This Open Road

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Americana Road Trip: Day Three and Four

The final episode of the Americana Road Trip…!

Day 3: Hill City to Deadwood 

Before we made our debut visit to Sturgis, we explored Mt. Rushmore.


Mt. Rushmore and the Avenue of Flags.

Mt. Rushmore is an icon of America, a massive sculpture featuring four U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Detailed information can be found here and here.

It was constructed between 1927 and 1941, cost $989,992 to build and required the labor of over 400 employees who worked for $8.00 a day under very dangerous circumstances (none of the workers died during the construction). A good friend once told me how her grandparents, who knew someone connected to the project, had once stood on the scaffolding that was attached to the monument while it was being constructed.

Some great early photos can be seen on the NG site:


In the rock behind Lincoln’s head is a vault called the Hall of Records. It was partially constructed in 1938-39, but was never completed. In 1998 park personnel decided to use the vault for which is was intended by the designer and lead sculptor of Mt. Rushmore (Gutzon Borglum): a repository for the texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as other documents and literature. These records were sealed within the vault, never to be removed. It is not open to the public and cannot be seen from any standing vantage point, but only from an aerial perspective.



Colorado represented on the Avenue of Flags.


The names of the men who worked on the monument.

The names of the men who worked on the monument.


KRC and the model for Mt. Rushmore.


Profile view of Washington, from outside the park.


I was impressed. After seeing so many pictures of Mt. Rushmore, it seemed I had already been there. But there was so much more to it than I knew existed. With Rushmore on the books, we were ready for Sturgis!


Boots, black leather and Harley Davidson bikes. Suddenly, we were a part (in our non-conforming, rented mini-SUV) of the 74th Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, otherwise known simply as Sturgis, the name of the small town in South Dakota (pop. 6,883) which hosts the annual event.

Even though this wasn’t part of the original plan and neither of us know much about motorcycles, there was no way we were going to pass up a chance to experience this HOG extravaganza!

The roads were packed throughout the Black Hills.

The roads were packed throughout the Black Hills.


Miles of bikes lined the streets. You can hear the chaos from there.

Miles of bikes lined the streets. Yep, it was loud. All the time.




Seemed there were as many vendors as there were motorcycles.

Seemed there were as many vendors as there were motorcycles.


Hell's Angels wearing khaki Dickies was an unexpected site.

Hell’s (or Hells) Angels wearing khaki Dickies was an unexpected site.



No leather, but we actually fit in rather well. Maybe.

We had a great time for about two hours. Then our internal alarms went off and we were suddenly exhausted. We accepted our Sturgis rookie status and split.


Our next destination was Deadwood, SD. In the late 1800s, Deadwood was known has a wild and rough Western town that attracted prospectors hoping to find gold in the streams that cut through the steep hills. In this century it became famous again, in large part, due to the HBO series, Deadwood, which portrayed historical characters such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Charles Utter, and Seth Bullock.

After our trip I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in Deadwood for a year in the late 1930s. They had told family members about a local character named Potato Creek Johnny, who paid kind attention to my uncle who was a baby at the time. Apparently, Potato Creek Johnny was rather well-known, based on this article.

We were excited to be in Deadwood, but first we needed lodging. We didn’t have any problem getting a hotel room in Hill City and were hoping the situation would be the same here.

Arriving in town, we began calling hotels and soon realized this would not be easy. Over 400,000 people were riding around the Black Hills, all needing accommodations. One local hotel had a room available but we’d have to pay “rally prices,” which was way too much.

We pulled off the narrow two-lane road to assess our situation. We were tired and felt like we’d ridden our Harleys in our black leather from the other side of the country. While pondering the options, we noticed a non-descript mom-and-pop hotel across the road from where we were parked. Weirdly, there was not a “No Vacancy” notice.

KRC called. In the most serendipitous event of our trip yet, we got a room. Just before we called, someone had canceled their reservation due to being in an accident (the person was okay, but had to go home). The proprietor wanted to fill the room and offered it to us at a huge discount. She asked how soon we could be there because she wouldn’t be able to hold it long. KRC told her we were right across the street. Two minutes later we were handing her a credit card.

Could not believe our luck, getting a room in Deadwood. Crossing that road was the hardest part.

Could not believe our luck. Crossing that road was the hardest part.

