Tuesday, June 29, 2010

South Dakota Wildlife

Fun with Uncle Dick & Aunt Donna

Have you ever ventured to a new place and instantly felt at home? I feel this way in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Partly because of the majestic landscape that beckons to be explored but mostly because of the warm welcome we received. They used to say “there’s gold up in them there hills”, and there is…my family. My Great Uncle Dick & Aunt Donna Fisher are two of the spriteliest individuals I know.

They chose to get the most out of their retirement by becoming tour guides in the Black Hills. Not only is their combined knowledge enough to publish their own encyclopedia, but they have such a passion for their state and their community that it’s hard not to be infected with their enthusiasm. Torben & I were treated to an A+ tour.

We drove the wildlife loop in Custer State Park (pics to follow in next blog), hiked through an incredible array of 200 BILLION year old rock formations. (Truthfully, my finite mind is having a hard time wrapping itself around just how old that is.)

(there's a girl free climbing on this "needle")
(yup, that's the road-and traffic goes in both directions!)

We toured a beautiful lodge, sampled Kick-Ass rhubarb wine (seriously, that’s the name), mingled with the artists at a sculpture exhibit, hiked a lake at several thousand feet, and saw the evening light and flag ceremony at Mt. Rushmore (the pictures didn’t turn out so well in the evening light, so you’ll just have to trust me – we were there). Did you know that the faces in the mountain are so large that Abe Lincoln, if he were alive, could stand up in his own eyeball? Nice trivia Aunt Donna!

The crème de la crème: a night blast at Crazy Horse. This was a superb treat! It was the anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the sculptor’s wife’s 84th birthday –what a celebration!! The monument to Crazy Horse is a work in progress and is a beautiful tribute to all Native American Tribes. The entire Mt. Rushmore carvings, all four heads, could fit in Crazy Horse’s head; this thing brings new meaning to HUGE! After the original artist passed, his wife and family took over the project and have expanded it to include a museum celebrating Native American Heritage and plans are underway for a university and medical community on the mountain. To celebrate: there was a laser light show and 84 thundering blasts atop the mountain. Then were all served cake in celebration! (My uncle Dick was first in line!!) It was very memorable and it felt like we were being a part of history. Thanks Uncle Dick & Aunt Donna!!

P.s. Torben & I though it hysterical that we are taking this trip in the “prime of our lives” and Dick & Donna could have run circles around us – it was tough to keep up with their endless energy, but a heck of a lot of fun trying!

More from South Dakota

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More badlands pics

Wounded Knee Massacre

On the way back we took a short detour to the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. It was a brutal, and in my opinion, unforgivable act. Again another of this country’s not-so-shining moments. Several hundred Native Americans, including Sioux, Oglala and Lakota tribes, Chief Sitting Bull, Chief Big Foot and many women and children were gathered and shot…for dancing. What a disgrace! No matter what day and age, people can be so hostile and ignorant. Some of the captives escaped and were hunted down, up to two miles away. And today there is but a small collection of gravestones atop a hill in memorial. Several of the modern day descendents of Native American tribes still live in barren and depressing adobes with little provisions, few resources and almost no contact with the outside world, save the tourists who visit this town with unpaved roads and no stop signs. The next time someone dares to complain or make a smart remark of entitlement about their “lack of privileges” in this country, they will definitively get an ear full from me. Torben finally got the chocolate covered cake donut he has been craving since Tennessee! Wall Drug is a totally unique and bizarre tourist trap, but one that is well worth a look-see, and is famous for its donuts. If you’re unfamiliar, picture a pharmacy with several cafes, shops filled with more taxidermy than is necessary and the most amazing collection of Old West Art that dons every wall. The collection is one of the best I have seen, truly. Setting up home in the Black Hills for a few days, should be more adventure filled with ooohhhh’s and aaaahhhhh’s. Can’t wait!!


Badlands are BAD, baby, BAD!! In a good way! The first night we camped we were treated to a storm, Badlands style, and it was a whopper. The entire sky turned from dusk to black in a matter of minutes. Out here, they sky goes on for miles and miles and to watch a mammoth wall of rumbling storm roll your way is a pretty awesome experience. We made it to the top of the hill for a little sightseeing when Torben yelled “RUN!” and estimated that we had approximately 30 seconds before being pelted with rain. He was right. 70 mile an hour gusts damn near blew us off the road. As if staying on the road wasn’t challenge enough, he had to navigate down a 7% grade in construction with like 2 feet of visibility. He’s good. The next day we learned that one of the campers in our park actually turned over from the force of the wind. Wooooooaaahhh! (Thankfully everyone was ok)

This is what we awoke to the next day, ROCK ON! (literally-ha!) I climbed this bad boy all the way to the tippy top. (Jen, Kel: it put Camel back to shame!)

