Monday, August 29, 2016

Little Bighorn Battlefield

The Little Bighorn Battlefield Visitors Center displays this diorama of the battle

On June 26, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer made his last stand against the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux Indians on a hilltop above the Little Bighorn River.

General George Armstrong Custer

His company of 232 soldiers were outmanned ten to one as they fought to the death.  Their valor has rightly earned the recognition of military historians and laymen ever since. 

A map of the battle displayed in the visitors' center.

On our day off from the Habitat for Humanity build in Sheridan, Wyoming, Tim and I drove 70 miles north to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, now a national park in southeast Montana.  

The line of trees is where the Little Bighorn River flows,

Viewing the topography of the ridge and coulees above the river gave us an experiential perspective of the maneuvers of the doomed 7th Cavalry under Custer's command.

Pressured by gold seekers and pioneer settlers to open up the West, the United States broke one treaty after another with the indigenous tribes who fought back in a series of clashes known as the Sioux Wars.  On June 25, 1876, more than 10,000 Indians were camped on the Little Bighorn River.  "We must stand together or they will kill us separately," Sitting Bull told his warriors.  "These soldiers have come shooting; they want war.  All right, we'll give it to them."

Sitting Bull

Custer divided his regiment into battalions for a three-prong attack on the Indian camp, retaining three companies under his command and placing Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen in charge of the other two parties.  Perhaps Custer planned to move his company behind the battle enjoined by Reno and Benteen in order to take hostage the women, children and elderly of the enemy, a tactic that had served him well in the 1868 Battle of Washita River, near present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma.  But that plan, if indeed that was his objective, went sadly awry.  Separated from his subordinates, Custer and his companies were stranded upon a hilltop, surrounded by Indians on all sides.

Custer's Last Stand happened on this hilltop.

Slaughtering their horses to form a barricade of their carcasses, Custer and his men tried desperately to hold off the assault until Reno and Benteen could rescue them, but that did not occur.

Just a few miles to the south, Reno was met with heavy resistance from the Indians and ordered a retreat of his men.  But Benteen arrived on the scene and the two battalions formed a line on what was later called Reno's Hill.  The Indians, learning that their families were threatened, turned their attention towards Custer's party.

Historians theorize that the reason Benteen failed to ride to Custer's relief was due to the deep resentment he felt after Custer abandoned his friend, Major Joel Elliott, during the Battle of Washita.  Whatever the truth of that conjecture, Custer and his men were easily overcome by Indian warriors determined to protect their weak.

After listening to the ranger-led program, Tim and I drove 4.5 miles along the ridge, following the approach of Custer's regiment to the battle and using our cell phones to dial the numbers of the park's audio tour.  Vivid accounts of the battle by Indians told how Custer's command was surrounded and slain in fierce fighting.  

White tombstones marked the place where the soldiers' bodies were found when troops under the command of Colonel John Gibbon and General Alfred H. Terry arrived June 27th, a day too late to rescue Custer and his men.

The Indian Memorial at the battlefield

While the battle is called Custer's Last Stand, the case could be made that, despite their overwhelming victory, this was also the Indians' last stand.  Afterwards, they were hunted mercilessly by the U.S. government and finally herded into reservations, a sorrowful conclusion to the Sioux Wars.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Building Stability in Sheridan

Experts agree that a stable home is one key to success.  That has certainly been true for Christine (shown to the right below), Executive Director of the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Sheridan, Wyoming.  

From left to right: Dimitra, Christine's baby, Christine

Just a few years ago, Christine was selected to be a homeowner in Habitat's program.  She assumed the discounted mortgage for a home and moved in with her young daughter.  Holding down a full-time job, she also enrolled in the local college where in time she received her degree.  Sheridan's board of directors recognized her potential and hired her to oversee the operations of the local affiliate.  She has done a terrific job and now, remarried with a second child, her success story is an inspiration to others.

For the past two weeks, Tim and I have participated in the Habitat for Humanity build in Sheridan, WY where the affiliate's motto is "Strength, Stability, Self-Reliance Through Shelter."  

Kathy and Kaylick, one of her sons

Two houses were under construction, but we focused our efforts on the home being built for Kathy Baker and her family.  


Joining us were Randall and Ruby, fellow Care-A-Vanners from Florida who also travel the country to build homes for Habitat. 


When we arrived, only a few sheets of drywall were nailed to the framing of Kathy's home.  

Randall and site construction manager Dave

Tim and Randall installed drywall throughout the rest of the house and the garage.  



Under the direction of Dave, the construction site manager, Ruby and I learned to tape the seams and mud them with joint compound.  


By the end of the first day on the job, I was wearing almost more mud than I had applied.  But with practice, I improved and by the end of our stint in Sheridan, I felt quite accomplished.  Drywall?  Bring it on!

