The New Landscape in Iowa

Iowa wind turbine
Planting crops around the wind turbine, farmers reap the benefits of both the soil and wind.

Entering Iowa from the northwest corner, hundreds of wind turbines rise majestically from the endless corn and soybean fields that are a staple of the Iowa landscape. Pulling into an access road, we drive up to a newly installed wind turbine that looks like it is ready to be commissioned. It is a GE wind turbine, and the GE on-site engineer has obvious pride as he describes the wind turbine specs, design, and geology of the area that makes this site so amenable to wind power generation.

He explains that this wind turbine is located on the Coteau des Prairies, sometimes referred to as Buffalo Ridge. The ridge is composed of thick glacial deposits that gently rise to about 900 feet, from the surrounding prairie flatlands.  The ridge runs eastward, from eastern South Dakota, through southwestern Minnesota, and northwestern Iowa. Numerous wind farms have been built along the ridge to take advantage of the high average wind speeds.

Iowa wind power accounts for about 20% of the electricity generated in the state and leads the US in percentage of electrical power generated by wind. Wind turbines will produce from 12 to 16 times more revenue per acre than corn or soybeans. And farmers can plant crops around the wind turbine, reaping the benefits of both. In addition, in the winter, winds are stronger, generating much needed revenue while the fields lay fallow.

Harn Soper of Soper Farms
Harn Soper at the site of Soper Farms organic vegetable operation
popcorn taster
Jarret, the facilities and livestock manager, with his daughter.

Meanwhile, we are on our way to Soper Farms in Emmetsburg, Iowa. This is the family farm of our friend, Jon. Soper Farms is a family-run enterprise, boasting 69 stockholders, ranging in age from 1 year to 90 years. They have served as absentee landlords of some 1,000 noncontiguous acres in Iowa. Jon’s cousin, Harn Soper, is in the process of converting 260 acres of Soper Farms from conventional corn and soybean row crops to organic vegetables and livestock. As Harn says at his website:

Without the hand of man getting in the way, nature very effectively creates, balances and evolves. It does so with all life forms interacting together. As farmers we have a choice between manipulating nature and managing nature in our pursuit to feed ourselves.

Our current farming model has evolved over many years onto a path of manipulation using GMO seeds and oil-based fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides as substitutes to nature’s abundant ability to nourish. As we’ve learned, this path, however well intentioned, has had a debilitating impact on our environment, our soil and the water upon which our farms depend.  The plan that we are building today follows the restorative path to manage nature as a partner so we too may create, balance and evolve.

chicken dog
Soper Farms official "chicken dog" trying to get to his hens.

Soper Farms’ five-year plan includes building a grass-fed cow/calf operation that harvests 160 organic cattle and 9,000 organic pastured chickens per year. Plans also include adding 80 acres of organic vegetable production to their operation.

We needed a farm store and the McNally’s Bake Shop building was a perfect fit,” Soper said. While the organic farm is the centerpiece of the endeavor, there is another side to the operation—an outlet for the farm’s produce. Soper  purchased the McNally Bake Shop building in Emmetsburg, and is converting the upper level to offices for sales and marketing and the development of value-added products like baked goods, cheese, and meat. Soper Farms intends to provide organic products for food stores and restaurants in the immediate area as well as food markets within a four-hour radius. The bakery will continue on the first floor and will expand to include a deli that will offer their fresh produce, beef, and chicken.

soper farm farmers
Jarret, his daughter and grandfather - 4 generations of this family are involved on the farm.

As you may have guessed, local farming and local food are an interest of ours, and as we drive across the country, Jay is reading aloud a very engaging book – Ben Hewitt’s, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, published in 2010. It tells the story of a rural, working-class Vermont community -Hardwick, Vermont – that is attempting to blueprint and implement a localized food system. Book reviewer James Glave says it well:

This is what I love about The Town That Food Saved. It celebrates the possible and the necessary, it reveals the wonderful relationships and connections borne of an almost-complete local food system, but doesn’t shy from the enormity and messiness of the task. It reveals the rough outlines of how we might “take back” our food without descending into over-simplified strategies and pat advice about starting community gardens. What’s happening in Hardwick is less a conscious movement, and more a set of historical precedents embraced by a handful of eccentrics that happen to line up in the same direction. It’s an almost accidental critical mass, flailing its way forward.

Hewitt has written a second book – Making Supper Safe – here he exposes the vulnerabilities inherent to the US food industry, where the majority of our processing facilities are inspected only once every seven years, and where government agencies lack the necessary resources to act on early warning signs. The most dangerous aspect of our food system isn’t just its potential to make us acutely ill, but the ever expanding distance between us and our sources of nourishment. Hewitt introduces a vibrant cast of characters and revolutionaries who are reinventing how we grow, process, package, distribute, and protect our food, and even how we protect ourselves.

Ben and his family live in a self-built, solar-powered house in Cabot, Vermont, and operate a 40-acre livestock, vegetable, and berry farm. Check out his blog about life on the farm:  Ben Hewitt – The Future’s in the Dirt.