NOW there's no vacancy!

NOW there’s no vacancy!

Lodging secured, we headed to town.


No horses anymore, just hogs.


The saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall.

The saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot by Jack McCall. KRC is a big fan of the TV series and was excited to see locations portrayed in the show.


The beautiful and well-kept Mt. Moriah Cemetery where all the famous folks are buries.

The beautiful and well-kept Mt. Moriah Cemetery.


Apparently, Jane adored Hickok but the feelings were not mutual and he spent a lot of time dodging her.


Wild Bill Hickok.

Tokens left at Hickok's monument.

Tokens left at Hickok’s monument.


Located next to Hickok.

There was more we could have done here, but we still had miles to go and more to see. Driving through Deadwood felt stressful and we had an embarrassingly difficult time getting out and back to the highway. But soon, we were finally on our way to our last location: Devils Tower, Wyoming. (I know. I want to put an apostrophe there too, but this is how it is, so there we are.)

Day 4: Deadwood, SD to Laramie, WY

Devils Tower National Monument is located in northeast Wyoming. It’s considered sacred ground by the Lakota and other tribes and is closed on a voluntary basis every June. “The National Park Service has decided to advocate this closure in order to promote understanding and encourage respect for the culture of American Indian tribes who are closely affiliated with the Tower as a sacred site.” More information about the voluntary closure, the dimensions and climbing the tower can be found here.

For KRC and me, we just wanted to see it. And we took a lot of pictures.











The sign tells the story.



I have more pictures of Devils Tower if you’d like to see them. You want more? No? Just let me know if you do. Because I do have them…


And then it was time to drive back to Laramie, get some things I left at KRC’s house and return to Colorado for the final adventures of the summer.



End of the Americana-rama Road Trip.

End of the Americana Road Trip.

Americana Road Trip: Day One and Two

Well that was a long gap! I’m writing from Tokyo, Japan – my fifth, and most likely last, term teaching here. But I’m going to keep things in order and catch you up on the last few weeks of my summer in the U.S.

The day after I moved out of my apartment in Laramie, I began a long-anticipated road trip with my dear friend, KRC. We’d both become enchanted with Wyoming in the last year and had talked about taking a tour of the state. We also wanted to explore South Dakota, so we decided to make a big loop hitting some famous landmarks. These next two posts will capture that trip.

KRC had plans to be in Hot Springs, SD with another friend for the weekend and the timing worked perfectly for me to drive from Laramie and meet her there. I rented a mini-SUV, moved my belongings to her house on the other side of Laramie, packed my camping gear and extra clothes and hit the road. (After the trip I’d move my things to my parents’ house.)

Day 1: Laramie to Hot Springs

During the mid-1800s, pioneers coming from the East crossed the arid land of Wyoming during the westward migrations. The Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer trails were the routes by which an estimated 500,000 people made their way west. Remnants of these passages can still be seen in many places. I could have easily driven to Hot Springs in four hours, but I wanted to stop along the way to see some of these historical markers. The four-hour journey became seven.

Guernsey, Wyoming.

The wagon trains that came across the plains often spread out so as to minimize the dust that was kicked up. But in some places it was necessary for the wagons to travel in a line, one after the other. The ruts left by the wheels of so many wagons can still be seen in several places on the plains. The ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming are the most famous and are cut into the sandstone to a depth of five feet. The center rut was created by people walking behind, often having to help push the wagons through the rocky terrain.

Nearby is the site of Register Cliff which is close to the North Platte River. This was an encampment where the pioneers would rest and resupply before continuing on their journey. Many people left a record of their stop by scratching their names in the soft rock, which became known as Register Cliff.




A cave was dug which was used to store food and other supplies for the travelers.


This location also served as one of 184 stations of the Pony Express. The Pony Express is an important part of American history and was the predecessor of the U.S Postal Service. Mail and packages were carried across the continent by riders in a kind of relay system, making it possible to transport the mail from coast to coast in 10 days. It was in operation for only 18 months, coming to an end when the Civil War broke out, and as the telegraph system became the more efficient way of delivering messages.

Pony Express marker.

Pony Express marker.


All of these features are located near the North Platte River.


