Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Driving Across the US Prairies --A List of places to Take a Break.

     My last post was about our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park. My two sons and their families flew in and met us there. But because my husband needed an electronic scooter to be able to see some of the sites, we drove with my sister, toting the scooter on a hitch on the back of our car.
     I have often thought that it should be a requirement or a bucket list must to make the drive across the prairie from the Midwest where we live to at least the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Flying over this stretch is certainly more convenient and quicker but the image and vast impression of the middle of our country is missed and I feel therefore the view of our country as a whole is skewed.
     I recall the first time I made this trip in an unairconditioned car and seeing this country for the first time. It is amazing and a necessity to see.
     On the other hand, making such a trip can be exceedingly tedious without things to stop and see, things to do, and things to look forward to seeing on the way. This post is going to list some of those stopping points. Each such stop by itself seems either corny, or certainly less majestic that the destination, but taken individually as wonderful breaks in that tedious action of driving across the country, each of these suggested stops offers something memorable and special.
     The first stop would be at the Mississippi River. We took I 90 so this was at Lacrosse, WI. If one had some extra time, there is even the possibility of driving along what are called the Palisades, the rocky promontories along especially the Minnesota side of the River. If there is no time, there is still a rest area (Wisdot Area 31) that has a pretty good view of the river and some of its bridges. Unlike many rest areas that are built on high ground with a vista of the scenery , this one is built down low and intimately close to the waters of the Mississippi, or actually a side water that is called French Lake. However, the viewer looks out across a narrow island to the open waters of the river itself. There is actually a bench on a walkway down close to French Lake that has the view I just described. Perhaps I recall in my mind my first trek across the Mississippi when starting out on a new journey in my life, ie. entering college at State University of Iowa. For me the Mississippi was a symbolic border which I crossed to proceed in my life journey. Perhaps that is why I enjoy the intimacy of a stop to sit on a bench and gaze for a short time at that body of water.

     The next stop I would recommend would be at a little known National Monument called Pipestone. The small Pipestone National Monument is located about 30 miles north of I 90 near the western border of Minnesota. Yes, it is a little out of the way but if a family is looking for a break, it is worth the short drive out of the way. Basically this site is a stone quarry, but a very historic one. The stone is one of the most malleable of stones and our indigenous peoples came from throughout the prairies to this quarry to obtain the malleable stone from which smoking pipes and indeed peace pipes were carved. hence the name Pipestone. At the Monument visitors can walk through the quarry and see the stone in place. The Visitor's center does a very nice job of presenting this history. The  Upper Midwest Center for Indian Culture sponsors demonstrations of pipe carving also at the visitor Center. Local Native Americans have been involved in the Monument's administration since the property's beginning in 1937. The National Park Service and the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association share in the Monument's activities, and decisions about its use and presentations.. Currently only Native Americans are allowed to quarry the pipestone and all tribes are welcome though there have been various movements by the Yankton Sioux to take over the Monument's use. The gift shop has replica Indian pipes for sale as well as historical coloring books and other historical items that develop the knowledge of our Native American residents. A visit doesn't take much time but is very educational, and it would let the kids run around a little and dissipate the stored up energy of a car trip.

Above is a trail through the quarry. The stone seen here is the quartzite that must be removed before the shallow grain of pipestone can be found.

Examples of ceremonial and sacred pipes made by Native Americans from pipestone.

     We spent our first night on the road during this year's trip to Yellowstone at a Days' Inn in Sioux Falls, SD, just across the border from Minnesota. It had been a long day of driving and I would have preferred to just relax in front of the TV of our motel room, but I am glad my younger sister was along. She wanted to drive to downtown Sioux Falls and see what it was like. During our previous 3 trips to Yellowstone, we had never taken tine to do that. As we followed Cliff Ave from the outskirts of town where we wee lodged, it became obvious that Sioux Falls was a spread out city with low buildings and often quite a bit of land occupied by businesses. As we came to the center of the city, however, we found several very interesting buildings: the old County Courthouse that is now a museum, a Catholic Cathedral 3/4 of the way up a rise that had a nice view of the downtown. But striking was the emptiness of the downtown streets which were wide, at least 4 lanes, but without any vehicles moving, sometimes for several city blocks. This was Saturday night. Where was everyone? We spotted maybe two pub and grill establishments but even in that case, there didn't seem to be a lot of cars around these. We kept remarking about this. My sister had read about a Park in the center of the downtown along the Big Sioux River. We began searching on the map for the entrance to the green area on the map. Finally we found an entrance and a line of cars to get into Falls Park. The parking lots were jammed and family groups were strolling the large central green area. So this is where everyone goes on a Saturday night. And what a wonderful Park it is. The Big Sioux River cascades over heaps of rounded stones and boulders here which spreads the River out and beautifies it. In addition there are ruins of an old mill that once worked along the cascades, as well as a reconstructed mill tower, and an observation tower, a café overlooking the cascade built in a later Electric Company building that has been revamped. There are wading pools along the river, and an antique railroad bridge adding to the charm as well as a modern foot bridge. A beautiful site and evening spent in downtown Sioux Falls, SD.

