Monday, May 30, 2011

Why, oming? Why?

We awoke bright and early this morning at 5:00 AM, tethered our goods to the top of the car and humped it westward. We passed the Wyoming border in the wee morning hours, to the half-hearted cheers of the sleepy crew, and soon a tall rock, jutting forth in the lonely Wyoming skyline, peeked it’s devilish head. Devil’s Tower loomed ahead and it was fun first stop. The Devil’s Tower is an igneous rocky petrusion, a holy site for Native Americans, and a sort of personal Mecca for plucky rock climbers. We hiked around the tower, exchanged pleasantries with other visitors, and talked about what it would be like on top of Devil’s Tower. The Indians’ legend says that a bear scratched the surface while trying to reach its prey at the top. Since the early morning hours had made us silly, we created our own legend:

“Why Devil’s Tower is called Devil’s Tower” Brave and intrepid climbers all venture forth to the great rock jutting forth in the Wyoming sky, all with the single purpose of conquering it through the strength of their limbs and some serious mad skill. Many fail and fall great lengths to their doom. Those stouthearted few who, however, climb the height fall upon a most incredible sight. At the top of the tower, a colony of monkeys greet you with rolled doobies and coolers of Coors light. Great, sweeping eagles lay deviled eggs for the climbers to feast upon whilst Lionel Richie’s hit, “All Night Long” blasts from speakers tucked away in rocky crags. The climbers all enjoy the feast but must, at the day’s end, descend the treacherous tower. The combination of cannibis, alcohol, eggs, and monkeys tickling open armpits often proves too hazardous for the tired climbers, who hurl the fruits of their reward down the tower in the form of projectile vomit, showering unweary tourists with ralph. And that’s why Devil’s Tower is called Devil’s Tower.

While crossing Wyoming on Route 90, the only word that came to mind is “lonely.” The land is good for ranching but little else and therefore there is nothing but cows, horses, and sheep for miles and miles. When I was younger, I read a book about a boy who spends a summer by himself tending sheep in Wyoming. The book explored growing up while alone in a land filled with red dirt, shrubs, and sparse grass and it was all I could think about as we flew down Interstate 90. It’s beautiful in its own way— it’s wide and expansive and open, clouds make well-defined shadows on the plains, and the slow rotation of oil rigs keeps time while swifts dive across the plains.

And suddenly, from nowhere, I see the vague shadows of mountains. I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see mountains yet— the atlas I used warned us of the Big Horn National Forest, but not of the Big Horn Mountain Range that corresponds with it. It was an unexpected pleasure to wind our slow way through magnificent rocky passages until we hit...snow! We found ourselves in what looked like a blizzard in the passages of the mountains. Rebecca bemoaned that she was getting seasonal depression and I admit that seeing that much snow at the beginning of our summer vacation was confusing.

We finally made it to Cody, Wyoming, home of Buffalo Bill Cody. Just beyond the town was the Shoshane National Forest and then, finally, at long last— Yellowstone. We planned on getting to Yellowstone as quickly as possible and explore it before settling down for the night. The foothills of the Rockies loomed overhead as the peaks swelled in the background and we excitedly took our picture next to the Yellowstone sign. But trouble was ahead. At the Ranger Station, the gates were closed and I was sent to see what the trouble was. Apparently, recent snows in the high elevations had made the conditions ripe for avalanches. As such, Yellowstone would be closed.

Faced with the grim possibility of never seeing Yellowstone, I, despairing, asked the Ranger what we could do. He suggested settling back in the Shoshone Park, in one of their many campgrounds. I told the news with a heavy heart; Yellowstone was one of roadtrip adventures I was most anticipating. Little did we know how much better it was to be this way...

So we set up camp in Rex Hale Campground, made foil packets filled with vegetables, and roasted them on the fire. It was actually a lovely campsite, despite it all: near a babbling creek, with plenty of deer around. We regarded the warnings of grizzly activity with suspicion— we saw the skeletal remains of a deer nearby, everything but its poor legs licked clean (That bear is in the clean plate club!). But that night we were bear-free, though Rebecca and I briefly considered pretending to be bears while the others slept. Instead, we got to bed early with the hopes of having an early-morning start, so we could see the sunrise before we were permitted to pass through the Yellowstone gates.