Despite the paved roads, scattered modern buildings, signs and vehicles, it was still easy to imagine what this area might have looked like as an encampment for the pioneers so many years ago. I could envision the covered wagons, tents and fires for cooking; people going about their chores and life as they knew it on this unprecedented journey to a place they knew very little about. However hard they thought their trip had been so far, they had no way to predict how much harder it would become as they continued west over the barren land of Wyoming and through the Rocky Mountains. Had they known, they might have decided to stay right here.

I, however, had miles to go and continued on to the border of South Dakota, my 48th state visited (North Dakota and Mississippi are the only ones left).


Welcome to SD, y’all.

See ya later, Wyoming!

See ya later, Wyoming! I miss it already.


Now I was all business and ready to get to my destination. I drove a couple more hours to Hot Springs and found a lovely campground just outside of town. Tucked in my tent on the edge of the Black Hills with a crescent moon above, the first day of exploring new territory had come to cozy end.

Day 2: Hot Springs to Hill City

The next morning I found KRC and her friend Erica walking through Hot Springs. Erica is a magician and they were in HS for a performance she had scheduled there. While walking around, we came upon an exhibit of The Wall. This is a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I’ve been to the memorial in D.C., and this one was no less heart-wrenching than the original. The names are listed on each panel by day of casualty.

Traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Wall That Heals.

Some of the 58,000 names inscribed into The Wall.

Some of the 58,272 names inscribed into The Wall. The dates at the bottom indicate the time period in which those whose names are listed died.

After spending some time reading names and sending silent tributes of honor, we pulled ourselves away and officially began our mini-Grand Tour.

Our next destination was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Lakota Native American Indian and one of the most important and famous chiefs in history. The memorial, near Berne, South Dakota, is in recognition of his legacy and, “to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.”

The memorial will be, when it is finished, the world’s largest mountain sculpture. It was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski, who was commissioned by Lakota Chief Standing Bear to create the monument. It became the life work of Ziolkowski, his wife Ruth, and their 10 children, six of whom are still involved with the project. They established the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and fund the project with donations and admission fees to the visitor complex, and accept no government support. The face of Crazy Horse is complete and was dedicated in 1998. It will be years before the entire structure is finished.

I knew about this sculpture from family members who had been there, but had no idea how extensive the complex was or how much history was presented. The museum had many original Native American artifacts, including letters, ceremonial dress and displays of arrow heads. The most interesting aspect was the documentary film, which told the story of the Ziolkowski Family and their commitment to the memorial. Some interesting facts about the project can be read here.


Model of the Crazy Horse Memorial.



The profile as seen from the viewing platform at the visitor’s center.


The visits to the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, while fascinating, were also emotionally exhausting. It was difficult to integrate the historical impact and conflicting feelings that were tripped by these exhibits. But it was also important to acknowledge these emotions and take in the importance of what we were seeing.

After leaving Crazy Horse we headed for Hill City, found a hotel, and pondered the bike rally we’d somehow, unwittingly, found ourselves a part of:

Sturgis, baby!

To be continued…

A Last Look At Laramie

Today is my last full day living in Laramie, Wyoming. It’s been a good season being in a new place and working from home. But I’m ready to be out and about again. A road trip is coming up, another marathon, a trek on the Colorado Trail and then on to Japan! I love it and am excited to be on the move. In the next few days, KRC and I are going to explore a corner of South Dakota and northern Wyoming. I have three states left to visit and then I’ll have been to all 50. (North Dakota and Mississippi will be my final states after this trip. There’s not enough time to tag ND this time.)

Today I was thinking, what happened here, in these last few months? There were no big epiphanies. (I’m still living out past epiphanies.) I was content. I worked from home so I didn’t get to know many people other than those at businesses that I frequented. (I see KRC when she comes up for visits, of course.) I never thought about it unless someone asked me if I’d made friends here. I enjoyed running, working with my students online, visiting campus, walking around the neighborhoods, and living my life. I am deeply content within myself (but restless for the road!) and that remained so during my time here.

* * * * *

A photo-summary of recent weeks in Laramie:

My safe and cozy home for the last few months.

My safe and cozy home for the last few months, full of old-fashioned character.

When the lights come down, that means it's time to move on...

But when the lights come down, it’s moving time.


Such a funny, quirky building.

Such a funny, quirky apartment building.



Fish murals downtown.

Fish murals.