     The next possible stop is the famous Corn Palace in Mitchel, SD. Mitchell is a small town just off I 90 so you needn't detour at all. The original Corn Palace was a wooden castle shaped structure on Main street of Mitchell constructed in Mitchel in 1892 to celebrate the fertile soil and successful harvest in the lush eastern half of South Dakota. A building more like the present one was built in 1904-05 by the Mitchel authorities along with an attempt to attain the goal of becoming the capitol of SD. The current Corn Palace building was completed in 1921, and recently the interior has been remodeled with seats along one end, and a basketball court, with stage along the other end. The outside of  the Palace is covered with mostly corn and also with other grasses and grains being redesigned each year, and currently readied for a Corn Palace Festival to be held at the end of August of each year. Workers were placing bundles of grass on some inter spaces between corn murals. And the final mural on the right side of the long wall is completed but the inter spaces and design that surrounds the mural is only some chalk marks on a black background. Work is continuing. Inside the Corn Palace is a multipurpose space with a central scoreboard, basketball court for the local high school and a local college, and when we visited housed a souvenir marketplace on the basketball court. Various music groups and indoor rodeos have performed here in the past. At the bottom of these photos is a framed photo of what the Corn palace looked like when we saw it on our first trip west in 1967. Framed photos of all previous Corn Palaces are displayed along the back wall of the auditorium.

     Above is a photo among many others on the upper back wall inside the Corn Palace showing what the Palace looked like in 1867 when we stopped there on our first trip

     Driving across Minnesota provides unending views of cornfields and soybeans, and as you drive west, sorghum fields come into the mix. Very little pasture land is seen. Dairy cows are not seen along the road unless one of the huge corporational
dairy barns are seen built close to I 90 with hundreds of head of dairy cows in their stalls visible through the open to air sides of the barn. As you enter South Dakota, the fields turn more and more to sorghum which is used to make molasses, and also some sugar beets as well as a shift toward wheat. But in eastern South Dakota, the country remains gently rolling and agricultural harvesting is seen. When you reach the Missouri River everything suddenly changes. Of course along such a river of such a size, there is a valley marked on both sides by steaper small rolling hills almost like bumps in a child's sandbox. And suddenly there are no more planted crops. This is open grazing land and as you continue the beef cattle herds become prominent. The farms are more widely scattered. There are stretches of road where no visible human habitation is seen. And all of this has changed suddenly at the Missouri River. Since we are talking of rest stops, the I 90 Rest Area in located on the East side of the Missouri and on the south side of I 90 but is accessible to travelers in both directions. This stop is part scenic overlook of the River, its Lewis and Clark Bridge and Chanberlain, SD;  part museum celebrating and interpreting the Lewis and Clark Expedition which had a significant stop here at Chamberlain, SD on the Missouri. And of course, the site provides also the typical picnic tables, clean restrooms, vending machines, and tourist info center that most rest stops provide. In addition in the museum there is a hanging 55 foot replica of a keelboat which was used to explore the Missouri. And outside is a wonderful statue entitled Dignity. I am sure this beautiful pewter colored detailed representation of an Indian woman in her best buckskins is meant to represent Sacajawea. It is magnificently formed and placed on the high edge of the bluff so that it is visible to all travelers, indeed, as though she is leading you west or east, whichever direction you are going. Beautiful and definitely worth a stop. I have since learned more about this statue and this blog will shortly have a post dedicated solely to this magnificent statue.