Overheard: "Welcome to Cody, Wyoming! Where the men are men and the sheep are extremely nervous."
Gastric Shout-Out: Foil packets/silver turtles/hobo dinners/boyscout hamburgers
Listen To: "Snow," Red Hot Chili Peppers

Friday, May 27, 2011

"Don't take away South Dakota's tourism; that's all they have."

Hello from Rapid City, where people rush more! Get it? Get it? I've been making jokes like that all day, to my cohorts' chagrin.

The day began with the trek from Red Cloud to Rapid City. Along the way, we got out of the car to enjoy the sight of the Badlands. They really are remarkable. We only got to see the smallest tip of the Badlands, but it was gorgeous. I wanted to climb down and poke around, but my wiser friends stopped me: there's not much stopping the loose soil from tumbling beneath you. The sheer amount of erosion that took place there is incredible and I'm glad I got to see them up close— it's something I've wanted to do since grade school.

We moved onward to Rapid City where we went to The Daily Grind Coffee Shop, a used bookstore (I insisted on buying a bird and mammal field guide so I can be irritatingly informative about whatever critters we see— p.s, saw some antelope today. Or pronghorns, as they are also called), and got lunch at Black Hills Bagels with my sister, who happens to be in Rapid City visiting her boyfriend. At this point, we are now officially joined by our fifth traveler, Rebecca, who finished teaching her fifth grader here in Rapid City today. Next year, she will be moving on to a different school experience, so I hope she took our little tour as a last hurrah for the year.

For those who have never visited Rapid City, the town is host to what seems to be the largest conglomerate of tourist traps in the United States. Whether it's forcing statues of our country's presidents into compromising positions in downtown Rapid City's infamous Presidential Walk, or allowing yourself to be terrified in Bear Country or the Reptile Gardens, or visiting Deadwood to gamble, or reverently pretending to pick the nose of Abraham Lincoln as he gazes nobly from the foreground of a Rushmore photograph— well, there's a little something for everyone. In all seriousness, I rather like Rapid City, in spite—or because— of the hokey little billboards screaming at you as you wind your way through the Black Hills. Part of me is scandalized because the Black Hills are simply stunning— covered with Ponderosa Pines, rocky crags, and teeming with wildlife. It seems a terrible shame to squander that view with gaudy invitations to seek adventure in Sitting Bull's Crystal Caves. And yet...and yet that's part of the charm of South Dakota. I suppose I could sit glumly in the car and bemoan the desecration of nature, and frankly, I don't think I would be unjust to do so. However, as a guest of the Hills, I decided to enjoy the advertisements as a quirky, silly, capitalistic South Dakotan eccentricity. How very patriotic of me.

After an afternoon of loudly discussing false information around wandering Rushmore tourists (I might have said that George Washington's left nostril is haunted because a tourist fell from it while pretending to be a booger.... keep in mind that I'm a teacher on vacation) and photo-bombing their tourist photos, we returned to the city for last-minute camping preparations and a Chinese dinner at Coco Palace. We rushed about, removing our things from Jill's car to Rebecca's car, which we will be using from this point. Next stop, Yellowstone National Park! Let's hope the weather is better than what they've been promising!

Overheard: "I nearly peed my pants when she said ginger."
Gastric Shout-Out: Black Hills Bagel sandwich— Oven-roasted turkey on a Spinach-Parmesan bagel.
Listen To: "Awake My Soul," Mumford and Sons

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Hey Jill, what should I title my blog today?" "Thunderstorms on the prairie, thunderstorms in my heart."

We spent the day within the campus of the Red Cloud grade school, middle school, and high school. We met and hung out with the kids — I got viciously beaten in a game of knock-out, but a girl told me she liked my hair (YES!) — and rode on the school bus (driven by Magis' very own Maria!) with them at the end of the school day. One second grade girl insisted that I guess all twelve of her favorite colors, which was tough: the last favorite was “vanilla.” Some of the third graders had made shields out of some painted wood and they were explaining their paintings to me. My favorite was a boy who had painted a half-alligator, half-bunny hybrid dubbed “Bunnigator.” Excellent.

