Sunday, October 8, 2017

Not Paris, but South Dakota

On the Road to South Dakota

Why South Dakota, you say? Well, it all started when Judy saw that Road Scholar was offering a week long  stay at the Woolly Mammoth Fossil dig in Hot Springs SD. She has always been interested in dinosaurs and fossils and even has a 5 pound pile of dinosaur dung to prove it. At least, it was labelled as dinosaur dung. Who knows.
So, while trying to figure out how to get to Hot Springs SD, I happened to look up the schedule for Jeep Jamborees to see if there were any on our way out or back. As luck would have  it, there was a Jamboree scheduled for the weekend prior to the fossil dig in Deadwood, SD. So, that was it. Nature's way of telling us to drive the Jeep out to South Dakota and beat the crap out of it for a few days, then go and get some education on woolly mammoths.
So, we got a jump on the 2000k mile drive by spending the night with our friend, Sandy, in E. Longmeadow, Ma. This would save us a few hours on the last day of driving. From there, we  headed to Erie, Pa, crossing the Mohawk River which was part of the Erie Canal. From there we passed through Ohio and Indiana where the main industry seemed to be the production of Winnebagos and trailers. The sky-line of Chicago was very impressive but not worth the traffic jam getting around the city. We got caught in the 5pm rush hour which became critical when my "low fuel" light came on. How accurate are those things anyway? Well, not to take any undue risks, I manoeuvred my way to an off ramp and paid 60 cents more per gallon for a few gallons to get us to our hotel in Elgin, IL.
Finally, we get to the Midwest, the heartland, where the landscape is really beautiful from horizon to horizon. We see huge dairy farms and cattle ranches, fields of corn and sunflowers and where one can buy porn and fireworks, just off the exit ramp. We saw some interesting billboards too. One for a Mexican restaurant, "Our food is so good, President Trump would build a wall around it." and "Wear Fur... Hunters and trappers help control wildlife." Interesting.

(The photos are mostly medium sized. You can click on the photo and get a larger version to get more detail. )
Wide open spaces

But not so wide open spaces in the rear of the Jeep. There was lots of space, but "Nature abhors a vacuum", so it was quickly filled.

Sunflower fields in South Dakota

Lewis and Clarke Interpretive Center along I-90 near Chamberlain, SD

You can't miss Wall Drug when driving through South Dakota

Sharing the road with the big rigs.


We finally rolled into Deadwood and found the Days of 76 grounds at the entrance to the town. Maybe the sight of 100 Jeeps gave us a clue that we were in the right place. We squeezed in between a couple of severely lifted Jeeps and then took a seat in the grandstands for our orientation. We were surprised by the demographics. Mostly older people, lots of couples, some children, lots of "camo" clothing, few "stock" Jeeps (like ours)...

Day One
We decided on the photo ops of the "Moderate" trail on the first day. Mainly because the forecast for the next day was 100% rain. This trail included stops in abandoned ghost towns with a few homes still standing. We had great views of Spearfish Canyon, if it wasn't cloudy, and lots of good climbs over rocky roads.

 We had our mandatory drivers meeting at 8:30 to get our orders for the day. All the jeeps were arranged in places depending on the trail they would take and we all set out in different directions.

 Most of the Jeeps had lift kits installed which necessitated having a step up to get into the front seat. This one was pretty clever.

We passed through the ghost town of Preston. There were only a couple of buildings left from the "town" of about 300 during the hay day of the gold rush in the Black Hills. This is one of the few that were standing.

Untouched since the 1880's.

Some of the prospectors just dug holes in the ground looking for gold or silver. This guy actually built his house on top of the hole he dug. Not sure if he ever found anything of value.

On a clear day, this would be a great view of Spearfish Canyon. Not too much to be seen on this day.

We passed by this abandoned school bus  that went off the road during a snow storm a number of years ago. What it was doing in the mountains, miles from a main road, is still being discussed. 
The skies cleared up in the afternoon for an enjoyable ride through the woods.

Day Two
Day two was predicted to be 100% rain, but it held off for much of the day. Here we are getting lined up to hit the trails. Notice the windshield on the first Jeep. An attractive young lady was the driver. 
Speaking of attractive young ladies, here's Judy having her lunch along the trail. 

The trails were a bit more difficult on the second day. Here we are lining up our route over these boulders in this creek bed. (The trail guides were terrific.)

I made it through OK and this is what it looked like for the Jeep following me. It is amazing what these vehicles will do. I don't think I even bottomed out on this obstacle.