          The next stop is one that you logistically can not miss. Multiple billboards announce its presence and list what it sells, as well as where to exit I 90 to get there. This place is, of course, Wall Drug. This "store" indeed started as a drugstore out in the middle of nowhere almost in a little crossroads called Wall, SD. Over the decades since Ted Hustead decided to open a true drugstore in a little town "in the middle of nowhere" as he himself described his decisions, since 1931, Wall Drug has grown into a huge shopping mall, changing and growing each time we have visited. The original marketing gimmick was to offer free ice water to all the folks that were traveling across this dry section of SD especially to visit the new monument Mount Rushmore. Wall Drug still offers free ice water and also 5 cent coffee. Ted Hustead died in 1999 and was honored by the Governor of SD at the time. Over the years of our traveling there, Wall Drug has done nothing but expand. The original little pharmacy is there but it is surrounded by a huge rustic looking mall with every kind of shop that you conceive. There are souvenir shops, art dealers, book shops, jewelry, leather and local crafts, plus a small museum, a very reasonable and efficient café, and ice cream shop and much more. If you can't find what you want at Wall Drug, you are going to have trouble finding it anywhere in the central US. Yes, it is a tourist trap, but I can't imagine one person feeling cheated by a stop there. Get your free ice water and 5 cent coffee and you will be refreshed to begin again on your journey cross country.

Note the Harley Davidson motorcycles in both photos. We happened to be traveling during the time of the Sturgis, SD yearly Motorcycle Rally. This means that lodging and eating places are a little more crowded and you must watch very closely while driving to make sure your path will not cross that of one of these vehicles. However, the drivers were consistently a source of humor, friendliness, and even whatever aid they could offer, such as helping we two women to get our luggage into the motel.

     Of course, the next stops are likely to be official destinations in a trip to Yellowstone such as this one. They are, of course, the Badlands, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, and the dozens of destinations within the Black Hills, and Devil's Tower. We have toured these sites extensively in our various trips to this area. Many people, my sister included, have made these above listed places their destination without going further west. I am only posting a couple pictures here to remind you of these sites, but they do not really fit into this post topic. They are magnificent destinations in their own right.

     The last stopping spot I want to mention could be a mini-destination in itself. We ran into a family touring this site who said it was their third day perusing what was to be seen there. On our last trip to Yellowstone we did not investigate this site at all. We were too much in a hurry to get to the National Park. And I also thought it was in the category of the tourist traps that abound in this area such as Petrified something or other, or  this Rock Museum or some other name.  This trip on the way back home we overnighted in Greybull, WY and we decided this site would be a good place to take a break, have lunch and spend some rest time after crossing the Bighorn Mountains. Located in Cody, WY, this place is called Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It is certainly not just a tourist trap. This Center is a wonderful museum; in fact it is 5 museums each able to stand on its own, all within one large building that occupies 7 acres with many wings, and curates over 50,000 artifacts of the "Old West."  This museum was founded in 1917 when the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association was established after the death of William F. Cody, or Buffalo Bill himself. In the beginning the Association and its museum was interested in preserving the memory of Buffalo Bill and all of his accomplishments. But as time went on, the museum became a magnet for all sorts of memorabilia and artifacts of the "Old West" which now occupy 5 different themed museums: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum, along with the Harold McKracken Research Library. This museum as a whole is now considered the oldest and most comprehensive of museums of the West. NewYork Times has called it "the most remarkable of present day museums." The Center is a member of the Smithsonian Affiliates program meaning that exhibits are shared back and forth between the Center and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Dedicated to the purpose of preserving the probably flawed but still cherished idea of the American Western Frontier and everything that idea has meant to people of varied race, origin, time periods, and cultures. This museum is vast, very complete, moving and blessed by magnificent presentations of the Western Spirit. It is even worth taking time away from Yellowstone to see it. Even better, make it part of you return trip and it will be something to look forward to after the let down of leaving Yellowstone National Park.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Yellowstone National Park -- Revisiting for the 4th time.

