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Monday, October 16, 2017


Sometimes life ain't easy

Our Tauck group walked into the Sheridan, Wyoming Holiday Inn after a day crossing part of Wyoming, having a great time at the TA Ranch, and enjoying every moment of the day.  

Despite the entertainment possibilities of the hotel which was quite inviting, I think most of us called it an early night. It was not until breakfast the following morning that we had the great surprise of being able to catch a bit of a cattle auction in progress right in the hotel and attended by ranchers and others not only from Wyoming but also from all over the west.  Cowboy hats and boots and a thick, printed catalogue were the order of the day for them, and we noticed immediately.

Lots of advertising, quite unlike what any of us were accustomed to seeing
As each of us found out we were welcome in the huge room with big screens where the auction was televised, we let others know, and most of us eventually went to see what was going on.  Haha No cattle in the hotel; we saw men and women leafing through their auction books, and we heard the real life sounds of the auction bidding occurring before our eyes.  It was barely 8:00 AM. As we were all from the Eastern Seaboard, Chicago, or California,  this truly was a first for us all.

The auction was pretty exciting, and people kept drifting in and out of the room
We were definitely acting like tourists taking in everything, and the people running product sales tables outside the auction room were friendly as can be and gave us hats, pens, pot holders, and all kinds of souvenirs.  Those hats became chapeau de jour for a large part of the remainder of the trip. 

After breakfast, however, we were off to cross our first mountain range. We climbed the majestic Bighorn Mountains on our way to Cody, Wyoming.  We crossed the peaks at 9,300 ft.  What a view we had from Cutler Hill at 8,347 feet.  Then we passed through towns like Greybull, WY with a population of 1,837, and Shell, WY with a 2010 census count of 83.  Ten miles outside of Cody there were wild mustangs running on the flats.  Exciting to see them gallop across the range.

Pretty magnificent, wouldn't you say?
I wanted to share this picture of a house by the side of the road.
Somehow I don't think this would be the plot of land I'd buy for my home.

In Cody in time for lunch, we also had free time to wander downtown, and do some shopping before heading to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a fascinating museum and a real treasure trove of information and artifacts about Buffalo Bill, the West and the tribes that live there.  The Center is really five excellent museums in one, but we did not have time to take it all in.   Most online travel sites, not surprisingly, suggest a 2-day pass to see it all.

One museum is specifically about William  F. Cody’s life, not quite what we’ve been led to believe, but fascinating nevertheless.  What a showman he was!  The museum has many of his personal items but also posters, books, and history.  

This is a representation of the kind of sets used during the shows.
Cody not only brought his Wild West Show around the United States
but also spent several years touring Europe and becoming the
toast of the continent.
The Whitney Western Art Museum highlights the scope of western-inspired art in sculpture, paintings, and prints, and it, too, is a treasure.  If you visit the museum site, you will be able to view their online collection.

We didn’t have a chance to visit the Draper Natural History Museum, but it might have been good to add to our knowledge before we entered Yellowstone National Park.

There’s the fascinating and informative Plains Indian Museum.  This is more than a collection of artifacts and art.  Rather it is a history of the people, their culture, and today a study of the movement of the Plains Indians over the course of 250 years is underway.  Additionally, the people are seen in the context of  their life today.  It is an impressive place to visit, and there is a lot to learn.

The Cody Firearms Museum is reputed to be the most comprehensive in the world. Rob liked that one.

It was at the Museum, too, where we had a private show (yes, just for the 16 of us) by the Dan Miller Trio, a band specializing in country, bluegrass, Americana, gospel.  They were terrific. 

On a personal note—Because I need hearing assistive devices, the Tauck director brought along what we’d successfully been using on the tour, but Dan had his own equipment as his sister is deaf, and he wanted to share his music with everyone.  We used his equipment; before the show began, he made sure I could hear, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!  Never forget how nice people can be.

Dan also played “Happy Trails to You,” and, of course, we all knew it and sang along. Our travel companion, Maurice, related a story.  As a small boy in Northern Ireland, he belonged to the Roy Rogers Riding Club.  Every Saturday morning, they met to watch the Roy Rogers Show on TV.  We loved that. On the last evening and dinner together on the tour, we all sang that song to him.  That’s the kind of group it was.

