LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Bismarck To Deadwood And Back (But Not On The Stagecoach)

Trails have been much on my mind this year, and I’ll be writing more about trails in upcoming blogs.

This past weekend, I drove to the Black Hills to visit a friend who lives near Hill City, S.D., roughly following the Bismarck to Deadwood Stage Trail, although in my case in a Toyota. I had most of the day to make the drive, so I stopped whenever the spirit moved me, and I wasn’t greatly concerned about taking the fastest route.

If you zoom in on the photo to the right, this beautiful roadside sign, south of Mandan, N.D., gives the brief synopsis of the history of the trail. This was my first of many stops.

When I was a child, my mother and aunt used to point out to me the remnant tracks from the Medora to Deadwood Stage Trail, as we drove back and forth from Slope County to Rapid City, S.D.  I come by my fascination with trails (and with history in general) honestly, from these two grand ladies. My mother took her children to hundreds of museums and historic sites and old forts and such, while my father fished. She was interested in these places and, in her wisdom, she knew that we would benefit from these visits as well. I think we did, immeasurably.

I am deeply a Western girl. In the course of my life, other than a stint in Nashville, Tenn., for graduate school and a few years in Okinawa, I’ve always lived in the American West. TheWest is where my soul feels most centered.

When my husband and I searched for a house, we looked at dozens in Mandan, hoping to remain “in the West.” But alas, the house we knew was the best fit for us was in Bismarck, so we capitulated. Nonetheless, we are just a half-mile on the east side of the Missouri River, so I think the argument is strong that we are still in the western part of the United States. Certainly, we are west of the 100th meridian. So that is settled.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “westward I go free.”

We find that we also tend to do most of our traveling in the western portion of the U.S. or Canada. Sometimes we have to simply resolve to go east, to see family and sites in the East we want to see and to fulfill our goal of visiting all of the national parks.

Back to my adventure. I hardly needed a map for traveling this landscape, as I know it so well. But since I did venture on some new ground, I consulted Google Maps a time or two. As I drove along, I crossed well-known rivers, the Cannonball, the Grand and the Moreau.

Near the South Dakota border, I began to see lark buntings. On the seat next to me, I had a box of CDs to listen to and snacks. Memories flooded back to me of trips to the Black Hills in our family Ford LTD, listening to the Carpenters on an eight-track tape, singing along to pass the time. Today it was “Abbey Road,” Roseanne Cash and the Dixie Chick’s “Wide Open Spaces.”

The landscape changed from agricultural to native prairie, and east of Faith, S.D., I spotted this year’s first (for me) upland sandpiper. The sere landscape was a testament to the severe drought the Great Plains is experiencing. How wonderful it was to be in a car, alone, driving across the big open, with the knowledge that at the end of the day, I’d be with a good friend.

Here and there, the landscape was dotted with hay bales, cows and harvested winter wheat, but mostly there was grass and blue sky. On the margins of the highway were sunflowers and milkweed (the main food source for butterflies).  I have a deep attachment to sunflowers as my earliest memory is from when I was about 3 or 4 and on a Slope County scoria road, traveling to my maternal grandparents’ ranch. The roadsides were thick with them. No doubt I was hanging my head out the window, excited to see my Grandma Lily. My memory is of a tunnel of sunflowers.

I traveled through many small South Dakota towns.

After an ice cream break at Howes Store, I continued on by White Owl.

Near here I saw some pronghorn antelope. Finally, Bear Butte came into view, on the margins on the distant Black Hills. Bear Butte (supposedly its earlier name was “Bare Butte” due to the lack of vegetation on its slopes) is an iconic landmark in this area.

I’ve hiked to the top of Bear Butte a couple of times and recommend it. Please be respectful to the Native’s culture, as this is considered a sacred area. Some accounts report that Crazy Horses’ body was taken here by his family after his assassination at Fort Robinson by Gen. George Crook’s soldiers. It has been the site of many very large Native American gatherings.

One lodge that has been built for motorcycle mania. Sturgis sprawl is evident in all directions
One lodge that has been built for motorcycle mania. Sturgis sprawl is evident in all directions

On this particular day, I did not take the time to stop at Bear Butte but rather drove along the Belle Fourche River, where I spotted some red-headed woodpeckers in the cottonwoods. Instead, I stopped in Sturgis, on the edge of the Black Hills, for gas. Sturgis is the site of the world-famous motorcycle rally, held in August, and the evidence of this is everywhere.

As I drove, I thought of many trips that I took as a teenager to the Black Hills. Rapid City was the metro area to which we traveled because my parents would go to the Base Exchange at Ellsworth Air Force Base for supplies, and my older sister’s orthodontist was in Rapid City. In fact, until I was in college, I only traveled twice from Slope County to Bismarck. I was born at Ellsworth AFB so returning to this area is, for me, something of a homecoming.

While ranching in Slope County, we’d also take visiting family to the Black Hills, as it is the major tourism destination, and my father LOVES to fish! Our Luther League group would plan an annual trip to Terry Peak (the Catholic kids would go, too) and although I’ve not downhill skied for almost 30 years, I became quite a good skier and always looked forward to trips to Terry Peak.

