Sunday, August 06, 2017

Absaroka Mountain Lodge

Despite calling for reservations 366 days in advance, all the rooms at the Old Faithful Inn were already booked up. Almost every lodge and hotel in the park were booked up by 8:00 am when I called. I was lucky to book three nights at Grant Village before everything got swallowed up. But we wanted to spend more than just three days at Yellowstone so we booked our first two nights at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge which is just a few miles from the East Entrance to Yellowstone.

It was a wonderful place, nestled in a narrow canyon with cliff walls that towered over each side of the grounds. After exiting the highway you cross what they called a creek but what was actually a raging mountain river. There is one lodge house that serves as a restaurant surrounded by very nice little cabins. Our cabin had two rooms and two bathrooms.

It was at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge where we had one of our most memorable experiences. We got there in the early evening and headed to the lodge which was right next to our cabin to eat a nice big dinner. After dinner Jackson traipses out of the lodge looking at the ground. He did not see the grizzly bear standing by our cabin, fifteen feet in front of him.

Kim and I were about ten feet behind Jackson when we saw the bear. A young looking bear, not a cub but probably about two years old according the lodge owner's later estimate, was right there. I yelled "JACKSON STOP!" Jackson stopped. The bear stood up on his hind legs. At that moment, the owner of the lodge who was also cooking happened to see the bear out his kitchen window and burst out. He placed himself between Jackson and the bear and thrust him back toward us and gestured for us to get inside. He waved his arms and the bear ran off into the forest next to the canyon walls.


From that moment on I carried my bear spray wherever we went.

The resort was very nice. We only stayed two nights and didn't spend much time there since we drove to Yellowstone each day. But they had bonfires each night and there were a lot of outdoor amenities that we didn't get to take advantage of. Our cabin had two rooms separated by a curtain and two bathrooms...a pretty posh cabin. I would highly recommend it if you can't get a spot in the park.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Custer State Park

We hadn't planned on stopping at Custer State Park while during our Rushmore trip. But some friends told us it was well worth a visit. They were right. Sylvan Lake is beautiful and weird. The Needles Drive through the park is a winding meandering road full of switchbacks and one lane tunnels. Many of the tunnels were built to provide views of Mount Rushmore in the distance. The drive is not for the faint of heart. Steep drop-offs and roads that actually make 360 degree turns appropriately called "The Pigtails" can really try the nerves. The amazing scenery is definitely worth it. Another place worth more than a day's visit. But we were glad to have had the time to spend there.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crazy Crazy Horse Monument

The Crazy Horse Monument often provokes skepticism. I've heard it derided as nothing more than a family fundraiser for the Ziolkowski family. I've heard people say they've returned twenty years later to the monument and haven't seen discernible progress. They've been working on the sculpture for fifty years and there is no end date in sight.

Still. It is a staggering achievement. And when you've seen the photos of progress from the beginning, it is astounding how far they've come. Finishing the face in 1999 was a big step. Seeing Crazy Horse's face really helps one envision the direction of the project. When you see it in person the scale of the thing blows your mind. It is much much larger than Mount Rushmore.  All four of Rushmore's heads could fit in just the head of Crazy Horse.

Now they could get this thing done much faster, if they accepted government assistance. The United States Government has offered assistance in the past and I have no doubt with taxpayer help this they could get done in twenty years. Right now there seems to be less than ten guys working on it at a time. I saw three or four working on it while we were there. The crew is small and the project enormous.

But they will not accept money from the United States Federal Government. That would defeat much of the point of the serve as a counterpoint to nearby Mount Rushmore...that these lands were Native American lands and if you're going to honor American presidents then you need to honor Native American leaders as well. And the Federal Government has a horrible record in keeping promises and treaties with Native American tribes. In fact, was there a treaty the U.S. Government ever honored or kept with the American Indians?

The museum at the base of Crazy Horse is extensive and impressive. The story of the family building the sculpture is fascinating. Korczak Ziolkowski was definitely a man possessed. His family is certainly not becoming wealthy off this project.