The day was not nearly over.  We checked in to the Best Western Premier Ivy Hotel, and after dinner headed to the Cody Stampede for the rodeo.  Cody, WY is no ordinary town.  It bills itself as the Rodeo Capital of the World, and, incredibly, there is a rodeo EVERY NIGHT throughout the summer.

Great time at the rodeo.  Dangerous and adrenaline producing.  I like the team calf roping and the barrel racing best.  I cannot believe the angles at which those horses round the barrels.  There was plenty of see, plenty of oohs, and plenty of pictures.

The Rodeo opens with a display of beautifully executed synchronized horsewomanship and flags
and recognition of the many sponsors.
Bull riding is as dangerous as it looks

My favorite is the barrel racing.
I am wowed at the angles at which the horses move around the barrels
running as fast as the riders can handle
and as close to the barrels as a rider can get
so she can cut time off her ride.
True team spirit and ability.

Just look at that horse's legs.
That may be close to 1,000 pounds rounding that barrel.

By the time we finished the rodeo, it was time to head back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.Yellowstone was coming up next.

Friday, October 06, 2017

There's a thrill going into caverns.  Whether it's Carlsbad, Meramec, Luray,  Ausable or
any other of the many caverns that can be visited, you will be amazed.
Nor does it matter how many times you go.  It's always different.
It's always amazing.  It's always something that makes you shake your head in wonder.
This picture was taken in Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley's Luray Caverns, one of the many we've visited.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


South Dakota with its natural and man-made wonders gives me quite a few awe-inspiring moments but does not seem to daunt Tauck Tours.  They are ready to WOW us again.  Leaving South Dakota for Wyoming, we are ready for another incredible day as we head to Buffalo, Wyoming and the TA Ranch.

Wide open prairie--so different from what I'm used to
Here we are in the Great Plains.
Wyoming is unique.  It ranks 50th in population with a 2016 population of only 585, 501 people.  Crossing the state, we pass through towns with double digit and even single digit populations.  Once a car leaves the main highway, it is more than likely to do the rest of its travels on unpaved roads that traverse open prairies and hills.  Yet Wyoming is not bleak; it’s beautiful.  Along the road I see large quantities of shrubbery, and it hits me that this is sagebrush.  The word conjures up all the cowboy movies and shows I’ve seen, and it reminds me of Rob’s and my cross country drive years ago when we saw signs out west that read, “Do not drive into smoke.”  Sagebrush fires. 

Because we pass through towns near major tourist attractions, the towns are geared to satisfy the whims of out-of-staters—restaurants, gift shops, local attractions, tours, etc.  There is a tawdry atmosphere, but that’s not unusual around any tourist attractions.  It just is a bit shocking as we drive through open country that must look similar to the way it looked 100 years ago and then pass a few blocks of charmless tourist lures.

Visitors come to Wyoming for great and beautiful reasons. Most of Yellowstone Park is in Wyoming, and in 2014, 10.1 million visitors came to Wyoming.  That’s probably the biggest reason. This year, with the solar eclipse, that alone was predicted to double the state’s population.  The ranches, mountains, rivers, rodeos, and peacefulness are all part of the allure. As I said—unique.

This day we head to Johnson County and the city of Buffalo, Wyoming , once considered  “a rogue society in which rustlers controlled everything— politics, courts and juries.”     If you’re a movie fan, you know about the Johnson County War that might be the biggest piece of Wyoming history. You know it from Shane and The Virginian.  The biggest event of this war occurred right where we head, The TA Ranch.  We think we are going to have a great day at the ranch, riding, seeing some exhibitions of horse mastery, and cowboy cattle work, but as has been the way of this Tauck tour, it goes beyond expectations.

We arrive just in time for a buffet lunch, and I ask if anything is local.  That’s what I choose—beef—right from their ranch, I think. This is a working cattle ranch.  Since everything is locally sourced, that’s exactly what I want.  And it’s delicious.