Finally, as I drove toward Deadwood, I saw my first official signpost for the Black Hills National Forest. A roadside sign for “Custer’s Crossing” caused me to make a screeching stop. Alas, there is nothing left but the base of the sign. This sign described the time when Custer traveled from Fort Lincoln (near present-day Mandan) to the Black Hills in an 1874 expedition, following along much of what would later become the Bismarck to Deadwood Stage Trail.There are many excellent books about this expedition.  One book I particularly like is “Exploring with Custer,” which contains period photographs taken during the expedition alongside current photographs of the same areas.

Next, I drove past Trout Haven and am flooded with many childhood memories. When we would drive past the promotional signs for this place, we would beg my road warrior father to stop. Surely, we hoped, such a place would be of interest to him as there would be “fishing.” Eventually, we understood that my father was far above this sort of fishing and was bound for the mountain streams and lakes. Mostly we were desperate for him to stop and let us use the bathroom and stretch our legs.

It would be a bonus to experience these tourist traps, advertised all around us. Yet, to this day, I’ve never done anything but drive right by Trout Haven.  I was due at Valerie’s place.  I crossed Box Elder Creek and proceeded onward.

My friend, Valerie Naylor, is the retired superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One of her homes is near Pactola Dam. She actually has a cabin and a cottage. Pine Cone Cabin and Prairie Creek Cottage, to be specific, where she lives with her Beagle, Jetta, and her cats, Spirit and Diablo.

When I got out of the car, the scent of pine on this warm summer day filled my senses. It was 92 degrees in Sturgis, but this high in the mountains it was down to 86 degrees.The Smokey the Bear sign at Pactola Dam informed me that the fire danger was “Very High.”

Valerie greeted me, and we headed out to haul water to the cattle boarding on her land.

Next up was to Hill City for a matinee, an indie film called “Lakota Girls,” where we joined Meg. The film was shown in a makeshift theater on the second floor of a former bar and restaurant, the Chute Rooster. The filmmakers and several of the stars were in attendance. Val likes movies, and so do I.

Soon enough, it was time for a good night’s sleep among the pines.

Day Two started with French press coffee and quiet enjoyment, followed by an foray to Friendship Tower on nearby Roosevelt Peak, something that was on my “list of things I’d not yet done in the Black Hills.”

A short walk along the talus slope past the descriptive signs brought us to the stonework tower, built as an effort spearheaded by Seth Bullock in tribute to his friend, Theodore Roosevelt.

Somewhere along the trail to Friendship Tower, I mentioned to Valerie that I’d never been to Crooks Tower. Because I said I’d like to show my elderly father a picture of said visit, we agreed that this was a priority and hatched a plan for Day Two.

Crooks Tower, elevation 7,137 feet, is the highest point in Lawrence County, S.D. The tower is no longer there. You need a Black Hills National Forest map to find it (even better, buy a Crooks Tower quad map). I don’t know if the name of the high point is derived from the existence of the tower or if it was simply called this as an honor to Gen. Crook. There is more information available here.  If you google Crooks Tower, you’ll find even more information, and some time in the future I’m going to deep deeper into the historical periodical literature to see what I might find.

To get there, one drives through tiny Rochford, S.D. Although Val has lived in or near the Black Hills for many years, she’d never been there, an added bonus. It is 29.3 miles from the turnoff to Rochford on Highway 385 to the summit of Crooks Peak.

One last stop in Rochford at the tongue-in-cheek “Small of America,” and it was time to say goodbye to Val and point the Toyota in the direction of North Dakota.

In Nemo, I had a very good mushroom and Swiss burger and then drove on as per Val’s directions in scenic Vonacker Canyon, where I saw a western tanager.

As I left Sturgis, I remembered a sign I’d spotted on the way through two days before for the Fort Meade Museum and thought “no time like the present” — drove right up to it, paid $5 and learned more about the fort I’d driven by hundreds of times in my life.

The members of the 1874 Custer Expedition camped near Bear Butte, the first encampment of the U.S. in the area. In 1878, Camp Sturgis was established near present Fort Meade, with the final site being several miles south of there, on the edge of present day Sturgis and was officially founded on Aug. 28, 1878.

The fort is beautifully preserved, and the museum is located in the old Command HQ building, which was erected in 1905. The fort is now used by the National Guard for a training site and is a VA Medical Center. The doctors and other medical staff rent many of the houses. You can learn much more about historic Fort Meade here.

Although I did not have time to visit the cemetery, I paid silent homage to a family friend, Ron Hilden, buried here. Judge Hilden conducted our wedding ceremony and is much missed.

I’m also interested in Fort Meade because it was to here that Gen. Crook and his troops, in the late autumn of 1876, came at the end of what is known as his “starvation march.” They were in pursuit of the Native Americans dispersing after that summer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn. After being forced to kill and eat their horses, they limped into the fort.

If you travel to the Black Hills, pick up one of these ubiquitous maps.