Around the neighborhood…


The decline of the poor Wyo.

That cool church on the corner.

The cool church on the corner.




Old Main at the University of Wyoming…

Old Main.


"Wyoming University."

“Wyoming University.”



Evening on the bridge…

Garfield St. Bridge.

Garfield St. Bridge.

Trains under the bridge.


Streets of Laramie…

Historic downtown.

Historic downtown.




Music at Coal Creek Coffee Co.

Coffee house music - Feeding Frenzy from Fairbanks, AK.

Feeding Frenzy from Fairbanks, AK.


Laramie Jubilee Days, celebrating Wyoming’s statehood…

Carnival view from the bridge.

Carnival view from the bridge.

The Ferris wheel of a small town carnival.

Small town carnival Ferris wheel.

And some final words of wisdom from the West…


Always ride high in the saddle!

Souvenir from KRC after meeting Colter at the rodeo.

Morgan Valley Marathon Report

And so it is done. I ran that marathon. Oh, yes I did. Crushed it. Showed it who was boss. I am the boss! Ha-ha! No, I did not and no, I am not.

But I did finish (Yeah!).

In 4:22 (Boo. I ran my last marathon in 3:45 seven years ago, but who’s counting…).

2nd in my age group (Yeah!).

Out of six (Boo).

(16th out of 46 women; 42nd out of 98 finishers.)

* * * * *

I loved it. I loved the excitement and anticipation; the adrenaline, planning and lack of sleep. I loved it right up to about mile 18 when I began to think, this is so stupid. Why do I do this? Why am I not picking up sea shells by the seashore? Why am I not sleeping in on this Saturday morning like most normal people? I even convinced others to go with me, change their schedules and lose sleep for this event. No – it’s worse – they volunteered! My dear parents actually thought it would be fun to tag along for this.

My crew.

My crew, the troopers.


My folks came to Laramie on Thursday night and we drove five hours west on I-80 to Utah. We stayed in a hotel in the small but tidy town of Coalville, 20 miles from Morgan where the race was held. We went to Morgan first to get my packet which had my bib, time chip and various swag. We took advantage of the pasta dinner (included in my entry fee and $7 for non-runners) and enjoyed taking in some of the pre-race excitement and being with other runners and their families.

The next morning my dad drove me to the start. I would meet him and my mom at the finish line.


Pre-dawn prep.


The race started at 5:30 a.m. The course meandered through the local valley, passing farms and houses. We ran by one homestead bearing a worn sign: “Stoddard est. 1880.” I imagined families ecstatic to find this sheltered valley during the westward migrations which took place in the 1800s.

I didn’t carry a camera but my dad caught up with me at a few places during the first half and captured the early morning segments.

Full of hope and visions of glory. Ha.

Full of hope and visions of glory. Ha.

I felt great and knew that the half-marathon I ran two weeks prior was working its magic for this run. I passed the halfway point feeling strong and ready for the second half. The sun started to crest over the surrounding hills and within a few miles the heat began to add to the challenge of finishing under four hours.


Somewhere after 18 miles the marathon part of this marathon showed up. It got tough and I felt like I was wading in mud up to my waist. I had to walk-run-shuffle the rest of the way. There were aid stations every mile for the second half. Cheerful volunteers handed out water and Gatorade, sponges, candy, gels and ice pops. I took advantage of every station. At one station there were a few cheerleaders doing what they do best in uniforms and with pom-poms. They had signs at their station; one happily advised “Rah Rah Ree! Don’t blow out your knee!” Thanks, gals!

There was also a couple in a golf cart driving up and down the road watching for flagging runners and handing out wet towels to anyone who wanted one. I saw one runner take advantage of this ride and jump in. He was done and in that moment I wanted to be done too. But I kept on.

* * * * *

Eventually, a million years later, when the earth decided to burn up, I shuffled to the finish line, which may as well have been 100 miles away, the way I was feeling. But there it was, the end. I did not care at all about running at that moment. I was empty, distracted, and despite having just (mostly) run 26.2 miles, I could hardly walk.

The final turn. I didn't even notice that cute little girl at the time.

The final turn. I didn’t even notice that little girl at the time.