There was one steep climb that the guides were not sure we should do because of the rain and the mud. They decided that they would take 5 at a time to go up the hill and then back down the hill. They said that the Jeeps needed to have front and rear wheel locks which not all of the older Jeeps had. However, my stock Rubicon had the wheel locks so I decided to give it a try. Judy opted to watch from the viewing area. I was the 4th of 7 out of 28 who attempted the climb. Of course, I wouldn't be documenting this if I didn't make it. I just put the Jeep in 4L and D2 and let it climb on its own. Amazing vehicles. Great way to end the day.

Wrap Up
The dinner at the end of the Jamboree is a lot of fun. After recognizing all the Trail Guides who had participated in the Deadwood Jamboree, celebrating its 25th year, a number of special awards were given out. The "Road Warrior" award goes to the Jeep that came the furthest for the event. We were in a dead heat with a guy who came from Florida. We drove 2000 miles and he said he drove 2200 miles. So, we sat down and figured we came in second. Then he admitted that he drove up from Florida to accompany his friend in his friend's Jeep. So we ended up with a Road Warrior plaque to stick on our Jeep somewhere.

Before heading to Hot Springs, we stopped at the Tatanka Visitor Center in Deadwood. This is an educational center that deals with all the uses of the buffalo that were employed by the tribes in the area. Originally, Kevin Costner wanted to build a hotel in the area. He engaged a sculptress to create sculptures of a buffalo hunt. The plans for the hotel fell through but he still had the sculptures. So, he started this center. The sculptures are outdoors on the property and depict a hunt where the buffalo are driven over a cliff by horsemen. The are life size and really amazing.

Mammoth Site.

In 1974, a business man in Hot Springs bought some land on which he wanted to construct some apartments. While leveling the land, he came across something odd . He had stumbled upon a sinkhole full of Mammoth bones. Luckily, after the discovery, he stopped digging and eventually sold the land to a group of Paleontologists who preserved the site and made it what it is today. See, Mammoth Site for more information.

Here is our Road Scholar group in the "bone bed" in front of a replica of a mammoth .

 During our week at the site, we would actively participate in digging in the "bone bed", working in the lab and molding and casting replicas of the mammoth bones.

Digging in the Bone Bed.

After a bit of training (how not to destroy anything beneath the surface) we were assigned areas to dig. Digging meant scraping away layer and layer of earth in this 26,000 year old pit. We weren't sure we would find anything of value, but we certainly didn't want to destroy anything of value.

This is what part of the bone bed looked liked. The remains of 66 mammoths have been identified and left in place to be studied in their natural state. These are real mammoth bones that have been exposed over time by the careful removal of sediment. We would continue that effort and remove more sediment while we were there.

This is Justin, Head Paleontologist and Bone Bed Curator, giving us a bit of instruction before we enter into the Bone Bed.

Here's the group taking its first entry down into the bone bed. Notice we each have a bucket of tools which consisted of a trowel, paint brush, whisk broom, dental picks and a spray water bottle. Pretty low-tech.

Here's Judy in the Bone Bed scraping away thousands of years of sediment searching for any kind of fossil and, possibly, the appearance of a huge mammoth bone.

Close up of Judy with some of her tools of the trade.

 Here's Tony working on exposing more layers in search of any type of fossil. Yes, those are the real Mammoth bones behind him, a huge tusk and part of a Mammoth hip.

The picture below shows more of the bones that have been uncovered.

Working in the "Lab".

Here's Tony removing more of the sediment from a Mammoth skull in the lab. It is encased in a plaster casing. You can see the tusk by the two vent hoses. This is half of a real skull. The remaining half is still in the bone bed waiting to be extricated.

Here is a bone that Judy worked on for a few hours. The idea is to carefully scrape the sediment away to expose the bone. You can see the partially exposed bone encased in the dirt. Behind it is a replica of what the bone really looks like. She had to be very careful to not damage the bone. They are very fragile and can disintegrate very easily.

Molding and Casting

Another activity at the site was to make replicas of the mammoths for other paleontologists to study. So we were assigned to "cast" all of the bones that make up the foot of a mammoth. These "feet" will be sent to universities or other centers.

These are the molds we made for parts of the feet. We embed the bone halfway into a base of clay. Then we used clay to build up a dam to  keep the molding material intact. The marbles will keep the material from shifting too much and also line things up when making the rest of the mold.

Once the mold is made, the "plastic" is poured into the mold. This will make the top side of the mold which is repeated for the bottom side.

This is Kelly helping Judy build the mold for the top part of a foot bone. We all have different bones to mold and cast.