A thunderstorm was forming over the area, hopefully bringing some badly needed rain. I finally got serious about heading homeward, taking the route directly past Bear Butte where I intersected with another Bismarck to Deadwood Stage Trail sign, this one describing death ON the Bismarck trail (rather than “of”). I’m so grateful to the people who’ve erected these signs everywhere.

While I should probably have stuck to the most direct northeast route, I wanted to surprise my husband with something, given that I was so close by. So, I headed west again, to U.S. Highway 85. My friend, Clay Jenkinson, in his book “Message on the Wind,” calls this area “the sacred corridor,” and I completely agree.

My purpose was to stop at the Crow Buttes Mercantile to pick up their world-famous bacon. It is, after all, approaching BLT season at our house. Six pounds of that naughty treat was my surprise to Jim.

At Buffalo, I headed east again, driving into the Custer National Forest and the Slim Buttes. Gen. Crook’s Starvation March (also known as “Horsemeat March”) took him through the Slim Buttes, where skirmishes were fought with the Native Americans. Here he captured the chief American Horse and is shown in a famous photograph with one of the guidons (triangular-shaped flag) of Custer’s troops (from the July 1876 battle).

As I completed my drive back to Bismarck, my thoughts were filled with so many happy memories of camping, fishing and hiking in the Black Hills, and of so many drives through “the sacred corridor.” I crossed the Missouri River and was happy to be home again, 742 miles later. Thanks, Val!

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Island Lake Retreat

Island Lake, located in Mahnomen County near Lengby, Minn., is a popular destination for many in northwest Minnesota. The lake offers trophy-class walleye fishing, and and panfish are also plentiful. Island Lake also boasts diverse outdoor recreational opportunitiess such as miles of snowmobiling, four-wheeler and walking trails through the woods. Grand Forks photographer Russ Hons had the opportunity to visit Island Lake recently, and here are some of the sights he saw. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — A Quirky Blue Highways Trip

My husband and I took off this week from our duties at Red Oak House for a quirky blue highways trip. We zigzagged across the area between Bismarck and Grand Forks and had a thoroughly wonderful time, on a cerulean-sky-puffy-cloud kind of day.

We departed from Red Oak House on Wednesday morning and headed north to Wilton and then east. It wasn’t long before we took a gravel road detour to drive along the McCluskey Canal in the West and East Park Lakes area. Speaking for myself, I did not like driving along that canal and was relieved when we got back to the real prairie. Then to Mercer, Pickardville and McCluskey, the geographical center of North Dakota and the center point for all of the street and avenue names in ND.

Time for lunch in one of our favorite stops in Hurdsfield.

Here I had the best fleischkuechle I’ve had in my life. The nice lady at the Hurdsfield Dairy King confirmed that she gets it from Golden Fleischkuecle in Stanton, N.D., and I do declare she cooks it to perfection. If you are interested in this N.D. delicacy, you can read more about it here in this article by our friend Lauren Donovan.

When I poked into it with my fork, a delightful fragrance wafted up to me and I dug in! After the meal, of course, we treated ourselves to ice cream.

Next was picturesque Sykeston, where we stopped to admire St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church.

Jim made the Station’s of the Cross at the lovely hand-carved wooden sculptures.

On we proceeded, with a gas stop in Carrington, the home of one of the most beautiful old courthouses in the state. After quite a bit of driving through a landscape dominated by cultivation, we arrived in the Grace City area, and the pleasure of a more varied landscape of rolling hills and pastures.

A stop at Juanita Lake, in the James River drainage, located in the wonderfully named Rolling Prairie Township of Foster County, was in order where we stretched our legs and took more photographs.

Although the winds were on both days very brisk, we managed to see all of these birds:

  • Northern shoveler.
  • Blue-winged teal.
  • Mallard.
  • Yellow-headed blackbird.
  • Red-winged blackbird.
  • Robin.
  • Grackle.
  • Killdeer.
  • Ring-billed gull.
  • Rough-winged swallow.
  • Cormorant
  • Canada goose.
  • Western grebe.
  • Mourning dove.
  • Lesser scaup.
  • Swainson’s hawk.
  • Redhead duck.
  • Pelican.
  • Northern harrier.
  • Eastern kingbird.
  • Great blue heron.
  • American wigeon.
  • Canvasback duck.
  • Rock dove.
  • American coot.
  • Cliff swallow.
  • Brewer’s blackbird.
  • Gray partridge.
  • American crow.
  • Song sparrow.
  • Meadowlark.
  • Tree swallow.
  • Cliff swallow.
  • Western kingbird.
  • American avocet.
  • Yellowthroat.
  • Yellow warbler.
  • Least flycatcher.
  • American redstart.
  • House wren.
  • Brown thrasher.
  • Clay-colored sparrow.
  • Bobolink.
  • Ruddy duck.
  • Pheasant.
  • Red-tailed hawk with a snake in his talons.
  • Black tern

A side trip to the ghost town of Juanita was agreed to.  You can read more about Juanita, N.D., on the excellent website Ghosts of North Dakota.

Although it is difficult to see because of the vegetation, this building pictured below is named the Dewey School.  Interestingly, Ghosts of North Dakota does not describe this building, and I was unable to see the entire date the building was completed due to the dense overgrowth; however, there is more information here about the Dewey Township.

