Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Big Sky

Cropped fields, bundles of hay and the sky on the far horizon

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Minnesota Fall

I took a bit of poetic license in this water color. The trees had only begun to turn when I left Minnesota but in this piece, I've painted them in their full fall glory.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crossing the Rocky Mountains (but not by wagon train)

As we zipped along a lovely mountain road, sidelined occasionally by construction, I was struck again and again by how resourceful our early settlers were. We got to stop at lovely, well kept places, one of which had a fun red food cart.

But the trip wasn't any fun for engineer John Mullan. In 1859, Mullan, 230 workmen, teamsters and solders began construction of a 624-mile road from Walla Walla Washington, through the Rocky Mountains to Fort Benton, the head of steamboat navigation on the upper Missouri River in Montana. The land between Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Missoula valley was a tangle of mountains, rivers, rigged hillsides, low swampy areas, deep ravines and fallen timber.

 Courtesy photo

The crew celebrated July 4, 1861, on a high mountain pass east of present-day Coeur d'Alene. They carved the words "M.R. July 4 1861" into an old white pine. The pass became known as Fourth of July, and the tree remained intact until 1962, when it blew over in a fierce windstorm.

Today, the carved stump is on display at the Museum of North Idaho.
After seven years of surveying and construction, the Mullan Road was finally finished in 1862. It connected two military installations, but more notably, it linked the Columbia and Missouri River watersheds - an overland Northwest Passage. Mullan's men build 47 bridges! Forty-Seven bridges and a road that tied together two gigantic and important river systems.

Mullan went on to become a farmer, lawyer and politician, and would eventually move to San Francisco. In time his road fell into disrepair; the foundation decayed, the bridges washed out. But the track was revived in the late 1870s, after Gen. William T. Sherman traveled the Mullan Road and ordered its restoration.

We would stop on occasion and look down those hillsides and marvel about the beauty of the settings while being astonished that any body had managed to carve a road out of the wilderness.

What I didn't know was how much wealth had been taken from "them thar hills. " Five billion dollars of lead, silver and zinc from towns that most of us have never heard of: Burke, Kellogg, Murray, Mullan, Osburn and Wardner. Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore those old mining towns but if I ever come back that way again, I really want to go up into the hills and see what I can.

We went around Wallace which is, according to their web page: "Wallace is also known for the fact that every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places... which is why the government finally had to go over us instead of through us in order to complete the Interstate Highway system in 1991. Now the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes paved bike path is directly under Interstate 90 as it passes above Wallace, following the famous South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River through the narrow Silver Valley: the only place on earth where more than a billion ounces of silver were mined in 100 years."

Historic Wallace

We got into Cour d'Alene late in the afternoon so we didn't have much chance to see anything. Apparently most of the "tourist" attractions close down after Labor Day so we missed the boat trip on the lake which we were all looking forward to. The outskirts of the town were pretty much generic strip mall boring but the lake itself is simply beautiful.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Many Rivers to Cross

 As a true-blue city dweller, I had never given much thought to rivers. But crossing the continent from west to east has given me a deeper perspective on rivers - not as just a source of water but as watery highways, carrying all those who have lived in North America, from the Native people to the fur trappers, settlers and those who came after them.

John Gardner said "There are only two plots, a stranger rides into town and a stranger rides out of town." I am not sure what category this falls into but how about this, "A woman looks at rivers."

Columbia River Gorge at Iron Horse Hill. We crossed the Columbia River here and I found it a very desolate place - all stone and rocks.

Wild Horse Hill - The road sign calls it Wild Horses Monument, but the real name of this artwork is "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies"-a tribute to the wild horses that once roamed the region.  And despite being begun in 1989, it’s still not complete! The trail was too steep for us to climb; besides, we were pushing on to the next stop. But this is not country where anybody, man or beast, could survive.

If Montana had a Yankee Stadium, the Yellowstone River would be it. Not only is the Yellowstone a fairly large river, it is over 200 feet wide in most parts and its peak flow is over 15,000 CFS. Oh, and, I haven't even mentioned that it begins in Yellowstone National Park, flows through Paradise Valley (aptly named for its majestic peaks), and the river is banked by cottonwoods and back-dropped by four distinct mountain ranges. It wove in and out of part of our trip back to Montana.