We ended spending half a day there. We rode a bus closer up to the base. We saw them jack hammering away on Crazy Horse's hand. We had a great time and definitely recommend paying the fee to get in. Ignore the naysayers who say to just stop on the side of the road to look at it for free. Go to the museum and visitor's center. Ride the bus up there. We really enjoyed the Crazy Horse Monument.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mount Rushmore

We finally got to South Dakota and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express in Keystone. I recommend staying in Keystone if you wish to spend any time at Mount Rushmore. Keystone is right in the center of the action, a mile or so from Rushmore and very close to Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Monument. Keystone is a bit tourist trappy but it's fun and our hotel was right around the corner from the main drag.

Our plan was only to spend two days in the area. But you could easily make it a longer vacation stop. There's lots to do and see. Helicopter tours, panning for gold, cave exploration...all kinds of stuff for kids and adults.

But our main objective was Mount Rushmore. I had seen it in 8th grade and yet I was still impressed. It's hip to say you were disappointed, that it wasn't as big as expected. I can't say that. It's massive and worth the trip. They've made major improvements to the base area since I visited back in the late 1980's. The observation area has been expanded and designed to spread the crowds out. The parking situation is much better with a multi-level garage system.

They have a newer trail called the Presidential Trail that takes you much closer to the sculpture since last I visited. The trail provides amazing close-up views of the four presidents. When you buy a pass to the monument, it's good for a year so you don't feel rushed (no pun intended) to move so quickly. We were able to leave and come back later in the evening for the night lighting of the presidents.

It is a bit surreal to drive up the highway and boom! there's four massive presidents looking down at you. Mount Rushmore is the ultimate American roadside attraction. We had built in a full day to visit so we checked out all the exhibits and various visitor centers at the base. We had a great time. I even enjoyed it more as an adult.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Detours in Nebraska

Last year when discussing our summer 2017 plans our son wanted really badly to see Mount Rushmore this summer. Both my wife and I had visited Mount Rushmore as kids. We decided that Rushmore would be the first leg of our summer vacation.

We decided to drive to give us more flexibility. Finding fights into Rapid City and then out of a town near Yellowstone was becoming too complicated. Getting rental cars to and from completely different locations was becoming a hassle.

So we drove. And drove. And drove some more. Our Dodge Durango was perfect for the trip and handled everything great.

We drove up north from Dallas through OKC and Wichita, hitting I-70 at Salina. We then shot north on US Highways at Hays, Kansas. We were going to sleep in Ogallala, Nebraska. As we were approaching a town called Alliance in Nebraska, my wife saw a sign for a roadside attraction called Carhenge. She said let's take the three mile detour and check it out.

I'm glad we did because Carhenge was pretty cool. Years ago, a Nebraska farmer had recreated England's famous Stonehenge with old cars. He had arranged them just like Stonehenge and painted them gray. This was worth stopping for. Talk about a classic American roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere! There were other sculptures on site as well, all made from old cars. Admission was free. We were all glad we made the unexpected stop.

We had packed picnic lunches and stopped at Chadron State Park in the Nebraska National Forest. Who knew that Nebraska had such beautiful topography. We drove up a small mountain (who knew Nebraska had mountains?) and ate lunch overlooking a fantastic forest. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip. That's one of the benefits of driving across America. You see all kinds of oddities and scenery not mentioned in the high tone tour books.

That first night we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Ogallala, although it was it's last night of operation as a Holiday Inn. A new Holiday Inn Express was set to open across the freeway and the old one was converting to the Lonesome Dove Lodge. Nonetheless we had a good night's rest before heading out the next morning for South Dakota.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Epic June

Yeah, it's been a few weeks since I last posted. End of the school year was the normal mad rush. Then in June I was only home for six days out of the thirty days of the month. And I'm leaving soon for another trip, this time to see family in Indiana and Oklahoma. 

On May 31st, I flew out for my annual trek to Salt Lake City to grade AP World History Exams. I was a Table Leader once again this year. This was my third year as a TL and tenth year (10!) to grade AP exams overall.

Had fun in SLC. This year the timing was fortuitous. The United States Men's National Soccer Team was in town to play a friendly against Venezuela. I got tickets several weeks in advance. I had seen a game at the Rio Tinto stadium, but to see the USA was something special. Back in 1993 I had actually spent some time in Venezuela so that experience made the match even more interesting. I still have a soft spot for Venezuela especially since they are going through so much turmoil.