The name Juanita has a very interesting story, according to the book “North Dakota Place Names” by Douglas Wick. (Yes, we keep this particular book in our car.) “This GNRR (Railroad) station was founded in 1911 in SW 1/4 Sec. 34-147-63, Florence Twp., on the Surrey cutoff line. The name came from the nearby lake, which had been known as Townsend, Smith and Belland before being named Wanitah by newspaperman A.L. Lowden in 1900. Wanitah is thought to be an Indian name, but for some reason the townsite planners changed the spelling into the Spanish for Juanita, which is the feminine version of Juan, or John, a Hebrew name meaning God’s gracious gift … The Post Office … closed May 7, 1985.”

After Juanita, we crossed over into the lovely Sheyenne River Valley watershed. At this point, it was time to hightail it to Grand Forks for our dinner engagement, but we were lured into yet another stop by this charming sign.

Here we found an example of a beautiful N.D. country church, the Beaver Creek Lutheran Church. Although it was not open, we wandered the grounds.

In Grand Forks, we dined at Guiseppe’s with a party of good friends and made new friends. The occasion was the visit of old friend, Myron Just, former N.D. agriculture commissioner (and while comissioner, Jim’s boss), and his fiance, Ellin.

New friendships were made with Bob and Nikki Seabloom of Grand Forks.

Now it was time for four members of the party to head back west, past Gilby, where we spent the night with Suezette Bieri and Mike Jacobs at their home, Magpie Ridge. We dreamed fine dreams in their house filled with books.

The next morning, we fulfilled the other purpose of our trip, which was to deliver to Mike and Suezette 14 of our heirloom tomato seedlings, for their garden.

We headed north, toward Pisek (est. 1882) for a visit to the spectacular church in this community with Bohemian roots, St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, established in 1886.

We were dumbstruck by the beauty of this holy place in this quiet prairie town.

In this church is found the most valuable painting in North Dakota, pictured below.

Painted by the famous Czech artist, Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), in recent years the painting was sent to Canada for restoration at substantial cost. It now looks like a brand-new painting.

Much more information on the church and painting can be found here.

Pisek has other interesting old buildings, and the Pisek State Bank (1903) is a fine example. Pisek, located in Walsh County, is further described in Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names.” “It was named by Bohemian settlers for their hometown, which bears a Bohemian name meaning sand.”

Heading west again, we see one of the finest examples of what is locally known as a “sand beach,” more accurately described by my way of seeing things as a huge sand dune. The picture below just doesn’t adequately capture how dramatic the dune rises from the prairie, but it gives one a hint of the effect as the dune rises about 50 feet from the flat valley, running as a ridge along the horizon.  A good description of the sand dunes of North Dakota can be found in the eminent geologist John P. Bluemele’s excellent book “North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy: Our Land and How It Formed” and in his book “The Face of North Dakota.”

This sand dune marked the end of our time in the Red River Valley, as we traveled back into rolling prairie landscape of the Sheyenne River Valley, where all of the plum trees were in full blossom and the farmers were busy with spring planting. The air was filled with their sweet perfume.

Here we spotted a perfect illustration of the effects of the ever-present North Dakota winds in these tree skeletons pictured below that have permanently bowed toward the eastern horizon.

On we traveled to Aneta, the turkey capital of North Dakota, where the community holds a huge annual turkey feast in the middle of the main street.

Now it was time to visit some of North Dakota’s state historical sites in Griggs County.

After Lake Jessie, we had some difficulty locating our next destination, Camp Atchison. (Wick describes it as four miles south of Binford, but in reality, it is 2½ miles south). We missed the site on our first pass by, however, we were undaunted. I delegated Jim to inquire with some friendly N.D. farmers who had stopped their fieldwork for lunch.

The farmers misunderstood our destination as Lake Jessie, and we realized this when we followed their directions and understood we’d now driven a big circle and were back where we’d started.

A call to the State Historical Society in Bismarck got us the directions we needed for our stop at Camp Atchison Historic Site. “This was the campsite used July 18, 1863, by the Sibley Expedition. It was located on the northeast shore of Lake Sibley … named for Capt. Charles B. Atchison, an aide of Maj. Gen. John Pope, who was on temporary assignment to Gen. Sibley.” (“North Dakota Place Names.”)

We learned our lesson to also carry our copy of “A Traveler’s Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites” in our car along with the Wick book.

From page 68, “… the 1863 Sibley Expedition. Prior to July 17, the principal thrust of the expedition had been toward Devils Lake where alleged Indian participants of the Dakota Conflict of 1862 were rumored to be living (see ‘Sibley and Sully Expeditions of 1863) … On July 18 a nearly ideal base camp site was found on the northeastern shore of Lake Sibley. The site could be easily defended, had ample water, grass, and wood nearby, and was near known trails and landmarks, such as Lake Jessie and Devils Lake.”

Now it was time for a hot pork dinner in Cooperstown at the Coach House Inn & Cafe — be sure and sample their fresh baked goods — followed by an exploration of the grounds of the Griggs County Courthouse, which until very recently was the oldest courthouse in use in North Dakota. (A new one has just been opened.)