Writing about Ben’s books reminds me of the Andy Couturier book:  A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, which tells 11 peoples journeys. Artists, philosophers, and farmers who reside deep in the mountains of rural Japan living simply yet surrounded by the luxuries of nature, art, contemplation, healthy food, and an abundance of time. Read my post Japan – Lessons in Simple Living for more details.

Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

Alex Johnson Hotel, Rapid City, SD
Warm, welcoming lobby of the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City, SD

Mid-day we make a pit stop in Rapid City looking for wireless service, lunch, a natural foods store… and architecturally interesting buildings.

Right downtown and an easy drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore, The Hotel Alex Johnson is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structural design is a blend of two spirits: the heritage of the Plains Indians and the Germanic Tudor architecture representing German immigration to the Dakotas. Construction began on the hotel in 1927, the day before work began on Mount Rushmore. Alex Johnson, Vice President of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, was founder of this grand hotel that bears his name. An admirer of Native Americans, he spoke of a shrine and tribute to the Sioux Indian Nation.

After admiring the lobby and buying a few postcards in the gift shop, we walk into Seattle’s Best Cafe, which is conveniently connected to the hotel. Good coffee, hot tea, comfy leather chairs for postcard writing, and complimentary high speed wireless take care of all our needs.

Tally's Silver Spoon, Rapid City, SD
Tally's Silver Spoon fine diner is just across the street from the hotel.

Tally’s Silver Spoon, dubbed the Fine Diner by Chef Benjamin Klinkel, and located across the street from the hotel, is what drew us to the town after an internet search. The diner is abuzz with happy eaters and we are pleased to land a booth by the window. The menu reflects the chef’s philosophy of seeking out the best ingredients available, local whenever possible and specialty imports from small producers all over the world.

Healthy choices are created daily in the form of the Silver Spoon Lunch Special made with lettuces and produce grown specifically for Tally’s Silver Spoon by a local farm. Jay orders today’s lunch special – a Tuscan Bread salad with seared Ahi Tuna on top. I order a Wild Idea Buffalo burger a plate they happily modify to be gluten-free – omitting the bun and coated fries and adding a delicious green salad. Both are delicious. Wild Idea, a Rapid City company, lets their bison mature on native grass pastures which are are loaded with Omegs-3’s and are found in abundance in grass-fed buffalo.

Fully fed and satisfied we locate a natural foods store. I find it interesting to go into natural food markets in different places. Often we will be restocking on nuts and fruit and I like to see what gluten-free brands they carry that are new to me. Today we check out Staple and Spice Market at 601 Mount Rushmore Road. My discovery is a new line of gluten-free baking mixes from Stonewall KitchenGF Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix, GF Chocolate Cupcake Mix, GF Vanilla Cupcake Mix, GF Pancake & Waffle Mix, and a GF Chocolate Brownie Mix. I purchased one of the brownie mixes and look forward to baking it soon. If anyone has tried the Stonewall gluten-free mixes, please let us know what you think.

Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Bear Butte sunrise, South Dakota
The day dawns on Bear Butte.

Planning on a sunrise hike up the Butte, we car camp in the Bear Butte State Park campground, located on Butte Butte Lake – the perfect spot – with an unobstructed view of Bear Butte and a lake loop trail for walking.

A gorgeous sunrise greets us this morning and we dress in its’ soft light. Ours is the first and only car in the parking lot. It is a 1.85-mile hike up the Summit Trail to the top of the butte. The dirt-covered narrow trail begins at the parking lot near the Education Center and zigzags up the rocky butte, gaining 1,000 feet elevation along the way.

During our ascent, a dark storm cloud approaches, and is split in half by the butte. We experience all the elements in their full glory – the fire of lighting, rain, and wind, as we trod the earthen path, ever upward. The golden light of the morning sun illuminating the prairie below us.

Bear Butte, South Dakota, view to the north
As we walk under a cloudy sky the northern view is illuminated by the sun.

Mato Paha or Bear Mountain is the Lakota name given to this unique formation called Bear Butte. The mountain earned its nickname because of its resemblance to a bear sleeping on its side. Turns out this formation is a lone mountain, rather than a flat-topped butte as the name implies. It is one of several intrusions of igneous rock that formed millions of years ago along the northern edge of the Black Hills.

Bear Butte, South Dakota, view to the east
View to the east as we continue to climb.
View from the summit of Bear Butte
Bear Butte summit where a thunderstorm passes to the east.

The mountain is sacred ground for as many as 17 American Indian tribes, and the ceremonial area is visited by many each summer. Year round the mountain is used for prayer and is believed to be the spot where the creator communicates with his people through vision and prayer. For thousands of years, American Indian tribes, including the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan have traveled to Bear Butte to perform annual prayer ceremonies. They, along with visitors from around the world, make annual pilgrimages to this sacred site for spiritual renewal and sustenance.

summit of Bear Butte, SD
The wind blows and the world opens up at the summit.
Path on Bear Butte, SD
Trail to Bear Butte summit.