Then surprisingly we are treated by Barbara, who runs the ranch with her daughter Kristen Giles, to a brief but intriguing introduction to the TA Ranch and its history, including tales of the Johnson County War.  This is the ranch which the cattle barons occupied for three days and where the shoot out occurred.  It’s an exciting story.  Barbara even offered books about this part of Wyoming history, including this one.

I will list other books at the end of this post. It's a very interesting piece of western history.

Then off to take a trail ride.  I love horses, and though this is a slow, easy ride, it is wonderful to ride and happily breathe in the beautiful scent of the horse against the clean, distinctive, hot aroma of the prairie.  Riding further gives us the sense of the land's openness as well as views of the hay bales that are part of the necessary preparations on a working cattle ranch for the brutal Wyoming winter. I feel a further amazed appreciation for the individuality and perseverance of the homesteaders who crossed much of the county to come out here and make Wyoming their home.

This is my horse, Hercules.  But looking out at the landscape is spectacular.
Taking a selfie on Hercules was a challenge, but fun.  Rob is wearing the blue cap.
But look at that landscape.
Preparations for the harsh winter are well under way.
Cattle must be fed.
When we finish our ride, off we go to a corral where we meet a horse whisperer, a trainer who works with the horses and teaches them to obey commands she signals without even touching them.  Her demonstration is quite interesting.  She rides her own beautiful brown horse with the loveliest lines and neck while a black horse with a dashing white streak down his face walks, trots, canters, and reverses, all by her direction but not by her touching in any way.

Isn't her horse beautiful?
They never got closer than this!

Our demonstration is cut short because it is so brutally hot, and Barbara transports us over to another corral where we are treated to a demonstration of cowboys separating cattle.

Four cowpokes (two men and two women) demonstrate cutting one, then two, then three and then four cattle from a group and bringing them to the far side of the corral.  Their horses follow their directions.  No words are spoken.  They act as one unit.

Because I love horses, I am fascinated by one cowboy whose horse’s bridle does not have a bit.  He  trained his horse, and all the horse has is a bitless noseband.  Yet he follows all directions and the horse and cowboy act as one.  It is thrilling to see.  In fact, the entire display of control and unity between horse and rider is thrilling to see. 

There is time to spend sitting in the shade of the porch before going in for drinks and a fine dinner, once again locally sourced.  Rob and I both choose the Wyoming Lamb Chop—pan seared topped with cherry balsamic chutney/creamy scalloped potatoes/grilled asparagus.  Salad and dessert, of course.  Not exactly what you picture as “ranch food.”  Well, the TA Ranch isn’t an ordinary place, and if you ever get a chance to come here, go for it!

We move on after dinner, heading for Sheridan, Wyoming to spend the night in a beautiful Holiday Inn.  We are in for a great surprise the next morning.

Here are some books Barbara suggested about the Johnson County War:  Banditti of the Plains by Asa Mercer (1893), War on Powder River by Helene Hunlington Smith (1950), The Cattlemen by Mari Sandog (1950), and Johnson County War by Bill O'Neal (2005)

Sunday, October 01, 2017


Blue skies, creeks, and one of the ranch houses out on the TA Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Open sky country. The Great Plains.  Great for raising cattle on this working ranch.
Peaceful now, but in 1892 the barn and ranch house were occupied by the Cattle Baron invaders
and a three-day shootout occurred during the Johnson County War, a fight
between the cattle barons and the small ranchers. It's a war you may be familiar with from
the movies Shane and The Virginian.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Mt. Rushmore, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is another site where seeing is believing.  It’s difficult to imagine any travel book about the United States without the iconic figures of the four presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln sculpted in granite high above the Badlands in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

There’s so much more to Mt. Rushmore than viewing, however, and it’s impossible to leave without a deep feeling of wonder, an appreciation for commitment, and an amazement at the detailed art and skill demonstrated in these sculptures.

The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, may not have originated the idea of a massive sculpture on the site, but once involved, he convinced President Coolidge to give the go-ahead to depict these four presidents on Mt. Rushmore (see ).  According to the facts in the informative exhibits within the museum at Mt. Rushmore, they symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom upon which this country was founded.

