Must See List, Revisited

Several months before I left on my trip, I made my Must See List. The places on this list were places that I felt I had to see. Now that I’ve seen them all, which ones were worth it?

Arms Stretched1. Grand Canyon

This was a highlight of my trip, and is consistently one of the first things I bring up when people ask about my adventures. However I can’t separate visiting the Grand Canyon from hiking all the way to the bottom and back. And I can’t separate the hike from being there with my sister, which was a huge part of what made it so fun. So I can’t tell you whether or not a simple trip to the edge of the Grand Canyon would be worth it. I can tell you that pairing up with a good friend and doing something you weren’t sure you were capable of is a definite must-do.

2. Niagara Falls

If for no other reason, I’m glad I saw Niagara because I was finally able to correct my childhood picture of the place. When we’re little we often get an image of famous places in our minds, and so long as nothing directly contradicts them, the images stay. It’s strange to think one could have a false image of Niagara. There are so many photos and videos and scenes from movies. But I had somehow managed to turn everything about 90 degrees clockwise, and switch the Canadian and American sides. Now that the mental image has been righted, Niagara seems like a real place, and less like a something I saw in a dream.

3. San Francisco, CA

I’ve always been told I’d love San Francisco, and I did. I had a great time there. It reminded me a lot of Seattle. Too much, it seems, as part of the charm was lost in its familiarity. I suppose it’s nice to know that if I ever had to move, there’s another Seattle out there waiting for me.

Alabama Theater4. The Deep South

Perhaps in my head I thought I’d find myself driving along a dusty road and happening upon an old general store with hillbillies on the porch. While I’m sure such places exist, my time in the South was more nuanced than that. It wasn’t what I was hoping to find, though it was exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping to find a dynamic and interesting landscape on which to set future fictionalizations. However what I was looking for was a perception of the South that wasn’t based on movies and books. I was looking for some deeper truth that’s harder to swallow and harder to sell. That’s exactly what I found.

5. Roswell, NM

I suppose I saw Roswell as a sort of X-Files pilgrimage. I had to see it to pay homage to a younger version of me, a girl who loved the paranormal and the mysterious. I’m not sure I could recommend it as an important stop for anyone without a similar past.

6. Memphis, TN

I honestly can’t remember why I had to see Memphis. It’s a famous city, I suppose. Graceland, perhaps. Or maybe I just wanted to to hear Walking in Memphis where it was meant to be heard.

7. Glacier National Park

I was very excited about Glacier, and I had the whole trip to look forward to it. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see most of the park due to bad weather and a rockslide. While I enjoyed my trip and what I saw was lovely, I don’t really feel like I’ve been to Glacier National Park yet. I’m hoping to plan another trip to Glacier this summer or next, maybe with my boyfriend and my parents.

Entrance Sign8. The Oregon Vortex

I can’t justify telling others that they must see the Oregon Vortex. I do feel that everyone should see AN Oregon Vortex. What I didn’t realize before this trip was that these supposed “vortices” and “mystery spots” are all over this country. Most Americans are probably less than a four hour drive from one. They’re weird little tourist traps, and you don’t have to believe in them to have fun. Just come with a smile on your face an enjoy nature’s magic show.

With all that said, I thought it was time for an updated Must See List. So here it is – a few places I went to that I think everyone should get a chance to see:

1. Arcadia National Park (specifically a sunrise from Cadillac Mountain)

2. National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD

3. Crater Lake National Park

4. Mountain View, Arkansas (be sure to drop by on a summer weekend to hear the musicians playing all over town)

5. National Holocaust Museum

6. Yellowstone National Park

7. Savannah, GA

8. Highway 61 along the Mississippi River

Moonshine Gulch, Part Three

Snack BarA man walks into the Moonshine Gulch Saloon in bike shorts, and two friends quickly join him. I don’t know how long they’ve been riding, but I know Rochford isn’t near anywhere else so it must have been a while. All three men order a beer, which seems like a strange choice to me. I’m not a fan of beer anyway, but I can’t imagine having one in the middle of a long bike ride.