As we climb the mountain we see colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles or pouches hanging from the trees. These prayer cloths and tobacco ties represent prayers offered by individuals during their worship. For the native peoples, the Creator gave them the sanctity of Bear Butte and other gifts to use in their sacred ways – sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, and water.

We learn that the colors used in prayer cloths and prayer ties vary with the different tribes, but are often similar to the colors associated with the four cardinal directions.

  • Black is for the West, and is the color of the Thunder and Lightning People who clean the Earth.
  • Red is for the North. The Buffalo come from the north and sacrifice themselves for the people so that the people may live.
  • Yellow is for the East. Hope and a new day come from the east.
  • White is for the South, which is the direction that we go when we leave this physical world and go on to the next world.

Despite its cultural and religious significance, this National Historic Landmark is threatened by proposed energy development. Last November, the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved a plan to establish a 960-acre oil field adjacent to Bear Butte. Based on tribal opposition and recommendations made by the National Trust and the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office, the board agreed that no wells would be located within the NHL boundary, and adopted other restrictions to reduce the project’s impact. However, in addition to the well proposal, a wind power installation, to be placed roughly five miles away from the mountain, is currently under consideration.

Lakota Prayer

Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
teach me how to trust
my heart
my mind,
my intuition,
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.

According to the Native People, the Sacred Space is the space between exhalation and inhalation. To Walk in Balance is to have Heaven (spirituality) and Earth (physicality) in Harmony.


Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Allen's Rocket Motel, Custer, SD
Allen's Rocket Motel in Custer, SD (photo by Brian Butko)

Arriving late in Custer, SD we happen upon the Rocket Motel. Located in downtown Custer within walking distance of restaurants & shops, and with the coolest lobby we have seen so far, we take a room. The decor is black and white with a pristine white cotton bedspread and very fun black & white check curtains in the bathroom. It is as the LA Times says “immaculately maintained 1950’s motel.” Rates start at $70 in summer and $50 in winter, and the Crazy Horse Memorial is just a five minute drive north in the Black Hills.

Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, SD
Crazy Horse sculpture with Memorial in background

As I sit here writing and researching, I learn that the second “night blast” of the year at the Crazy Horse Memorial will be tonight – Sept. 6 – in observance of dual anniversaries; the 1877 death of Lakota leader Crazy Horse and the commemoration of the 104th birth date of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski born in 1908… an auspicious day.

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Outside on the deck of the Welcome Center is the sculpture that Ziolkowski created depicting the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, seated on his horse and pointing over the horse’s head saying “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The mountain carving is a very large duplicate of Ziolkowski’s sculpture and is breathtaking to see in person. The size and scale of the mountain sculpture is hard to grasp. Just the head is as big as all of Mount Rushmore. The opening under Crazy Horse’s arm is the height of a 10-story building.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial on a glorious sunny day

Numerous accounts of Crazy Horse exist. Manataka American Indian Council has a brief biography online and Jay has read two books he recommends:

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, the author tells the story of the treatment of North American Indians since European settlers arrived. Through interviews, attendance at Indian ceremonies and extensive research, he shares details of life for many tribes, both then and now.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt is widely hailed as a religious classic. Jay read from it as we traveled, and the story told by Black Elk is gripping, powerful, and full of fascinating first person history – growing from young boy to Lakota elder, the narrative includes “you are there” accounts of Lakota life, Black Elk’s visions, his travels to England where Black Elk met the queen, and much more. From the back cover:

This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

As we leave the Custer area headed for Bear Butte, our next stop is the Sugar Shack just south of Deadwood, SD, located on US Highway 385. Our host at the Rocket Motel spoke very highly of this burger joint and was envious that we would be eating there today.

Sugar Shack in Deadwood, SD
Sugar Shack on highway 385, just south of Deadwood, SD

I go for it and order the “Bubba Burger” – the 1/2 pound homemade burger comes with pepper cheese, grilled onions, thick smokey bacon, jalapenos, and BBQ sauce (they happily serve it without a bun so it is gluten-free). Jay chooses a swiss cheese burger with grilled onions. The patties are juicy and delicious. The story is that the current owner – Kerri “Bubba” Johnston – has changed the recipe slightly since it first opened — all of the employees agree that the current recipe is the best it has ever been – works for us, we are two happy campers!


Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Creek Campground, Wyoming
View from our campsite in Crazy Creek Campground

Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the northeast gate we drive through Cooke City and find Crazy Creek campground in the Shoshone National Forest. A remote and scenic campground about half full when we arrive in the late afternoon, we are thrilled to get a campsite with a view of the surrounding mountains.

Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Early morning journaling and sketching

Randy and Pam from Kentucky are volunteer hosts for the campground and walk over to greet us as we begin to set up camp. After hearing reports of grizzly bear attacks closer to Yellowstone, we are relieved to hear that no bears have been sighted in this area. They show us how to be bear-safe in camp.

