8.06.2008

Petrified and Enchanted

I have been so very fortunate in the diorama mannequin department on this trip. I found this Days-of-Our-Lives couple contemplating the sacrament of marriage in the Lemmon Petrified Wood Park Museum when I went for a visit Wednesday morning. The museum is so charming because it's obvious that everyone in at least a 100 mile radius has brought in any old bric-a-brac they find to help round out the extensive collection of old stuff. Aunt Dora's dress and fancy hat that she wore to the big wedding in '56, still protected by an ancient dusty dry cleaning bag is right next to a decaying toothbrush from the early 1900s found by the Collins boy while he was fixing up his daddy's old barn. The Museum is an adjunct to the adjacent Lemmon Petrified Wood Park, the largest Petrified Wood display in the world! I could not believe how lucky I was that this little gem was a mere 4 blocks from my hotel in Lemmon! Who knew Lemmon, SD, was such a happening place? Wow.

The Petrified Wood Park was begun in 1930 and completed in 1932 . It has over 100 freestanding sculptures that are covered mostly with chunks of petrified wood, but also a good number of fossils and miscellaneous geology from the region. The structure shown in the image to the right has a chamber in the middle that is completely covered with pieces of fossilized dinosaur bone. I guess they only use it for extra special occasions since it seems to have a portcullis for a door! I also like this display (left) of fossilized dinosaur claw marks. It's cool enough to see one set, but how cool is it to see lots and lots of them all massed together? One of the signature items at the Park are the conical towers sprinkled throughout the park's footprint. Some are as high as 20 feet tall, all are stolidly and exotically handsome. Visually, I really liked the ones covered with round, geode looking stones the best. The gift shop offered miniature versions of the cone shaped towers, covered with petrified wood chips. I couldn't live without one and it is now firmly ensconced on the road trip altar on the dashboard of my car. The lady in the gift shop told me there were made by volunteers there in Lemmon, which tickled me even more.

After one more pleasant turn through the park, I got back in the car and began heading north toward Regent, North Dakota. Regent is one the two endpoints of a stretch of road in North Dakota known as the Enchanted Highway seeing as how there are seven gigantenormous sets of metal scultptures sprinkled along its 30 mile length. Regent looked to be pretty small on the map, so I had to remain hopeful that I would be able to gas up there when I arrived. I did NOT, however, expect to find a metal art gift shop (I loved their enormous aluminum Christmas tree outside) and an espresso bar that served pannini sandwiches! I was thrilled when I saw that they had wi-fi, good coffee and something besides cheeseburgers. I settled down at a table and spent several happy hours writing, sipping coffee and waiting for the afternoon light to arrive. I figured the scenery along the Enchanted Highway would be that much more enchanting during the golden hour. Before I left, the nice young gal at the gift shop indulged me by taking my picture in this rig they had out in front. I love these things - you, know, where you stick your face in and take a picture - I sure wish I knew what they were called! If anyone knows the name for these things, PLEASE tell me! It's driving me crazy that there's a vocabulary word so conspicuously absent from my mind.

Not long after I turned onto the Enchanted Highway, I came upon the first set of sculptures. Handily, for comparison's sake, the first one I encountered was the same one I had put my face in for the photo back in Regent! I loved the saucy curls of the original. I had only enough time to snap a picture of the wife and the husband figures before I was forced to literally RUN back to the car to get the mosquito spray. It was like that old Off commercial where the guy stuck his arm in the aquarium of live mosquitoes. Yikes! Good thing I brought the heavy duty Deet on Sharon's advice. I moved on to the next sculpture on the route - Teddy Roosevelt on a rearing horse. I spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get my camera to do what I wanted it to while waving away swarming skeeters. I finally relented and hauled out the camera manual and had it figured out in no time. And I'm glad to report that the combination of the Octopus tripod and shutter delay function resulted in the fine image seen on the right.

My next stop yielded the most surreal and delightful moments of my trip down the Enchanted Highway. As I neared the next installation, (a group of five giant quail, very common in the area), I noticed a trio of visitors grouped in front of the sculptures, taking turns snapping each others photos. It took me a moment to realize as I passed by, slowing for the parking lot entrance, that the fellow that was currently being photographed held a very dead pheasant extended at arm's length as far away from the rest of him as possible. I SO wish I had had my camera at the ready to take a picture of that scenario - it was hilarious! It'll just have to live on in my mind, I guess. When I got out of my car, I walked over to the fellow who had been holding the pheasant when I arrived and said, "Hey! That's no fair! Y'all brought props!" He got a twinkle in his eye and asked without responding to my taunt, "Are you an artist?" I laughed and said, "Yes, I guess it's pretty obvious, isn't it?" He told me that they had found the inanimate bird on the side of the road when they arrived and that it didn't appear to have been dead long. I admired his courage in being willing to pick up a dead animal, simply for a good photograph. I asked where they were from. "Wis-cahhhn-sin" he replied in a sing-song cadence that proved his statement must certainly be true. After we finished exchanging pleasantries, the intrepid Wisconsites departed and I walked out to the road to take a picture and have a look at the dead pheasant myself. Sure enough, it was dead. I noticed that scattered in the grass near the carcass were a few feathers that had been knocked loose from the poor gal on impact. I retrieved them for my dashboard altar because that's exactly what it's for.

Next stop was the most recent addition to the highway gallery: the underwater scene. You can't help but be struck by the ambition of this grouping - it's huge and complex. It was the stop along this route where I finally gave considerable thought to how wonderful it is when people just decide to do something ambitious, even if it doesn't make sense and is hard work. The prospect of erecting a huge muskie (?) leaping up from a wheat field in the middle of nowhere North Dakota would probably be too daunting for most of us. Thank you Gary Greff for your courage and determination.

Then there were the giant grasshoppers, the leaping deer and finally the enormous "Geese in Flight" overlooking I-94. Geese in Flight is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest metal sculpture in the world. It is 110-feet tall, 154-feet long and weighs in at 78.8 tons. It was built from used oil well pipe and oil tanks and the largest goose is 19-feet long and has a 30-foot wing span. The best part of it for me was seeing it from many miles away and realizing that what I was looking at was the actual sculpture. I also really like the driveway up the hillside to the sculpture, lined as it was with lots and lots of geese on posts. Very fetching. I couldn't take the sculpture seriously when I stood in front of it, though. I personally found it somewhat menacing and cryptic, even though I was very impressed with the execution of the thing. Hats off to Gary!


I swung back onto the interstate, and headed off in the direction of Montana, my brief fling with North Dakota concluded. Until I got to Exit 7, that is. Just at the best part of the golden hour, I came upon a highway sign on the side of the road that read "Exit 7, Home on the Range". Set against the gorgeous High Plains backdrop of grasslands and golden light, the sign evoked a halcyon fantasy - you know - the one where the deer and the antelope play. I pulled over and trod through the weeds, making sure to watch for snakes since I had on sandals and jockeying for the best position to capture the sign in all it's glory.

The funny part, in retrospect, is here I was trying so hard to take a nice artistic picture of the Home on the Range sign and then turned around and took this other photo as an afterthought. It turns out that the one I shot as an afterthought is the one that brings tears to my eyes. I just love this image so much.

I got back in the car and sped off toward Montana, eager to add another state magnet to my display on the tailgate. I knew that I'd need to stop at the first largish town, Glendive, to get a hotel room because cities large enough to have lodging were about to get really scarce. When I made it to Glendive, I learned that there was not a single hotel room available anywhere in the area. What on earth was it? Sturgis? Summer? Unsure, but I would have to drive another hour and a half to Miles City to see if they had anything there. I was a little daunted until I pulled back onto the darkened freeway and realized that a large lightning storm was in progress in exactly the direction I'd be heading. I hadn't driven long before I had left all the lights of Glendive behind me and was immersed in the total darkness of long stretches of Montana highway. The only light to be seen was the pool in front of me (traffic was virtually nonexistent) formed by my headlights and the constant flash of bolts being thrown from the thunderclouds. to my northwest. It was beyond fabulous! Thinking quickly, I popped the Chemical Brothers album "Push the Button" into the CD player, cranked it up and proceeded to have an experience that went right off the charts. I SWEAR to you the lightning was choregraphed with the music! I could even point to the sky on the beat and a flash would appear! I felt like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice!

The gift of the lightning storm easily entertained me all the way to Miles City. The first place I stopped, the girl told me she was sold out and everyone was full, but there might be a couple of places left at a hotel in the old downtown area called The Olive. She called to check and I was in luck. I followed her directions to a part of town I probably would never have discovered so late at night, what I'm coming to know as the old core. The part with the old bars that have cool signs and little diners and dime stores and appliance stores with weird sounding names. As I drove down the main drag, I spotted with glee two wonderful old neon bar signs on my left - The Bison Bar and the Montana. I fervently wished The Olive would be just down the street and sure enough it was! As soon as I checked in, I put my purse over my shoulder and walked directly over to the Bison Bar for a longneck, before I even unloaded my luggage from my car. As before, I was greeted with what I consider to be Draconian beer selection and settled once again for the only vaguely non-standard beer they carried: Corona. At least it wasn't lite! The bartender was friendly and got out his atlas to help me figure out a good route west when I told him where I was headed. I liked this little town. It had a good feel.

After a quick half beer, I stumbled back over to my oppressively 70s flavored room at the Olive (including a world class swag lamp) and fell into a deep and satisfied sleep.

2 comments:

ChrisB said...

Of what particular theme is this museum? Did I miss a title or something? These are the most horrible Barbie and Ken dolls I have ever seen!

Joe said...

It's a great post, and it makes me wish I was there to see everything, even the goose sculpture, which is strange and strange.

I just left Michigan-my ancestral home-and visiting my family, and drivinmg around in the countryside a little, it struck me that I knew of very little outsider stuff, very few grottos or cement buffalo, that sort of thing, was to be had there. Have you been?
Come to San Francisco so I can make come over with a bottle of wine. We'll talk about it.
Joe