Monday, August 31, 2009

South Dakota: Crazy Horse Memorial

On our last day in South Dakota, B took me to the Crazy Horse Memorial.

The Crazy Horse Memorial and I go way back. See, my grandparents subscribe to Country Magazine ("for those who live in or long for the country") and I spent many long hours reading through the back issues of Country Magazine stacked on their coffee table during our visits. I love Country Magazine, by the way, and frequently contemplate getting a subscription. B doesn't know that about me.

But I digress. Country Magazine for a long time seemed to have Crazy Horse updates every other issue. Or maybe I was just reading the same issue over and over again, but I remember reading about how the face was soon to be completed and then reading about it later when it was completed and that was very exciting to me. I may have even tried to send them money at one point.

This is the Crazy Horse Memorial today.

As you can see, while the face is complete, the rest of it is far from complete. Carving was started on it in 1948, and was mostly a one man operation for many years. These days carving and blasting happens every day and there is an actual crew of guys who work on it. People are always grumpy about how little progress seems to be made on the carving, but to put it in perspective the four heads from Mount Rushmore would fit in the space behind Crazy Horse's head. So yeah, this shit is big.

This is what it will look like when completed.

I'm hopeful that the next time I visit they will have finished carving the horse's head, and maybe it will even be complete in my lifetime, although I'm not counting on that.

So the Crazy Horse Memorial is not just a giant mass of rock. They've created a cultural center around it dedicated to all Native Americans. They have beautiful crafts and old photos and lots of information about the different tribes in the state. They also have a large collection of beads, and I have a certain friend who I HOPE reads this blog, although I don't think she does, but she knows that beads have a special meaning for her and that's why I'm mentioning them.

There was also a large gate outside the compound which had images of wildlife in each panel. They even had a set of flying squirrels (in my opinion, the creepiest of squirrels).

This concludes my series on South Dakota. Are you excited? I kind of am. I'm ready to talk about something else. Like, you know, squirrels. In fact, I have two squirrel-themed posts coming up in the next two days so check back soon for your fix, all you rodent-lovers out there!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

South Dakota: Deadwood

On one of our last days in South Dakota we went to Deadwood, a town infamous for its brothels and bars and famous as the death site of Wild Bill. In fact, I think there was an HBO series loosely-based on this place. It's quite small now, but in its heyday had a population of about 5,000. For comparison, that's even more people than are in my small hometown!

We took a tour of a beautiful mansion that had been built in the town around 1880. All of the furniture is original to the house, and they restored the wallpaper and window treatments to as they were when it was first built. It was really interesting to see how the rich lived back at the turn of the century.
As I noted, this is were Wild Bill died, and his final resting place is in the cemetery on the hill above town. We took a little side trip to see it.

Calamity Jane, at one point apparently his girlfriend, is buried beside him, per her dying wish.

I actually don't know my history well enough to really know why they are famous, and I'm too lazy to go to Wikipedia and figure it out myself. I was always interested in pioneer history, but somehow managed to completely ignore the cowboys and Indians sort of history that often excites others.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

South Dakota: Squirrels!

Yay, finally we've come to the South Dakota post about squirrels! But first, I do have to give you this photo, a lovely picture of a bison. Yes, we saw many bison on our trip to South Dakota. I even ate some bison. And while they may be tasty, they sure are big, ugly creatures. This guys was right on the side of the road somewhere in Custer State Park.

The other major animal component of our trip, as I mentioned a few days ago, was the prairie dog. If you are reading this and you do not know that a prairie dog is actually a type of squirrel, well, then you obviously haven't had the good fortune to hear me read out loud from my book of squirrel facts. And I feel sorry for you.
These little ground squirrels were featured back in my post about the Badlands, and we saw a ton of them again at Custer State Park. These guys weren't nearly as friendly as the ones we met before (probably in large part because we did not approach them with food), but they were still adorable. This little guy even struck a pose for me!

Next, we drove on the Needles Highway and stopped at a few viewpoints. At one in particular I wandered off from the group and ran into this delighful little chipmunk, who didn't really want me to take his picture. I had to scamper up some rocks to catch him, and this picture is as close as I got.

Can you see him in there? He's just a little brown speck. Oh, okay, I'll enlarge the little guy and post him here again. I can always use an excuse for an extra squirrel picture on my blog.

Simply adorable! I've always said, if I were going to be a squirrel I would probably be a ground squirrel. (Yes, chipmunks are ground squirrels. Yes, I learned this from my squirrel fact book. No, you can't borrow it, but maybe you should go read the squirrel article on Wikipedia or something if you're confused by this ground squirrel thing.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

South Dakota: Mount Rushmore

So, Mount Rushmore. I had never been there before, and frankly, I thought it was going to be a lot bigger than it actually was!

I'm not posting any pictures of the actual carvings because seriously people, we've all seen it before and it looks just like it does in the pictures. Rather, I present to you a gallery of other interesting things I saw at Mount Rushmore.

1. A soda machine in the guise of Mount Rushmore. What in the world? Do all national parks and monuments have their soda machines decked out in the local sights? For some reason this struck me as odd, and hilarious. Pretty sure my in-laws thought I was weird for taking this picture, though.

2. A sign of anti-rodentism. Well, I know it's for the good of the chipmunk that we don't feed them, but one of my fondest childhood memories was of befriending a chipmunk at Mount Rainier and feeding it peanuts out of our hands all week. And now kids these days can't even look at a chipmunk without being arrested for attempted feeding. It's sad, really.

3. Mount Rushmore being whored out in a vintage advertisement. Note the advertisement is for Bromo-Seltzer, which I'm told was a popular hangover cure back in the day, likely because it contained some nice sedatives. Yes, those sedatives are now illegal, and yes, I'm sad about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

South Dakota: Mammoth Site

Our third day in South Dakota we toured The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I had never heard of this before, but it turned out to be very cool. About 26,000 years ago this site was a giant sinkhole, filled with water. Apparently mammoths would slide in while attempting to get water or eat the nice greens on the edge of the hole and would be unable to climb out. Over many years they were all buried in the mud and muck at the bottom of the hole, and preserved for thousands of years.

The site is a working paleontological dig site, and we even saw workers scraping away with their trowels while we were there. They've left everything in situ, and are slowly working their way down.

One of the coolest things was the mammoth footprints they've found in the upper layers from when the sinkhole became a giant mudhole and mammoths stopped becoming stuck there and simply walked right over it.

See? Can you see the footprints? They've found several relatively complete skeletons, some of which are still in situ.

Funny thing, they have not yet found evidence of a female mammoth's skeleton at the site. Now, obviously you have to find certain parts of the skeleton to determine the sex of the mammoth, so it's highly likely that there are female mammoths there, they just can't be identified as such.

It was a very cool stop, and we really liked the little town of Hot Springs as well. I definitely recommend it to anyone else traveling through South Dakota.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

South Dakota: Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Some of you may already know that both B and I are interested in the history of the Cold War and the Space Race. So we were both excited to discover that South Dakota has opened up some nuclear missile silos for public viewing.

Unfortunately we discovered this too late and were unable to sign up for one of the guided tours down in one of the control centers for these nuclear missiles, but we did get to do our own cell phone tour of the actual missile silo. It's out in the middle of the prairie, just surrounded by a little chain-link fence.

Apparently these sites are all over South Dakota and were a major part of our country's defensive power in the years after World War II. At this particular site, I think it's called D-09, they've removed the nuclear warhead from the missile, but left the actual missile in place in the silo.

I thought that was pretty cool. Of course, I had always pictured these missiles as much larger, but that may be from watching Star Trek: First Contact too many times. I don't think the kids were too interested in this particular stop on our trip, but B and I were sure excited. We're hoping to get reservations for the guided tour next time, because that's how we roll.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

South Dakota: Badlands

Our second day in South Dakota we drove through the Badlands. There were some pretty spectacular sites there, and I was surprised at how beautiful such an unfriendly landscape could be.

It was incredibly dry there, and you could see that on the ground which was cracked from drying so quickly.

Yet somehow there was quite a bit of wildlife that lived there, bison, birds, snakes, and goats. But of course it wouldn't be a real vacation for me unless we saw some ground squirrels.

And oh boy did we see ground squirrels! We drove on a horrible gravel road to get to this little prairie dog town, but we were rewarded when we got there and discovered that they were incredibly friendly little rodents.

Well, they were friendly because they knew that we had food. Granola bars, actually. B and I helped the nieces to feed them, and they screamed with happiness when the little guys came out of their burrows to feast on granola bar. Well, I screamed with happiness too.

Only later did we find out that it was illegal to feed the prairie dogs. Oops.

Monday, August 24, 2009

South Dakota: Corn Palace and Wall Drug

Well, we've returned from our trip to South Dakota! I was quite surprised by how much there was to do in the state; apparently tourism is their second most important industry there. Who knew?

On our first day we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

The Corn Palace was kind of interesting, but there wasn't much to do there. It's basically just the town's community center that happens to be decorated with corn every year.

The interior is just a big basketball court with a gift shop set up in the middle. Underwhelming for sure. Really the most exciting part was that instead of a concession stand they had a corncession stand. Get it?

After having lunch at the Corn Palace we moved onward to Wall, South Dakota, which was our first stop. Now anyone who has traveled through South Dakota has seen the signs for Wall Drug, and I've heard a lot about it from others. It's a very strange place, very hard to explain. Really it's just a giant gift shop and restaurant. But they have a singing gorilla.

Yeah, that was weird. Oh, and did I mention that they have a giant Jackalope?

That was a little strange too. The story behind Wall Drug is that the owners wanted to attract travelers in the area to their little drug store, so they started offering free ice water to anyone who wanted it. Within a year they had gone from a tiny operation to having nine employees. Now it's the biggest thing in Wall, South Dakota.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Minnesota Zoo

So before we left for South Dakota, we spent a day at the Minnesota Zoo with one of our favorite families. They have a little daughter, about two and a half, who loves the zoo, and so we were invited to tag along and enjoy it with her.

Now, generally people in Minnesota are very nice and friendly, and it turns out that the animals of Minnesota are friendly too. I was amazed at how many of the animals in the zoo came directly up to the glass and actually seemed interested in interacting with the humans. So many zoo animals seem to just laze around all day, but that wasn't true here. This leapord got right up in our faces.

Cool, huh? And in addition to the usual animals (bears, fish, otters, giraffes) they had some exotic ones before. This is a Takin, from China. I had never even heard of a Takin before, but it's the national animal of Bhutan. Yeah, I bet none of my readers knew that.

It was a strange looking creature.

Of course a zoo cannot be an excellent zoo without my favorite animal, and this zoo came through in style in the squirrel department. They had a GIANT colony of prairie dogs! My most loyal readers will recall that we saw prairie dogs at a zoo earlier in the summer, and it was the high point of that week. These prairie dogs were pretty great too, especially one who kept coming up to the glass and looking at me.

Isn't he cute? I think he was hoping that I would help him escape his little prairie dog enclosure. Oh how I wish I could have taken him home!

The Minnesota Zoo is really quite nicely done; they even keep the manholes in the zoo theme. Check out this cool shell manhole.

Okay, well, you guys might think it's weird for me to post this, but my mother works for public works and I know she'll think it's interesting.

Near the end of the day, our little two and a half year old friend got kind of bored with the animals and wanted to play with her princesses instead. She demanded that her mother make the princesses "nakey" and then proceeded to put them in the "bathtub" together.

Check out how Jasmine is touching Cinderella inappropriately! Later Jasmine and Snow White had a little kissing session, which I pretty much had seen coming since they jumped in the hot tub together. I've watched enough Real World on MTV to know how this goes!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Florida: History

When one has a sunburn, or simply far too much salt in one's hair, sometimes it's a good idea to take a break from the beach for a day. We decided to spend our anti-sun day inside at the Indian Temple Mound Museum.

I love museums, and maybe I've lived in New York City too long, because I really have a great affection for the little museums. Don't get me wrong, I love the Met and the MoMa and stuff like that, but the little small town museums just seem so much more... welcoming?

This little museum was no exception. It was very small, but pretty thorough. I enjoyed the many exhibits devoted to the local pottery throughout the ages. I focused quite a bit on pottery back when I was digging in Greece every summer, and I really enjoyed reading the pot sherds. I obviously know nothing about New World ceramics, but that made it even more interesting.

I noticed throughout the museum that many of the bowls and pots had a hole struck in the bottom of them. Turns out that the Indians did that in order to release the soul of the potter before they dedicated the bowls on the temple mound. I thought that was very interesting.

In addition to the little museum about Native American artifacts, they had preserved the 96 year old schoolhouse right next door. They had it all set up like it would have been back at the turn of the century. They even hung bonnets and hats by the door, and had slates and chalk set up on each desk.
To be honest, I don't think much about history when I think of Florida. I think of places like North Carolina and Georgia as having a deep and rich cultural heritage, but Florida really does too. I think it's easy for visitors in the area to become too married to the beach and to ignore the other offerings of Florida's Emerald Coast.

And that concludes my series on Florida. We're spending the next week in South Dakota with some of B's family, so the New York City Squirrel won't be posting for another week. But rest assured I will have many stories about our squirrely adventures in South Dakota!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Florida: So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

I'm a sucker for animals, and so when I found out that there was a Gulfarium (Gulf of Mexico + Aquarium) in this part of Florida, I was pretty excited. We even managed to convince a local friend with a small child to come along so as to give us a reason for our visit. Of course, I was way more excited about most of it than he was, but that's beside the point.

I am a fan of animals, but I always seem to forget that aquariums are almost never as cool as you hope they're going to be. This one was no exception. It's clearly very old. I suspect they make 99% of their profits off of tourists who are in the area and, much like me, are suckers for this sort of thing.

It wasn't all bad, really. There were sharks.

Sharks do freak me out, but these ones seemed pretty tame. They were nurse sharks, maybe? I didn't read the label.

More exciting were the tropical penguins. Did you know that some penguins live in tropical climates? I sure didn't, but now I do. We did get to see a penguin feeding, which was funny because some of the penguins are apparently worried about their little penguin figures and are quite anorexic. Seriously, two of them refused to eat any fish. It was a bit worrisome.