George Washington represents the struggle for independence and the birth of the nation.

There is a steadfastness of character depicted in his countenance.
Notice the detail, too, in the clothing, especially around the chin and neck.

Thomas Jefferson represents the territorial expansion of the country.

His head seems tilted slightly upward, looking out into the future across the land.

Abraham Lincoln represents the permanent union of the States and equality for all citizens.

I notice his furrowed brow and the look of sadness in his eyes, perhaps at the tasks he faced.
I am so moved by the details of his beard as well as the lines and hollows of his cheeks.
Teddy Roosevelt represents the 20th century role of the United States and the rights of the common man.

The eyes are captivating.
The details of his moustache and the pince-nez are there just as they appear in his photographs.
It's hard to imagine chiseling the details of that face on this wall of granite.

When you combine the symbolism with the history, Mt. Rushmore becomes even more impressive, almost prophetic and certainly a reach toward the American Dream. It was government funded, begun in 1927 and completed in 1941, shortly, sadly, after Borglum died earlier that same year.  He had been working with his son, Lincoln (a wonderful name for the son of the man who designed this sculpture, don’t you think?), and Lincoln Borglum completed it.  A crew of over 400 men worked on it.  For the most part they were miners who had come to the Black Hills in search of gold and in search of the American Dream.  Most of the work was completed during The Great Depression when it was hard to picture that American dream.  But the dream of this sculpture never died, despite funding problems and changes along the way. 

To add some perspective, each face is 60 feet high, the height of a six story building.  Imagine, then, the approach to the Grand View Terrace as visitors pass under arches and then an array of flags where all fifty states, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States are represented.

At this point there is still a distance to go when you consider the number of flags.
Then more arches and then a terrace where you can gaze up at the memorial.
Being there, you realize the scope of this incredible work of art.
If visitors wish, they may take the Presidential Trail, a .05 mile trail with 422 stairs to get up close and personal.  UP might be the operative word here.

On the grounds is a museum and other exhibits that give additional information about Borglum’s original and more developed plans for Mt. Rushmore.  All in all, it is a complete experience truly worthy of its reputation as one of the premier sites in America.  

These days there is yearly maintenance by mountain climbers who work to seal cracks that develop.  Other cracks are monitored through a system of optical fiber cables.  Still, having been carved in granite, Mt. Rushmore will be here a very, very long time.

Mt. Rushmore isn't the only great sculpture we visit that day.  Not far away is the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which, when finished will be the largest rock sculpture in the world.

I wish I could show you how incredibly far away we are at this point.
Pictures cannot accurately show the massive size of this sculpture.
For comparison, the face of each president on Mt. Rushmore is 60 feet high while the face of Crazy Horse is 87 feet, 6 inches high.  That part of the sculpture was completed in 1998. Think massive.

Look at those vehicles.
Matchbox cars???
The entire carving, when completed, will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.  It’s hard to envision it even when we stand on the balcony by the restaurant and try to picture what the finished carving will be.  And we hazard guesses about when it will finished.

When you consider that this model is 1/34th the size of the actual carving,
and when you look at that tourist,
 you can imagine how huge the Crazy Horse Monument will be.
The sculpture’s creator, Korczak Ziokowski, actually worked on Mt. Rushmore for about 19 days, and different stories surround his leaving depending on which website you visit.  Nevertheless, he built a house at the base; he and his wife raised 10 children there; some and their children and relatives still at work on the project.  Ziokowski was brought to the area by an Oglala Lakota Chief, Henry Standing Bear to create a monument to honor Crazy Horse after the government refused to add Crazy Horse to Mt. Rushmore, a request prompted because Mt. Rushmore is on ancient tribal land.

Funding is through the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, and no government money is accepted.

Over the years, there has been a great deal of controversy over the Monument, but none takes away from the awesome size, the history, the people involved, or the expectations of many when they see Crazy Horse from afar.  It’s quite an experience.  One I shall never forget.