I sit and enjoy my Dr. Pepper as Betsy busies herself around the bar. The bicyclists have all opted to sit out front on the porch, but I think she still feels the need to get back to work now that she’s got more customers than just me. There’s a police scanner on in the background. I hear them say that a woman has been getting calls from a man in Deadwood. He’s claiming she owes him money on a car and is threatening to come down. She’s at the post office waiting to make a report.

Time passes and one by one the bicyclists come back inside, each ordering a second beer and returning to the porch. As Betsy gets their drinks I start to examine the wall behind the bar. In addition to being a saloon, Moonshine Gulch is something of a general store. At least, a general store for non-perishables. On one side there are tins of spam, bottles of ketchup, cans of fruit cocktail, and just-add-water chow mein. On the other side are snack-sized bags of chips and several rows of candy bars. There are sandwich bags full of in-shell peanuts that were clearly divvied up by Betsy herself. Of course you can also buy boxes of sandwich bags.

In addition to the food, the back of the bar is covered in pieces of paper spouting cliches and political opinions, like “Who you hang with in life is who you are,” and “I’ll keep my money, my freedom, and my guns and you can keep the CHANGE.” They’re the kind of thing the old man at the hardware store might repeat to you with a laugh. “We ain’t everybody’s cup of sunshine.” Maybe something you’d read in a chain email from 1998. “It’s not the edge of the world, but you can see it from here.” Nearly every phrase is hand-written, indicating these truisms are spouted nightly by the bar’s patrons.

A set of six bikers ride in from Minnesota. The first one walks up to the counter while the others are still removing their gear. He looks at the menu and the beers and decides to get an ice cream sandwich. Betsy walks around the front of the counter to get to the back room, and she emerges holding a single ice cream sandwich. As the first man pays two more enter. They see his sandwich and decide to order the same. Again Betsy walks around the counter to get to the back room, and comes out with two more sandwiches. Just as she’s arrived the last three bikers enter, and all opt for ice cream sandwiches. I am the only one who sees the humor as Betsy goes to the back room for a third time.

Everybody SmileThe bikers join the cyclists outside, and I say my goodbyes to Betsy. She tells me it’s a shame I couldn’t come by on a Sunday afternoon when people gather in town to play music. I tell her about Mountain View in Arkansas, where they play in the park every night. The bicyclists come back in briefly to order another round, and I walk out of the dingy darkness and into the bright South Dakota sun. I turn around to take a picture of the bar, and both sets of riders smile at me.

I recommend you stop by Moonshine Gulch when you have the chance, even if it’s not for many years. I imagine they’ll still be there. Like the scrap of paper says,

“Here today and probably tomorrow.”

Moonshine Gulch, Part Two

Betsy and the Mop GirlBetsy Harn is wearing three pairs of glasses. The frames on her face are pale pink, and propped up on her head are a set in dark, reddish brown. She has a third pair tucked into the front of her shirt. Her hair is curly and blonde, but turning equal parts grey and brown at the roots.

“Can I help you?” she asks, as though I must be lost. I tell her about the woman I met in Rapid City, and how she told me to visit Moonshine Gulch. Betsy is astonished.

“I didn’t know anyone told anyone to come here,” she says. “Well, what can I getcha?”

I order a Dr. Pepper so I’ll have a reason to hang around. I sit at the bar next to where Betsy has planted herself. The whole place is dark. It has that cold glow all bars have when the sun is bright outside. She gets my drink and we chat for awhile. She tells me she’s making some soup in the back for her own lunch, and asks if I’d like any. I suddenly realize it’s been hours since I’ve eaten, and I tell her I’d love some. As she’s getting the soup I notice that there are hundreds of baseball caps nailed to the ceiling directly above me, and a collection of dollar bills covering the ceiling a few feet away. The chandelier is made from an old wagon wheel, and there’s an upright piano in the corner. The walls are covered with photos and tin cans and leopard print bras. One side of the room has a fire place and the other side has a wood burning stove, though I can’t tell if they’re for use or for show. There’s an old border collie at my feet which is never acknowledged and never moves.

Dog in MoonshineBetsy comes out with my soup. Despite assuring me that it is just something she put together and not an item off the menu, she’s still dressed it up like a restaurant dish and added a side of crackers. The two of us sit together at the bar eating our soup while she runs through the phone book. Betsy has a property in Edgemont, a town 70 miles away. She recently got some squatters out of her building, but they broke a 6 ft window and she doesn’t think she can fix it herself. She’s going through the phone book and calling nearby towns, looking for someone who can handle a window that size. As I listen to her conversations I find out that the property is an old church, which she explains to people as being “across from the bar.” I flashback to my childhood vacations in Montana.

