Posts Tagged With: Black Hills

The Naming of Names

With all the bad publicity about the name of the team, it astonishes me that the Washington Redskins haven’t changed their name yet. Maybe the problem is trying to find a new name that won’t be received even more negatively than the old one. The Washington Politicians? The Washington Congress? Not likely to get high approval ratings.  The Washington Gridlock has a nice ring to it, though. There’s a hint of power and manliness about the Washington Filibusters. Or, if they want something ominous, meant to strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, how about the Washington Big Brothers?

It isn’t just sports teams. For several decades now, states and other governmental bodies have been working on changing place names that are offensive, historically inaccurate, or modern overlays of much older names. From McKinley to Denali National Park. From Custer Battlefield to Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.

But then there are other names that, oddly enough, no one seems to have a problem with. Like the Grand Tetons. There’s a name that would have been changed long ago if it were in English instead of French. Just try naming some mountains the “big breasts” today and see how far that gets you.

On second thought, though, maybe there’s another option, one that sports teams are already using. It’s based on the theory that, if you pay enough for the privilege, you can have your name on almost anything.

Instead of renaming, maybe the National Park Service should be looking at an untapped funding source—selling naming rights in the Grand Tetons National Park. “Maidenform Trail.” “Underwire Gulch.” “Lingerie Lake.” “Victoria’s Secret Uplift.” Since limited budgets are always a problem for national parks, there are possibilities here for a lot of support.

Then there are names that are certainly not offensive or inappropriate; they’re just boring. Like the Rocky Mountains. Really? Isn’t that a little obvious? Is it truly the best designation for some of the most spectacular scenery on the North American continent? If the person or persons who came up with that had been in charge, our maps would be full of designations like the Flat Plains, the Sandy Desert, or the Wet River.

Somebody should do something about that. They should look into options for something more dramatic. More descriptive. More exciting.

Like, say, the Black Hills.

Um. Well. Never mind.

Categories: Just For Fun, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Where does a 2000-pound buffalo play?

Anywhere he wants to. Or, as my 13-year-old grandson put it, "Any time a buffalo wants to go to the playground, he gets to be first in line at the slide."

This conclusion might not be scientifically researched, but it is based on personal observation.

On a 100-plus degree day in the Black Hills, we stopped at Legion Lake. I was sitting with my toes in the water on the opposite side of the small lake from the beach, which was crowded with shrieking, splashing kids. On the playground beyond the beach, a few more kids were playing on the swings and slides.

All at once, a hush fell over the swimming area. Well, not really. The noise level changed pitch a little, though. I looked up and saw the cause—a buffalo bull near the edge of the water. He had apparently just come out of the trees beyond the lake. Huge head bobbing with every ponderous step, he was striding toward the beach with the implacable air of a large critter who goes anyplace he damn well pleases.

Disregarding the lesser beings all around him, he marched across the grassy area between the beach and the playground equipment. The kids at the top of the slides and ladders stayed put. Most of the people on the beach, though, seemed unconcerned as they watched the buffalo go by just a few feet away. Most of the kids in the water kept right on shrieking and splashing.

Personally, I would have been dog-paddling for the far side of the lake like a Malamute out to win the Iditarod. On a hot day, a buffalo isn't going to stay out of the water just because he can't find a Speedo to fit him.

The bull got to the far side of the playground without running over any innocent out-of-state toddlers. By that time, a park ranger in a pickup had driven up to show the buffalo, "This beach ain't big enough for all of us, buddy." With some encouragement from the vehicle, the burly beach bully kept on moving and disappeared into the woods.

For a little while. About 20 minutes later, he was back, wading into the water a little way from the beach. No mere pickup was going to keep him from quenching his thirst.

Note to all Black Hills visitors: Those "Buffalo are dangerous" signs? They mean it. A buffalo is not a nice, gentle cow. (As a matter of fact, your average cow isn't a nice, gentle cow, either. Those soft brown eyes are deceptive.)

No wonder that Dr. Brewster M. Higley, who wrote the words to "Home on the Range" back in the 1870's, was willing to let the deer and the antelope play but preferred the buffalo to roam. If one happens to roam onto the beach or the playground, it's wise not to challenge his right to play wherever he wants to. Even when the chips are down, the buffalo is always going to win.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mispronouncing History

El Dorado. The city of gold. Like so many other explorers, we came close but just missed it.

The name actually translates as "the golden one." According to early Spanish writings, it came from a ritual among a South American Indian tribe where a chief covered in gold dust made offerings of gold objects to the gods.

This got the wealth-seeking Spanish conquistadores all excited, of course, and eventually "el dorado" came to be associated with any lost or rumored place of fabulous wealth. The Spanish never quite found it in South America, which didn't stop Coronado from trekking across a good portion of the American Southwest after it. He made it to central Kansas without finding any cities of gold.

Too bad he didn't have a chance to stop at his local AAA office and pick up a map, because there it was, plain as day. El Dorado, right there on Highways 54 and 77. Even with the map, though, we didn't quite reach it. We just saw the sign as we breezed past at 65 miles an hour, traveling in luxury Coronado could scarcely have imagined.

Of course, Coronado did have the disadvantage of being consistently misled by local people who kept telling him the city of gold was just a little farther down the road. They were smart enough to encourage the demanding and militant Spaniards to move along and become somebody else's problem.

In a way, the locals are still misleading travelers. Not with any inhospitable intent, I'm sure. But we might have had trouble finding El Dorado had we relied on the waitress in Wichita who mentioned it. According to her, it was "El Do-RAY-do."

This regional pronunciation shouldn't really have come as a surprise. The previous day we had breakfasted in Beatrice, Nebraska, which everyone in the state knows is "Be-AH-trice" rather than the conventional "BEE-a-tris" or the pretentious Italianate "Bey-a-TRAY-chay."

Later in our trip we encountered Chickasha, Oklahoma, which an unaware northern traveler might assume to be pronounced "Chick-a-shaw," had she not been informed by someone more familiar with the region that it was "Chick-a-shay." Come to think of it, given the spelling, that makes more sense anyway.

We also spent a day in Lamesa, Texas, presumably named for the "mesa" or flat tableland on which it's located. Nevertheless, it's pronounced "La-mee-sa" with fine disregard for the original Spanish that would have it "La-may-sa."

In the end, the joke was on Coronado, who trekked across this country without ever knowing that it was indeed full of gold. It was just black gold rather than yellow, the kind that's now being taken out of the ground by hundreds of pump jacks.

It is interesting to speculate on how history may have been different had the Spanish made it far enough north to discover gold in the Black Hills. If they had, the capitol of South Dakota might be pronounced "Cor-a-nay-do" instead of "Peer."

Categories: Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall and Flying Objects

Why do so many more jet trails show up in the sky this time of year? I'm sure there's a good scientific explanation based on such factors as air temperatures and winds aloft, the refraction of the light based on the angle of the sun, and other things about which I don't have a clue.

I could look it up, I suppose, or ask someone who took more science classes than I did and probably paid more attention during them. Or I could just enjoy the patterns of the white streaks against the blue autumn skies, and let it go at that.

It's been a beautiful fall in the Black Hills this year, and we've appreciated it all the more because last year we didn't really get one. October started out with snow and bitter cold, which caught many of us unprepared in matters of snow tires, storing garden hoses, and getting out flannel sheets. Even worse, it caught the trees while the leaves were still green, so the fall colors consisted of brown, brown, and brown. This year, though, the trees got to dress up in their best yellows, reds, and golds. Mild days and crisp nights allowed the leaves to stay on display for a long time before they let go and flew to the ground.

Autumn also brings some less appealing flying objects. Our house has been full of flies and wasps. As far as I can tell, they hatch out somewhere inside the window sills, where they become trapped between the window and the screen. Sometimes they crawl around in there, buzzing and bumping up against the glass, until some kind soul can't stand their noise any more and opens the window to let them out.

Sometimes they slip under the edge of the screen into the house, where they buzz back and forth until they collapse on the dining room table. There they lie on their backs, legs kicking faintly, buzzing intermittently like a toy whose battery is giving out, until they expire.

I am not unsympathetic. I don't kill these innocent creatures wantonly or maliciously. At the same time, I don't really feel it's my responsibility to rescue them when they crawl across the kitchen faucet, ignoring my efforts to shoo them away, until they slip and fall into the dishwater and drown.

Compassion and understanding, however, were not my first reactions the other day when a wasp got caught in my hair. I could feel it crawling around in there, buzzing frantically much too close to my ear, and after trying to shake it out and brush it out with my fingers I made a dash for the bathroom to grab my hairbrush and brush it out before it stung me.

The other night at bedtime was the last straw. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and there on the floor was the biggest spider I had ever seen. (Well, except for the tarantulas at Reptile Gardens, which don't count as they are safely behind glass instead of in the middle of my bathroom.) This one was huge and thick and black.

For an instant I stood frozen, trying to decide whether to step on the spider, run for the flyswatter, or just screech. That instant gave me a chance to take a closer look at the terrifying critter.

It was a plastic hair clip. Never mind.

Categories: Just For Fun, Wild Things | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rocky Mountain High

How pathetic is it to be hiking in the mountains and be overtaken by a three-year-old girl in pink plastic shoes? Not only was she forging steadily onward and upward in her little Crocs—the backless kind, yet—but she kept talking the whole way without needing to pause for breath.

In our defense, we had to stop and rest several times because one member of our group wasn't feeling well. Another extenuating circumstance was that we were hiking at 10,000 feet. (The little girl, I'm sure, lives at that elevation.) Living in the Black Hills, I tend to think of myself as dwelling at altitude. Since our house in the foothills is at about 3500 feet, however, and since the highest point in the Hills, Harney Peak, is a modest 7242 feet, I guess I don't live quite as elevated an existence as I might like to think.

But we were on this steep, boulder-strewn trail for a higher purpose than to feel competitive with tots in Crocs. We were there to see St. Mary's glacier, which must be the smallest glacier in the world. It looked like a dirty snowdrift lying for about 100 feet along the side of a mountain. Not exactly spectacular, perhaps, but still worth the hike.

Going back down was much faster than the climb up; we even passed the little girl this time. Of course we were much too elevated—in the spiritual rather than the alpine sense—to feel at all superior about it. We had places to go, things to see, and other mountains to climb.

To drive up, anyway, on what is billed as the highest paved road in North America. It hugs the side of Mt. Evans for about 14 miles, two just-barely-adequate lanes with no shoulders and no room for sissified frills like guardrails. The steep drop-offs were awe-inspiring in more than one sense. I tried hard to believe our driver when he claimed he kept his eyes open the whole way.

We saw a mountain goat, only a few feet from the road, who paid no attention to the visitors taking his picture. He was too busy stocking up on calories for the winter ahead. From the thickness of his coat, he was well prepared for the cold weather to come.

At the edge of the tree line we got to walk through a stand of bristlecone pines, some of them 2000 years old. With their stubby wind-twisted branches, gnarled trunks, and scant bark, they're an amazing example of endurance through minimalist living.

The last stretch of the road was closed for the season, so we didn't make it to the 14,000-foot summit. The glacial lake at 12,000 feet, however, was still well above the tree line and was rewarding enough. The views were magnificent: aspens glowing golden in the sunlight, a shimmer of snow across the steep side of the summit, and a panorama of neighboring mountains. I needed a thesaurus to find other words for "spectacular," "awesome," and "wow."

Even the grandest of views, of course, can't make one forget indefinitely about the more mundane needs of life. As I approached the women's toilet, someone who was just coming out said, "I'm not the one who was smoking pot in there."

I believed her—just as I hope the next woman in line believed me when I said the same thing to her. But from the overwhelming reek of marijuana, someone certainly had been indulging in there. With acres of rocky slopes and ridges to disappear behind, her choice of a smoking site didn't make much sense.

Actually, it made no sense, in that marvelous spot near the top of the world, to smoke anything at all. Lock yourself in a toilet for a furtive joint? Or enjoy a magnificent view on a perfect October day? Only one of those is a real Rocky Mountain high.

Categories: Living Consciously, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Fair Skipping the Q

If you're going to entertain yourself on a trip across western South Dakota by finding the alphabet (in order, and no cheating by skipping the Q) on billboards, I'd suggest starting well east of Kadoka.

That's assuming you're traveling from east to west. Going west you're heading toward the Black Hills, with its tourist attractions eager to catch the attention of I-90 travelers. Going east, don't bother with the game, because the billboards are so sparse that between one and the next you'll forget which letter you're looking for.

The challenge of the billboard game, of course, is finding the rarer letters: X, Z, and the infamous Q. The X (as in "exit") isn't a problem along the Interstate. The Z is rarer but not impossible, thanks to the CraZy Horse carving and occasional other amaZing attractions. Q can be more of a problem; thank goodness for Quick stops, antiQues, and Quiet campgrounds.

The hardest letter to find here, surprisingly, is J. This is why it's important to start east of Kadoka, where there is a sign advertising the Flying J truck stop near Rapid City. (Back when it was a Conoco, J's were really scarce.) For the discerning, there is also an inconspicuous J near the bottom of a billboard at the Kadoka off ramp. If you miss either of these, you might as well start hoping someone passes you in a Jeep.

During a recent trip across the western half of the state, I noticed quite a few new or freshly painted billboards for Black Hills tourist attractions. Based on this as an informal indicator of economic health, South Dakota is doing well.

I do have a few suggestions, though, for tourism businesses. As long as they're refurbishing billboards, how about making a few additions? Wall Drug could advertise its Zany cowboy Quartet and Quirky back alley and let us know the roaring T-Rex will make us Quiver in our flip-flops. The 1880 Town could add a Quick-draw contest. Reptile Gardens could promote its Jumping cockroaches and Jungle flowers—or maybe they could add a Jaguar or a Zebra.

You may think by now that I am a fan of billboards. Not so much. I do think they have their place—which probably includes the long stretch of Interstate across western South Dakota.

Still, creative travelers don't need billboards to entertain themselves. My daughter used to keep herself occupied by counting road kill, which she wrote down in a notebook under various categories: pheasants, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, and UFO's (Unidentified Flat Objects).

Even someone who likes billboards might have to admit that there are way too many of them along the last few miles east of Exit 61 as you approach Rapid City. The road is littered with billboard after bigger billboard after enormous billboard, flashing lighted ads, and such an ugly clutter of signage that you can hardly find the exit. It isn't exactly the best way to welcome travelers to the beautiful Black Hills.

It reminds me of a parody by my favorite poet, Ogden Nash:

I think that I will never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

Maybe some of the Exit 61 signs could be removed and spread out along I-90 eastbound. Only, of course, if they have plenty of Q's, Z's, and J's.

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

By Any Other Name

When I was 12 or so, my family received a wedding invitation from a relative who lived in Rapid City. The reception was to be held at the Pretty Pines Party House.

Since we didn't go to the wedding, I never had a chance to see the inside of the Pretty Pines Party House. Still, I always remembered the name just because it was so annoyingly cute. Years later, when I moved to the Black Hills, I drove past the place and was amused to see what a plain building sat behind the silly name.

One of the problems with "Pretty Pines Party House" is too much alliteration. Like eyeliner or garlic, alliteration works best when applied in moderation. Its repeated sounds ought to flow gracefully, not belabor you about the head and shoulders with repeated blows.

Speaking of blows about the head and shoulders, how about that hockey team? At the local game we attended this year, the Rapid City Rush played the Amarillo Gorillas. Our team—not that I'm prejudiced or anything—has a well-chosen name. It combines a bit of alliteration with an implication of power and speed that also serves as a nod to Mount Rushmore.

The Gorillas? Not so much. Just try saying "Amarillo Gorillas" two or three times. It doesn't quite work. Not, at least, for a Yankee tongue, which wants to say "Amarillo Garillos." Of course, in Texas, there isn't a problem. The local pronunciation for the town is "Amarilla," which rhymes quite nicely with "Gorilla."

I wonder why they didn't name the team the "Amarillo Armadillos." It abounds with alliteration. Better yet, it's trilingual alliteration. It flows smoothly off the tongue, no matter which language you use. In English it's "Amarillo Armadillos," in Spanish it's roughly "Amareeyo Armadeeyos," and in Texan it's "Amarilla Armadillas."

Given the padding that hockey players wear, it seems to me the well-armored armadillo would be a perfect mascot. I suppose, though, a gorilla has a tougher image.

I ought to understand that perfectly well from high school, where our teams were the Gregory Gorillas. When girls' sports were started not long after I graduated, they were called (unfortunately, I am not making this up) the "Girl-illas." Now they are the "Lady Gorillas," which at least has the virtue of being oxymoronic rather than just moronic.

It does, however, raise the question of why the boys' teams aren’t correspondingly called the "Gentleman Gorillas." Gender equality and alliteration at the same time—it should be an unbeatable combination.

But back to the Pretty Pines Party House. It's still there and still a place for parties, just under a different name. Now, as the "Buck & Gator," it's a biker bar.

Categories: Just For Fun, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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