It was great to have my folks there to be with me and celebrate my finish. We hung out for a long time, watching and talking to other runners. We met another runner before the race, Tori, who had locked her keys in her car. My dad helped her by using his AAA membership and arranged for someone to come out to unlock her door. She was very grateful. We got to know her a bit and really bonded with her. Meeting Tori was a highlight of the morning and we missed her after she left.

Fellow runner, Tori.

Fellow runner, Tori.


We returned to the hotel, packed, and began the road trip back to Laramie. I felt satisfied even though I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing under four hours. I ran farther, better and faster than I had during my training runs and felt much better at the half-way point than I did in the half marathon two weeks ago. I redefined this race as another training run in preparation for my next marathon…which will be on August 17!

I knew on the drive home that I’d try again. I’m in peak shape now, and again, have reached a tapering level. I’ll run for maintenance for the next three weeks and trust my body to do what it’s prepared to do. We are made to move. Given the right fuel, rest and training, I believe we can go beyond self-imposed boundaries. I want to test that belief. I love to run and I want to continue to train my body to go far. It’s a journey I’ll stay on for as long as possible.


Summer Days

So much has been happening! The summer has been good and the pace is starting to pick up. I have exciting goals that keep me energized and focused every day.

Last weekend was really fun. My sister and niece came for a visit and it was great to spend time with them. They come to Colorado every summer to go camping with our parents in their RV. I couldn’t join them for the camping trip due to teaching obligations, but it was awesome to see them for a couple of days.

Sister, me and niece (making an important call, apparently.)

My sister, me and my niece (making an important call, apparently).


I also ran the Sand Creek Half Marathon in Denver on Saturday. I was so glad to have my dad and good friend, Chris, there to cheer me on. It was a great boost to have them at the start and along the route yelling for me. I didn’t do as well as I usually do in half marathons, but still finished under two hours and recovered quickly. This half was a bit of a pep rally for the full marathon which I’ll run next weekend.



I’m enjoying the tapering part of my training, gradually easing up on the long weekend runs these last couple of weeks. Yesterday I ran an easy eight-miler and today I went on a two-hour hike on the trails east of Laramie. I’ve pushed this training and may not be as ready for the marathon as I could be, but I’m excited and up for the challenge. There are many training schedules online for all race distances and I’ve been following this one. I felt that I could have followed the plan for the Intermediate 1, but since I was already cutting it close, I opted for Novice 2. (For other plans on this site, click on the “Training” link at the top of the website and select the race you’re interested in.)

Whatever the outcome of next week’s race, you’ll get the full report right here. :)


High plains training terrain.

* * * * *

Somewhat related to running/going places, I got my new passport this week! The last time I looked all dreamy-eyed at a new passport was 10 years ago when my friend Jan and I were getting ready for our trek in Nepal. I remember thinking, I’m going to fill up this little blue book so much. Besides our trip to Nepal, I was sure I’d find time to return to the UK (the reason for my first passport and my first solo international destination when I was in college), and explore other European countries. Instead, my old passport is filled with stamps and visas from Colombia, Bolivia, India (just stopovers en route to and from Kathmandu), China and multiple trips to Japan.


Good to go for another 10 years!

Good to go for another 10 years!


I don’t know when passports began to have microchips embedded, but they do now. The pages are actually interesting, with depictions of historical events from U.S. history and quotations from various people.


From the early days of our country...

From the early days of our country… an era of space travel.

…to an era of space travel.


Just as I did 10 years ago, I intend to fill this passport with stamps from countries I’ve never been to and at least one that is quite familiar to me now – Japan. This fall, I’ll be returning for a fifth term and my sixth working for Westgate. (I’ve been teaching for them through their E-learning program while living in Laramie.)

* * * * *

Speaking of Laramie, my time here is almost over! If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months, you know what a positive experience it has been. But I love movement and thrive on change, and it’s time to get going again! Already I’ve been packing up, purging (actually, there’s not much left to purge – it’s just maintenance now), giving things away and preparing for the next phase. The transition between gigs energizes me so much. I love wrapping up the last experience, organizing and prepping for the next one. I still have two more weeks of online teaching, a marathon to run, a short road trip with KRC to South Dakota (Mt. Rushmore) and northern Wyoming (Devil’s Tower), and a backpacking trip in Colorado! (More on that later.)

To be continued…

* * * * *

Travel as much as you can.

My thoughts, exactly.


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