The Bighorn Mountains

Sheridan has struggled to sign up Care-A-Vanners for their builds.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps people have the perception that Wyoming is a desolate and barren wasteland.  But that is definitely not the case!  We found the beauty of the Bighorn mountains just west of this city of 17,000 inhabitants magnificent with plenty of hiking trails to sample during days off.  An added bonus of the area are the spectacular sunsets!

The city also hosts several festivals throughout the summer.  

Thirsty Thursday

We were lucky to be there for the third Thursday of the month, Thirsty Thursday as it's called, when storeowners in the historic downtown stay open late and vendors set up booths along Main Street.  Our friends Randy and Pam happened to be in town that evening, joining us for the fun. 

From clockwise from the bottom: Randy, Randall, Ruby, Cindy, Pam, Tim
The shop owners are pictured in the rear

It is my hope that other Care-A-Vanners will discover this gem of a city and unite with the Sheridan affiliate to build homes where additional Habitat homeowners may establish strong and stable families.

Morning devotions at the build site

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bikes & Hikes

Hiking and biking are two pastimes my husband Tim and I both enjoy.  During our 12-day stay in the Grand Teton National Park, we found some great trails for both activities.

There's a multi-use paved pathway, perfect for pedestrians and bicyclists, that stretches 20.3 miles from Jenny Lake south to the town of Jackson, WY.  Although there are a couple hills that are challenging, the path is on the valley floor, making it relatively level.

We didn't ride the whole distance; instead, we concentrated on the section from Dornan's resort to Jenny Lake, a segment that gave us a close view of the mountains. 

In fact, we liked this route so much we rode it on two different days.  There were also plenty of cyclists on roads through the park, but that's a little too adventurous for my taste.  

Who knows when a driver might take his eyes off the road to gaze at the scenery and suddenly send a cyclist flying over a fence. No, I much prefer a trail that's off the road!

As for hikes, I've already mentioned Inspiration Point and Mystic Falls in previous posts, but I want to remember the following trails as well.

Taggert Lake, 5 miles round-trip

Taggert Lake

According to the park's newspaper, Taggert Lake is the second most popular hike in the Grand Tetons after Inspiration Point.  

Water is the attraction here!  

Not only do you hike along a babbling brook, but your destination is a glacial lake whose mirrored surface reflects the majesty of the Teton Range.  

To avoid the crowd, we arrived at the trailhead off Teton Park Road early.

At 8:00 a.m., the parking lot at the trailhead was practically empty.  

Bradley Lake

This was such an easy hike that we continued along the trail for an additional 1.5 miles to Bradley Lake, another postcard-pretty pond.

Fabian-Lucas Homestead to Amphitheater Lake, 10 miles round-trip

Fabian-Lucas Homestead

Pam Vandewater, a former co-worker of mine, told me we'd find a bit of heaven on the trail behind the Fabian-Lucas Homestead and she was right.  Of course, she ought to know this area well since her great-aunt Geraldine Lucas was the first to file a claim upon the land, building a cabin there in 1913. 

Somewhere up there is Amphitheater Lake, our proposed destination.

Geraldine defied society's norms.  At a time when divorce was scandalous, she left her husband in Iowa, moved to New York and earned her college degree, enabling her to support herself and her son Russell.  

Upon her retirement from teaching, she embarked on a life under the shadow of the Grand Teton, a mountain she climbed in 1924 at the age of 58.  She was the second woman to reach the summit.  

Sadly, Tim and I fell short of that goal.  Still, we enjoyed the vistas that were undoubtedly commonplace to Geraldine.

This elk was grazing along the road as we passed this morning.

Today we drove through Yellowstone National Park on our way to Cody, WY where we planned to spend the night.  Knowing that we had time to kill before we could check into the campground in Cody, we decided to hike the Storm Point Trail east of the Fishing Bridge visitor center in Yellowstone.

Storm Point Trail, 2 mile loop

Indian Pond

This nature trail begins at the almost perfectly round Indian Pond, a flooded crater formed by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.  The 2.3 mile trail crosses grassland and forest to the sand dunes of Lake Yellowstone where a wind-swept rocky promontory lends its name to the trail.  

Stormy Point

The point was a fun place for photographs.

My turn to stake my claim on Stormy Point.

On our final day in Grand Teton National Park after we'd bicycled our favorite route, we ducked into the Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration, a tiny charming church constructed of logs.  The cross silhouetted against the view of the mountains brought to mind Psalm 121.

Psalm 121 (King James Version)
1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

This is the psalm I most often think of when I'm hiking--probably because that's when I most need help physically--ha, ha!  Yet, when I meditate on it, isn't it interesting that all I have to do is place my confidence in the Lord.  He will do the rest--for evermore.

