? He gave me this strange look (well, shit aren't all Canadians strange?) and asked but why cross into America here? Why did you ladies not take I-29 from Winnipeg and then hit I-94 cause wouldn't that be faster?

I gave him my best look of disdain but did not exude too much of it and instead of being snarky and saying that weren't all highways meant to be explored I gleefully told him how I used to shop down in Langdon for my horse tack so this was not a weird route for me at all. He seemed satisfied with my answer, did not even give Spam the time of day, and sent us on our merry way probably wondering gee why didn't I look at all of that gear packed in that black jeep with all those crazy stickers on it? Who knows what these two women could possibly be up to right? He was of that particular age group that did not get the fact that women took road trips and did not have to get all "Thelma and Louise" on anyone's ass.

Driving down from Windygates one encounters some beautiful landscape in the form of the Manitoba escarpment/Pembina River Valley. This part of the world was where I learned to ski and go on some very suicidal tractor tube rides down steep hills. Now if I were to attempt the same sort of shenanigans it would take several shots of courage!

I grew up looking at that escarpment from our farm. It is a landscape that shaped me and even though I was not yet fully appreciative of the geological forces that created it I was still respectful of it and knew that it was something special to gaze upon.

Things pretty much flattened out as we drew closer to Langdon but one sight had us transfixed for a few minutes until it dawned us what it was. We could not at first figure out if this somewhat pyramid-shaped structure was a joke from some eccentric hippie millionaire who was in hiding or a new cult HQ. Spam and I looked at each other and blurted out "missile silos"! Cool. Well, in reality not so cool as growing up just ten miles north of border I was raised to be in constant fear of nuclear fallout from these many ICBM's that would have been exploded over Canada and thus render us into balding glow sticks or instant mutants like I saw on late night horror movie television. As far as we knew, the missiles that used to lie within, waiting to be unleased on the evil commie hordes, had been decommissioned back in the Reagan era - or so we were told anyway.....hehehehe.

Part two coming up.....Dick Cheney likes to kill Pheasants!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Musings on a Dull and Rainy Day.....

Ooooh but I do love nasty weather only for as long as the power and internet are still operational. Some folks would castigate me soundly for acting the city slicker but what they do not know is that I lived and raised my now adult-son in a remote northern cabin, off-grid and about as primitive as one can get with regards to the more mundane aspects of life like where to go take a piss, get your water or bathe....and this was a year-round affair.

I have always been a firm believer in that one does not have to give up certain modern conveniences when being out bakabush but that if one loses certain things like electricity, well, deal with it in that it is not a big deal. It is nice to have but if it goes down then goddamnit read a book or go for a long walk - mind you, today would be a shite day for a walk because we have a squall passing through and it is rather wet. Good day to stay indoors and inflict one's musings on the masses whether they want to read them or not.

Would be great to be able to dance around a fire but the wood is all wet.

Some folks get really depressed when the rains come, monsoon-like....I welcome it. When I lived in Belize and rainy season came I would hunker down in my hammock with a good book. Yeah, I would have been writing but the power always went out. I would rarely mind that until the sun came out and the steam started to rise from the wet ground and not being able to turn on the fan soon made my humble space quite unbearable so I resorted to what any sane human would do - I ensured that those beers that were cold would not go warm. What a waste that would have been.

The winds are picking up...any time i anticipate that the power will go out because some big old pine will get knocked over due to their shallow root systems....oh well. Maybe time to have that beer, quickly edit some more words and dig out a sweater.

I keep going back to all those years ago in that other humble abode, I have dwelled in several the world over, but that cabin and its true seclusion was a happy place as is the one I am in right now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flower Porn? Or is that a male thing....Hmmmm

So we were out hiking last Sunday, a spectacular day to be sure....the right amount of heat and sun, a nice breeze to ensure that we were not a bug banquet (goddamned black flies - voracious little bastards they are!) and of course the company, Spam and Sherpa Boy - one could not ask for a better time. We had packed a light picnic with some choice libations and did a mildly challenging hike.

I have my good days and my bad days when it comes to being physical....sometimes my body does not cooperate in that I know what I want to do but those nervous system thingies are not on the same page. When that happens I get quite cranky because I can remember doing some very arduous hikes, alone, and having full cooperation of my body.

There are advantages though to stumbling and bumbling in that I am forced to look down a great deal in order to ensure that I do not fall flat on my arse or twist my ankle in some crevasses and by virtue of looking down I find this whole other world waiting to be photographed, that of the macro shooting settings for bugs and tiny wildflowers.

Because this spring has been uncommonly warm, perfectly wet and dry, I knew that I would come upon an orchid patch somewhere. I did not expect however to find one that was as far removed from a waterfall micro environment as this patch was. This part of the trail, on a part that Spam and I call the "moonscape" is a patchwork of pre-Cambrian shield interspersed with tall pines, many of which due to their wide and shallow root spread, tend to blow over during the many squalls that this area gets. But it is in the crevasses of the rock spreads where the magic can occur.

A spongy moss and lichen bed on either side of the "trail" had growing in it at least 50 orchids but there was only this one blooming. My companions would not have noticed but I did and I was so happy. Having a slight disability has its good moments to be sure. I know that in the next couple of days I will be rewarded when I return with hopefully a larger bloom spread.

Ah, but some of you may ask why the porn reference? That should be obvious if you, as a guy, have enjoyed the wonderful aspects of certain bits of the female anatomy. Oh, I do not leave the Sapphic followers out here - oh no.....but the tending of orchids and the fascination with them does have a great many male devotees and more so than most other kinds of flowers but then again I do not believe orchids are exactly flowers as we consider such.

So I ask Sherpa Boy the obvious question as to why some men are dedicated to orchids other than the more technical aspects of "taming" them......"well, they do look like engorged clits!"....bless his heart. Of course we all laughed. I love my friends for they are just as naughty as me.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I like that word as it more or less denotes my state of being for next week and perhaps a wee bit beyond that time frame? I have these urges and no they are not of THAT kind.....when one starts dreaming of blank screens it is time to sit down and fill it up with words. I can think of no better place to hang out and write than Sherpa Boy's place out in the woods. No TV, intermittent net use and lots of time to ride my bike and cogitate. I get antsy when I feel I am not being creative enough.

As of late I have not been writing for pleasure but more working on chronologies for a legal venture. Not boring but way too vexing as what I describe are events that are quite personal. It is time to elevate those words and add in the needed humour. Too much damned misery in this world and I do not need to add any more.

I took possession of a new road atlas the other day which will be a great aid in terms of describing past and future endeavours. Yes, the trip tales must continue.

I have been absent from blogging because another task needed to be done and that was the reclamation of my personal space, the home and garden. I had allowed the garden to be neglected much to its detriment and that was stupid. Now I feel a great sense of satisfaction in that three years of neglect will be no more. The hot peppers, herbs, tomatoes, squash, beans and sunflowers are in and if my predictions are correct it will be an excellent growth season.

As to my home, yes, MY home? The eradication of unwanted detritus is underway. He don't come to get it, it gets tossed. Shit, mofo has had two friggin' years to deal with his possessions - damnit, I have plans for this big old house!

It will be a joyous but at times sad task to put fingers to the keyboard after this long weekend.....maybe some of it will show up here? We shall see.....

Time to channel the energy, angst and lustiness of Poppa Hemingway - yep, bring it on!