Betsy and I aren’t the only ones in Moonshine Gulch Saloon. There’s another woman who’s been moping the floor the entire time. She reminds me of Megan Cavanagh in A League of Their Own. She’s short, round, and quiet, with red hair pulled into a side braid. Her stature is slumped and her eyes are wide and beautiful. They’ve got that big, quiet brightness of eyes that don’t know their own worth.

“This mop’s about had it, Betsy,” she says, “I’m picking up strings.” She takes a few of the gray, old pieces of mop off the floor and sets them on the counter next to me. I finish my soup and Betsy still hasn’t found anyone who can replace a six foot window.

Piano in the Corner“It seems like there ought to be an easier way to look up businesses when you don’t know their name,” she sighs.

“I thought businesses in the phone book were already organized by type.” There’s uncertainty in my voice. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to use a phone book.

“Yeah, but not everyone can afford to be in the phone book,” she says. This is news to me.

Having given up on finding anyone for now, Betsy tells me more about life in Rochford. She says they get a lot of bikers driving through on day rides out of Sturgis. When they turn south out of town, the locals take bets on how long it will be before the riders come back, since the pavement ends just down the road. Betsy and her mop woman are the only two people I’ve seen in the last two hours, and I’m intrigued at the prospect of seeing other locals.

“How many people live in town?” I ask.

“In town? Nine,” she says, “And it’s three too many if you ask me.”

Moonshine Gulch, Part One

I’d only had a smart phone for two months before I left on my trip. I made the upgrade specifically to help with my travels, and it was a real lifesaver. After three months on the road, I had become confident in, and dependent on, my little iPhone to see me through the toughest times. It told me what to do in a thunderstorm and how long before the current traffic would break up. I could ask Siri where the nearest wifi was when I needed to stop and do some writing.

But there are still inhabited places in this country that no cell phone can reach. Case in point: Moonshine Gulch.

The recommendation had come from Barb, the friend of the mother of the girlfriend of my Couchsurfing host in Rapid City. She told me the wildflowers near Deerfield Lake were lovely, and that I should visit Moonshine Gulch. In hindsight I probably should have asked for specifics. For example, “What is Moonshine Gulch?” would have been a helpful inquiry. But in my mind I was sure it was a geographic feature, probably part of a state park.

Deerfield LakeI was about 20 minutes out of Hill City when the map on my phone stopped loading. I could still see the little dot representing where I was, but I could no longer zoom and I couldn’t pull up any new directions. I was smack dab in the center of Black Hills National Forest, and there was no signal. I managed to find Deerfield Lake without much trouble, mostly due to the fact that it sits right on Deerfield Road. After taking in the simple beauty of the lake, I pulled out my computer to look at the Google Maps screenshot I’d taken the day before. The screenshot was only meant to be a reminder of where to go next, not a replacement for real directions. It didn’t include any specific roads and was zoomed out too far to show details. I stared at the map on my computer, then at the roads leading away from the lake. Without directions on the computer or signs on the roads, all I had to go on was angle and proportion. I made a choice and started to drive. I made another choice and continued to follow the shape on the map. I ended up on a dirt road, which is my least favorite place to be when traveling alone. I kept going.

Rochford ChapelA half hour went by before I found pavement again. There were a couple of old houses and a lot of grass. By now I figured I had to be near my destination. I drove slowly past the houses, trying to find a sign that pointed to Moonshine Gulch. I turned the corner and came upon a spot where one road created a T-junction with another. There were about five buildings and it was the closest thing to a town I’d seen in miles. I saw a large sign on one of the buildings for the “Moonshine Gulch Saloon.” I figured I must be close to the gulch if there were businesses named after it. I started driving down one of the roads away from town and found a park. I figured it was the place I was looking for, but a brief exploration proved it was not. I went back towards town and took the only other road out. I passed by a chapel and not much else. I turned back.