     I have often said that every person should take the time and effort to drive from middle America across the wide expanse of countryside at least until they reach the front range of the Rocky Mountains. My husband and I along with at times our young children have done this several times. In 1967, after marrying this young man from Israel who had come here to go to school, we decided to make such a jaunt. I had never been west of the Missouri River, and only west of the Mississippi to go to undergraduate school at University of Iowa. My husband had toured this country shortly after arriving on a student visa in 1963. He purchased a ticket that was available then from Greyhound that for $99 allowed him to travel by bus anywhere in the continental US as long as he didn't use the ticket to keep going back over the same route again and again. After this trip, he was able to actually show me my country. It was his idea to take this big wedding trip, not exactly a honeymoon, because we had to arrange it at the end of summer after we had finished our respective summer jobs and before school started in the fall after Labor Day. We left Madison, WI for a 13 day trip west, stopping in the Badlands and camping in the valley near the visitor center the first night after driving 700 miles that day. We went on to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, then up into Idaho, to Mount Rainier, on to Seattle, down into Olympia National Park, then up to Vancouver, and back through the Canadian Rockies to Banff, Jasper, and then down to Calgary, to Waterton Lakes Canadian National park, Glacier National Park and then home to Madison. That is correct; it was done in 13 days. I recall seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and wanting to just sit and enjoy this for a while. I had never seen mountains and landscape like this. But I was already learning that I only had the time it took for my husband to take the photos that he wanted and then we were on to the next stop. I complained about that overlooking the magnificent canyon with its two waterfalls, but I just barely heard his comment as he led me back to the car, "We'll come back some day." And we did, 3 more times, this 4th visit just completed to celebrate 50 years of our marriage. This time we brought our two sons and their families to meet us in Yellowstone, at Old Faithful Inn. My younger sister went with us. These younger people wanted to do many more activities than we were capable of at this point in our life. But we told them the only expectations we had of them, was that they be back at Old Faithful Inn for dinner each night by 6:00 PM. They could otherwise do whatever they wanted during the day.

East Approach to Yellowstone
     Throughout these 50 years, Yellowstone has deserved its popularity as a travel destination. Although Yosemite in California was set aside as public land called a Forest Preserve previously, Yellowstone was the first public land set aside and called a National Park, signed into law on March 1, 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant. Yellowstone is so very unique in that it contains more than 10,000 geothermal features ranging from geysers, to boiling mud pots, to fumaroles, to hot springs many of which are colored like a rainbow by algae that grow at various hot temperatures. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its two magnificent waterfalls are almost unrivaled in the West and is more intimate than the better known Grand Canyon. Mammoth Hot Springs is unique in the world and in my view from our world travels, is only rivaled by Pamukkale Hot Springs in Turkey. Lake Yellowstone which occupies 1/3 of the giant caldera which forms the Yellowstone Plateau is the largest fresh water lake at this elevation in North America. Add to that Hayden Valley with the buffalo and pronghorn antelope and their predators including relatively newly reintroduced wolves. Multiple waterfalls and cascades, short and long hiking trails, horse riding and ranch activities in the north of Yellowstone at Roosevelt, and mountainous beauty make the 3,400 square mile park (larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined) a wonder for visitors no matter what their interests.
Old Faithful Geyser, often erupting to 100 feet of boiling water and steam.

Bubbling Mudpots at Lower Geyser Basin

Lower Geyser Basin

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs

Norris Geyser Basin
     After 4 visits to Yellowstone, I can relate to some of the changes that have occurred during those 50 years between our first and now our most recent visit. In 1967, I don't think we even had any reservations. We found a cabin on the same day that we arrived, in one of the sites with cabins -- I don't know if it was in Canyon or perhaps in Norris Basis. I know it was not in Old Faithful. On that trip there were animals all over the park. Particularly the black bears were prominent along the roadways. Sows would bring their cubs to the roads to teach them how to beg at the cars. People were stupid then, just as they are now. They would get out of their cars and approach the bears to take a relatively close photo. The bears would move from car to car, panhandling. We always had lunch from a cooler in the back seat and on one occasion while stopping for the bears, we had some sandwiches sitting on the console between our two seats in our red Dodge Coronet. I saw a fairly large bear slowly walking up on my passenger side of the car. I had forgotten about the visible sandwiches. I quickly rolled up the window and watched. That bear stood up on its hind legs against my door. I had not gotten the window completely tight and the bear got its claws in over the top of the window glass and began to pull the window down. I yelled at Amos to drive, but he said, "I have to get a photo first." I am currently trying to transfer this photo so you can see my terror.

     The next tine we went with the kids when they were about 10 and 7, there were no bears to be found. At one of the evening ranger programs we asked about the bears. The rangers had apparently been instructed to not answer that question. They basically ducked it and began talking about the bear life cycle. But other articles did state that the bears had been moved. The open dumps where grizzlies gathered every night had been closed. Bear proof garbage cans had been installed throughout the park so that we would no longer as we had then see a black bear upended in a garbage can as we had skirted around on our way back to our cabin that first night in 1967. Bears that were used to coming to the roads had been tranquilized, caught and transported to the high country. On the third trip, a black bear sow and her cubs were sighted near a hiking trail near Tower in Yellowstone. The rangers are on call and were immediately dispatched to such a sighting. The trail was closed until the bear had moved away from it. Bear encounters when they occurred were closely controlled.