It was a strain but totally worth it. I was expecting a little nervousness as I approached the summit, but honestly, I felt calmer and more stable the higher I climbed. A rattlesnake was rumored to make his home at the summit as well so I gave him plenty of room, no need to make friends. I don’t have words for the view that was beholden to me, and the pictures are amazing, but only give it a half justice. If you have any inclination to go here, GO! It will be an experience that will impress your memory, it certainly did mine. Enjoy (keep scrolling, I can only add 5 pics per post, so there are several posts that follow). We traveled south a few hours to Merriman, Nebraska. Why? Good question. It is the birthplace of Torben’s namesake, his grandfather Torben S. Madson, the first. Who, from what I understand, was a noble and righteous man. He went on to become the Mayor of Largo. The Madson family has fond memories of him and says that he was a kind, gentle, patient man. The original TSM’s parents came over from Denmark as Madsen and, like all Ellis Island immigrants got a name change, hence: Madson.

The family lived in a sod home in Merriman. When the original TSM was 7-8 years old his father had the courage and wherewithal to move his family (wife, son and two daughters) yet again across the country, this time south to Largo, Florida. After having seen Merriman there is little doubt as to why the family left. Sadly, this is about all that remains and it is clear even this has been gone for some time.

We took a stroll through the cemetery on the hilltop. I love old cemeteries – and this did not disappoint! There were several family plots, all worn with time, some newly added headstones since the 1950’s, but the real gems were the 1880 headstones! Talk about history! Imagine what these people would have seen!! Real Cowboys and Indians! Interestingly, I learned from my Aunt Donna that my Great (Great?) Grandfather also homesteaded in this area (Kadoka, SD) in the early 1900’s. Pretty cool that about 100 years ago our families once lived in the same area.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Driving through eastern South Dakota

I am so excited! I have started typing to keep myself busy, as I am so amped I can hardly contain myself: WE ARE FINALLY IN SOUTH DAKOTA!! This is one of our pinnacle goals of the trip. It is a land I have only seen in old movies and heard about in history class. I talked to my Uncle Dick Fisher (Grandpa P.J.’s brother), he and my Aunt Donna live in the Black Hills and we hope to meet up with them for a visit along the way. But first….I am awaiting my first glimpse of the Badlands….um, nothing yet….but of course I’ll keep you posted. Last night we arrived in Sioux Falls, SD and enjoyed a lovely dinner downtown at a sidewalk café. Our campgrounds had a huge playground, complete with this awesome “pillow jump” (think trampoline built into the ground).

The east of South Dakota is pretty barren. There are some gentle rolling hills, A LOT of corn and some cows. We saw our first herd of buffalo, big hairy beasts, they actually look kind of menacing from a distance. Of course, I didn’t get close enough to get more focused perspective, but I imaging their presence grows the closer you get. The population of South Dakota is 750,000, the whole state has less people than the city of Orlando! Pheasants outnumber people at a ratio of 10:1 – seriously, they printed it in a travel brochure.

The topography is changing quickly as I write this. Hills are starting to pop up all over the place and we just took our first steep grade in the mighty bus. A 5% grade doesn’t sound like much, but truthfully, I just about lost my lunch (partially the hill, partially my husband’s driving). We stopped a few towns back in Mitchell and took a quick tour of their Corn Palace. It’s actually an arena/performing arts center that is, you guessed it, decorated in corn. I know, it sounds cheesy, but it has been in existence for over 100 years. And the designs are actually impressive and greater than my imaginative mind could have fostered. Each year they change the designs and replace every ear of corn at the cost of $400,000. In a much appreciated twist, admission is: FREE! Also, on our way out of Nebraska the other day we went to the Horseshoe Casino (actually, we “camped” in their concrete RV Park, but that’s irrelevant). Torben was thrilled to have spent a few hours playing the craps table and won enough money to buy himself a souvenir t-shirt. On the way out we stopped to socialize with some of the shooters at our table. They thought Torben was my DAD!! Heeheehee!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

We're in Nebraska...seriously.

I enjoyed the ride south of Topeka. We ventured into a Prairie Grass Preserve. From afar the grass appears to be a blanket offering not more than a few inches of greenery. Looking out across the swaying landscape there is open space as far as the eye can see. The wind blows constant and generates a comforting shushing or hum between the grass, almost a soothing vibration. In every direction all I saw was grass. It was kind of a surreal moment. Far in the distance I could almost make out the towers of some electric cables, but they appeared totally out of place, so my mind’s eye just erased them and the vision was superb. I began dreaming of what the prairie might have looked like hundreds of years ago when the Native Americans inhabited the land. The phenomena of bison stampeding over the rolling hills must have been an awesome sight to behold. I also pondered how difficult life must have been for the first settlers to live in such a harsh climate, the wind is unrelenting, the grasses can grow up to six feet tall! A plethora of ferrets, birds, snakes, and rodents could (and still do) hide anywhere, and bison are notoriously territorial. Under the grass is rock, not conducive to farming and the land is prone to flooding. It would have been a difficult undertaking to sustain one’s self and one’s family with little or no resources. Back at the Capitol Building in Topeka there is an impressive bronze statue honoring the women of the frontier. It shows a woman with a bonnet sitting erect with a babe wrapped under her arm, a musket across her lap, a dog by her feet and her spare arm draped over the shoulder of a boy. She wears a bold look of courage and physical strength. Women back then were tough. I doubt dainty got them very far. It was a nice reminder that characteristics like fortitude, discipline and stamina were both necessary and admired. All too often the strength of a woman’s character is either unnoticed because of the outer package or dismissed as an unbecoming. This statue was a nice reminder that the backbone of this country was built on the resolve of women, who worked just as hard as the men they tended. While I bare no children, I do tend to favor the strength of my character, which has been the paramount of my accomplishments. I felt a kinship with this statue. Thank you, Topeka, for this striking tribute. (Oh, and along the way we visited the birthplace of Amelia Earhart-talk about strong women!) We landed in Omaha two days ago. Many of you know I have a strong aversion to all things Nebraska related. I did a clinical rotation up here during the dead of winter, the experience left a dull flakey taste in my mouth. I remember being so cold that my feet felt frostbitten, and that was before I even got out of bed. Wind is one thing, wind and ZERO degree temperatures are hell. I used to call Torben in Florida when I was shivering and barely able to see through the dark sleet. He would joyously tell me about the beautiful sunny day he was enjoying at the lake, meanwhile I could hear birds chirping happily in the background. Ugh. I was so envious I used to just hang up on him. (Good thing he gets me.) Needless to say, I was not that enthusiastic to return to this state, and would have been completely happy to have avoided it, save for one thing. Torben loves his Gators, and I have to admit I have willingly adopted rooting for the team. Well, they made it to the College World Series in Omaha. Hello Nebraska. Omaha is the birthplace of President Ford. Torben was thrilled to visit the home/memorial, as he campaigned for him and the Republican Party (I know, shocking, Republican, right?) when he was only 14 years old! My baby has done some cool stuff. He said he was so excited when his parents let him go; he piled into a bus with a bunch of Florida college kids and traversed the south. To this day it is one of his cherished memories.

The home/monument is beautiful and there is of course, a rose garden donated by his wife. We also had a moment there amidst our appreciation where we looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh scornfully, for obvious reasons. There are several marble constructs with the names of each President etched with care. I think this picture says it better than I ever could:

"Obamaha" is a bustling metropolis and I am pleased to report that once again my expectations have been shattered and I am grateful. It is complete with beautiful and well manicured parks, venues for large scale performances and the most enthusiastic baseball fans I have ever seen. Tens of thousands of people from all over the city and neighboring states have descended on Rosenblatt Stadium. This stadium has been hosting these championship games for over 60 years and the locals have season tickets to these games alone. In true Madson fashion, we arrived late on the scene and the party was well underway. We are accustomed to tailgating in the football season, but I have to say, these guys rivaled any we’ve seen. The nice thing is that fans and teams from all over the country were gathered together in good spirit. Of course we didn’t have tickets, but we lucked out with rock star parking near the stadium and something told us it was going to be a good day. Torben, who never knows a stranger, made friends with everyone strutting Gator orange and blue and in no time we had tickets on the third base line. I jumped for joy and appreciation, as we were NOT looking forward to joining the 2 mile long line waiting for general admission (Seriously, 2 miles and well over 20,000 people for 5,000 seats…um, no thank you.). For anyone who appreciates sports tradition, the Rosenblatt Stadium is a wonder, with incredible views of Omaha. This is the last year it will be in use, as construction for a newer, bigger (read: more expensive) stadium is already underway. When talking to the locals, most were sad that tradition of the stadium was ending. There were some die-hard baseball fans, and they likened it to losing Wrigley or Fenway, which I imagine would just devastate the community. As with most urban progress build, build, build and they will come. Omaha has a great riverfront district and the new baseball field will house nicely amidst extended parking, a mega-dome, etc. Anyway, we lucked out sitting next to some terrific people. I love hecklers and we had two of the best sitting right behind us. They knew each player’s name and stats and took great joy out at calling out every player on his follies. It was really entertaining, too bad the Gators made most of them. Oh well, the Gators lost, but no big deal, we didn’t want to make every other team in the nation fear us in this sport too :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We're ba-ack!!

Hello again!! I would be remiss if I did not begin this blog with an apology for those of you who regularly follow our postings: Sorry for the dead air. I (Sarah) had to do a major revamping of my attitude since my last post. Here’s the quick fill in: Another trip to Red Bay. I won’t go into the horrible details, but let’s just say there were tears, curse words and a lot of pouting. I actually avoided blogging to spare you from sharing in my misery. Well, that and a little bit of laziness (I'm on vacation people!). But, you can’t keep a good man/woman down long right? I am happy to report that the noMadsons are once again gaining momentum. Blaze’s follow up appointment went well; he is hobbling along slowly, thanks to everyone who shared their concerns. So now the good stuff…We spent a few days (before and after Red Bay) in Arkansas. Torben and I have taken previous trips to this part of the country and LOVED it. (Of course, this was the vacation following our mess in Nicaragua, so it’s not hard to appreciate improvement!) Arkansas is called the Natural State, and it is. Beautiful rolling Ozark Mountains, lush green forests, awesome caves, clean rivers, basically anything to tease an outdoorsman’s liking at your fingertips. But while we adore this state, we didn’t stay too long, our eagerness to explore NEW places won out. We drove north into Missouri, past a little town that I did one of my grad school clinical rotations, Joplin. Blazing through we noticed a storm to our west. Most people would pull over, seek shelter, or head the opposite way. Not the Madsons! We put on our game faces and decided to play storm chasers for the day…all the way into Kansas. Ok, perhaps not the best decision in a gigantic bus, but hey what’s life if not for a little hairy adventure? Truthfully all we got was a little rain, but pretended that we were in the scene of Twister: “we have hail, we have debris…was that a cow?” Ironically, my sister and her family live here but are gone home to visit family at this time (figures) so we didn’t have a doorstep to pull up on or a family to invade (bummer). We did find a great campsite out in the middle of the fields. It was awesome, the stars were so bright, our dogs ran loose and we could spread out our arms and not even come close to hitting a neighbor. The great expanse felt good, like a deep breath of fresh air. We ventured into Fort Scott, a lovely historic town that has an old timey dinner theater house with wild west frescos on the wall and huge drop curtains. Unfortunately the downturn of our economy is really hitting hard in the heart of this country where people rely on sweat and a hard day’s work to make it. It is incredibly sad to see all of the unique shops, restaurants and specialty stores go out of business because a new Wal-Mart Supercenter went in 30 miles down the highway. Another eye opening experience that has made me re-evaluate the cost of convenience. The people of Kansas are lovely. We got terrific recommendations for chiropractic adjustments for Torben and the kids (yes, we give our dogs chiropractic visits when they need them – they really work surprisingly well), even if we did have to drive 60 miles to a town that barely made the map.
Today we landed in Topeka and I have to say, Kansas is pretty cool so far. I surprise myself by saying that, but it is. I guess I can’t make fun of my sister for living here anymore. Sorry Sieve family, I stand corrected. The capitol of this state is beautiful and rich in history and architecture. Kansas was founded on the land of the Kansa people, whose name means People of the Wind, pretty great huh? And believe me, the wind does blow here. The state motto is Ad Astra Per Aspera, which translates as “to the stars through difficulties”. How awesome is that? I think I will adopt this as my new motto; it definitely fits our trip so far.
(Bela & Lily discover a turtle) *Oh, the noMadson (no-so-)funny moment of the day: As a previous smoker I am now especially sensitive to the stinkiness of cigarettes. We were sightseeing through town with our windows down, enjoying the aforementioned breeze of Kansas when we pulled to a stoplight and the smell was so overpowering I scrunched my nose and started complaining that someone was smoking. At the same time Torben and I looked to our left and noticed we were parked next to a crematory. Unfortunately, someone was smoking, literally. I know my parent's mouths are agap and heads slowly shaking...Sorry guys, my humor was very unintended, well timed, but unintended. That's it for now folks. Promise to be more punctual in my postings, lest you forget about us and

Friday, June 4, 2010

I don’t have a picture for this blog, but if I did it would be the image of my middle finger waving stoutly to some mythical karmic being that I have apparently pissed off. Seriously, seriously? No, SERIOUSLY!! (I feel like the trailer for Grey’s Anatomy.) Part I: Let me just recap the events of this “trip of a lifetime”: 2 funerals, and an emergency trip to the dentist on my birthday. Not to mention five weeks in the town of Red Bay, Alabama getting our coach worked on. Don’t get me wrong, the people of Red Bay are wonderful; but it only has four stoplights, two of them are in front of the motor home plant. The best cuisine offered is fried catfish and the nearest Walmart is 35 minutes away. Also, it’s a DRY county. Ok, lesson in patience. Then we endured the tow-car fiasco. On our third attempt to leave Alabama Blaze broke his leg. Recently, in Tennessee we lost all power to the coach. Yup, the whole shebang went kaput. The joy of a motor home is that everything runs on power, even the toilets and the door locks, but especially the leveling jacks, the air compressor brakes and the slide outs. Luckily we were staying near our dear friends the Dyes again – who graciously took us in, cat, dogs, whining husband and all. Guess what? Back to Red Bay. We felt “lucky” on this return as we only had to stay two nights to repair broken wiring and a failed water pump (by the way, there are critical moments when you don’t want to find out your water pump has failed, I happened to find one of them! Thank God we have 2 bathrooms.). We were once again giddy this morning as we took off from Red Bay headed West, finally WEST!! Then the damn air conditioner broke. U-turn. So I say again…SERIOUSLY? I called my mother as I fought back the hysteria that threatened to boil in my blood. My mom can make anything better. She’s helped me through umpteen different disasters –cancelled weddings, expired passports and dysentery in a foreign country just to make a few, but I’ll save those for another chapter. Anyway, I dialed my mom, whom I lovingly refer to as Cath, and by her deafening moment of silence I couldn’t tell if she wanted to laugh or cry for us, probably both! She sympathized with my gripes and brightly reminded me that everything was still under warranty. Everything that is, except my patience. She estimated that ran out about 600 miles ago!! Sometimes it's great just to be understood - Thanks Mom! Part II: After watching our home ride the jacks up and down several times today we finally (gulp) left Red Bay, crossed the state line into Mississippi and kept on driving, ignoring every image we saw in the rear view mirror. HA! No need for vision when you can have sound! We were treated to a beautiful new noise in our motor home. It was small and wheezing at first, then it grew louder like a train horn continuously blaring. How long can you pretend you don't hear your home wailing like a freight train? We can probably go longer than most people. So, we barrelled down the road leaving Mississippi, blazing past Tennessee and alas into Arkansas. We crossed a HUGE freaky suspension bridge on the west side of Memphis and held our breaths as we stared wide eyed at the mighty Mississip flowing beneath us. This river never ceases to amaze me, for both its history and its sheer magnitude of strength. A six foot tree floating down river is merely a piece of lint being carried effortlessly out to the ocean. The sound continued though our amazement of this natural wonder. We found a campground called Tom Sawyer’s Riverfront RV, cool huh? We pulled in our site and cut the engine – the noise sounded like a 757 engine on a runway. It was so darn loud campers were coming out of their rigs to find out what had landed next to them. But it wasn’t a plane, it wasn’t even a barge horn, it was just the Madsons and their piece of shit motor home. Ok, so we like to make an entrance, but really? Good grief. There is nothing we can do about it today. So we just hooked up to our fabulous site right on the water and got to watch a larger-than-life barge pushing its load down the river. We enjoyed an hour of strolling along the bank and weaving in and out of a kudzu ivy covered swamp. It was replenishing. I think God gave us these moments of recollection to make up for the crap storm we’ve endured. He must have seen we were at our edge and gave us a lifeline to pull us back in. So from the banks of the Mississippi I bid you goodnight…until tomorrow’s fiasco begins.