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by Lloyd Treichel
Dateline: August 17, 2002 -- Green Bay, Wisconsin
After leaving Colorado, my journey led me through Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and ended up south of De Pere, Wisconsin at the Sleepy Hollow Campground on August 1st. Wandrin Wagon will be parked here for a while as I visit relatives and explore the area.
Scotts Bluff National Monument ... is on the western border of Nebraska. This was my first stop on my journey to the Midwest. This was a stop for many migrants in the later half of the 1800s. On their way west to the Gold Rush in 1849 or to settle Oregon or the Mormon exodus to the Great Salt Lake, all these migrants passed through here on their way west.
After crossing the prairie grasslands, the rock shapes and rock bluffs were what the eye was trying to find. Beginning at Independence, Missouri or Omaha, Nebraska, the migrants had walked 500 miles or more at about 15 miles per day when they arrived at Scotts Bluff. By comparison, today's travelers -- most of whom hate the wide open spaces -- can cross Nebraska east to west and cover that 500 or more miles in a day.
But I am unusual, I enjoy these wide open spaces. And for even more of the spaces with very little human habitation, I continued on to ...
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument ... which was even more remote. It is located on the western edge of Nebraska in Sioux County. It is another of those counties in the West where the average population is less than two persons per square mile. Except for the paved road, there was little evidence of much human activity around the area.
As the name would indicate, Agate Fossil Beds was the site of fossils. Discovered in 1892 by a rancher, the fossils and bones represent a cross section of many species that lived -- and died -- there about 20 million years ago.
Heading north in this sparsely populated county, I came to Sioux county seat: a small town of about six blocks square. The sign says that Harrison is "Nebraska's Top Town". It was my assumption that it referred to the elevation -- about 5000 feet.
Black Hills of South Dakota ... Tourism is alive and well in the area. The main draw to the Black Hills may be Mt. Rushmore. However, once you have seen that, there are many venues to separate you from your dollars after the paltry eight that you may have spent to park your car at Mt. Rushmore. There are the T-shirt stores, mini-golf, alpine slide, chuck wagon dinners, Reptile Garden, Bear Country and many more.
Mammoth Site ... is located near Hot Springs on the southern edge of the Black Hills in South Dakota. When mammoths roamed this country, there was a watering hole where the mammoths met their death only to be "rescued" many years later. To date this active excavation has unearthed 29 skeletons. The museum at the site includes the history of the mammoth and contains mammoth artifacts or reproductions to help explain its life -- and how it "lives" today. .
Needles Highway ... One way to see the Black Hills area is by bus. Along with several stops, the tour includes a ride along the Needles Highway. One of the tunnels on this road is eight feet seven inches wide and the bus is eight feet wide. Get that! Three inch clearance per side! Fold in the mirrors and drive through. One tight fit! To add to the tension of driving through this narrow space, there are tourists at the end of the tunnel taking pictures of the bus that they are sure will be stuck in the tunnel.
Chief Crazy Horse Monument ... I am not sure if this is a memorial to Chief Crazy Horse or to Korczak Ziolkowski. Already an established sculptor in 1939, the controversial Kocrzak was the idea and the designer of the memorial. Upon his death in 1982, he had already put in almost 40 years on the project. His children now carry on to finish the work -- perhaps in another generation. The site includes the Indian Museum of North America containing artifacts of the Indian culture as well as present day art of the Indian peoples. The Chief Crazy Horse Monument was a definite highlight of the area -- and to me -- it is a "must see".
New Ulm, Minnesota ... As I drove US Highway 14 across Minnesota, I came to New Ulm. I arrived on the day that they were celebrating Heritagefest. This is a commemoration of their German and Bohemian forebears who settled the area about 1840. Lots of music and good food!
A statue of Hermann overlooks the town. Who? In 9 A.D., Hermann, a freedom fighter led German tribes against their Roman conquerors and defeated them. The myth and the legend lived on as later day Germans identified Hermann as a representation of freedom, liberty and unity. In the late 1800s, the national "Order of the Sons of Hermann", a fraternal society for Germans in the US, raised money to erect the statue. The statue, erected in 1894, is a copy of the original which was built just a few years earlier near the Hermann's original battle site at Teutoburg Forest in Germany.
Cemetery Epitaph ... While traveling the back roads around New Ulm, I came to the Fort Ridgeley cemetery where I found this epitaph: "He was ill, but he died well."
Minneapolis - St. Paul ... While staying in the area, I had the chance to make several stops. One stop was the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden where this very unusual fountain sprays a mist of water over the red cherry. The downtowns of both these cities were clean and living complexes -- night and day.
There is a statue of Mary Tyler Moore in front of Marshall Fields in downtown Minneapolis. I guess if there is a Hermann statue to a myth of 2000 years ago, it would only make sense to erect a statue to a 1980s TV myth.
Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, grew up in St. Paul. Each year the city has a fund raiser, where the Peanuts character is stands in various venues. This year it was Lucy's turn in many poses from the director of the symphony to the statue posing as the blind folded goddess of justice holding the scale. They were all over town and I missed most of the 107 that were scattered through out the area.
However, the thing I enjoyed most was a visit to Fort Snelling. This Fort in 1827 with about 300 people was the most westerly of the US settlements. Today it is a living history of the period and how it was to live there at that time. I try to pretend that I am living in the period with them as I tell them I had been in the West trapping. However, they know the history better and I merely embarrass myself in the process. They excuse my errors due to my infrequent interaction with people.
As I have traveled over the past year, I have decided that if I ever work camp, the interpreter at some historic location is most appealing. There is a little ham in me and I like to talk. That would be great way to pass the summer.
So much to see ... In this column, I have mentioned just some of the many places that I visited on my travels. There were even more that I could have visited. I continue to be amazed at all there is to explore and experience as I journey.
Hiking ... I am out of shape. I will say no more!
Thunderstorm ... In this case it included a tornado. While parked near Shawano, I had been out for the evening visiting while a storm raged. Later, upon returning to Wandrin Wagon, there were branches and trees laying on the grounds at the campground. The next morning, I noted a tree that had blown over and was resting on the top of a pop up trailer parked near by. When I listened to the local news, it was reported that a tornado had been sighted over Shawano Lake during the storm.
Such is the life when one lives in something that is defined as tornado bait!
Cinnamon Roll Search ... There have been several that I had stopped at. There was one bakery in Keystone -- at the base of Mt. Rushmore. The bakery said that it had the largest cinnamon roll. So I decided to check it out. They were right. It was another of those that is larger than a plate and big enough for four or more people.
Then there was the one in New Ulm. It was large, but I had it any way. The next day, I had an apple fritter instead.
Fairfax, a small country town, near New Ulm is where I found Steve's bakery. They had an excellent cinnamon roll -- good taste and not too large. It was the size for one person.
Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin had two bakeries to choose from. A deep fried cinnamon roll? No way. After that disappointment, I didn't even check out the other bakery.
Oh well. I am not successful every time.
Latest Read ... Truman by David McCollough. This thorough and highly readable biography tells the story of Harry Truman from his first days in Independence, Missouri all the way to his reluctant acceptance of the vice presidency and finally the president of the United States after Roosevelt's death. His own election to the Presidency in 1948 was described by McCollough with drama and mystery that made it as readable as any novel that I may have read.