Our last historic stop was the Ronald Reagan Minuteman State Historic Site, where we enjoyed a fascinating tour of a slice of our nation’s history we’ve both driven by hundreds of time and not seen behind the scene, a remnant of the world’s Cold War history.

Our route homeward took us through the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, where we completed the auto tour and added to our aforementioned bird list.

Here we could readily see the benefits of a recent controlled burn. Note the contrast between the new green grass on the right and the dense, old weedy growth on the left.

That darned wind was still blowing, but I found some beauty in the waving of the green grasses on that otherwise serene prairie, and managed to capture it in this video.  Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge Wind Art

Time to head for home with one last terrific stop in Robinson for water bottles and snacks. One of the best parts of this trip for me was that I’m a western North Dakota gal through and through and thus do not know every corner of the state like I probably should.

When my husband first got to know me, he laughed when I showed him that my copy of the North Dakota state map was only the western half. As state maps are wont to do, it was tattered and falling apart, and I saw that I had no need for the eastern half so I’d thrown it away because it was just a nuisance to me. I readily admit that I have many untraveled paths to explore in our state and my husband is a wonderful traveling companion.

Robinson’s claim to fame is that it is the Geographic Center of North America.  This emblem is found on the floor of the local watering hole. How cool is that?!

Home for supper. Can you tell my husband was the director of North Dakota Tourism at one time in his career?

“Life always gives us

exactly the teacher we need

at every moment.

This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light,

every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee),

every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression,

every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath.

Every moment is the guru.” —  Charlotte Joko Beck

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Trip Around Northeast North Dakota

My wife, Lillian, and I just did a quick two-day trip on (almost) all two-lane roads — you can’t get out of or into Bismarck without going on a four-lane, but our exit and entrance was our only concession to four lanes) — around the northeast quadrant of North Dakota. It was wonderful.

That is all I am going to say about it.  For the rest of the story, you have to click here and read about it on my her blog, which is rapidly becoming better than mine.

CHRIS ALLEN: London Journal — I Was THIS Close!

Brasenose College, one of the 35 colleges that make up Oxford University, has produced a few distinguished alumni — and probably more dubious ones. Among the more impressive are an archbishop of Canterbury, a prime minister of the United Kingdom and one of Australia, the alleged inventor of rugby, a couple of minor playwrights, some poets, a World War II codebreaker and one of the physicians to King George III, who lost the United States to the revolution.

Brasenose is a Harry Potter-like setting, all ancient stone buildings, heavily timbered ceilings in the dining hall, a soaring chapel with a massive pipe organ, a closely clipped fine grass central green and stolid academic reputation that dates to its beginning in 1509. The history oozes from its walls.

Students on our trip to London get to make a brief tour of the college (which it charges for in an effort to raise cash any way it can), and it’s impressive. At least the first 10 or 12 times, you walk along the preordained path. By the 15th time, a certain sense of sameness sets in and one finds one’s self standing at the door-within-a-gate entry into the college not really wanting to go through it again, even with one’s favorite guide leading the way.

So I didn’t. I watched my students walk into the stately grounds, and I hightailed it around the corner to a covered market that I knew of. Perhaps, I’d find a bit of jewelry to bring home, or a cute, tiny baby outfit for my granddaughter for her birthday. Maybe I’d sit down for a cup of coffee and a great pastry. Or maybe I’d just do some browsing and look at all on offer.

As I neared the market just the next block on, I noticed traffic cones set outside of the opening. As in Omaha, Neb., traffic cones are a common sight in Britain during the summer. But there were a couple of police cars, a very classy silver Jaguar and people milling about as well. There was also a flatbed tow truck whose driver was hooking a cable to the front of a an offending Kia or something like that sitting outside the market.

Curious.

I walked around all this unchallenged and sauntered into the market. I was at the grocery end of things, so I took my time passing by the fruit and vegetable stands, the fish mongers and the butchers. One of the butchers boasts of owning the oldest ham in existence, a blackened hunk of meat shriveled to a hard slab that looks like an instrument used in some sort of fraternity initiation ritual. Yep, on display, with the whole story, in one of the chill cases.

I wandered back toward the clothing stalls, and I rounded a corner to find a mass of photographers and two videographers. Being a journalism teacher, I realized someone impressive was visiting the Oxford Covered Market. I strained to see who, but I couldn’t see through the somewhat shabbily dressed journalists and the impeccably dressed aides, all of them men, every one men, surrounding the dignitary. I figured it was a foreign ambassador, perhaps from Japan, the Congo, maybe Belarus, come to see the right way to do a covered market. Or perhaps a movie star like Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow or Meryl Streep looking for the proper gifts to take home after filming a few scenes nearby.

I visited a few other spots then came upon them all again as I returned to the front. Again I strained to see. Nope. I last saw the press amoeba moving past the cheese seller, and I almost stopped to  ask who the dignitary was, but the look on their faces warned me against that. Besides the mass was moving toward me and I didn’t want to be absorbed into it and swept away. One last time I tried to see who I was missing. Nada. Oh, there was one young woman in the group, though, and she was the one doing all the explaining to the mystery guests.

So I left the mob and glanced at the Jaguar as I did to see a tall, thin gentlemen dressed in the most splendid blue and red livery, gold tassels hanging from braided ropes looped about his shoulders, pointed hat perched perfectly atop his head. He should have been sitting on a golden carriage holding the reins of a team of horses. Instead, he was climbing into the right side (this “is” Britain) of the Jag only to grip the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

My students arrived at the the university bookstore about 10 minutes after I did, several blocks away from the market. They bought some souvenirs, and we all got back on the coaches to drive on to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of a William Shakespeare, to have a tour of that very spot (I went and had lunch — I’m familiar with that place buy now, too), thence on to Warwick Castle to conclude a full day’s adventure in sightseeing.

About five miles down the road, our guide, Norma, whom I’ve known now for 17 years, said, “Did you see all the traffic around the market?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I was there.”

“Really,” she said. “Did you see who was there?”

“No, I never got a good look.”

“Well one of the shopkeepers told me it was Prince Charles and Camilla.”

“No kidding,” I said. “Nope, I never got a good look. I saw all the press around them. Never saw them.”

I was that close, and I didn’t actually see them. I wish I’d tried harder, but I didn’t. I just wasn’t that interested in seeing the ambassador from Belarus. Damn.

But here’s the thing: I was dressed in casual slacks, a slightly rumpled UNO polo shirt, a red-and-black field jacket that’s been around the world but still holds its own and New Balance shoes.

The heir to the throne was in the covered market. There were a couple of officers outside. Nothing was blocked off. People were coming and going, as I was. There was no security checkpoint, people were carrying bags and purses, women and men were transacting business, all while the next King of England was looking at stinky cheese. No one panicked, no one overreacted, no one brandished any sort of firearm in defense of the prince. No one had to.

The English are so dignified.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Lure Of Angor Wat

When discussing with Jen what I wanted to do in Cambodia, I made it clear that my first priority was to be of service to the Young Adult in Global Mission program and to her in any way possible and that I had no reconceived expectations.

That said, I added, if it worked out, I would really love to see Angor Wat. Jen responded by telling me that the Cambodians she knew would be most upset if I visited their country and did not get a chance to tour Angor Wat, a place of majesty and beauty that is rightfully a source of great national pride.

We set off for Angor Wat, a 350-kilometer, 6½-hour ride by bus. The buses in Cambodia are of varying quality, but I have by in large been impressed by them, their frequency and efficiency. Because of timing, we took the cheaper ($6) bus there and were the only Westerners, returning on a fancier $15 bus with reclining seats and wifi that had more of the backpacking crowd. Both were great, however.

Angor Wat is located near Siem Reap, a lovely tourist mecca that has a great vibe. There are numerous upscale hotels but also a great market area and lower budget “hang-out” place in the neighborhood of Old Market. We had a great meal and then bargained our way through the market as I bought items to share with others upon my return. Jen is much better at bargaining than I, so I got a few great deals, I think. I am not made for bargaining.

Our hotel was incredible — for $20 a night we had a lovely room with a king bed and a double, breakfast, free transport to and from the airport or bus station, two 30-minute massages and free dinner one night. Oh, and the place had a pool.  With a fine meal for two including beer running about $8, Cambodia is definitely a good stop for a budget traveler.

We arranged with a tuk tuk driver to leave the next morning at 5 a.m. so we could head out to the ticket area to buy tickets — an incredibly organized affair where they process thousands of tickets with your photo on them in short order — and then out to Angor Wat.

Angor Wat is the name of the both the Archeological Park and what is often the first, and most well-known, stops within the park. A Wat is a seminary, or monastery, where priests gather and study. These temple-like structures were built by each ruler as a sign of their connection with God, with high stupas that reach toward the heavens, where the ruler’s cremated remains are placed after their death. Each Wat in the area we visited seemed to get larger with each ensuing ruler, with Angor Wat being the largest.

As we approached it, the iconic spires set against the rising sun gave off one of those views that is every bit as amazing as you would expect it to be. There were some clouds in the area that allowed for shades of pink and yellow that added to the glory.

People arrive at sunrise largely for two reasons. One is because with the sunrise behind it, Angor Wat is astounding at that hour, and the light hits the whole area in a magical way. The other is practical — it is HOT and the humidity is stifling so one wears down quickly with a heat index that goes over 100 degrees early in the day. It isn’t cool in the morning by a long shot, but it is slightly less oppressive.

After walking though the Wat once on our own, I opted to hire a guide because I find that you get insight you would not otherwise receive, and I preferred to have it told to me as opposed to looking up and down from a guide book. I am glad I did.

The guide we hired was helpful in giving us the history of Angor Wat and pointing out details that I would have otherwise missed. One of my favorite facts was that if a Wat was not complete before the ruler died, his successor might finish off the external structure — like finishing  a spire — but not the decorative pieces, like the astounding bas reliefs on the walls. Most of them were complete, but there were spots when you could see the stenciling that had been done prior to the carving that was never complete.