While we set up camp, the gentle sound of crazy creek provides a soothing background as the sky darkens, and the sun sets over Index Peak. Jay builds a fire and we retire early with the comforting flickering glow of the fire lulling us to sleep.

We wake to sunshine after a chilly night-time low of 38 degrees… burrrr.

Ground squirrel in Crazy Creek campground, Wyoming
Ground squirrel at Crazy Creek campsite

Jay sets up a breakfast area in the sun and we dine on cereal with nuts and fresh blueberries, warming our almond milk with hot water to ease the chill. As we sit munching our warm cereal we observe first one, then two, then three little ground squirrels basking in the sun on the rocks and then tunneling through the grass looking for seed. We are fascinated as we witness one pull over a stalk of grass to munch on the dry seed. Sketching ensues, while Jay does yoga in the warmth of the rising sun.

Soon we are packing up and leaving this idyllic site. But more beauty is in store as we travel along the Beartooth Hwy and connect with the Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy. This is Beartooth and Absaroka mountain country. We descend to the distant Wyoming plains through steep switchbacks, surrounded by stunningly scenic mountains. From Crazy Creek, we venture east along the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Rt 296) to the Cody area.

Mesa along the Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Traveling along Chief Joseph scenic highway in Wyoming

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty establishing a reservation with the understanding that they would retain control over most of their territory. But in 1860, gold was discovered on their land creating pressure from Euro-Americans to change the reservation boundaries. In 1877, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Big Hole, the US cavalry attacked the Nez Perce tribe as they camped on the North Fork of the Big Hole River, Montana. The Calvary were trying to force the tribe onto a reservation so that gold miners and ranchers could take the Nez Perce lands.

After the attack, Chief Joseph led his people on an arduous 1,170 mile trek that came to be known as the Nez Perce Trail. Their journey wound south into Idaho, east through Yellowstone, and then north toward the Canadian border. Though Chief Joseph and 800 members of his tribe evaded capture, the exhausted tribe eventually surrendered after the six-day Battle of the Bear Paw in north-eastern Montana. The tribe was stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border.

Nex Perce Trail
The Nez Perce Trail

In his speech of surrender, Chief Joseph expressed dignity and defeat with his famous words, “Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce tribe was forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington despite promises to allow them back on their lands. Yellowstone’s Nez Perce Creek is named for this valiant attempt at freedom.

I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War by Merrill D. Beal is a vivid account of the flight of the Nez Perce as they struggled to survive, and includes unpublished letters and diaries by eyewitnesses, and interviews with decedents.

Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming


Yellowstone National Park

We enter Yellowstone National Park through the western gate, and we are immediately entranced. Wild elk graze beside a pristine creek. This park is nature’s church. It is a holy place that is sacred to all who visit. Though the park is visited by millions, there is no sign of litter that abounds in many tourist destinations. Visitors know they are guests in this spectacular natural place.

Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool
Yellowstone National Park volcanic pool

Yellowstone is America’s first national park. Located mostly in Wyoming, with edges that peak in to Montana and Idaho, it has inspired the creation of parks throughout the world. Named by indians that inhabited the region, the yellow stone mountains that rise throughout the park cradle wondrous sights.

Formed by an upwelling of magma, a mountain-rimmed caldera provides curious hints of the tremendous heat below. Though the Old Faithful geyser is the iconic symbol of the park, there are many other signature signs of the Yellowstone’s volcanic legacy – mud pots, bubbling mineral pools, steaming mineral springs surrounded by rainbow colored calcium deposits, built up over millennia…

The National Park Service says it well:

Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser
Yellowstone National Park volcanic geyser

“Rather than to preserve bears, wolves, bison or its myriad of streams, valleys and mountains, Yellowstone was designated as a National Park in 1872 to preserve and protect its more than 10,000 unique thermal features, the largest collection on the planet, spread throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres.”

“With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other. Geyserland, fairyland, wonderland–through the years, all have been used to describe the natural wonder and magic of this unique park that contains more geothermal features than any other place on earth.”

Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud
Yellowstone National Park volcanic mud pot

Hearing that temperatures are dipping into the 30’s at night, we decide to book a room at the Old Faithful Inn. Built in the winter of 1903 -1904, the Inn is one of a few remaining log hotels in the country. Designed by the architect Robert Reamer (also designed the Martin Woldson Theater in Spokane) who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature, the Old Faithful Inn is an outstanding work of rustic architecture. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure of huge proportions – almost 700 feet in length and seven stories high. Entering into the lobby we feel like we are stepping back in time. Our room is in a section built in the 1920s – probably remodeled since then – simple, clean and comfortable. The Inn has a full service restaurant where we dine for dinner and breakfast.

Old Faithful Inn touring car
Vintage touring car outside the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn - view from the lobby
Old Faithful Inn lobby door
Old Faithful Inn lobby door

Next day we enjoy a hike up to Trout Lake in the northeast section of the park. A steep 1/2 mile trail leads to the beautiful lake. As we step across a stream feeding the lake, a large trout glides through the crystal clear water, glistening in the high country sun.

Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Here are some of the best rated trail guides for Yellowstone and the Grand Teton range:

Yellowstone National Park buffalo
Our close encounter with a buffalo as we drive to the northeast exit of the park

Butte, Montana

Mine frames, Butte, MT
Mine "head frames" dot the landscape in Butte, Montana
Butte, MT garage door
Old garage door

In its heyday, from the late 19th century to about 1920, Butte was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the West, with a maze of over 10,000 miles of mines beneath it’s surface. As was common in the early wild west, Butte was home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The documentary Butte, America depicts its history as a copper producer and the issues of labor unionism, economic rise and decline, and environmental degradation that resulted from the activity.

During the mining boom, Butte’s population rose to over 100,000, as it became the largest city west of the Mississippi. Now, while most American cities have gown, Butte’s population has contracted to less than 35,000.

Copper King Mansion
Copper King Mansion is under renovation.
Butte, Montana historic house
Historic home across from the Copper King Mansion

Strolling around the town, the streets are wide, roomy, and curiously quiet. In Butte’s lovely historic neighborhoods, you could put a couch out in the middle of the street and sit there for a couple days and get a good nap in. Which is exactly what was depicted in Wim Winder’s excellent film – Don’t Come Knocking – starring Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. In a humorous touching moment, Shepard pulls a discarded couch out into the street, sits down, and for many hours, simply sits and contemplates his life. All the while, Wender’s keen-eyed Director of Photography, Franz Lustig, captures the beauty of Butte as the scene unwinds through morning, to evening, to night. It is a seminal moment in the film, and beautifully captures the quiet of Butte, as the city takes a rest from all that went before.

Curtis Music Hall building, Butte, MT
The old Curtis Music Hall building
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation, Butte, Montana
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation
Arts Chateau, Butte, MT
Arts Chateau

Our stay in Butte is brief. Arriving late, we find a room at the Hampton Inn – very comfortable, clean, and spacious. The next morning, before hitting the highway to Yellowstone, we do a driving tour of downtown Butte.

When you visit Butte and it’s older sections, much of its history can be seen in the buildings – the ornate stone architecture and fading old fashioned billboards on the stone-walled businesses.

We center ourselves in the historic heart of the city and begin to stroll. This is a great walking town. Traffic is light, and the layout is easy to navigate. Every block holds something of interest – old banks, butcher, bookstores, restaurants, pubs, music venues – all of it built from stone mined beneath Butte.

As we walk, we keep a lookout for the art gallery where Jessica Lange slugged Sam Shepard with her purse in the movie in Don’t Come Knocking.

Looking for an iced tea, we ask a local, who suggests The Venus Rising Espresso House. Turns out this is the local coffee house owned and operated by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation. Good tea, good cause.

Preparing for our camping trip to Yellow Stone National Park in Wyoming, and Bear Butte in South Dakota, we pick up some supplies at the well-stocked Bob Ward’s sporting goods store. I could spend an hour in this place, squeezing between tightly packed rows of clothing, fly fishing gear, boating, camping furniture, shoes, … Finding what we need, at a good price, we set out for Yellow Stone National Park.

Historic Wallace, Idaho

creekside camping, Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Relaxing in the quiet of the morning

After a surprisingly good nights sleep in our CRV camper we resume the drive east. Driving along Interstate 90, about 45 minutes past Coeur D’Alene, we decide to check out historic Wallace, Idaho. What a delightful surprise. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and whole blocks in the business district have remained virtually intact for a hundred years or more.

Historic Smoke House BBQ and Saloon
Historic Smoke House BBQ and Saloon

Located in the silver mining area of northern Idaho, mining began here in the 1880’s and by 1900 Wallace became the hub of one of the world’s richest mining districts. Since 1884, the district had produced 1.2 billion ounces of silver. Miners still mine the mountains for silver and today old mines are being reopened.

Red Light Garage in Wallace, Idaho
Red Light Garage in Wallace, Idaho
red light garage, wallace, idaho
Red Light Garage proprietor, Jamie Baker

Thirsty after walking around town, the Red Light Garage catches our eye. A very friendly waitress makes us Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade) as we sit at the counter and take in the collections (vintage musical instruments, license plates…) that decorate the restaurant and antique store. Soon we are talking with the owner, Jamie Baker, who is a local historian. He tells us the story of May Arkwright Hutton a suffrage leader and political activist, talks about the mining wars, and we wind up the conversation with the forest fire of 1910 that burned half of Wallace. Some of you may know the book written about the fire by Timothy Egan – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. The largest wildfire in American history, based on size. In less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people.

railroad station, Wallace, ID
Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum in Wallace, ID

Many stories emerged from the big burn. One of the most well known is Ranger Ed Pulaski’s heroic rescue of his crew in a mine tunnel. Holding his men there at gunpoint overnight, Pulaski managed to save all but 6 of his 45 men. In the 100+ years since the fire, the trail Pulaski’s crew used to escape became overgrown and almost impossible to locate. Then, in 2002, a local group partnered with the US Forest Service  to save the trail and mine site. The Pulaski Tunnel Trail trailhead lies about a half-mile south of Wallace on Moon Pass Road and is a moderately challenging two mile trail along the creek with large format signs along the way recounting the history of the fire.