My sister's cabin at Old Faithful

Inside the cabin.
   least chipmunk, smaller than the common ones we have here in the Midwest.
     This last trip no one in our party saw a bear in Yellowstone, except me. Driving back to Old Faithful just at dusk, I caught a glimpse of a car with its sunroof open and someone standing in it taking photos. The object of the photo, a young bear standing on its hind feet, scraping a young tree. No other bears were seen. Indeed, the striking contrast in this recent trip is that very few animals were seen at all. Some members of the family saw a black wolf with the buffalo in Hayden Valley. An occasional elk, or mule dear was seen. Each evening at dinner we compared notes for our day of touring. One evening the only thing I could come up with in the line of animals were two least chipmunks that had crossed the road in front of our car. Well, that was my first time seeing what I identified as a least chipmunk, which is about 1/2 the size of our Midwestern common chipmunk.

      I did find two lifer birds though: a Clark's nutcracker, and a violet green swallow. Several members of the family were impressed by the white pelicans and also by the trumpeter swans.

     If you would like to know the complete and most striking change from 1967 to 2017, it is the number of people. Yellowstone is swamped with people. More than 3 million people visit Yellowstone annually. That is probably one reason why so few animals are seen.

      We made reservations for our Old Faithful Inn rooms and for my sister's cabin at Old Faithful, along with all of our dinner reservations over one year in advance. One certainly can not whip around either of the loops to easily make an appointment for an activity. There is construction which ties up traffic. In the middle of day, one comes to one of the major attraction sites and there is a line to get into the parking lot with your car. Often people are parking off the side of the main road where they can and walking the 1/4 mile or more into the site before they even get to the viewing trail. Old Faithful area looks like Time Square between 11 AM and 4 PM. The only recommendation I can make is to get up early and get to the main sites very early in the morning. Most people start to head back to their lodging about 4 or 5 PM so one could pack a dinner to take along and see some of the sties before dusk. That is when it is more likely to see some of the animals. My other suggestion is to go off the beaten path if you are capable. Make reservations in advance for kayaking, boating, fishing trips, or hike some of the longer trails which do not attract every visitor.

     For 2017 and the next few years, here are some very specific suggestions for things to do in Yellowstone to get away from the maddening crowd. During our family visit, several members of the family did a few unusual things. Our son's family of 4, including 2 children 10 years old and 7 years old reserved a kayaking trip on Lake Yellowstone. There are several outfitters that provide this service and will accept beginning kayakers and offer some teaching to start out. Views of geothermal areas are different from the lake surface. Most of these start at Grant Village or in the West Thumb area of the Lake because the geothermal area is there. Many start at 9:30 or so in the morning giving time to get there from your lodging and end at about 2:30 pm. Another great activity is fishing either on Lake Yellowstone or on some of the smaller lakes. Lake Lewis in the south of the park is a fairly little used but larger lake. From here one can motor up the Shoshone river Channel to smaller Shoshone Lake. In the nearby southwest corner of Yellowstone is the Bechler and the Falls River. Cave Falls on the Falls River is reachable by road and provides a dip and exploration of a cave under the falls. Many water falls can be hiked to from this area of the park. The Bechler and Falls River provide the most waterfalls in number and in beauty of anywhere else in the Park area, save Canyon. Speaking of the Canyon area, Cascade Lake Trail with its trailhead near Canyon will provide a day hike and will get you away from people. If you have a fishing permit, you may even be able to catch some trout during this hike. The Firehole Canyon Drive on the west side of the Park, just south of Madison Junction is a popular drive, but for those who stop, it offers a relatively off the road swimming hole and a nice view of the Firehole River and its falls. Another nice drive would be to Lamar Valley, heading toward the northeast entrance to the park. Some of my family drove there and reportedly there is good animal viewing in this area of the park. You are decreasing the number of people who go this directions as most people enter from the east from Cody, or from the south and the Grand Tetons, or from the west from West Yellowstone. If you are planning a visit, look into these less traveled areas and ideas for activities. Yellowstone is a big Park and can provide lots to do. You just need to get off the beaten track.