This is where the numerous references to Lewis and Clark began. I felt that we were haunted by their journey west, a difficult undertaking but so very important to our history. 

Missouri River. "There is only one river with a personality, a sense of humor, and a woman's caprice; a river that goes traveling side wise, that interferes in politics, rearranges geography, and dabbles in real estate; a river that plays hide and seek with you today and tomorrow follows you around like a pet dog with a dynamite cracker tied to his tail. That river is the Missouri."
-George Fitch

Headwaters of the Mississippi River - I didn't make it to the headwaters but I am still sharing this post with you. The Mississippi River was another one of our constant companions throughout the journey. "The road that runs beside the river follows the river as it bends along the valley floor, going the way it must.
Where water goes, so goes the road," ...Thomas Lux

 "Baby" Mississippi: American runs on the Mississippi.

The names are a litany to America: Little Missouri River, Marias River, Red River of the North. Minnesota River, Stony Creek. Little Otter Creek, Split Rock River, Sauk River, St. Louis River, Elk River, Crow River...Add the names of the native peoples - Cheyenne, Sioux, Chippewa, Ojibwe, Assiniboin, Blackfeet, Crow, Flathead - and you have the history of the American West (or part of it) for a millennia or more before the European settlers arrived.

"You see the current, which is
what the river is: the river
in the river, a thing sliding fast forward
inside a thing sliding not so fast forward." Thomas Lux

I loved the name of this river and thought it might have something to do with rum running but the reality is more prosaic - another instance of cultural misunderstanding. Rum River: The current English name is a mistranslation of the one given to it by the Mdewakanton Dakota (see Dakota) tribe. Though Watpa waḳaŋ (Spirit(ual)/Mystic River) in the Dakota language, by the late 18th-century Europeans interpreted the Mdewakanton Dakota name for the river not as "Spirit" denoting a mystical force, but instead as "spirit" denoting alcohol and ever since it has been known as the Rum River. (Wikipedia).

The road that runs beside the river follows the river as it bends
along the valley floor,
going the way it must.
Where water goes, so goes the road, ...Thomas Lux

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There will be updates (really)

I promise that there will be updates - more about Montana, North Dakota (maybe), Minnesota, meeting my great nieces for the first time and my niece and nephew for the first time in 20 years.

I have been a busy person - seeing lots of Minnesota small towns, going to Lake Superior, crossing BOTH the Mississippi and the St. Louis river, visiting a grand estate on the lake and a lighthouse built after one of the greatest storms of the last century on Lake Superior.

I have had good food and bad, slept in hotels mostly good and one dreadful, talked to a number of really nice people, watched two ships pass under a bridge in Duluth that goes up and down and realized that this is a slice of the world that I want to know better.

It's been a heck of a road trip and it's not over yet.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Wagon in town outside the entrance of the park

Surviving cabin; the larger cabin that TR stayed in burned down 

 Inside of cabin

Prairie Dog Village

Across one of the valleys
Wild horses

My camera is just not good enough to do justice to this wilderness. At certain spots, we could see the Little Missouri River winding in the distance. I got several shots of buffalo but they are too blurry and distant to post. It was about 100 degrees and the terrain looked impossibly rough and impassable. I can't imagine how TR rode all over this part of the country but he did. Bully for him! Bravo that he managed to have it made into a national park and forced Congress to set aside even more land for parks - as threatened now as they were during TR's time.

And even more bully for the settlers who managed to somewhat tame the land  - although that came at the expense of the Indians who had have been here for millennia. I admire the settlers' courage and stamina - esp after we crossed the rest of North Dakota which was hotter than Hades and flatter than a pancake. But what happened to the American Indian always colors my viewpoint of our settling of the American West.

Anthonij (Anton) Rudolf Mauve

September 18, 1838. Anthonij (Anton) Rudolf Mauve (18 September 1838, Zaandam, North Holland - 5 February 1888, Arnhem) was a Dutch realist painter who was a leading member of the Hague School. He signed his paintings 'A. Mauve' or with a monogrammed 'A.M.'. A master colorist, he was a very significant early influence on his cousin-in-law Vincent van Gogh. In this image: Morning Ride on the Beach (1876), oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum.