Monthly Archives: September 2012
It’s almost worth visiting here just so you can see the signs that read “City of Forest.”
Sadly, elves do not live here.
Only reason I’m here is I still had the goal of attaining a random point. The third and last random destination is not far from here, closer to the town of Morton.
The second point, which I guess I forgot to mention, was in Nevada, miles away from any road. So I got as close as I could on the road and called it good. Nevada’s got more empty spaces than the brains of reality show stars do.
The third point’s in the middle of a field. Not sure, but I think it was soybeans. Wasn’t cotton, corn, wheat or sunflowers, at any rate.
Nearest semi-interesting thing was this sign, on the corner of Measels Road (yes… Measels Road) and Reeves Road:
So I went on the Great Oracle and tried to find out if there was any other information – perhaps something about Mississippi’s troubled pre-Brown v. Board of Education school history. But a few different searches (including one for Measels Road) came up empty, and I’m frankly too tired to pursue it further.
The end of this journey is now in sight. A friend of mine got a beach house in North Carolina starting Wednesday, and my next goal is to get to that by Thursday at the latest. Wednesday would be pushing it, but let’s see how far I can get tomorrow. It’s still a long ways from here.
And with my luck, there’ll be a hurricane when I get there.
Last entry prompted a comment by my friend Mindfulmoon:
So, I have to ask… red or green chili with your meal? I got so tired of that question. I’m not a really big Mexican (or even NEW Mexican) food fan. Hot is not my idea of good. Strangely, I do love Indian food a great deal. New Mexico is not an ideal place to live if you’re not a chili fan (the vegetable, not the soup) which, I suppose, is why I stayed for 5 years. I’m glad you got to go to the monastery though because there are some truly impressive religious communities in New Mexico if the overwhelming majority are of the judo-christian persuasion. Also, I found the people in general to be some of the nicest I’ve had the pleasure to live near.
Yeah, I got asked that. I asked her, “What do you get?”
“Both,” she said.
I decided I liked this bartender. But then, she’s female and a bartender so I’m going to like her anyway. “Okay, both.”
And it was good.
I love spicy food. My favorite hot sauce these days is ghost pepper sauce.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those macho idiots who are like, “Dude, pile on the hot sauce! No such thing as too much!” And then they drink five gallons of milk to try to get feeling back in their mouths (milk doesn’t do much against the Bhut Jolokia). No, that’s not me. I use it very, very sparingly.
Just the right amount (a quantity measured in nanoliters) of ghost pepper sauce added to food enhances it, gives it a bit of a tingle, like five hundred kittens are purring in your mouth.
Too much, though, and those kittens start hissing, spitting, and tearing at your mucous membranes with their claws and teeth.
So yeah, hot sauce is a delicate balance. And at least I wasn’t in Texas then, where they drink that stuff right out of the bottle.
I only got the “red or green chili” question once, being in NM for only one night. You know what question I’m getting tired of, though?
“Credit or debit?”
Argh. It’s 2012, people. We have Star Trek communicators, computers in cars, instant money transfers, satellites, the magic internet thingy, and there’s even talk about a potential warp drive. How come every time I hand my credit card to a cashier, they have to ASK? It’s even worse when I don’t have to hand it to the cashier, and there’s a little electronic pad there. I swipe the card, hit the “credit” button, and… “Credit or debit?” I get asked. Okay, I just pushed CREDIT. To make matters worse, the two words end with the same syllable, so if I go into a shop in Minnesota with my Virginia accent and mumble “credit,” they might even hit the wrong button.
Okay, yes, I know, there are debit cards that get used like a credit card. I even have one, though I never use it (no cash back rewards). Still: technology, people! And no, I do not want fries with that.
Now, I’m not shooting the messenger here – not mad at the minimum-wage cashiers who must get even more tired of asking that every. single. day. It’s not their fault. Let’s just get the technology up to speed, okay?
Speaking of speed (I was wondering how I was going to segue into this), I got pulled over today!
I deserved it – I was totally speeding. It’s the first time I’ve been pulled over in years and years, but drive long enough and you’re going to get busted for something, and I’ve been driving a lot. Only trouble was, it was in Texas. I hear they execute people here for jaywalking. One cop got all my information while the other peered into the visible sections of my car.
I got a warning. I don’t think they cared much about some tourist doing 9 mph over the posted limit; I think they were looking for other things and using speeding as an excuse to pull people over. In any case, no ticket this time.
No pictures today, though – it was a long drive and after the awesome scenery of northwest New Mexico, it was back to fairly ordinary ranches and cultivated fields. Not even any cool roadside attractions, unless you count some small town in New Mexico that claims Billy the Kid. I don’t. And tomorrow’s a long drive too, so we’ll see if there’s anything worth taking the time to snap or not.
Today’s destination is deep in Navajo country. I went up to the hotel counter. The woman there said, “Hi! Can I help you?”
Me: “I have a reservation.”
Then I realized what I’d just said and I’m sure I turned beet red. I don’t even know if she caught it or not. But I’m still embarrassed about it. Next time I’m on Native lands I’m going to be sure to say something like “I have a room booked.”
Problem is, today’s internet connection is very, very slow, so instead of the complete update I’d been planning, I’m going to go for a summary: Reno, Virginia City, Carson City, and Vegas. Some good beer and good company (at least in the Reno area). And a picture of me in a Porsche.
I have other pics now, since my camera’s working again, thanks to my friends in Reno, but since it took me five minutes to upload that one, they’re going to have to wait.
Oh, and one reason I haven’t been updating is y’all saw the Reno-to-Vegas thing I did last year, and there’s not much point in rehashing old routes. It’s a boring enough trip to have to endure, let alone go through more pics of empty desert (at five minutes a pop).
I’m hoping I’ll have a better connection tomorrow, because I expect to have some semi-interesting things to post.
Well, okay, it wasn’t dark. But U.S. Route 50 through Nevada is billed as “the loneliest road in America.”
I imagine there are worse tracks in Alaska, but until I go there, I’ll accept that description. Deserted (pun intended) or not, I do love the Nevada scenery. I even saw a road runner, and spent part of the drive deciding what to order from Acme Corporation to catch it.
I have no pictures today – though I should be able to work my camera again tomorrow, as my friends near Reno were nice enough to order a replacement battery and charger for me. Haven’t tried them out yet, but the battery seems to be the right type.
So really, I’m only posting so you don’t think I’m stuck along Route 50 somewhere. Car’s fine.
Tomorrow? Nevada mining towns and maybe some breweries. And hopefully, pics.
All day yesterday, on the way to Ogden, it was all I could do to stay awake.
Naturally, last night, in Ogden, I had trouble sleeping.
If I moved to Thailand or something, I’d probably be awake during the day and asleep at night like a normal person. Even the three hour time difference between Eastern and Pacific time (the latter being when I am now) doesn’t quite cut it.
There was one benefit of being up before the sun, this morning: I got treated to an excellent view of the crescent moon and Venus, which I’d totally show you if my camera had been working.
As it is, this is the only camera-phone photo I can post today:
But before I left the Salt Lake area of Utah, I dropped by a Subaru dealer in SLC for some scheduled maintenance – just an oil change, really.
While I waited, I ogled their collection of carefully restored vintage Subarus, which I would totally show you if my camera had been working.
Then the guy came in and said I might have a coolant leak.
A coolant leak is bad enough, but I was about to travel across 250 miles of some of the most sparsely populated areas of the US that aren’t in Alaska. Also, desert. So I let them check it out further.
They found no coolant leak.
So, fully expecting to get stranded somewhere in the wasteland of western Utah or eastern Nevada, I got myself a full tank of gas and took off.
Well, I’ll save you the suspense: nothing happened except all I wanted to do was sleep, again. Only reason I’m posting this later than usual… okay, only two reasons. One, Pacific Time, as I mentioned above. Two, blackjack.
No, I did not visit the brothel, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
But anyway, I still have a maybe-coolant-leak, and tomorrow I get to cross some even less sparsely populated sections of the US so I can visit my friends in Reno. If I get there.
But hey, that’s what adventure is all about, right?
Wyoming is cool.
Bit boring sometimes on the road, but mostly awesome views. Lots of big empty prairie interspersed with uplifted, colorful and broken sedimentary rock formations. And sometimes igneous. But mostly sedimentary.
Did I get any pictures, though? No, of course not, because my camera is still on the fritz and I won’t be able to do anything about it for another couple of days.
One thing has been bugging me for the past few days, though. I’ve seen it on ranches from South Dakota into Montana and on into Wyoming, but I don’t recall seeing any in Utah (mostly because so far, Utah is an enormous mountain range).
Basically, what’s been bugging me is: what in the hell are these things?
They’re on prairie ranchland, usually to the west of the road (and never on both sides); they’re all made of the same thing: wood, modular, angled slightly back from vertical toward the road.
They’re not fences, because they don’t hold anything in – the ends are open. The actual ranch fence is visible in the foreground of that pic – mostly just the posts, because my camera phone isn’t the greatest.
I rejected a few theories, such as:
– Alien landing signals (aliens don’t need signals)
– Things to annoy cows
– Tornado early warning devices (you see one in the air, run for shelter)
– Things to annoy curious city boys from back East (there are cheaper ways to do that)
– Warnings for when the kids are having tractor races that a road is nearby
– Jackalope traps
– Things to bounce basketballs off of
About the only thing I can figure is that they’re driftbreaks, meant to keep blowing snow off the roads. But I don’t know, and the one and only time I approached an actual cowboy and said “Howdy…” he said, “That Obamma bastard has ruint the country!”
Seriously, all they can talk about around Wyoming is the upcoming election, and I have a good idea which way Wyoming’s going.
Anyway, web searches haven’t helped much, either. Just try searching for “weird wooden fence-like structures on ranch land.” Be sure to turn SafeSearch on if you value your sanity. So if anyone knows what these are, please tell me.
So. Utah. First time here. A lot greener than I expected, but then I didn’t really know what to expect. The hotel I’m in, Ben Lomond Suites, is just a couple blocks from the brewpub, Rooster’s. Both are pretty awesome. Ben Lomond has amazing rooms at cheaper than I’ve paid for crappy ones elsewhere – but then, this is probably an off-season for Utah; too late for summer activities and too early for serious skiing.
Skiing’s a weird word. I always want to put in an extra i. Skiiing.
In any case, I take back what I said in a previous post about not selecting lodging based entirely on proximity to the brewpub. Sometimes, you get lucky.
I’d been warned that Utah has funny rules about bars. For one, there are no bottles behind the bar. Rooster’s had a glass wall behind which was the brewing equipment, though, so I enjoyed the scenery. Apparently the reason for the no bottles behind the bar rule is that if you watch the bartender make you a drink, you might think it’s glamorous or classy or something, and you can’t have that.
Well. I’ll just be pleased that Utah has brewpubs at all, though this might be the only one I visit on this trip.
I’m lucky to be here.
No, no, I don’t mean it like that. I mean that every hotel in central Wyoming is booked solid – combination of oil boom and nearby wildfires. And no, I don’t know what happens if the wildfires reach the oil wells. I want to be gone before that happens.
But I managed to get a room at Parkway Plaza Hotel that didn’t cost me body parts and which, happily, had a free shuttle to the local brewpub!
…as usual when beer is involved, I’m getting ahead of myself.
That, of course, is Bear Lodge, aka Devils Tower. I got there around, I dunno, 9:30 in the morning or so, hung around the visitor center for a while to look at the exhibits, and then decided to walk around the formation.