Once we had all the bones molded and cast, we were tasked with trying to figure out how they all went together. We did fairly well without having a real model to go by. Finally, Kelly showed us a model of a foot and we were able to complete the task.

Custer Buffalo Round Up.

The last day was a special treat. We would attend the Custer Buffalo Round Up at Custer State Park, along with thousands of others. This is an event that takes place twice a year where buffalo are rounded up by horseback riders (and pickups) to be inoculated, branded (one time) and some, possibly, sold for their meat or to start other buffalo herds on other ranches. The majority are released back into the wild. This is to control the size and health of the herd.

We left the hotel before sunrise to join the many people already in the park.

The round-up was planned to begin around 9:30. We could see buffalo scattered in the hills in the distance

but the cowboys were waiting for the activities to begin.

Once they started the round-up, the buffalo came through a gap in the hills with a cloud of dust and a thundering noise. Here's a short video as they come into view.

More photos.

The buffalo were herded into corrals and then into chutes for any treatments they would receive before being released back into the wild. 
This contraption  is the chute that the buffalo pass through. They can see the sky through the glass doors on the left so they feel comfortable entering. Then they can be branded or inoculated through the trap doors on the top and bottom of the sides.

We wrapped up the week with a visit to Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument
And, on the way home, we took the Scenic Loop through Badlands National Park. One of Judy's favorite places.

This was a perfect way to end a perfect vacation. The Jeepin' in Deadwood was terrific and digging and preserving Mammoth fossil bones was an extraordinary experience that we won't forget. Add in the side trips to Custer State Park, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Badlands and this made for quite a memorable few weeks.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vienna and Budapest

One of the things one can do when staying in Europe for any length of time is to take advantage of already being there (flight over) and visit other places, We have done this in our last few trips and seen a lot of places which we hadn't seen before.

This year we took a trip with Jacques and Claire to Vienna.

We flew to Vienna on Transavia Airlines from Orly. Transavia is a subsidiary of Air France and a cheap way to fly. But "cheap" implies no checked bags and limited space for carry-on luggage. After sweating out the measurements of our carry-on bags we all managed to get on the plane. In fact Judy's bag was the only one that passed the measurement test. The others had to be left on the runway to be stored in the baggage compartment.

The flight and taxi to the city were uneventful. Our hotel, Hotel Strudlhof and Palace, was waiting for us when we arrived. The hotel is relatively new. Next to it is the Palais Strudlhof. There is a beautiful stairway leading up to the Palais which is lit up at night.

After checking in, we headed to the nearest cafe for some refreshments (nothing to eat on the plane). Of course, the first thing to order and the obligatory first photo is of some good, local Austrian beer. It was a beautiful day so we took advantage of the weather and relaxed for a while before taking a walk to the city center.

For starters, Vienna is a beautiful city. There are a multitude of impressive governmental buildings and museums, all either in, or surrounded by, parks and green areas. Here is the Parliament Building along the Ring Strasse.

All of these municipal and educational buildings can be reached by the Tram system along the Ring Strasse. The trams are easy to use and pass by just about all of the important landmarks. There is also an Underground system to get further out of town. The Schonbrunn Castle can reached by the "U".

Another means of transportation is the horse drawn carriages which weave in and out of the parks to the tourist sites. This one was near the stables for the famous Lipizzaner horses.

It is a city with a great cultural history. There are statues of some the cultural icons, especially in the world of music. We attended a concert of some of Mozart's famous works as well as those of another son of Vienna, Richard Strauss. The small orchestra was accompanied by a soprano and a pair of dancers. Very entertaining.
Here is a statue of Mozart in the park not far from  the Opera House.

There are parks everywhere but even in the "old city" there are squares and pedestrian only areas. The Stephansplatz near St Stephen's Cathedral was especially crowded when we were there due to the fine weather that finally arrived. 
St. Stephen's Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, the founder of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who converted the inhabitants to Christianity back around the 12th century. A lot of the church was destroyed in WWII but has been rebuilt. The tiled roof was rebuilt with financing from donations from the citizens of Vienna.

It is really quite impressive to walk into the dark church from the sunlight. 

There are many museums in Vienna but the three museums we visited were the Albertina, The Kunts Historical Museum and Belvedere Castle.

The Albertina, just behind the Opera House, was having an exhibit of the work of Ergon Scheille. I had heard of him but was not really too familiar with his work.

Next to Klimt he is one of the most famous of the Austrian painters, at least in modern times. He was always controversial and was even jailed for a short time for displaying some paintings with questionable subject matter.