      I do think in the long run, Yellowstone is going to have to make changes, perhaps following the path of Yosemite and just closing down the entrances when a certain number of people have arrived on any given day. Perhaps they can also follow Yosemite's path and allow those with backpacking gear and back country campsite reservations to get into the main park even after the day quota of entrances have occurred because they know these people will be heading away from the main confluence of people.

     There is one thing that has not changed in Yellowstone. Old Faithful Geyser is still quite faithful for a geyser, going off between 1 hour and 1 hour and 15 minutes between eruptions. Some are short in height and large in volume, and some are very very high with smaller breadth, often more than 100 feet in the air. The local geologists are able to use some of these data to predict the next eruption with some degree of accuracy. And we found staying right at Old Faithful, we still went out every evening to see another occurrence. It never seems to get old.

Old Faithful Inn, our base for 4 nights at Yellowstone. Built in 1904, this building is the largest log hotel n the world. possibly even the largest log building in the world, built of local wood and stone.

     In spite of all of the people concerns, we did enjoy the park. It was my sister's first visit, and my two daughter in law's first visit as well as my two grandsons. They all had a good time by applying some of these tricks that I have described above.    

     I want to close this post with an interesting story about our first stay at Yellowstone and perhaps the most frightening encounter with a bear, though my view of that car window encounter produced a fair amount of my adrenalin. The first night we were in Yellowstone, we were able to take a cabin, much like the one my sister stayed in this time, pictured above. But we did not know that most of the cabins closed on Labor Day. Our stay was to last a bit longer. We had camped on the way out to Yellowstone, at the Badlands and at Devil's Tower, but we had not intended to camp in Yellowstone primarily because of the bears. Now learning that cabins were all close and being unable as students to afford Old Faithful Inn or even any of the other lodges, we decided to camp our last night in Mammoth before exiting the park. WE bedded down in our little dome shaped pop up tent and fell asleep quickly. In the middle of the night we were awakened by people in the tent at the next campsite banging on pots and pans, making a terrific racket. We thought, "What is going on? Are these people packing up and leaving in the middle of the night?" The next thing we heard was the recognizable sound of a car rolling on gravel. We were mystified. AND THEN, we heard a snorting and snuffling sound at the wall of our tent. We now knew this was not a human sound and we hugged each other thinking that we were done for. Whatever it was outside, moved away, and I unzipped a window to catch sight of a black bear behind as it hurried away. Later we found out that the people at the next campsite owned a convertible and had placed their food in the trunk. Two bears had gone through the roof of the convertible and were trying to claw their way into the trunk from the back seat. One of them kicked the car into neutral and as we had heard, it began to roll. This scared the bears out of the car and they escaped, checking our tent for any scent of food, before taking off into the woods. We learned that the night before the folks at our campsite had made the same mistake I had made earlier and didn't get their window up totally on their hard topped car which contained food in the passenger compartment. Bears had entered that care and had done a lot of destruction in getting to that food. So as you can see, times and bear encounters were very different back in 1967. Obviously these encounters between humans and bears could not be allowed to continue, and now at least those encounters are much healthier for both species.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mystery Photo 28: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

The Mystery Photo 28 is indeed a unique castle -- Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. This 60,645 square feet Casa Grande, the main building of "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill) was built by architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1954 at the behest of then famous newspaper Randolph William Hearst. Hearst purchased the property consisting of 245,000 acres, and 14 miles of Pacific coastline in 1915. This wonderful and scenic property was located in the coastal foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range. It was then and still remains a somewhat remote and unpopulated area due to these mountains. For some years Mr. Hearst and his family visited this site and what he called in spite of his own fantasy name for the location, his "ranch." During those early years he and his family engaged in tent camping on the hillsides, but eventually built a Victorian home in a eucalyptus grove over the hill from the later Castle. In 1919, Hearst hired Julia Morgan as an architect to build a permanent home on the top of a hill on his property overlooking the Pacific Ocean. His first intension was a smaller bungalow, but those plans gradually evolved into a larger and larger mansion, built in Spanish Colonial style. Hearst was a great antique collector. Especially he purchased large antique statues, stone works, and even sarcophagi. He assembled a collection of old ceilings from churches and monasteries in Europe and had his architect design rooms to fit those ceilings. That is one reason that his mansion became so large, so intricate, and in some cases so strangely laid out.