Built in the 12th century, Angor Wat is the largest religious temple in the world.  However, when the rulers of the Khmer Kingdom moved  the capital south to Phnom Penh, in part to get away from continuous wars with nearby Siam (Thailand) and in part to be better positioned for agriculture production and transportation on the Mekong River, the place fell into disrepair and faded into the jungle. It was never completely abandoned, unlike some of the other spots we visited on our tour, but it nonetheless bore the effects of time, weather and neglect.

It largely remained intact during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, although they used whatever wood remained. Even though Pol Pot sought to destroy anything connected with religion, Angor Wat was a symbol of the power and ingenuity of the Khmer people.

It was during the Vietnamese rule and the civil wars in the 1980s and early ’90s when smugglers came in and lopped the heads off of many of the Buddhas and statues of the gods because they are easier to carry. The temple was originally created to honor the Hindu god, Vishnu, but as Cambodia became a Buddhist nation, the temple became a  home to Buddhist monks.

The tour was fascinating, and the view from the top spire was astounding. Well worth the steps up to the top. The reliefs told stories of Hindu gods, and our guide helped us understand them more, which was definitely value added.

After our tour — we were there over three hours — we had breakfast. I was amused that the breakfast spots, which was a series of little restaurants linked together under a tent, had funky names. We ate at Harry Potter, Spiderman and Lady Gaga. Jen said it was the way the propieters got you to remember their names when they accosted you as you entered the park. “Come back and eat at Angelina Jolie. I give you a good deal.”

I did find the vendors particularly aggressive around this space, but that makes sense. It’s a place rife with tourists. They encourage you at every stop not to buy from children as it encourages them to sell and not be in school. That was good to see but didn’t affect a rather strong child marketing campaign.

From Angor Wat, our tuk tuk driver took us to a series of archeological sites throughout the park. We saw the main town (the Wat is always away from the town) and  several temples in various states of repair. They each had their own unique character. Most visits involved a lot of climbing on sometimes precarious stairs or steps but the view was always worth the risk. They each had their own

One of the temples had been painfully taken apart for restoration in the 1960s because overgrowth and erosion had sunk it into the earth. But before it could be restored, the Khmer Rouge took over and although they didn’t destroy the spot, they destroyed the plans and maps of how to put the rocks back together, so countless cleaned and numbered stones lay around, as no one knew how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Jen and I were well matched for our tour, since we both have active imaginations and a love for stores like “The Chronicles on Narnia,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” As a result, we really enjoyed the various entryways, catacomb-like spaces and portals and often kept looking for the magical ones that would take us back in time — perhaps a time before Trump first declared his candidacy — to warn people.

It was hot and exhausting, so we would at times have to sit down and catch our breath (OK, I had to. Jen is much younger.) On one such occasion, I sat down on a rock that I failed to see was covered in red ants. When they started biting, I leaped up.

Throwing modesty to the wind, I threw up my skirt to remove some from my torso as Jen removed them from my socks. For the next while, we kept intermittently stopping as I felt a bit, and we found another ant, and after that was done, more “ghost feelings” of bites and crawling of ants that weren’t there.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm, the site where the movie “Tomb Raider” was filmed.  It was my favorite stop, with overgrown trees that literally encompassed the ruins in their roots. It all felt very surreal. Except for being a bit bothered by a European family that spent over 10 minutes literally doing their own photo shoot at a spot where I wanted to take a photo (reminding me that tourists can be real jerks), it was a truly astounding and peaceful place for a last stop of the day, as I sought out spaces where it was quiet and I could be alone to soak up the majesty, mystery and magic of not just Ta Prohm but all of Angor Wat Archeological Park.

As I was leaving the temple near the end of my tour, I slipped on a wet stone and slowly fell to my knees — my legs weary from the nearly 12 miles we had walked in the past 11 hours — and it felt like an apt metaphor for this amazing, spiritual journey through Angkorean Temples. The place literally brought me to my knees.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas, a resort city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, is a popular destination for travelers during the winter months. Cabo is known for its beaches, water-based activities and nightlife. Photographer Russ Hons and his wife, Paulette, recently spent some time there. These are some of the sights they saw. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

 

 

XIAO ZHANG: Up The Mountain, Load By Load

So there they were, taking each step slowly and with great care. They usually put one hand on the iron chains that run along the steep path that goes up the mountain, while leaving the other hand on the carrying pole on their shoulder for balance. From a few steps behind, you could hear them breathe, heavily: One step they would inhale; the next, exhale.

The porters are an amazing sight on Mount Hua in western China. They climb the mountain with at least 110 pounds of goods on their backs every day, rain or shine. And on this snowy day in March 2011, I got to watch in awe how they trek some of the most dangerous trails I had ever seen.

Some 75 miles from China’s ancient capital Xi’An, Mount Hua is known as one of the Five Great Mountains in China and is famous for its Daoist traditions. It is also famous for having some of the most hazardous trails in China — steep, narrow and often exposed on bare rocks.