We then got to attend the 8th grade graduation at the mission church. I’m always struck by the universality of the Church when I encounter unfamiliar cultures, and I loved how they adapted traditional Lakota practices into the liturgy. For example, their incense was burned in clay vessels and an eagle feather— signifying power and deity— was used to drift the incense towards the congregation. Before the entrance hymn, the Sons of Oglala chanted and drummed. Even I, a virtual ignoramus about the Lakota culture, found that the mysteriousness of practices increased my reverence during the mass. We ended the day by attending a party for the volunteers who are leaving the reservations.

Tomorrow, we plan on hitting up the Badlands tomorrow, checking out Rapid City, and meeting my sister for lunch. In the meantime, we spend our second night on the couch here in volunteer's "cottage." Oh, a quick weather update: mostly sunny and even vaguely warm, thunderstorm during the evening... thus, Jill's very helpful title to tonight's blog. Happy reading!



Overheard: "It's your face; but it's my choice whether or not I want to kiss it."
Gastric Shout-Out: A self-served Arnold Palmer that completely made my day.
Listen To: "Dancing Queen," ABBA.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brave New World

We left today, driving through what seemed at the time to be a torrential downpour, and except for a fuzzy radio, we were silent. Krissy spent this initial leg of the journey lesson planning; Jill and Melissa took turns driving; I tore through 100+ pages of Adolus Huxley’s A Brave New World. I was a little grumpy. The weather was cold and I was starting to fear that I had severely mis-packed my clothing items. It was cold, wet, and not at all what I had originally wanted for our trip. I imagined a sunny, warm, summer roadtrip and the version I was getting did not entirely fit the bill. But then I ran across this little line in the book: “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” I made up my mind not to focus on what my anticipations and idealisms had demanded of the trip but rather let whatever was intended for me to experience happen.

These determined thoughts in mind, we continued to trod through Nebraska, making our way further north. After eating at Jordan’s Cafe in Valentine, NE (“It was like heaven on Earth” - Jill Lisemeyer), we passed into the Rosebud Indian Reservation, officially crossing the South Dakota border.

I’ve passed through South Dakota once before, but it was during winter. Now, in the springtime, hills roll with green velvet, alive with prairie dogs, pheasants, deer, wild turkeys, and occasionally punctuated with gutted, rusting cars outside the trailer homes of the Lakota people who inhabit these plains. It’s a strange juxtaposition: startling poverty amidst startling beauty. Even more startling is stopping at a gas station and peering inside a darkened room to see the hunched backs of a half dozen silent people, stooped over casino games that make bright sounds in the black room. Such images restrain my overall admiration for the pastoral landscape.

Upon arrival to the Res, we visited the cemetary in which Chief Red Cloud is buried (pictures of the cemetery to come*) and I spent some down time finishing my book. Now I wish I brought another with me. Well, I can't read while I sleep, anyway. Which, by the way, is what I'm going to do now.



Overheard: "Look at him. Look at his smile. He's not wearing any pants when that photograph was taken, was he?"
Gastric Shout-Out: Jordan Cafe's sweet potato french fries.
Listen To: "Postcards from Italy," Beirut

* Here are some pictures of the cemetery. I thought that the grave were visually striking.

Wagons, Ho!

I find my own blog title to be vaguely demeaning.

I'm sitting in the Omaha Magis residence— the Convent— taking a quick break while I make my final preparations. It's been a hectic couple of days: finishing school, packing my things, moving to Omaha, unpacking my things, re-packing my things, hustling, bustling, so on and so forth. Not that this last week hasn't been filled with my fair share of fun: there was the Omaha BeerFest to attend, a birthday party, shopping, a haircut, a hike, etc. It wasn't all hustle and bustle.

The weather has been fair to good so far: so imagine my chagrin to wake up to a cool, drizzly, muddy first day of travels. It kind of takes the wind out of my sails. But my disappointment is somewhat misplaced: the weather in Yellowstone promises to be snowy for our camp-out and that, perhaps, is what is actually irritating me. Son-of-a-monkey! Well. At least the snakes will be less likely to drop by and say hey. Right?