     Interestingly Julia Morgan was the first woman graduate from L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Art. in Paris. She and Hearst worked on this mansion until 1947. At this time Hearst ceased going to visit his "ranch" as often and eventually a worsening health stopped the progress on Hearst Castle. To this day it sits there with one whole end not completed on the outside. During its heyday, many famous people visited Hearst Castle, among them Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable,  and even Presidents such as Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even Winston Churchill was a guest there. Adjacent to the mansion, were two lovely 2,000 to 3,000 foot guest "cottages.' There was plenty for guests to do at Hearst Castle including a huge outdoor Greek style swimming pool below the Castle, and a connecting large indoor pool, a theatre, tennis courts, dozens of bedrooms, sitting rooms, a wine cellar, library, and even the largest private wild animal zoo in North America, at the time.

     Hearst died in 1951 and the property could no longer be maintained by the family. It was donated to the State of California in 1954.

Sunset over the Pacific taken from the Terrace of the main building of Hearst Castle.

     There are several different tours of the Castle that can be taken as it is too large and extensive to see in one tour. We have taken most of the tours during different visits to this iconic location. However, one of the most memorable tours was an evening one, led by a California State Park director through the auspices of the yearly Spring Birding Festival headquartered in Morro Bay, situated just a short distance north of San Simeon. This tour was arranged only for registered attendees of the Bird Festival and had to be reserved in advance. The purpose of the evening visit was to view three different species of bats that make their residence at Hearst Castle.
Workmen repairing tile roof of Hearst Castle. The bats day roosted and nested
under these tiles.

A single bat spent the summer season day roosting in the lock mechanism of
this glass encased guest house door.

Our leader had tape recordings of some of the bats calls and at dusk began playing the tapes. One common species of bat called the.... is present in large numbers and lives under the edges of the tiles of the roof of the Castle. As soon as the sun fell and the tape began these bats began streaming out of their roosts. Another species of bat was living actually inside the attic of the castle and had to be evicted with the accesses sealed up because the bat guano was damaging the walls of the rooms below. A third species was living under some cement works of the gorgeous outdoor Neptune Pool. This particular species had not yet, appeared so early in the season. Our Park Director showed us on psot in the overlaid glass of one of the guest cottage doors where everyday a single bat roosted all day long as the daytime visitors put their hands on the door knob and opened and closed that door. I could just imagine those many people who are still to this day somewhat skittish about the ideas of bats in spite of most of the benefits that this species provides -- yes, I could imagine those thoughts if only some of these skittish folks knew of the bat's presence. After we had had our fill of the bats which unfortunately for this piece, did not provide good photo material, we went inside the Castle. The Park Director asked if there was any area of the mansion that the group would like to see. I mentioned the Wine Cellar, and so that was our first stop. The following dark photos show some areas of the castle in an unusual light. Please enjoy them for what they are -- representatives of a very unique and memorable visit to this iconic home. For other photos of the Castle in daytime, I recommend the following websites:



Above we see several examples of Curacao Triple Sec Bardinett. This is an orange flavored liqueur that has quite an interesting history but which is still made today. There is a fruit called the laraha citrus fruit which is similar to the Valencia orange. It was transplanted from Spain to Curacao in the Caribbean in 1527. However, on Curacao it did not grow like it did back in Spain, instead producing small hard bitter little fruits. However, it was discovered that an oil made from the dried peels retained some orange flavor along with variable amounts of bitters which were found to flavor a local alcoholic brew called Triple Sec. The current Curacao Triple Sec today is the only one which can claim the use of the original Curacao variety of laraha fruit.

This entire case is filled with what appears to be red Italian wines under the name Martin. Now there still is a wine dstributer operating in the United States. I don't know if this distributor put their labels on all these bottles of wine or not, or whether there was an Italian vintner  by this name at the time of Randolph Hearst and his big parties. We did see some Bordeaux in the cellar but were told these were empty bottles. The excellent wine in them had been consumed long ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mystery Photo 28: Clues

This lighthouse is located on the coast just a little north of our mystery Castle.
These fascinating animals beach themselves for several months a year, about 4 to 5 miles north of our mystery Castle.

This beautiful bay is very near our Castle that is Mystery Photo 28. The Bay is named after the rock that is seen
to the left of the photo. It is in the Pacific Ocean, well, I will tell you --- it is on the west coast of the US.

     These three photos should help you a great deal in locating the object of Mystery Photo 28. Let's see some answers. Want to play?