There’s a trail, about a mile and a quarter long, that circles the base. It being a really nice day, the trail was well-populated. Most people circle it widdershins, I noticed. I don’t know why. Of course I had to be different and go deosil, or clockwise. For one thing, this ensured that I wouldn’t be annoyed by people insisting on walking just slightly too slowly in front of me. You know how it goes: You got a good pace going and you don’t want to slow down, but the people in front of you also have their own good pace going and it’s incrementally slower than yours. You can a) slow down to match their pace (annoying); b) speed up to pass (not always easy on a narrow trail) or c) wait until either you or they get tired and step off the trail. It’s worse when you’ve done (a) and then they suddenly decide to come to a complete and sudden halt right in front of you.
So, yeah, I avoided all that by walking deosil.
I got a couple dozen pictures, from all angles. I saw people climbing it – with and without ropes. I saw one person standing on the edge of the summit like he or she (I was too far away to tell) owned all of the Black Hills.
I should note that I had to use my backup camera (aka Android phone) for the pics; my Nikon’s batteries are shot and won’t hold a charge. Completely annoying when traveling. But that’s why I always have a backup.
So, just one more picture, from a different angle:
The geology of the area is well-studied; an igneous intrusion into sedimentary layers, and the layers got eroded away over millions of years, leaving the more erosion-resistant igneous rock. There are different theories of exactly what forces formed the magma intrusion, but that’s the basics.
Me, I’m fond of the legends related in this article, especially:
According to the Native American tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota Sioux, some girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. (Those are the marks which appear today on the sides of Devils Tower.) When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the star constellation the Pleiades.
Because it involves bears and the Pleiades.
So all in all I spent a couple of hours there, and made it to Casper well before nightfall.
The local brewpub is Wonder Bar, which has four beers of its own as well as several craft and macro brews on tap. I stuck with their own beer, a nice selection of wheat ale, pale ale, red ale, and dark ale – all of which were quite good. But it’s the red I filled up on, taking advantage of having a shuttle back to the hotel.
Tomorrow? Utah, which has a surprising number of breweries, most of which I will not be able to visit on this trip.
Actually, I’m spending another night in Spearfish, SD, but I’m titling this Alzada because it’s the closest town to my first destination this trip. Allow me to explain…
Take a map of the contiguous United States. Throw a dart at it. Assuming that you suck bad enough at darts that you can’t influence where it’ll land (but also assuming that you don’t suck so bad you put someone’s eye out or ding the 1970’s-era wooden paneling behind the dartboard), there’s a very, very good chance the dart will hit… nothing. No town, no city, no monument or amusement park or music festival; just some part of some state where there’s… nothing.
That’s the theory behind this trip: throw a dart and go there. Only I use a random number generator instead of an actual dart. Saves the paneling, you know.
Destination #1 was here:
Which is an apparently empty spot in southeast Montana. The closest “town” is Alzada, MT; the closest place with actual lodging is Belle Fourche, SD, and the closest place with both lodging and a brewpub is Spearfish, SD. The closest cool spot is Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming; I’ll be visiting that tomorrow.
Incidentally, I put “town” in quotes above because I have the working philosophy that you’re not a proper town unless you have a McDonald’s. Alzada does not have a McDonald’s.
What Alzada does have is a biker dive bar called Stoneville Saloon.
I stopped in for lunch, and didn’t get into a fight with a biker club.
Before that, though, I got as close as I could to the spot on the map above – off the beaten path, sure, but that’s part of why I do this thing. I don’t like to inconvenience myself, however, so I just got as close as I could on the gravel road through the high prairie.
You’d think there was nothing there, right? It’s certainly remote. Where I stopped, the only human constructions I could see for miles around were the gravel road itself, and my car. The morning was mild, with a light breeze, but haze dimmed the view of the far buttes.
That particular view, as far as I can tell, is impossible to get from the main roads because of ridges in the way, and so I got to see something unique.
As for the spot itself, well, it’s somewhere in this landscape:
I could have walked to the actual point itself, sure, but why risk exercise on such a nice day?
You might be thinking, “Wow, that’s the middle of nowhere.” No, my next destination’s in the middle of nowhere. Fairly close, by prairie standards anyway, to the above destination isn’t the middle of nowhere, but the middle of everywhere – everywhere in the U.S., anyway.
