Weekly Photo Challenge: Autumn Nostalgia

Alabama dirt road

These photos may not be the most technically adept, but when I see them I’m always reminded of home. They bring back such vivid memories of fall in southern Alabama – football games, bonfires, snuggling with boys, laughing with girlfriends, baking with my mom and grandmas, and the start of the holidays. I’m immediately a teenager again and I can still feel that same confusing tug deep in my heart for some great unknown.

This week’s challenge is “nostalgia.”

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Mammoth Site, South Dakota

I recently discovered the Roadside America website/app (for iPhones) and it’s quickly become one of my absolute favorite references for finding weird/cool things/places to see/visit. While in South Dakota I took full advantage of my brother’s iPhone and we happened upon the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The Mammoth Site is both a museum and an active paleontological site. More than 26,000 years ago, large Columbian and Woolly mammoths were trapped and died in a spring-fed pond. For centuries the bones lay buried, until discovered by chance in 1974 during excavation for a housing development when earth moving equipment exposed a fossil. Luckily, the Mammoth Site was preserved and today it is the world’s largest Columbian mammoth exhibit and a world-renowned research center for Pliestocene studies. To date, 61 mammoths have been identified, along with the remains of a giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and numerous other plant and invertebrate fossils.

I thought the coolest part of this site was the fact that it is both a museum and working dig site. There are programs each summer when volunteers come to the site to work – all under the curious gaze of the visiting public. It made for a rare opportunity to see work in progress and to gain a better understanding of exactly how such site are run. And, honestly, I found it way more interesting to see the bones in situ vs in a more clinical museum setting.

One of the most amusing facts of the whole tour (for me anyway) was that so far, all of the mammoths found have been male. Apparently they just happened upon this nice little water hole, thought to go for a swim, then couldn’t climb back up the slippery sides. Kind of a sad story, but for some reason it just seems like a very male scenario (sorry guys).

Overall, I definitely found this place to be worth the price of admission and a few hours of your time. If you have kids, even better!

P.S. I apologize for photo quality – the lighting here was all over the place and I only had my cell phone (rookie mistake not bringing an extra battery for the SLR – oops!).

Mammoth Site, South Dakota, archaeology

This model was totally surreal – those bones are just SO big!

 

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Old Photos

I took these photos of these plate portraits of my couple-of-greats grandparents while I was home over the 4th. I found them absolutely fascinating – from the facial expressions to just how well they’ve held up over the years. They also give me a whole new appreciation of digital photography (and editing)!

This week’s topic is “older than 50 years.”


Cees BWPC Badge

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

One of the other sites on my list for this road trip to western South Dakota / eastern Wyoming was a visit to Devils Tower National Monument. The Monument was about a 2 hour drive from where we were staying in Rapid City, but the scenery made it well worth the effort. (smile)

Devils Tower is a butte in the Bear Lodge Mountains (which are a part of the Black Hills) in northeastern Wyoming. It rises quite suddenly almost 1,300 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit. The area was designated as a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt (beginning to see why he made the mountainside at Mount Rushmore) in 1906.

This site is considered sacred to the Lakota and many other tribes that have a connection to the area. Local tribal names for the butte include Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Daxpitcheeaasáao, “Home of bears” (Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota). The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devil’s Tower. All information signs in that area use the name “Devils Tower”, following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated.

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

According to the Kiowa legend, before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, “Rock take pity on us, rock save us!” The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears’ claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it – it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears’ claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock “Tso-aa”, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree. {Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.}

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

These “claw marks” form hundreds of parallel cracks which makes Devils Tower one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Hundreds of visitors each year make the climb up to the summit. (Can you find the climbers in the last two photos??)

I didn’t look at any photos prior to our journey to Devils Tower, so I had no idea what to expect. Seeing this massive butte rise out of the gently rolling hills of northeastern Wyoming was…magical. Seeing it grow as we came closer, I was struck by how odd and out of place this bit of rock was – and I can totally understand why it’s considered a sacred area.