 For more information for your visit, you might check out this site:

Friday, September 15, 2017


One of the great road trips is the 655.8 mile
Pacific Coast Highway
California's State Highway 1
running the North/South route along the Pacific Ocean
Complete with overlooks, it offers a bucket-list-worthy journey offering
breath-taking views of the wild, powerful Pacific, stops in interesting
and beautiful towns, and, if you're lucky, beaches of seals basking in the sun.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Getting around the huge Custer State Park,
several hours and still just a portion
of the 71,000 acres.

We saw bison at the Custer State Park Visitor Center, but it’s out on the prairie where the buffalo roam, and breathtaking as our introduction to bison was, the following morning’s Jeep Safari surpasses it. 

Bison own the park, wander freely, and when they want to move, we visitors stop.  It gives us a real opportunity to get to know them better. 

Bison are the largest mammals in North America, some about six feet tall and weighing upwards of 2,000 pounds.  When you’re close to them out in the open, you finally get a sense of that gigantic size.

For all their bulk and the hump on their backs, bison can get right down and wallow in the dirt, although the hump prevents them from rolling over.  Dust clouds rise from their bodies.  We saw this out on the prairie.

They’re big and furry black and brown, the fur often matted into patches over their sides, the result of wallowing to rid themselves of insects and other pests.  Some look like patchwork quilts.  Along the roads, if there are trees, you can see where they rub against trees too.  Bark is rubbed away.

Their split hooves are very sharp, cutting into the prairie soil and aerating it, helping it grow.  All part of the environmental stability of the prairie.

Most impressive are their massive heads, dark and full of fur.  Their expression might seem impassive and their deep-set eyes calm and somewhat sad, but if they suspect aggression, watch out!  Tempers flare quickly, and the bison can move at more than 35 miles per hour!  

Imagine the stampede of about 1,300 animals as it happens each year.  Two thousand pound animals, thundering across the prairie, hammering the earth as cowboys round them up as part of the park management program—to be counted, some tagged, and some studied.  This year it will be on Friday, Sept. 29th, so if you are available…. What a sight that must be.

We saw no stampede on our Buffalo Safari.  For us, the bison strut their stuff and take their sweet time. When they wish to cross the road, traffic stops and people gawk—and wait until they’ve gone to the other side.

The prairie, itself, is beautiful.  Average rainfall is only 20 or so inches, so the deciduous trees are close to streams.  On the hillier sections are evergreens.  All in all, not too many trees in total.  Not too much green. That accounts in a large part for the openness and the waving grasses.  Shades of yellows and browns predominate with interspersed trees.  Movies and photos cannot really capture the wide expanses.  Seeing is appreciating in a new way.

Bison, open spaces, a different kind of beauty to us from the east.  But one that is so easy to appreciate.  Our drive through the park introduced us to some of the other wildlife as well. 

Another jeep far across the open prairie.  So different to an Easterner
like me.

Custer State Park is also home to the beautiful pronghorn antelope.  We’ve already seen the biggest mammal in North America; the pronghorn is the fastest.  It can run 60 mph for long distances, enabling it to escape predators.  At two days old, it can outrun a man; at four days, it can outsprint a horse.  How speedy is that!!! 

The pronghorn antelope is graceful and beautiful, and several obliged us by coming quite close.  Gorgeous soft brown in color with a brown and white striped neck and a white rear.  Almost regal demeanor.  They’re agile and quick, but they allow us to get quite close.  It’s thrilling.

Thrilling is good, but the cutest critters we saw were acres and acres of prairie dogs popping in and out of the burrows in their cities on the plains.  It’s quite an experience to see them pop up, very curious, to gaze at the passing parade, staying very close to the doorways of their underground mazes.  On the prairie, their communities stretch as far as I could see and continued until the terrain changed.

One more highlight in a day of thrills and cuteness that was far from over.  Next up—Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

Friday, September 08, 2017


I rarely post pictures of us in Friday's photos, but pictures of Mt Rushmore
are so iconic but almost always close up.  To envision the enormity of
these sculptures by Gutzon Borglum, perhaps a far away view is better.
Why did Borglum choose these preidents?
George Washington symbolizes the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic.
Thomas Jefferson symbolizes territorial expansion.
Abraham Lincoln symbolizes the permanent union of the states and equality for all citizens.
Teddy Roosevelt symbolizes the 20th century, the role of the United States in world affairs and the right of the common man.