We'll be in Sheridan, WY, for the next two weeks, building homes with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate there.  We've visited eight national parks over the past six weeks which has been an incredible trip, but we're looking forward to these next two weeks of purposeful work.  I hope I haven't forgotten that it's all in the wrist when it's comes to wielding a hammer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Yellowstone Then and Now

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

I can't recall much from the trip my family made to Yellowstone National Park in 1961.  After all, I was only seven-years-old at the time.  But I do remember the exuberance my older brother Doug and I felt upon our arrival.  We threw open the car doors and burst out of that four-wheeled prison with all the pent-up pressure of a steam locomotive's boiler.  It had been an excruciatingly long way from the family farm in Kansas to the park!

My parents had reserved a cabin for our stay.  While they were occupied with unloading the suitcases, making up the beds, and undoubtedly thanking God that they were no longer in a car with whiny kids, Doug and I spied a black bear cub near the cabin and gave chase.

What could be cuter than a bear cub?  All we wanted to do was pet it, but I still can remember my dad's terrified shout when he exited the cabin and saw what we were up to.  I think we scared 10 years off his life.  (Mine, too, now that I recall the incident!)  We were lucky Mama Bear did not maul us.

That memory has replayed in my mind in a continuous loop now that my husband Tim and I are here on our own pilgrimage to Yellowstone.

LeHardy Rapids

We are camped near Moran, WY.  That's an ideal location for viewing the sights of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.  Because the distance to Yellowstone from our campground is more than 30 miles, we've decided to alternate our days between the two, giving Tim a reprieve from long days of driving the Yellowstone Grand Loop.

I'd forgotten the beauty of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  When my dad drove the Loop so many years ago, I'm not sure he ever let us out of the car after the bear cub incident.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone's Upper Falls
But I found the canyon breath-taking this time.  On the South Rim, Tim and I hiked from Artist's Point to Sublime Point for views that were--well, sublime!

The Lower Falls of Yellowstone's Grand Canyon
There seem to be fewer bears this time or maybe they're just lying low nowadays.  During our family vacation so many years ago, the bears would walk right up to cars where tourists would feed them.  When we hiked the backcountry to Mystic Falls this past Friday, we didn't encounter a single bear.  Perhaps that's due to the park service's "Be Bear Aware" campaign, warning visitors not to leave food outside where bears could find it and become habituated to human handouts.  Wildlife should be wild!

From upper left: chipmunk, elk, buffalo herd, the buffalo who sauntered by our car, deer

Our hike to Mystic Falls began at the trailhead in Biscuit Basin known for its collection of six geysers. 

Sapphire Pool

The most beautiful one is Sapphire Pool, a brilliantly clear and blue hydrothermal feature.  

Mystic Falls
The Mystic Falls were lovely, too. 

Old Faithful as seen from Mystic Falls Trail

However, the most memorable moment of our hike came when we found an outcropping and watched Old Faithful erupt 3 miles away.  

The overlook on Mystic Falls Trail

We were definitely in the right place at the right time!  

Of course, we later watched this phenomenon up close with hundreds of other viewers.  Old Faithful is an amazing sight no matter the viewing location!  It's no wonder it's such an icon.

One activity we really enjoyed this trip was listening to the GyPsy Guide app about Yellowstone.  Using GPS, the app's narration would kick on as we drove past memorable places, many off the beaten path.  

Firehouse River Falls below the swimming area

The Firehole River Road was one of those hidden gems.  The river flowing through this canyon is one of the few places in the park where swimming is allowed.  In most other spots, the geothermal heat makes the water much too hot for this activity.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

The Lake Yellowstone Hotel was another turnoff from the Loop that we would have missed without the app's directions.  The hotel is a National Historic Landmark and it's beautiful inside.  Naturally curious, we wondered how much it would cost to stay there so we asked at the registration desk.  The Presidential Suite is $690/night, way beyond our budget!

The Black Pool at West Thumb

Of course, Yellowstone is known for the many hydrothermal features of the park.  

Grand Prismatic Spring
Over two-thirds of the worlds geysers are right here in Yellowstone.  That's impressive!

Lakeshore Geyser

Yet, it's the sounds of Yellowstone that I recalled from my first visit and that I will remember from this trip, too.  

Cliff Geyser
The fizzing geysers as they erupt into the air;

Mud Volcano

the mud pots that plop, plop, plop the clay surface of their pools; 

A Fumerole at Fountain Paint Pots

and the fumaroles that hiss as their gases escape their vents.

Yellowstone is a delight to the senses--sight, sound and the smell of sulphur in the air.  I'm so fortunate that I've had the chance to experience Yellowstone both then and now.