We enjoyed beautiful sunshine during our hike around the butte. We spent some time watching the intrepid climbers and taking a hundred photos of the rock, trying to capture the mystical feel of the place. I don’t know if I succeeded in that personally, but it’s certainly a location I’ll never forget!

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

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Wind Cave National Park

I must admit, when I originally planned this little road trip through western South Dakota, I had no idea just how much there was to see and do. In addition to Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, there’s also nearby Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave National Park, cave

Wind Cave National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota near Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. Established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was the 8th National Park in the U.S. and first cave to be designated as a national park anywhere in the world!

Wind Cave National Park, cave

In 1881 Jesse and Tom Bingham were also attracted to the cave by the whistling noise of the air coming out of the cave. As the story goes, wind was blowing out of the cave entrance with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. A few days later when Jesse returned to show this phenomenon to some friends, he was surprised to find the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked into the cave. This change in movement of the wind is related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.

The cave is considered a three-dimensional maze cave, recognized as the densest (most passage volume per cubic mile) cave system in the world. It is currently the 6th longest cave system in the world with over 140 miles of explored cave passageways. An average of 4 new miles of cave are discovered each year (and if you find a new chamber, you get to name it!).

This maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave.

Above ground, the park includes the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs abound, so drive carefully and enjoy the view from a safe distance!

This was another park I was totally unaware of until we happened to see it on the map. Being a huge fan of caves, I made sure we saw this one! The tours are guided and the guides are very knowledgeable. It is a wet cave and there are a lot of stairs, so be aware of that before you sign up. Entrance to the park is free but the tours are available for a small fee. The boxwork is pretty phenomenal and make it well worth a visit – especially if you enjoy caves!

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Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

While we were in the area visiting Mount Rushmore (my bucketlist item), my dad wanted to check off one of his own must see places – Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota. It comprises approximately 244,000 acres (379 sq miles) of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the U.S. The area was established as a National Monument in 1939 and designated as a National Park in 1978.

Driving through the park you can spot bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs (who provide endless entertainment), and any number of birds. The park is also home to the black-footed ferret, once of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. In addition to these modern day animals, the park’s geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed this area.

I admit, I didn’t really know much about this park prior to our visit (I was too busy / excited learning about Mount Rushmore). However, it was a truly pleasant surprise, particularly given the name! There was wildlife everywhere and the colors were simply stunning. It’s a particularly interesting area in that when you’re driving towards it (at least from Rapid City), you seem to come upon this area all of a sudden. Compared to the rolling grasslands surrounding it, this area does indeed seem like “bad land.” But this park is living proof that there’s good to be had everywhere, even in the “bad.” 🙂

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Visiting Mount Rushmore

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

I’m not entirely sure where the fascination originated, but for the last few years Mount Rushmore has  been on the top of my bucket list. When we landed a project in eastern Wyoming, a mere hour or so away, I knew my time had come. So last month when I saw an opportunity to extend a work trip, I took it. My dad and brother (never ones to miss out on a road trip) joined me and together we set off to see the famous mountainside.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located amongst the Black Hills of South Dakota. It features the faces of four U.S. Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite of face of Mount Rushmore (hence the name). Construction of the memorial began in 1927 and ended in 1941. Although the original design called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, a lack of funding forced construction to end.  These four presidents were selected (so the story goes) to represent the first 130 years of American history because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory.

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

I did enough research prior to our visit to know that the Mount Rushmore Memorial was relatively small (covering approximately 2 miles total), but I did overhear some other visitors who seemed a bit surprised. The National Park Service, who is in charge of Mount Rushmore, has built a lovely entryway with gift shops, a cafeteria, etc. and there are a couple of trails that lead around the mountainside giving visitors different scenic views of the sculpture. There’s also the Sculptor’s Studio, featuring a display of unique plaster models and tools related to the sculpting, which looks really neat (it was sadly still closed during our visit – it opens in June).