These trepidations aside, I feel pretty good. My iPod is updating as I write, bags are being shuffled about importantly, and it's almost time to say "Heck with it," leave behind whatever we've forgotten, and hit the road.

I've already realized I've forgotten my pillow back in my dorm room.

Eh, heck with it. Time to go.



Overheard: "It is an ancient need to be told stories; but the story needs a great storyteller." - Alan Rickman
Gastric Shout-Out: Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon
Listen To: Wagon Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Manifest Destiny!

Eight days. Eight states.

In about a week's time, my intrepid cohorts and I will be venturing forth to the rugged Northwestern United States for a brief but fierce road trip. We have un-politically-correctly dubbed our little jaunt as "Manifest Destiny." We are all aware that this term packs the proverbial punch, as it was used to justify imperialism and war. However, we are re-defining the expression: from now on, when I refer to "Manifest Destiny," I'm referring to five teachers, a car, and our destination.

The Conception

Our destiny was initially made manifest in September, during my first full month of teaching at a small Catholic school in rural Nebraska. My roommates—Jill and Melissa— and I glibly chatted about taking a little trip at the end of the school year. When we first talked about it, I naturally assumed it wouldn't happen. I've made plans like that before without any follow-through; I didn't suspect that there would be any this time, either. When I first made a route on GoogleMaps, I thought I was being cute.

Originally, our trip was to be two weeks long (beginning after we were done teaching for the year and ending with the day before our own summer classes at Creighton University began) and would include stops in British Columbia, the coast, and the northern edge of California. Due to the teaching schedule of our fourth colleague, Rebecca, our trip had to be cut down: now we'll take the following route:

A rough outline of our route,
using GoogleMaps.

Omaha, NE to Red Cloud, SD
Red Cloud, SD to Rapid City, SD (where we'll pick up Rebecca)
Rapid City, NE to Yellowstone Park, MT
Yellowstone to Seattle and Tacoma, WA;
Tacoma to Portland, OR
Portland to Boise, ID
Boise to Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City, back to Rapid City
Finally, from Rapid City, we'll travel to Omaha, where we'll settle down in a dorm room for summer classes.

The Players

From right to left:
Melissa, Rebecca, me, Jill, and Krissy this last weekend in Omaha, celebrating this year's graduates from the Magis program.

We are five teachers— we're two graduates and three current students of the MEd program at Creighton University, through the Magis Catholic Teacher program. After a long year of teaching students everything from math to history to theology to spelling, we feel we've earned— perhaps erroneously— a long trip away from it all. Though the "long" part must be sacrificed, the trip goes on.

My Goals
I'm not much of a blogger; heck, I've never even kept a diary. So it is not my usual style to take the time to write down my thoughts and perceptions of daily life. I'm an English major, sure; but that doesn't necessarily mean I have the patience to eloquently and punctually chronicle my goings-ons. As such, this little blog will serve to help me develop in myself what I lack: namely, the self-discipline to write a little every day.

One thing I've been taught in my education classes— when you create your goals, make them reasonable and measurable. Alright then. Here are four reasonable and measurable goals for this blog:

1. To write a post for every day I'm on my trip, without fail*.
2. To post photographs of the sights and people of the trip
3. To listen carefully to the music in the car and post the song that most exemplifies that particular day of travelling.
4. To post a "Gastric Shout-Out" each day, since we will be visiting breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants along the way.

* I expect that while we camp, I will not be able to publish my post online. However, I still will expect myself to write the blog, and then post it at first opportunity.

This way, the sights, sounds, tastes, and my own thoughts will be somewhat available to the reading public.

Until Then...

The road trip will not technically start until May 25. Until then, I will post as needed— I will let you know our route, our general plans, and the sights we expect to see.



Overheard: "Let's just say we taught the frog English, and then say it was eaten by an anteater."
Gastric Shout-Out: Lay's Spicy Cayenne and Cheese Kettle Chips. Perfection in a bag
Listen To: "Shuffle Your Feet," Black Rebel Motorcycle Club