The best part of the Gularium, though, was the sea lions.

I wrote a report about sea lions in the fifth grade. It was a very exciting part of my life. For years I wanted to be a sea lion, mostly because they were so graceful in the water and yet, unlike most aquatic animals, were cuddly and cute and had little whiskers. B thinks this is weird (he thinks most things about me are weird), and didn't seem to care about the sea lions too much. He preferred the dolphins.
Okay, yeah, the dolphins are cool too. We watched their little dolphin show, and I will admit that it was better than the sea lion show. Dolphins are creepy though, as you always suspect that they are using their dolphin intelligence to plan the downfall of humanity. The sea lions are clearly just enjoying themselves and wishing that they could eat the anorexic penguins next door.
Yes, I would still rather snuggle with a sea lion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Florida: National Naval Aviation Museum

We did not, in fact, spend all of our time in Florida at the beach or in a restaurant. We did manage to get out to Pensacola one Saturday and visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. I think we were all expecting something a little smaller. They managed to squeeze a very large number of airplanes into that place!

Some of you may know that Pensacola is the home of the Navy's Blue Angels. It becomes fairly obvious as you drive around the town as there is Blue Angel stuff everywhere. Of course, the Naval Aviation Museum had some of their old planes displayed. I think they're F-18s?

I do enjoy looking at the cool military aircraft, but actually my favorite displays at the museum were the historical items. They have lots of old draft cards and certificates and stuff like that. I found the vintage recruiting posters to be quite intriguing.

The museum seemed to start with World War I, and then moved forward through most of the major wars. They did have a few Japanese planes from World War II. It was very cool to see these planes with the big red rising sun of Japan on their wings, just like I've seen in all the war movies my dad used to watch.

The museum was very cool, and I highly recommend it to anyone else traveling around that area. I leave you, loyal readers, to ponder that along with this photograph of the one thing that made me giggle in the entire museum.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Florida: The Foods

So although I may post from time to time about my food, I really do not want this blog to turn into a blog about food. Yes, I will continue to post about food from time to time, mostly just because it's a very important and enjoyable part of my life. I just don't want anyone to get the idea that I'm some sort of obnoxious and elitist foodie. Yuck.

I am posting about food today because we tried a great many new meals on our trip to Florida. We happened to be in the part of Florida with a very Southern culture, and it started to become apparent during our layover in Dallas. We had a good amount of time before our next flight and we were feeling very adult so we decided to have a nice sit-down meal at T.G.I. Friday's.

Little did I know, I was about to consume the tastiest wrap I've ever had.

Here it is pre-consumption. There was some sort of tasty barbeque sauce on it, and bacon, and I think a poultry of some sort. I can't even describe it; it was amazing. And I didn't eat any of my fries because I was so damn full!

Early in our trip, after a full day at the beach, we found ourselves to be quite famished. Our hostess A gently convinced us that we should head to Moe's Southwestern Grill, a franchise which apparently exists in New York City, although B and I have neglected to ever try it. Well let me tell you, we were very happy that A introduced us to the magic of the Moe's burrito. I have discovered that this place exists in New York City, so this squirrel is definitely making her way there as soon as we get home.

Okay, so Moe's wasn't exactly a southern thing since it clearly exists in the northern parts of the country. We were intrigued, however, by the many Whataburgers we saw throughout Florida. We had some extra time one day and so stopped by to try it.
We agreed that it was... okay. The burgers were huge, and relatively tasty. The fries were fine. Mostly we were just excited to have tried something new again.

Now we arrive at the most exciting part of our visit, the part where we ate seafood. Now, I'm married to B and I love him dearly, but he does not like seafood. He is, however, very happy to go to seafood restaurants with me, but really seafood is far more enjoyable when someone else appreciates it too. So I just generally don't eat much seafood with him.

But on this particular occassion we were both in Florida and with others who enjoyed seafood so I took full advantage of the situation and requested that we have a nice seafood dinner together.

A and J and I shared a basket of scallops. Mmmm... scallops... they were so good they melted in my mouth.

But the real excitement of the night was the fried oysters. I love oysters. I love them raw and I love them fried and I really just love them in all ways. But these were the freakin' best oysters I've ever had. My mouth waters when I look at this picture. Each one was huge, and perfectly fried in this light and tasty batter. I didn't even dip them in the tartar sauce because I wanted a simple and pure enjoyment of them.

So we had some awesome food experiences in Florida. There were many great meals when I didn't get out the camera, and unfortunately they won't be mentioned here. It was exciting to go to a different part of the country and get out of our regular schedule of Kowalski's sushi and Jimmy John's sandwiches. Mmmm... Jimmy John's...