Here is the way we usually see them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


 Entering South Dakota’s Custer State Park and beginning the climb into the Black Hills, seeing grazing cattle on isolated ranches and the vast profusion of Ponderosa Pines clinging for all they’re worth to the rocky, sometimes steep cliffs, it is impossible for my mood not to bubble over with excitement.

In the same State Game Lodge where we headed, President Calvin Coolidge once made the Summer White House.  So impressed by his surroundings, so moved by his forays into nature, the fishing he enjoyed, and the hiking that occupied his time, before Coolidge left the sculptor Gutzon Borglum was able to convince him to set aside Mt. Rushmore.  The President was overwhelmed by nature.

The State Game Lodge
in Custer State Park, South Dakota
was used by President Calvin Coolidge as the
Summer White House in 1927.
A summer here convinced him to go ahead with the plans
for Mt. Rushmore.

The State Game Lodge is a dark stained, wooden hotel propped against the side of a hill overlooking the main road.  Clean and welcoming but with small rooms, an absence of television, spotty wifi, and no air-conditioning, it is still a great place to begin our Tauck tour entitled “Legends of the American West.”

In the bar, the stone fireplace is a certified National Treasure.  Above the mantle hangs a portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who also used this lodge.  We walked where giants walked.

Our inaugural meal in South Dakota, bison stew.  Of course! It was delicious!

Despite its rusticity, the State Game Lodge is popular with tourists like me, so if you are interested, book early; it’s in high demand.

At 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is among the largest state parks in the United States, showcasing nature’s unending variety of lakes, fast-moving creeks, plains, mountains, and granite spires known as The Needles  which brave and expert climbers scale to view the majestic scenes below and out across seemingly endless valleys.

For me, above all, is that Custer is home to a herd of bison, the descendants of the barely few left after the wanton slaughter of the millions that once roamed the vast plains of the mid west.  To see them in their natural habitat where we, the interlopers, have the honor to view them, is breathtaking. 

We thought our introduction to bison and the other animals in the park would come the following day on a Buffalo Safari, but on the day we arrived, Rob and I followed Creekside Trail and walked the ¾ mile from the State Game Lodge to the Custer State Park Visitor Center, a lovely curving path over a creek, through the shade of trees, past a campground and children’s playground, through cattle-guard fences, and over some wooden walkways.

Almost to the Center, we stopped short. Lazily ambling toward us was a herd of bison. 

We were dumbstruck!  Delighted!  Exuberant!  The bison?  Totally unabashed by human presence, they stopped to feed on the grass and moseyed their way down to the creek for a drink.

How did we feel????  THIS WAS NOT A TOUR.  Rangers came over to warn people to stay back.  These are animals in the wild.  These 2,000 pound mammals, the largest mammals in North America, brook no disturbance, and they can be dangerous.  Don’t be deceived by their sleepy-eyed demeanor.

We spend nearly half an hour observing and photographing them, and then wistfully tear ourselves away and leave them to other observers.
Seeing them in their natural surroundings made me sad to think
that they were so close to extinction.
The parks brought them back for us and for posterity.

Time for the Visitor Center and some more understanding. Pictures and information abound, and there is a 25 minute film narrated by Kevin Costner about the different faces of Custer State Park and the different ways in which visitors can recreate.

Much, but not all, is dedicated to the bison, the annual roundup where they are counted, tagging some for study, tallying the way they have multiplied and thrived over the years, and continuing the work to learn more about them as well as about other park inhabitants like the pronghorn antelope (that really is more closely related to a giraffe than to an antelope).

It’s a modern Visitor Center welcoming to people with disabilities.  In my case, their device gives me closed caption of the movie’s narration.  This is a first for me, and it works beautifully.

It may have been the first day, but already it is a great vacation. This is just the beginning.