Dinner in Spokane, WA

Grand Coulee Dam
We pass the Grand Coulee Dam on our way to Spokane, WA

Quite an impressive site from the lookout – the Grand Coulee Dam is a gravity dam on the Columbia River built to produce hydroelectric power and provide irrigation. Constructed between 1933 and 1942, it is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States, and one of the largest concrete structures in the world.

Spokane means “Children of the Sun” to the Native Americans of the area. Before the 1700’s Native Americans settled along the Spokane River for fishing and hunting in the surrounding area. Spokane became an incorporated City on Nov. 29, 1881, encompassing 1.56 square miles. Tragedy struck in 1889 when a frame building in the downtown area caught fire. There was not enough water pressure at the fire hydrants to put the fire out and the fire burned out of control, ravaging 32 buildings in 27 city blocks. Today the City of Spokane, incorporated more than 125 years ago, is the second largest City in the State of Washington.

The Davenport Hotel
The historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane, WA

The Davenport Hotel has been world famous since it opened in September of 1914. It was the first hotel with air conditioning, a central vacuum system, housekeeping carts (designed by Louis Davenport himself), accordion ballroom doors and Crab Louis (named for Louis Davenport). The September 1915 Hotel Monthly described Louis Davenport as “the man with a vision who created a hotel with a soul.”

The Davenport Hotel faced the wrecking ball in 1987, and remained closed for 15 years. In 2002, local entrepreneurs purchased the entire city block for $6.5 million, then spent the next two years of their lives–and $38 million of their own money–to make The Davenport Hotel grand again. The hotel’s public spaces and ballrooms were restored to their Spanish Renaissance/ French neoclassical glory.

The Davenport Hotel, Spokane, WA
Elegantly restored lobby of the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, WA

If you love architecture and history, you will also want to see the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox which reopened its doors in November 2007, after a much anticipated renovation. The restoration uncovered original cut-glass stars on the ceiling and murals of swimmers and ballplayers in the men’s lounge. This art deco treasure is now the home of the Spokane Symphony and an incredible venue for all of the performing arts. Built during the dark days of the Depression by Fox West Coast Theaters at a price of $1,000,000, the Theater was the largest in Spokane, at 2300 seats. Architect Robert Reamer, famous for his design of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn, designed the Theater in the exuberant and modernistic Art Deco style.

Now onto dinner. Searching on Google for gluten-free in Spokane, I found the ultimate – a website: Gluten Free Spokane. Eating gluten free in Spokane is not only possible, it can be fabulous. Shallan will help you find your favorite spots to dine out, shop for ingredients and learn more about the benefits of going gluten free.

Tonight we decide to dine at the award winning Wild Sage American Bistro, located downtown at 916 W 2nd Ave. As we sit down in a comfy booth I am presented with a gluten-free menu and gluten-free rolls (believe me this is extraordinary). Jay and I both choose the Wild Sage Burger – half pound american kobe beef on a house made gluten free onion roll served with a beautiful fresh green salad, onion confit, pesto mayo, and local fresh tomatoes. I am in heaven.

Other highlights of the gluten-free menu are Cioppino – spice seared alaskan halibut cheeks, diver scallops, wild prawns, green lip mussels, aromatic saffron-tomato broth, brown rice pasta and for dessert, Soon to be Famous Coconut Cream Layer Cake – gluten-free coconut genoise cake with a mascarpone-coconut cream filling.

A great place to shop for fresh foods and gluten-free foods is Huckleberry’s Natural Market. There are three locations in Spokane, WA. Within the stores is the 9th Street Bistro where all the food is prepared entirely on the premises by their chefs using organic and natural products, whenever possible.

Crossing the North Cascades

Early morning light at the Orcas ferry landing

Up and out early this morning. Catching the 7:15 am ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes. Today we begin our cross country journey after months, weeks, then days of preparation. We are on the ferry, the car packed with everything we need for five weeks of travel… it’s full. I eye the Westfalia in front of us just a little longingly.

Jay strikes up a conversation with the woman who has rented the Westfalia Van and learns that her husband has a company, Canadian High Tops. A lover of Volkswagen vans, he provides conversion High Tops for VW vans for the years 1980 – 1991.

Driving through the Skagit Valley to Sedro Woolley we begin the scenic mountain drive known as the North Cascades Highway (Route 20). The drive begins through small towns and farmland with the green-blue Skagit River flanking the road. Near Rockport we see a sign for fresh organic blueberries and soon we are pulling into Cascadian Farm. A 28-acre certified organic farm since 1972, this farm was a pioneer in converting conventional farms to organic. Many of us are familiar with their jams but when we walk into the roadside store we go straight for the refrigerator filled with pints of blueberries. Gorgeous, organic and just picked they last about 10 minutes in the car.

