The little engine that could... and other stories

Trip Start Sep 21, 2012
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Trip End Nov 14, 2012


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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'll hafta summarize two-days' in one entry. We're moving too fast for me to keep up with writing about it -- especially when some nights we don't have access to the internet, and now and then don't hit a campground until half-past grumpy.

Monday, October 1, we drove from our campground at Wind Cave up very twisty (but beautiful!) roads to Mount Rushmore. What can I say? It's as impressive as ever. They've built considerably more of a facade approaching it, which is very nicey-nicey, but probably  unneccessary. In fact, ww thinks the additions speak more of 'tourist trap' than of honoring those portrayed... and notes that they're so sited as to block the view of the sculpture. Faagh! 

Next we drove to Hill City to ride the steam train there. The adjacent SD railway museum is very interesting with quite a range of hardware and a lot of well-researched interpretive material. The train was a treat.  The steam locomotive the North Dakota Central Railway runs does not use coal. It runs on recycled motor oil. Coal was banned in the Black Hills nearly a century ago because of its propensity to start fires. That's a real hazard in an environment that can be really dry. The route includes 4 and 5% grades and some fairly short radius turns. Our power was a 2-6-2 Baldwin, dating from the 1920s (with, as the trip guide noted, barely enough weight and power to make the initial 800 foot climb before the grade settles back to a more typical  "steep" slope). Astonishingly, at least to me (ww is in on this graf), the North Dakota Central also operates a Mallet  -- an articulated, 2-6-6-2 - over the same Hill City to Keystone route. They have quite a bit of antique rolling stock, restored or well-maintained pending  preservation, at least one more steam loco, and two diesels -- a GP9 used for the first trip each  morning (so  the crew need not report at 2am to start building steam and a yard engine -- an elderly GE product, I think.

We had a special treat when we went down the block to get lunch after picking up our tickets.  One of the Wind Cave park rangers had suggested a place called the Alpine Inn, so we went looking for it.  When we found it, we almost didn't go in.  Their signs advertised "fine European dining."  The facade suggested "oops, big! bucks." We were just looking for lunch. But go in we did -- a strong recommendation is a powerful thing -- and got far more than mere lunch. The  Inn's many dining rooms are all decorated in high-Victorian style  with Hoch-Deutsch flourishes, some of them museum quality oils; some tapestry; and an abundance of other artifacts as well as some current works that 'fit' with their elders.

And  the meal... Ahhhh! ww had a variant on a Reuben that may have been among the best 2 or 3 sandwiches of his life; LJW says her croissant was superior - and that the cranberry chutney took the turkey-swiss with a raspberry dressing tp a level definitely out of the ordinary. Our server, Kari, was well informed, courteous and attentive. Ww's coffee was  refilled  early and often (like voting in Chicago) and likewise, Linda's pink lemonade which was a generous glass to begin with.

But on to Laramie. ww misjudged the distance to the second apparently possible campground... and when we reached there, discovered the listing was a practical joke or something. There was no campground at the specified location, nor was there one at any of the next several towns (which were 40-50 miles apart, anyway) even when advertised by little blue signs bearing stylized tent-and-trailer symbols. So we made "good" progress -- "haha" sez the disgruntled driver -- thru the dark rangeland and hills, landing in the little Wyoming town of Lusk long after our planned stopping time.

Tuesday morning we headed south, reaching the Fort Laramie National Historic Site around 10 a.m. We spent a couple of hours there, reading about its history as a trading post and way point on the pony express and trying to imagine what life mus have been like there in the min-1800s.

Then on to Laramie, where we met up with a friend and former colleague of Linda's. Kellie and Linda share the experience of having served on the board of and as president of the North American Association of Commencement Officers -- an experience that left us with many shared memories and a bond of friendship. Kellie and her husband chose an excellent local bar and grill where we spent the evening enjoying wonderful food and even better company.

Today (Wednesday), having caught up on some domestic chores and gotten the oil changed in the truck, it's off to Louisville, Colorado, and a much-anticipated visit with Marcy, soul-mate extraordinaire!






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Eilis on

So great that you got to meet Kellie - love the photo of you both on facebook.

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