The game ended a tie. The game experience was phenomenal. We had a lot of fun riding the train to the match. Super time.

I also once again made it to the top of Ensign Peak which overlooks Salt Lake City. It's quite a hike but well worth the view. I also saw it as high altitude training for our upcoming trip to Yellowstone.

I'll post soon about our epic trip to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. It was a busy month of June. But it was an amazing ride!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Buds

I had been looking for new earbuds for quite awhile. The stock earbuds that come with my iPhone weren't that bad. They just kept getting loose in the ear with any kind of head movement which lessened the sound quality considerably.

I didn't want to fork over a lot of cash, but I wanted some good quality earbuds. After several weeks of research and seeing lots of good reviews I decided to give Symphonized a shot. They were only $25 so it wasn't a huge risk. 

Three months later I can say I'm very pleased with these buds. I got the Symphonized NRG 3.0 Wood In-Ear Noise-isolating Headphones with Mic and Volume Control. 

They came with three sets (small, medium and large) of silicone earbud covers to customize the fit. I spent a week switching the three sizes out before finally going with the small set. The customizable covers allow you to determine which size best seals off the ear canal for best noise isolation.

It did take me a little bit to grow accustomed to the fit. I was used to loose fitting earbuds, which was the initial gripe I had with the Apple set. My first couple of Apple stock earbuds came with cheap foam covers that worked well enough for a time. They just didn't last long. And I could never find replacements at any store. And the last couple of stock sets didn't even bother with earbud covers. 

So the tight fit of the Symphonized buds, which does provide for better sound and less annoyance because they don't fall out, did take some getting used to. And after an hour or so they could be a little uncomfortable. But that soon went away as I grew used to them. The better sound quality is definitely worth it. Now these things seemed formed to my ear. 

Yeah, they're not as good as my big Audio-Technica studio cans. But for on the go purposes, they are fantastic. The wood frame really brings the best out of the sound. 

The official specs:
  • Natural Wood Housing for Better Bass Response and Acoustic Performance
  • Soft silicone ear buds provide a super comfortable, noise reducing fit
  • Built in Microphone
  • Gold-plated 3.5 mm audio jack for premium, no-loss sound connection to your audio device.               

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

End of the Line...

This week marks the last week that our son will play baseball for the Southside Bombers. He's got a game tonight and Thursday. Then he hangs up the cleats. After five seasons with the Bombers it will be bittersweet to say goodbye.

Jackson simply wants to try something new next fall and spring. He wants to take tennis and golf lessons. He also wants to continue with his piano lessons. And of course, basketball is a must. So something had to give and he was ready for a break from baseball.

Not sure if he'll come back to the game or not. He was becoming a pretty good fielder. And he regularly made contact at the plate...he just needed to work on hitting the ball out of the infield!

It's been a nice run and we had a good time with the Southside crew.

Monday, May 08, 2017


Back in college, in Oklahoma City, my buddies and I who dug jazz, used to hang out at an old record shop called Charlie's Rhythm and Blues. Charlie carried almost exclusively records and tapes, which by the mid-1990's were surpassed by CDs. So records stores were becoming more and more of a rarity.

We would go to Charlie's and hang out and talk jazz. Charlie had great stories about some of the giants of jazz and their visits to OKC. It was amazing to me that a place like Charlie's could stay in business, a real record store that focused on jazz, blues and R&B.

Last February, Charlie passed away at the age of 71 and many thought that would be the end of Charlie's Records. But I came across this article today in the Daily Oklahoman. Apparently Charlie's grandson is keeping the place open and carrying on his legacy.

It's nice to know some places are still around. I haven't been to Charlies in twenty years. May have to make a stop the next time I'm in Oklahoma City. I'm glad there's places keeping it real. I got good memories of that place.

HERE'S the article or direct your browser ->

Monday, May 01, 2017

May First

May 1st was chosen in the late 19th century to commemorate the contributions of workers and labor unions. The first day of May was chosen to remember the victims of the Haymarket Massacre. 

From Wikipedia: 

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square[2] in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.