Cascadian Farm store on the North Cascade Highway
Cascadian farm organic blueberries

The scenic drive continues through the mountains and ends in Winthrop, WA – a town known for the American Old West design of  its buildings. Our pit stop is in Twisp, another 9 miles along on Route 20. At the Glover Street Market we find some lovely organic greens to go with our tuna-egg salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the park.

Art Exhibits throughout the US in 2011

Norman Rockwell No Swimming
Norman Rockwell's No Swimming

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.”

This sentiment by Norman Rockwell relates to travel as well… and we often incorporate a visit to a museum in our travels. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a gem and showing at the Tacoma Art Museum until May 30, 2011. Though there is a comprehensive collection of original magazine covers, we were especially drawn to his 44 paintings – as the museum states “unforgettable images of the innocence, courage, history and hopes of American life in the 20th century.” This is a traveling exhibit that warrants a visit. A good family experience… we took our somewhat reluctant nieces, ages 11 & 14, and they loved it. Future museum hosts are listed at the Norman Rockwell Museum website.

The catalog, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, traces the evolution of Rockwell’s art throughout his career – from reflections on childhood innocence in such paintings as No Swimming (1921) to powerful, consciousness-raising images like The Problem We All Live With (1964), which documented the traumatic realities of desegregation in the South.

Promising Exhibitions From Coast to Coast is a great resource article at the New York Times for a list of “promising” art exhibits around the country this year – many of them opening this summer. Here is a sampling:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you are visiting this year…  it can be enriching, educational and inspiring.


Astoria, Oregon

Sunday morning… hot tea, New York Times… good article in the travel section on the waterfront town of Astoria, Oregon. Good tips on dining, lodging, and things to do. Enjoy the read and maybe a visit sometime.

Astoria, Oregon, Discovers a Waterfront Chic

Astoria Oregon Waterfront
Cannery Pier Hotel, Astoria, OR (photo credit: Leah Nash for the NY Times)


Eat, drink and find provisions in Eugene, Oregon

eugene oregon restaurant notesHow fortunate are we to be in Eugene, Oregon with a list of food favorites from a friend who knows Eugene!

Restaurants

  • Cafe Soriah a Eugene favorite for almost twenty years, is defined by ancient Mediterranean world spices and the Northwest bounty of ingredients. We visit on a bustling Friday night and both dine on lamb – I have the Lamb Shank, braised in a caramelized onion au jus… it melts in my mouth. Jay chooses the Rack of Lamb, hickory smoked & served with herb aioli… no doubt a hit as Jay consults with the owner about how it is prepared. Good wines by the glass, great service. Lunch is served during the week and dinner is offered every night at 384 West 13th Avenue… check out Prose Dress right next door.
  • Marché takes it’s name from the French word for market — a word that describes not only the location in Eugene’s bustling 5th Street Market, but also their philosophy of cooking. The menu is based on the foods you would find at a farmers market — fresh, seasonal, and regional. Have not eaten here but our friend has heard great things about it and the menus (lunch, dinner and bar) would draw us in next time we are in town. The bar menu is appealing with small plates for the times when your appetite is light or time is tight… think handmade pizzettes, steak & frites, oysters, mussels…
  • The Vintage restaurant and dessert bar is the dream of two childhood girlfriends. Opening in January of 2006 it was voted Best New Restaurant later that year. Located in an old funky house with a great atmosphere it is famous for its cheese and chocolate fondues, sweet & savory crepes and seasonal cocktails. Open Tuesday – Sunday at 837 Lincoln Street.
  • Adam’s Sustainable Table is a casual and family friendly restaurant, serving an eclectic mix of culinary styles – from Northwest Regional to home cookin’ and affordable comfort foods. Farm to table, certified green restaurant that accommodates vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free needs. Located at 30 East Broadway.
  • Pizza Research Institute eclectic pizzas in a funky warehouse setting at 530 Blair Boulevard… Granny smith apples, smoked gouda & roasted walnuts sounds delicious to me, or how about Chevre, marinated eggplant & carmelized onions.
  • Sushi Domo a favorite in Eugene… won Readers Choice for freshest sushi in 2009. They strive to perfect the art of making only the finest sushi and the most delicious delicacies in true Japanese fashion. Located in the Delta Oaks Shopping Mall at 1020 Green Acres Rd. #10.
  • Papas Soul Food Kitchen for BBQ, fried chicken, gumbo and and blues… at 400 Blair Boulevard.