The officially-designated “Geographic Center of the United States,” including Alaska and Hawaii, is some fifty miles or so in the direction my camera was pointing in that last shot. It’s in South Dakota, just off yet another gravel road through the prairie. I’ve been on a lot of those gravel roads over the past few days. My car is starting to hate me for it.
I should point out that the “actual” center of the nation is up for debate; it’s a big country with a fractal and shifting coastline, and trying to pin down the centroid of that area is a bit like counting a moving school of fish. But that doesn’t stop me from seeing how people mark the spot.
The official marked spot, by the way, is a lonely, limp (the breeze had died a bit) flag in the middle of that rancher’s field. My photo of it sucks because of the whole “limp” description of the flag, but here’s one you can see online.
So, yesterday I mentioned I was going to visit Crow Peak Brewery here in Spearfish. I did, and saw that it was good.
Tonight, though, despite how good Crow Peak was, I decided I would visit a local bar called Sanford’s Pub & Grub. In addition to more… common… beer offerings, they had a few craft beers from all over. It was also $1 taco night, so I kinda stuffed myself on tacos.
Some guy came in and I heard him order “a Bud Light and a water.” I was good, though; I didn’t point out the definition of “redundancy” to him.
I did, however, have to wonder why people still swill that crap when so many good, real beers exist. But while watching the football game on the big screen TV (DO NOT JUDGE ME. It was the only thing on at the pub), I think I realized part of it.
I don’t watch television and, in fact, I go out of my way to avoid ads of any kind. If I want my intelligence insulted, I’ll listen to a young-Earth creationist. Ads not only insult our intelligence; they’re deliberately misleading. In this case, it shows shining, happy, thin people smiling and enjoying mass-produced “beer” on beaches and football games and parties and whatnot. The message is clear: Drink this crap and you, too, can have this life! Good looks! Love! Success!
You know what? Even if that were true, I still wouldn’t drink light beer. Some things are never worth the cost.
Point is, perhaps the craft beer community simply needs better P.R. I know that beer snobbery like my own probably doesn’t help, but… well. P.R. firms can work magic.
A friend of mine once bemoaned how craft beer was actually becoming more mainstream. I looked at him in horror. “Isn’t that the point?”
I mean, okay, pretend for a moment that you’re a hipster. I know, I know; just bear with me a moment. You’re a hipster. You’re wearing a plaid shirt and those big horn-rimmed glasses with blank lenses. Maybe for extra irony you’re wearing a fanny pack and socks with sandals. You get on your scooter and ride to that music place in the alley that no one has ever heard of. You walk in and there’s one other hipster there. Being cool and all you don’t acknowledge each others’ presence, but you hang out sipping whole-earth macrobiotic tea until this band, let’s call them Bupkiss and the Snoggers, comes on.
You really like their tunes, and so you pick up their vinyl LP on your way out the door, and then you tweet about them, because blogging is so last decade.
Next time they play, you show up and there’s not just one, but four or five other hipsters there. You groove to their tunes for a bit, this time sampling organic free-trade monkey-shit coffee from South America (that’s really a thing, by the way).
The third time you see them, there’s a crowd. And some of them are wearing polo shirts and khakis. You get pissed off and leave because you liked it better when it was just you and one other nameless hipster.
Problem is… you contributed to their success. You can’t get mad at Bupkiss and the Snoggers, because it was your tweets that drew the crowd in.
What can we learn from this?
Well, the hipster in this parable is, of course, meant to represent your average craft beer fan, who at the very least dresses better than the hipster. And of course Bupkiss and the Snoggers represents the craft beer industry.
So. First. Don’t get mad at places like New Belgium Brewing Company because they’ve managed to distribute their beer widely. Me? I cheer every time I see that Fat Tire truck pulled up to a convenience store.
Second, don’t sing the praises of craft beer and then expect it to be non-mainstream forever.
And finally, we need better P.R. Don’t look at me, either; I’m no one’s role model.
Tomorrow: Devil’s Tower.