Sunday, June 17, 2012

Our Trip through the Dakotas, and the Girl who ate the Worm...




I'd never caught a fish in my life until last summer, when I went fishing for walleye with Jamie and his dad in Jamie's hometown of Center, North Dakota.  It was the biggest fish any of us caught that day, so I was pretty pleased.  Walleye costs $17 a pound when it shows up in our grocery store in Colorado, so we took some of our catch back home with us.

Last week we drove to ND for Jamie's 20th high school reunion.  It rained continuously, for almost the entire drive there, and when we arrived just around sundown, a double rainbow stretched from one end of the skyline to the other, landing right in Center.

The next morning, I took a few photos of the garden in their backyard, and the fish pond full of bright orange goldfish.  Their cat Peaches enjoyed stretching out in the sunshine on the cool, damp grass, and their dog Brittany was too eager for attention to pose for a photo.  I got to bring a big bundle of rhubarb home with me from their rhubarb plant.

That afternoon we went fishing, and it was a perfectly warm and sunny day to be out on the Missouri River.  I reeled in the first catch, but I left the de-hooking, re-baiting and cleaning to Jamie and his dad.  We ended up catching plenty of small walleye and a couple of trout, although nothing very note-worthy in size.  Jamie caught and tossed back the same fish three times before deciding to keep it, since the little guy seemed determined to eat the worm on his hook.

Which reminds me...

My junior year in high school, I was walking from the gym where I'd just finished band practice (yes, I was a band geek, although slightly cooler since I played percussion) back to the school building.  The sidewalk between the two buildings ran along the back of the grounds, next to a field and playground where the elementary kids had recess.  It had recently rained, and there were earthworms crawling all over the sidewalk.

I was walking with a guy, a senior, who for whatever reason, dared me to eat one.  Of course, I dared him back, because that's just how you do things when you're young, stupid and trying to impress.  I have no idea why it even crossed my mind to think I had to eat a worm to impress him - seems pretty weird now - but we both reached down, grabbed a worm, and popped it in our mouths.

By the end of the day, I was a legend at school...  at least with the elementary kids.  A little boy came running up to me and asked, "Are you the girl who ate the worm?"  He was in awe.

My mom was horrified.








After a weekend of reunion parties, street dancing and meeting Jamie's former classmates, we left Center with two days before we needed to be home.  So we took our time, stopping at Devil's Tower in the black hills of Wyoming and driving through the Badlands in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Wild bison roamed freely through the park, and we passed a single bison, possibly male, grazing by the side of the road.  A few minutes later, we came upon a small herd of female bison with their calves.  They appear tranquil, but can attack and charge if disturbed, so we took pictures safely from the car and moved on.

On the drive up, I missed a turn and we ended up taking a side road which, according to the map, should lead us back to the highway.  What started as a paved road, though, turned into a bumpy, gravel washboard road, forcing us to drive 15 miles an hour.  Thirty minutes later we still had not found the highway, and just when I was starting to think we should backtrack, there it was.  But not before we'd crossed paths with a cow in the road playing chicken and a curious antelope studying us from the side.










The town of Medora, ND is a tourist trap, but I'd never been there before, so we made a point of stopping there for the night so we could see some of the area.  Medora is known for the western musical it puts on every summer in the outdoor amphitheater, but on that night it was 45 degrees and raining, which made for a freezing cold experience!  We bundled up in as many sweaters as we had brought, put on rain parkas and braved the weather.  Popcorn and hot chocolate helped.  I couldn't find the tennis shoes I thought I had packed, so as an alternative to flip flops, I had to put on two pairs of socks and wear Jamie's shoes to keep my feet warm.

My favorite place to visit there was the Chateau de Mores, which was the summer home and hunting cabin of a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Mores, and his family in the 1880s.  After arriving in the Dakota territory and establishing a new town, he named the town after his wife, Medora.

The Marquis operated many business ventures, cattle and sheep raising, a meat-packing plant, refrigerated train cars for shipping the meat and a stagecoach line running from Medora, ND to Deadwood, SD, among other ventures.  Business eventually waned, though, and the family only lived there for three years, until the meat-packing plant burned, leaving nothing but the chimney standing.

Guides are stationed at the house to explain the history in detail, and much (about 80%) of the original furnishings and personal belongings are still in the home.  I loved the old-fashioned enamelware pitchers and bowls in each bedroom for washing.  Only female servants lived in the house, while the male servants were housed in the hotel in town.

In the hunting room, a box was laid out for packing Medora's elegant hairbrush set, a gift from the Marquis, because 6 or 7 hairbrushes are so necessary on a hunting trip!

Down a path below the house were three more buildings for the barn, stable and the coachman's house, the horse corral and a root cellar dug into the grassy side of a hill.  They were closed, so we could only peek inside the windows at the peeling wallpaper and crumbling furniture.











After spending a night in Deadwood, SD, we ended the trip with a drive through the scenic Spearfish Canyon region, stopping at Bridal's Veil Falls.  From the road, you can't even imagine how pretty the falls are, but after climbing down the hill (tricky business in flip flops) and jumping a few rocks to cross a stream, you're standing at the base of the falls, looking up through the lush greenery, speckled with sunlight.

We lingered for a few minutes, then climbed back up the hill to the car.  Jamie looked at me and said, "Well, I think it's the end of our trip.  Are you ready to go home?"