Coffee Shops, Bakeries…

  • Hide Away Bakery as you can see in the note, this is our friends “favorite place to go in Eugene! It’s great for breakfast, coffee/tea, lunch, or a snack. They have a full bakery with organic, gluten-free & vegan options”. Their fabulous breads are sold at the farmers market if you don’t find them at 3377 E Amazon Drive behind Mazzi’s.
  • Wandering Goat is a cafe, coffee roaster, bakery, community, art, music and performance venue. All of their baked goods are vegan, made with organic ingredients, and baked fresh each day. Located at 268 Madison Street, downtown.
  • Sweet Life Patisserie our yoga teachers choice… known for their cakes, pies, cheesecakes and pastries, they also make a fine latte or a pot of organic tea to go with dessert. Expect a line on the weekend at 755 Monroe Street.
  • Vero Espresso House holds court in a big yellow house and as one reviewer said “is one of the most beautiful coffee houses I’ve ever been to”. Comfortable atmosphere to relax and enjoy your coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters… 205 East 14th Avenue.
Vero Espresso House Eugene
Vero Espresso House (photo by Brad C via Yelp)
  • Full City Coffee Roasters is a recommendation from yet another friend from Eugene. With over thirty years of roasting/brewing experience they roast their beans each day. Palace Bakery is now part of Full City and bakes all the muffins, scones and “best pumpkin cookie around”. Cafes at 842 Pearl Street and 295 E 13th Avenue.

Food Markets…

  • Sundance Natural Foods features certified organic and local produce. The Kitchen and Deli is all vegetarian, mostly vegan, and features many raw foods entrees. You will find a large selection of bulk, mostly-organic, culinary and medicinal herbs & spices and a bulk foods department. Sundance is affiliated with Sundance Wine Cellars and has a wide selection of Oregon and NW Pinot Noir, and other great NW wines. Single location at 748 E. 24th Avenue.
  • Capella is a neighborhood market with “world class variety” from a produce department stocked full of organic and local fruits & veggies to the meat department with hormone & antibiotic free choices… and Capella Market has a growing selection of gluten-free products. Located on the south side of town at 2489 Willamette.
  • The Kiva is a Eugene original and a few blocks from us so we stop by this small downtown grocery store for some nuts, crackers and snacks. Sandwiches, salads and soups are offered during the day and they have a good selection of local organic produce, meats, cheese and wine. 125 West 11th Avenue in the heart of downtown.
  • Provisions part of the Marché family located at the 5th Street Public Market is an upscale specialty food store with gift baskets, wine, chocolates and sweets. They have a full bakery with organic, gluten-free, and vegan options. Great place to get lunch or a snack!
  • Market of Choice has three locations in Eugene (think Whole Foods) and offers an extensive selection of conventional, natural, organic, and health conscious products at affordable prices. Find new recipes created by their chefs at the website – including a Flourless Chocolate Torte and Curried Apple-Stuffed Pork Loin and Indian Pulao (I substitute gluten-free bread for the challah).

Eugene is a town of neighborhoods with 21 neighborhood associations… In the 1970s, Eugene was packed with cooperative and community projects, and continues to have small natural food stores, cafes and coffee houses in many neighborhoods. According to Wikipedia, Eugene has a significant population of people in pursuit of alternative ideas, and a large original hippie population. Cool. Ready to return!

Eugene, Oregon

After a few hours in the car, the crisp cool wind that greets us as we walk to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is welcome. Eugene, Oregon is home to the University of Oregon and the museum is on the sprawling 295 acre campus. Many of the University’s buildings are planned around several major quadrangles and the more than 500 varieties of trees provide a natural beauty.

With its elegant exterior brickwork, decorative moldings and iron grillwork, the original museum building is one of the most distinctive architectural structures in Oregon. The museum opened in 1933 and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Entrance to the University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, OR
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus
Sculpture outside the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the Univ of Oregon campus

There’s always something new to see at the museum. Selections from the permanent collections which number more than 13,000 works are on display throughout the second floor galleries on a rotating basis. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art also houses a number of galleries that feature changing exhibitions and we are here today to see one of those…

CHRIS JORDAN RUNNING THE NUMBERS: AN AMERICAN SELF-PORTRAIT

Running the Numbers by former corporate lawyer Chris Jordan follows his recent photographic documentation of natural disasters.  These large mural-size compositions are colorful versions of well-known paintings, like George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, but made with recycled objects–in this case, 106,000 aluminum cans.  Another expansive landscape mimics Ansel Adams’s iconic imagery of the Alaskan wilderness but is actually a composite of thousands of GM stickers used for advertising their Yukon model vehicle.  The exhibition addresses such issues as sustainability and consumerism in seductively beautiful compositions.

Cans Seurat by artist Chris Jordan
"Cans Seurat" depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

From the Chris Jordan website:

Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

After taking in this amazing exhibit I check out the museum cafe. Eugene’s critically acclaimed Marché Restaurant has teamed with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art to open the Marché Museum Café. Marché takes its name from the French word for market—a word that describes the restaurant’s philosophy of cooking. The café’s affordable menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, pastries, and coffees is based on the foods that can be found at a farmers market—fresh, seasonal and regional. They are closing so I make do with a lemonade.