Overall, I was quite satisfied with our visit. It truly is an amazing sight to see, particularly when you realize just how large the heads are (60 feet!). I found it to be a fascinating feat of engineering and quite patriotic! We spent an afternoon wandering around, enjoying the trails, and stalking the wildlife for photos (smile). We didn’t make it back for the night show where they turn on the lights and have a short program, but I hear it’s pretty spectacular. The ice cream, however, is a definite must for any visit (it’s made from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe)!

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

The memorial itself is free, but parking cost $11. Your parking pass is, however, good for a prolonged period of time in case you want to visit during the day and return at night for the lighting ceremony.

Life Lately: Birthday Edition

If I had to choose one word to describe life the last month, I’d probably go with hectic. I feel like I haven’t had time to breathe over the last six weeks and while some of that is self-inflicted, a lot of it has been beyond my control. It’s definitely been a push/pull, love/hate vibe. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to make some amazing memories though, so I’d say that overall the good outweighs the bad. (smile)

Morocco

The Morocco trip was amazing. Fabulous. Perspective-changing even. I learned a bit about photography, got to see and experience an amazing country, and (perhaps most importantly) remembered a few key things about myself. Namely, that I am always happiest when I’m out of my bubble. And really, isn’t that the best kind of trip?? I’ve been posting a few teaser photos here and there, but I will definitely be sharing more soon!

I had just enough time to re-adjust my time zones before my dad and grandma flew out for a long weekend. I was so excited that they were able to come out and explore! The Grand Canyon has been on Gran’s bucket list as long as I can remember, so to be able to take her there and see her face as she first walked up to the edge is a memory I will treasure forever. We had a busy few days, but I hope think know she had a great time. I will admit, though, that I was more tired after that adventure than Morocco. Keeping up manners around grandma is hard work! Just goes to show that I’ve become a total heathen I guess. (smile)

Marrakesh Morocco

Work has gotten so busy! I believe there was a time a few months ago when I was complaining about not being busy enough… I hope this is a good reminder to my future self to not jinx such things! It is nice to be busy again, but of course it comes right when I have other avenues I’d prefer to explore. That’s life I suppose… It just means I have less time with my Kindle and more time with the laptop!

Sedona, Arizona

Looking at my calendar the other day, I realized that it’s not reasonable to think about coming back to this space in any meaningful way this year (aka the next 6 weeks or so!!!). I think it’s better if I just continue on casually for a bit and come back with a fresh perspective in the new year. I’ve kind of enjoyed being a bit sporadic in my posting truthfully, but there’s also something to be said for a schedule! I am a land of contrasts. Ha.

Speaking of contrasts, the weather in Phoenix has finally reached perfection. This time of year is the reason I enjoy living here – it’s absolutely gorgeous! (Not to brag or anything…) I’ve been on a hiking kick lately and have really enjoyed marking a few peaks off my list. I recently discovered that Phoenix has an annual Summit Challenge and I’m hoping to participate next year (if I’m still here!). The idea is to climb a certain number of the local summits all in one day – so time to get training!

I’ve also been taking a lot of photos the past few months. I haven’t ever really considered a full time career in photography, but lately I feel it shaping into something more than recreational therapy. I started a shop of sorts, which has been fun, but I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to really make it more than a random page. I’m really excited to work with that space more as I try to figure out where all this is headed. No matter what, I want to keep it fun though – photography has been such a positive activity for me, I definitely want that to remain it’s priority.

In other news, today’s my birthday! It does not seem like it’s been a year already… People really weren’t kidding when they said time seems to speed up as you get older! I like to think I’ll get the hang of this adult-ing thing eventually. In the meantime, I’m breaking out the bike to pedal over to my birthday brunch and bottomless mimosas. Adult-ing can wait another day. 😉

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