Here is one of his very simple sketches that I wanted to use an example of some of the architectural drawings I like to do. Very simple. Nothing too controversial about this.

Here is a self portrait of the artist. One interesting factoid was that he always posed with his fingers spread, as in the painting. It is said that he posed like that because he remembered seeing a painting of Christ who had his fingers spread in that manner. I guess he had a pretty good opinion of himself.

Belvedere Castle is located on the tram line and very easy to find. There is an Upper Belvedere and Lower  Belvedere, separated by a beautiful garden. Here is a shot of the garden and Lower Belvedere with the tower of St. Stephen's Cathederal in the background.

Like most of these incredible public buildings, the staircase that led up to the galleries was spectacular. 

The Upper Belvedere is the home of the largest collection of Gustave Klimt's paintings in the world. Here is a shot of his famous painting, The Kiss. It was in a dark room which seemed to be as crowded as the Mona Lisa room in the Louvre. 

The cost of the upkeep of these buildings must be tremendous. But, they all are in great condition. Vienna is experiencing more tourists each year, so that can help defray the cost of the maintenance. Here is a worker repairing the gold leaf around the doorway in the Belvedere (I think). A very time consuming and labor intensive job.
The last museum we visited, and probably our favorite was the Kunts Historische Museum. This museum is grouped with a few other museums in the MuseumPlatz.

It, too, had a spectacular staircase leading upstairs where two paintings by Klimpt were discretely displayed near the ceiling above the staircase. They weren't exactly obvious.

There were many paintings by well known artists, especially Italian artists. We found a number of Caravaggio paintings in one room. This one is of David and Goliath and Goliath's head is a self portrait of Caravaggio. 

Along with Vermeer's The Art of Painting in another room.

I really liked the relaxed seating so that one could appreciate the artwork. Better than the hard benches found in most museums. 

As in many museums, local artists are allowed to set up their easel and copy some of the masters. Here is an artist discussing her work with some visitors.

Judy's favorites were the Bruegels. Here is a teacher with her young students appreciating and trying to figure out one Judy's favorites. Judy was amazed at the size of the painting. She has had a small print for ages and just never knew how big the original was. These kids were having fun trying to guess who belonged to that extra foot...

Finally, there was an extraordinary cafe on the gallery level. Very relaxing with international newspapers on those sticks for the customers to enjoy.
Of course, we had to sample as much food as possible. We sampled a variety of foods but here are some of our favorites.
Rick Steves recommends the small sandwiches at Trzesniewski's. near the Stephanplatz.  You pick your sandwich from a display and order something to drink, then try to find someplace to eat it. There are a few small barstool tables inside, but most people just stood outside.
We ate our lunch at an outdoor cafe across from this place but I had to go in to sample a few of the tiny bites. Egg salad, egg with ham and egg with herring. I'll stick to the weiner schnitzel. 

But the favorite was the Apfel Strudel. We had to try that everywhere we went. 
At an outdoor cafe. 
 At the Schonbrun Castle

 And at the famous Central Caffe.

we all agreed that the strudel at the Schonbrun was the best. 
No photos allowed inside the castle but here is Judy on the palace grounds. 

Welcome to Budapest sign at Hero's Square. 

We took advantage of our stay in Vienna to set out on a one day trip to Budapest. Budapest is made up of two areas divided by the Danube. They are Buda, on a hill above the river, and Pest, lower land on the other side of the river. Together they form Budapest.

Our first stop was at Hero's Square that memorializes St. Stephen and the Magyars who settled the area after the death of Attila the Hun. The tomb of the unknown solder is on this square also. We had lunch in a nearby tourist trap but really enjoyed the local cuisine, especially, the Hungarian Goulash.

We visited the heights of Buda to view Fishermans' Bastion where fish were sold in the early days.

Nearby was the church of St. Mathias.

The views across the Danube from this vantage point were fantastic. 
 St Stephen's Cathedral of Budapest

 The Parliament Building
A couple of tourists.

The same St. Stephen celebrated in Vienna is celebrated in Budapest. 
There is an enormous cathedral on the Pest side of the Danube not far from the Budapest Opera House.

The unique aspect of this church is that much of the interior is made of marble instead of stone like many other churches of its age. It too was very impressive.

This trip to Vienna and the side trip to Budapest will be remembered as one of the highlights of any of our visits to Europe. They both have much to see and enjoy and are worthy of extended stays in each place. Maybe we'll get back there again some day. If the world cooperates...