Rochford AntlersIn the center of town there was a small building labeled the Rochford Mall, with the caption “The Small of America” on the side. I parked my car and walked up to it hoping for a friendly store owner, but the shop was closed. There didn’t seem to be anyone or anything around. The chapel sign had referred to Rochford as well, so I knew that’s where I had to be. I turned back to face the saloon again. It had the false front of an old-timey building and a soft drink machine on the porch with an outdated Dr. Pepper logo on it. A Miller Lite banner declared “Welcome Bikers.” I read the main sign again in my head: Moonshine Gulch Saloon.

This was the place I was looking for.

Crazy Horse Dreams

I first saw the Crazy Horse Memorial when I was nine years old. I was on vacation with my grandparents, and we went to it right after seeing Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse is only a few minutes from Rushmore, and is intended as a mountain memorial to the great Crazy Horse, the war leader who lead the Lakota people to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I remember being so excited as a little kid. Mount Rushmore was a permanent symbol of the greatness of the past. It represented the hard work of men from decades before my time, most of whom were long dead. But Crazy Horse was a mountain in progress. I imagined being an old woman and taking young kids to go see it. I would tell them about the day I first laid eyes on crazy horse, and how back then only a bit of the face and arm had been completed. They would marvel in the way that little kids do, amazed that I could remember something so far in the past. Visiting Crazy Horse, I felt like a part of history.

I was excited to come back and see it again 18 years later. I was excited to see how it had changed. I hoped that the visitor’s center was still laid out in roughly the same way, so I could remake photos that I had taken as a child.

Posing with Crazy HorseI paid my entrance fee at the gate and drove up to the parking lot. From the lot a person can get their first glimpse of the mountain, and that’s where I got mine. My heart sank. It looked exactly the same. Though work had been going on the whole time, the progress was virtually undetectable. I was filed with shame. The white presidents had their mountain made in less than 15 years, but Crazy Horse was permanently stalled. Where were the funds to remember the people who were here first? No where, it seemed. No one cared about Crazy Horse.

I went into the Visitor’s Center to see the collection of local Native American artwork, and to watch the introductory video. The video told the story of one man, Korczak Ziolkowski, who started the project in 1948. When he first began his work, Ziolkowski was completely alone. He built a log cabin near the mountain to live in, and constructed over 700 wooden stairs to get him to the top of the mountain to begin blasting. He worked alone for years before marrying a much younger woman and having 10 kids. The whole family became involved in the project.

Ziolkowski’s wife was interviewed for the video, and mentioned how he had been offered federal funds of more than $10 million on two occasions, but turned them both down. “He believed you don’t stand around with your hand out waiting for the government to give you money.” I did some research online later that suggested he was also suspicious that any federal money would mean federal control, and he didn’t want to risk his larger vision.

The full plan of the Crazy Horse Memorial was something my nine-year-old brain had tuned out. You can see the grand idea in a series of scale models inside the visitor’s center. In the shadow of the great mountain they hope to construct a university campus, a medical center, and a museum. The visitor’s center already includes the museum’s introductory artifacts, but one look at the site plans and you can see how huge the sculpture’s dream really was.

Master PlanI don’t mean to mock Ziolkowski’s belief in private enterprise, but it’s hard to see something remain stagnate for so long knowing the funding was there all along. The great monument to Crazy Horse looks no different now than it did 18 years ago. I even checked my memory against old photos in the gallery to be sure. While Ziolkowski is long gone, his wife, his children, and so many individuals who have become passionate about the project are forced to fight for it, and fight for it using his ideals. Outside of the occasional wealthy philanthropist, the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation must raise all its money through ticket sales and gift shop purchases.

Before leaving Crazy Horse I bought a souvenir shot glass – my small donation to the cause. Perhaps the lesson I was supposed to take away from Crazy Horse is that sometimes worthwhile work outlives those who know it to be worthwhile. At the current rate, it’s unlikely that anyone working on Crazy Horse today will live to see it’s completion. Like the pyramid builders, they must have faith that future generations will benefit from their efforts.

As I walked out the door I saw a small, laminated sign printed out on plain printer paper. It was given a place of honor right under the sign that says, “Push.” It proclaimed the line Ziolkowski is most well known for, and the one true take away visitors get at Crazy Horse:

Never Forget Your Dreams

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