Sure, there are stairs running up the mountain, as in many of the country’s mountains, but some patches of the pathways go up almost vertically, and climbers have to hold on tight to the handrails or iron chains for their dear life and slant their feet to increase contact with the tiny and uneven stone stairs. One misstep, and the hiker could fall into the abyss.

The climb up Mount Hua is exhausting and risky for even day hikers carrying only a light backpack containing water and a few snacks. But porters have to balance more than 100 pounds of goods on their shoulders while making the same trip, day after day, sometimes in bad weather conditions, often with swarms of sightseers trying to pass them and hurry on to the next site.

On the day I went, the snow started in the early morning but got heavier as the day went by. Fresh snow on the mountain paths was especially sticky and slippery. Some of the more stunning sites were closed out of safety concerns; and by midafternoon the mixture on the ground had turned into a combination of snow, ice and slush.

It was under such dicey conditions when I caught up with a group of porters. Their yokes stretched across the path and on them were boxes of beer, cooking oil, instant noodles and whatever else needed by the hotels up the mountain. Every few minutes, they would shift the wooden pole from one shoulder to another.

There’s a silent rhythm among the group: they trekked slowly but steadily, as if they had measured with precision the time to spend on each step. But they hardly stopped to have a rest. I guess when you are carrying such a heavy load, it’s hard to get the momentum going once you stop.

But during the few breaks they did take, I learned a few things about them. A porter typically carries more than 50 kilograms of goods (about 110 pounds), and gets paid Rmb0.8 for each kilogram he moves up the mountain. Most of them make just one trip up the mountain each day, which gets them a little more than Rmb40 (around $6), about half the price a tourist pays to ride the cable up to the north peak, or probably just enough to buy a couple of beers served by the shops on the mountain. If they work every day, their monthly wage would be about Rmb1,200 to Rmb1,500, much less than the national average for migrant workers in 2011 (around Rmb2,000). And the porters don’t get paid extra in bad weather conditions. (All the numbers mentioned were from 2011.)

None of the porters I ran into was young — the younger generation tends to be better educated than their fathers, allowing them to get better-paying jobs; and unlike their fathers, they have no appetite for such grueling work.

One man going up the mountain by himself looked older than the groups of porters I saw (probably in his late 50s) and walked at a much slower pace. He was carrying 50 kilograms of cement up for some pathway being built — to make the mountain more accessible to tourists like me, I suppose — and got a slightly better rate of Rmb1 per kilogram, i.e., he would make Rmb50 or $7-plus for the day. But he started his day at 5 a.m. and hadn’t even reached his destination by the time I ran into him at around noon.

The man was from the neighboring Sichuan province and told me that he had hardly taken a day off in the 10-plus years that he had been doing this. “Yesterday, the snow was even worse than today,” he said. “And a lot of people (porters) took the day off. But I carried 75 kilograms of cement up the mountain.”

He said he has a wife and a child back home in Sichuan and that he misses them very much.

Walking behind these porters, I slowly acquired their rhythm. Not too fast, I told myself constantly. And going slowly allowed me to always feel a certain level of energy hidden inside me, ready to be drawn upon at all times.

I was more than annoyed when tourists passed the porters without care — sometimes a hiker’s shoulder touched the load a porter was carrying, breaking his balance. To do this on a steep, narrow mountain trail was not only careless but also disrespectful for others’ lives.

Most of the time, though, the porters were left alone to walk. Their steps were slow, measured and solid. But once in a while, they paused to regain balance on a particularly slippery patch.

And each time a porter faltered to find his balance, I felt as if my heart quivered. I was afraid they might fall backward onto me, knocking me off the trail and into the abyss. But even if they just accidentally broke a bottle of beer or crushed some instant noodles they were carrying, it would create no small hardship for them.

Xiao Zhang initially wrote this story in March 2011 following her trip to Xi’An, Shaanxi Province in western China; she revised it this week for unheralded.fish. 

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Duluth Canal Park

Grand Forks photographer Russ Hons recently spent a weekend in Duluth, and among the sights he took in was Canal Park, a tourist and recreation-oriented district of the northeastern Minnesota city. Situated across the Interstate 35  freeway from the downtown,  it is connected by the famous Aerial Lift Bridge to the Park Point sandbar and neighborhood. Canal Park originally was an old warehouse district that has been transformed into restaurants, shops, cafes and hotels. The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, now connected to the new AMSOIL Arena, is also located in the district. Other attractions include a 4.2-mile long lakewalk, a lighthouse pier, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the Great Lakes Aquarium and the William A. Irvin floating ship museum.

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Biltmore Estate And Gardens

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Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson recently had the opportunity to visit one of the top tourist attractions in Ashville, N.C., the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Chateauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. It is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet of floor space (135,280 square feet of living area). The grounds, which includes a densely filled lane with natural and uncultivated looking foliage and shrubbery to provide a relaxing journey for guests, was designed Frederick Law Olmsted, who is popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture. (Olmsted was famous for co-designing many public parks, including New York City’s Central Park.) The grounds also include 75 acres of formal gardens — including an Italian formal garden, a walled garden, a shrub and rose garden — directly surrounding the house, fountains and a conservatory with individual rooms for palms and orchids. Biltmore Estate is still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants.