Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Who's a Lucky Dog?

Bao, with Birthday Cake in his face. Who could resist a soft squeaky toy that says Birthday Boy on it? Especially since Bao didn't get to have a proper birthday cake, this year.
Bao "took the cake" at Lucky Dog, an award-winning pet boutique in San Diego's Gaslamp District. It's a fascinating area, and features San Diego's oldest building -- an unprepossessing wooden house that's now a museum, but was closed because it was Monday and museums are always closed on Mondays. The house is all that survived of that first attempt to found a settlement here, which failed so miserably that the area came to be known as Rabbitville, because it was only inhabited by rabbits.
Then along came Andrew Horton, with tons of money. He bought 800 acres of waterfront land (at 27 cents per acre) and built a $50,000 wharf. Then he divided it all into commercial and residential lots, and sold it. Then he founded a bank. You could do this sort of thing back then, if you had tons of money.
Gradually, the commercial district moved north and the prostitutes and gamblers moved in. Wyatt Earp ran three gambling saloons here. Now it's all shops and restaurants, and a great place to browse. (Especially if you have tons of money)
So there it is. We're packing up and heading home. But don't go away -- next week, we're off to Alaska.

Monday, July 30, 2007

And this is where we did have lunch, yesterday.

We're just outside the Guadalajara Restaurant, at the new Bazaar Del Mundo in San Diego.

When I first visited San Diego (over ten years ago) my friend Judythe brought me here for lunch, and I fell in love with the place. They serve Margaritas in glasses that are as big as a mixing bowl, and great food, all in a blaze of brilliant color. As you can see, even the shoppping bags are works of art.

Besides, no visit to San Diego would be complete without paying obeisance to the Great God Sha Ping. Bazaar Del Mundo has some of the greatest little shops with some of the most unique jewellery and objets d'art anywhere. So we ate ourselves silly and shopped 'til we dropped. Well, 'til I dropped. Bao had his stroller. I'm thinking, what I really need to do is teach Bao how to push me in the stroller. We could take turns.

Mostly, I come to San Diego to visit with Judythe (and shop at Bazaar Del Mundo) Alas! today is the final day of our adventure. Tomorrow morning, we point our little noses -- one moist, one dry -- east and head back home to Tucson. Meanwhile, San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter beckons. Sixteen blocks of restaurants, shops and galleries should keep us suitably occupied, don't you think?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

This is where we didn't have lunch, yesterday. (They're only open for dinner) But at least we had a look. It's sort of a cross between a Christmas Tree and the top of a gigantic ladies' floral hat. Everything is pink. Huge roses. Cupids. Twinkling lights. It's the Madonna Inn, at San Luis Obispo. We ended up having lunch in the coffee shop, which was no slouch. In fact, they served up the best steak salad I've had anywhere. And the house Cabernet Sauvignon was so nice that I bought a bottle to take home.

We stayed at the Best Western. Actually, I think they should call it the worst Western. Nothing worked, including the internet. And I don't think I've ever encountered anyone with fewer people skills than "Jennifer" (no surname -- none of these people ever have surnames) at the front desk, who advised me that I shouldn't complain, because lots of people weren't able to log on. But, hey! This room cost $209 per night. Yup. In not particularly beautiful, not-downtown San Luis Obispo. Ah! the viscissitudes of travel.

Nest time, we'll stay at the Madonna Inn.

We spent most of today driving to San Diego. 319 miles. Six and a half hours. If you ask me, Los Angeles is a hairsbreadth away from total gridlock. One day soon, one innocent little car is going to tootle merrily down an on-ramp and onto one of the freeways and wham! everybody will be stuck there, forever. When it happens, remember. You read it here first.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Carmel is cute. Carmel is unspoiled, much the same today as it was 40 years ago. No neon lights. No fast food places. No street numbers, no addresses -- it's still small enough so that if they tell you a shop is on Sixth between San Carlos and Mission, that's all you need to know. Houses don't have addresses, either. So how do you get your mail? You pick it up at the Post Office.

Walk down Ocean Avenue and you're rubbing shoulders with millionaires. You have to be a millionaire to live here. They call the houses cottages. A modest cottage will cost you $1.2 million. There are no homeless people sleeping in doorways. There is no rubbish on the streets. And the dogs are better groomed than I am.

Here's Bao at Woof Fountain in Carmel Plaza. We've been doing art galleries. There are over 100 art galleries within one square mile. And jewellers, everywhere. Absolutley fabulous stuff, with prices to match. Carmel, I'm told by several dealers, is an art destination. I didn't know that. Just as well.

We did lunch at The Hog's Breath Inn, which used to be owned by Clint Eastwood. They give you a list of places you can go and maybe see movie stars, but I'm not into that sort of thing and wouldn't recognize most movie stars (including Clint Eastwood) if I fell over them.

They're certainly dog friendly, although we haven't seen many dogs.

The weather is grey and cool and overcast. People come here from places like Tucson, to get away from the heat. And shop for art. And eat.

There's no air conditioning. You don't need it. And you're not allowed to wear high heels downtown. (I wonder how they enforce that)

We'll stay longer next time. Carmel is definitely a keeper.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The sign says, Oncoming trolley cars do not stop. I don't exactly know what that means, but it isn't reassuring. Do they just run into you, or what? San Francisco thus joins the list of cities I will never again visit if I'm in a car.

We checked out of the unsalubrious Sheraton and visited the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park before heading for Carmel. The new building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, integrates itself not only with the art, but with the beautiful parkland surrounding it. Here's Bao (lower lefthand corner) relaxing in what they call the cantilever, an second storey architectural confection that looks out over the new sculpture garden.

There are also some unexpected -- but extremely effective -- curatorial juxtapositions. For example, surrealist works from a special exhibition are mixed with masks from indigenous Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu peoples. Each enriches the other.

I found the Audio Guide especially informative, spiced with little anecdotes that really brought the works to life. Grant Wood (1891-1942) for example. He travelled to Paris and fell in with some French neo-meditationists who insisted art was all about inspiration and that inspiration came from sitting in cafes drinking brandy and smoking cigarettes. Wood pondered this, decided that all of his best ideas had come to him while he was milking cows, and returned to Iowa.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fabulous glasses

It's a typical summer day in San Francisco, cool and cloudy. Bao and I are at the Sheraton On Fisherman's Wharf, which used to be a 5-star hotel and will perhaps be one again, when they finish the massive renovations that have closed the lobby, pool, restaurant and everything else one expects in a 5-star hotel. Need I add that this little detail wasn't mentioned when I made the booking? 20,000 Starwood points, totally wasted.
They charge you $41 per day to park your car, and $16 to use the internet. If you have Sheraton stock, sell it. This management has lost it.
Thing is, the only optician who sells the kind of glasses (seeing, not drinking) I love is here in San Francisco. That's why we stopped, so I could buy glasses. So what do you think of these?

Monday, July 23, 2007

When I boarded the Napa Valley Wine Train they sat me by myself, at a table for two. Bummer! I thought. Wine-tasting is more fun when there's someone to talk to. Then Bao crawled out from under the table, hopped up onto the chair opposite and voila! suddenly everyone on the train wanted to be our new best friend.

Wine. Champagne. Another three-course, gourmet meal. More wine. And unfolding beyond the windows, acres and acres of grape-vines, vivid and green in the sunshine. The nicest part was not having to worry about drinking and driving. I drank. They drove.

One of the vineyards we rolled past was for sale. Fifty acres of flourishing vines, and a dear little house in the middle. What would it be like owning a vineyard, crushing my own grapes and making wine? Bao gave me a worried look. It's only a thought, I reassured him. But isn't it a shame that we only get to live one life? I can think of at least a dozen different lives I would have liked to have lived.

They decanted us at Chandon (as in Moet & Chandon) Napa Valley for a tour and champagne tasting. Of course, we can't call it champagne because it isn't French. Never mind. A bubbly is a bubbly, and these were delightful.

The whole day was delightful.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shaking the dust of Redding from our feet, we headed straight for Napa and Copia (the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts) and arrived just in time to snaffle the last ticket to their monthly Taste of Copia Lunch.

The theme was Wild About Salmon. Three courses, three wonderful wines and a cooking demonstration. It was a real learning experience. I now know how to skin, bone and fillet a hunk of salmon. And that you can't judge a Pinot Noir by its color, because -- according to someone famous whose name I didn't write down -- while the cabernet grape was made by God, pinot was made by the devil and is extremely difficult to cultivate.

Bao discovered (to my chagrin, because we had to share) that he rather liked grilled salmon with pesto. Afterwards, he made friends with Copia staff members Jacquelyn Buchanan, Director of Culinary Progams; Peter Marks, Director of Wine and Food and Geoff Palla, Head Gardener.

You're probably wondering why it's called Copia and not ACWFA. I guess it's because you'd have to pronounce it "akwafa" which sounds more like a pool disinfectant than a gourmet center of excellence. Copia was the Roman goddess of abundance. As in Cornucopia, which is the name of their fabulous shop. It has a much nicer ring to it.

A final gem of information. Pinot Noir is good for you, because it contains resperytol, an anti-fungicide that reverses the effects of aging. I always knew there was something magical about it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's been a long trip and Bao is a tired little teddy bear.

You'll like today, I told him. It's all driving.

We'd planned to visit the Chinese gardens in Portland, but it was raining and the traffic was horrendous. Next time, I decided. And settled in for the long (over six hours) drive south through Oregon to Redding, California. Bao snoozed. I listened to music.

We stopped for gas at Cresswell, where my tranquility was shattered. Oregon, like New Jersey, does not have self-service gas stations and the establishment at which I found myself did not accept credit cards. The attendant was simultaneously impatient and scornful. No money, no gas. Get your car out of the way, he told me. Oh, and by the way. You've got a flat tire. Ha, ha. And no, we don't change tires. We just pump gas.

There was another gas station down the road. And a tire place. And things did get sorted out, and we did make it to Redding before dark. But here's the scary part. I didn't know I had a flat tire. I'd been driving for two hours at brisk speeds, and I didn't feel a thing. This is apparently not unusual with new, front-wheel drive cars equipped with power steering. They handle so well that you don't even know you've got a problem until the tire blows out and you're in a ditch -- or under a semi-trailer. I liked it better in the old days, when your car went bump-bump-bump. Modern technology is all very well, but they ought to have a warning light or something. Don't you think?

Friday, July 20, 2007

If it's raining we won't bother to stop in Tacoma, I told Bao.

But it wasn't, and we did.

We spent an enchanted morning at the Museum of Glass. Glass-making is an ancient art, probably one of the oldest. People have been making glass for over 5000 years. I didn't know that. Did you?

Visiting artists work with museum staff in the Hot Shop, creating magnificent pieces out of molten glass before your eyes. We watched as a piece was slowly built up out of "coils" of glass that were supple as taffy. Glass-making on this scale is a workshop art, rather like Renaissance painting. The artist directs, the craftspeople execute. Fascinating.

Then we made our way up the ramps and past the reflecting pools for the piece de resistance -- Dale Chihuly's Glass Bridge. And that's the great thing about travel. You just never know what's around the next corner or at the top of the next flight of stairs. Great, jagged turquoise glass "boulders" soaring into the sky. Views and vistas. An "underwater" walk beneath a glass ceiling filled with exotic glass sea creatures. Wow.

The Glass Bridge leads you to the Tacoma Museum of History. More surprises. Here, history talks back to you. You press a button and the life-size mannikins in their dioramas tell you what life was like in the old days. Bao was nonplussed, because they didn't smell like people and he couldn't figure out where the voices were coming from.

It started to pour again just as we left Tacoma. I've now had my fill of rain, and I'd be quite happy if it stopped.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Seattle is cold and wet. Delightful, actually. The last time I saw rain was in January.
Yesterday's highlight (other than recovering my misplaced hangbag -- don't ask!) was the Offering Reconciliation exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Here's Bao with one of the more unusual pieces.
This is about Israelis and Palestinians and as a rule, Bao and I don't do politics. But this exhibition transcends both politics and war. It is exactly what it says it is. It is an offering of reconciliation.
The idea came from the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents. Artist Orna Tamir-Schestowits created a simple, three-legged clay bowl, symbolizing the fragility and necessity of life. Then, 135 Palestinian and Israeli artists, sculptors and photographers were invited to use the bowl as the basis for a creative work of reconciliation. The results are astounding. Most of the artists chose to decorate the inside of the bowl, although several of them smashed it and then rearranged the fragments.
Dana Baharav (in the photo) turned the bowl upside down and set it on end, creating a childlike, androgynous figure skipping rope.
After you've seen the exhibition, you can play Peacemaker on a computer in an adjacent room. This interactive video game lets you try your hand at being Israeli or Palestinian Prime Minister, dealing with real incidents, in real time. It's quite incredible, makes you think about these issues in a whole different way, simultaneously complicating and simplifying. But see for yourself. Go to
Offering Reconciliation will travel to other museums throughout the United States. If it comes to a museum near you, don't miss it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Underground, in Seattle.

This is where it all began, the second time around. (Seattle was founded in 1851, but the buildings were made of wood and they all burned down in 1889 so they rebuilt it) And therein, as they say, lies a tale.

The original city (the one that burned down) had been built at sea level, and flooded twice a day. The pot-holes in the streets -- caused by wagons getting bogged in the mud -- were so deep that a child actually drowned in one of them. So after the fire, they decided to build sea-walls and fill the spaces between with dirt, thus raising the site of the city. It was a good idea, but they knew it would take months to move all that earth -- so they decided to rebuild the city first, and raise the ground-level afterwards.

I kid you not. They built the buildings, and then buried the ground floors and created new, second-storey entrances. The ground floors that had now become underground cellars became storage space. And that worked pretty well until some of the cellars were turned into granaries. This attracted rats, and after a plague epidemic in 1907, all the cellars were sealed off. Today, it's Underground Seattle and you can do a walking tour of it.

Above ground, today's Seattle is one big construction site. Jack hammers, cranes, mess and confusion everywhere. Standing at my window, I can count seven cranes. Shades of Shanghai! People assure me that it'll be lovely when it's finished. But given that they began building it over 100 years ago, one wonders just when that will be.

I should add that the restaurants are very, very good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sunday Brunch Cruise on Coeur d'Alene Lake with Mike and Mari.

Coeur d'Alene means "heart of the awl" and is a slang term referring to someone who drives a hard bargain. This is how the French traders who settled the place described the local tribe of American Indians.

After the cruise, Mari took me on a trawl through the local art galleries. Bao settled down in his stroller, occasionally posing to have his picture taken. He'll pose for everyone except me. When he catches me trying to take his picture he immediately stands up and walks into the camera. I don't know why. I think it's a Shih Tzu thing.

I can understand why tremendously creative people might choose to live here. It's very beautiful, peaceful and unpolluted. Someone like me might consider it a tad isolated, but in these days of cyber-connectivity geographical isolation has a certain appeal. Summers are certainly lovely. But winters are cold, and Bao and I don't do cold.

I acquired two beautiful pieces to add to my collection, one wood and the other metal. I also managed to (temporarily) lose both of my credit cards. I left one behind in a shop. The other one had vanished into the swirl of receipts and miscellaneous bits of paper at the bottom of my bag. Through the ensuing panic, Bao lay quietly at my feet, saying nothing. Saying nothing at moments like this is one of Bao's many virtues.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bao, in retreat.

Yesterday we met Bacchus, the beautiful, gentle St. Bernard featured in Mari Meehan's Dogwalk Musings. As Bacchus came forward to greet us, Bao sobbed and tried to climb my neck. He was absolutely, totally terrified. He had nightmares all night and this morning, he threw up. So we didn't get the long-anticipated Bao Meets Bacchus photo. Darn! But ever since he was attacked, Bao has been scared of anything bigger than he is. And Bacchus is big.

I'd been looking forward to meeting Mari , whose blog inspired me to start this one. I already knew she was clever, witty and thoughtful. What I didn't know was that she and her husband Mike are dedicated collectors, specializing in Northwestern art. I was totally blown away. The collection -- magnificently displayed throughout their lovely home -- is one of the finest of its kind I've seen anywhere, and that includes all but the biggest of metropolitan museums.

Every piece has a story. Every story is fascinating. There are oils, watercolors, masks, carvings, bronzes, ceramic pieces, beautifully woven carpets. It's spectacular. It's magical. It is just the most wonderful collection.

One rarely has the oppportunity to view a private collection of this calibre. It's not just the pieces themselves that make it special, but synergetic relationship between them, the expression of individual taste and connoisseurship that brings it all together and makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. A collection like this is like a visual symphony, an aesthetic delight.

I feel truly privileged to have seen these lovely things. Yesterday afternoon is one of the high points of the entire trip. Thank you, Mari!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Here's what I call a perfect afternoon -- a nice lunch (with two glasses of wine) followed by a scenic cruise on Lake Macdonald in Glacier Park.

The lake is deep (472 feet) and the water is incredibly, impossibly blue. It's because of the glacier flour, explained the Park Ranger. Glacier flour? As the glacier moves, it collects rocks and slowly grinds them to a fine powder. When the glacier recedes and begins to melt, these tiny particles are left behind in the lakes that form in the gladier's wake. It's this "glacier flour" that catches and reflects the sunlight and gives the water its wonderful colors.

There are lots of lakes in Glacier National Park, most of them accessible only by foot. Alas, my hiking days are over, and Bao's never even began. Glacier Park also boasts fifty tiny glaciers, all melting. Interestingly, none of the glaciers or lakes or mountains are called Grinnell. Why is this interesting? Because it was George Bird Grinnell who lobbied for the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910. If it hadn't been for Grinnell, none of this would be here. Or if it was here, we wouldn't be able to reach it.

Certainly, the spectacular Going to the Sun Road would never have been built, and this 52-mile tour-de-force of engineering is itself one of the wonders of Glacier National Park. It's not nearly as scary a drive as you're led to believe, so long as you take it slow and easy. The scenery is simply fantastic. Bao slept through it, of course. He slept through most of the boat ride, too. So long as I don't force him to camp, he's a happy camper!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Yesterday was one of those days. Sweet and sour. Bao's expression says it all.

Sixty miles north of Helena, massive roadwork. No more highway, just rocks and gravel. One-way traffic for ten miles, and you had to wait for a Pilot Car to guide you. And then after we got through that, I realized I'd left both my blue topaz ring and my turquoise ring in the motel room in Helena. I tried to pull off the road and call the motel, but there was no shoulder for miles and miles. And then when I finally did manage to pull over, my cell phone didn't work. Out of service. We drove back to a cluster of shops called Augusta, and the lady who ran the bar and grill let me use her phone. I got through to the motel and was told they'd found the rings and were keeping them for me. So I had to drive 80 miles back to Helena (through the road work again) to get them. And then back towards Browning, through the road work for the third time.

I might add that during all of this, Bao didn't say a word. I hate to think what a husband would have said.

We finally got to Browning. It's an Indian reservation. There's only one motel and it was packed, because the Indians are having a pow-wow this weekend. And dogs. Stray dogs. Big dogs. Vicious dogs. Hundreds of dogs, all running loose. Just throw rocks at them, said the motel manager. Bao had the runs but was too scared to squat. And the internet connection didn't work.

We were out of there at first light.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why walk when you can ride?

Bao was getting tired, so we took it easy yesterday. The Last Chance Tour Train chugged delightfully through a neighborhood of old Victorian mansions as our driver regaled us with stories of Helena's younger, wilder days. It wasn't always called Helena, we learned. The city's original name was Last Chance Gulch, because a handful of prospectors decided to give it "one last chance" before they gave up -- and promptly struck gold. There's a moral there, somewhere.

At one point, Helena (they changed the name, of course. Last Chance Gulch just didn't have that ring to it!) boasted more wealth per capita than any other city in the United States. But when the gold ran out it looked as if the gold-rush city would become just one more ghost-town. So with the help of a couple of local millionaires and a (perhaps) rigged election, Helena became the capital of Montana and thenceforth lived happily ever after.

There were deer everywhere. We saw a doe and her fawn munching grass under an apple tree in someone's front garden, and several other deer in other yards. In fact, we saw more wildlife in suburban Helena than we did in Yellowstone.

Then, grooming. This was not an unqualified success. The young man at Petco was was still in training but between the two of us, we managed a bath and a bow. Bao hated every minute of it. He's still giving me dirty looks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dinosaurs at Bozeman

Bozeman boasts two of the 1000 places you have to see before you die. One of them is the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University. (This one is actually in the book) It offers -- among other things -- one of the world's largest dinosaur fossil collections, based upon the research of Dr. Jack Horner, who was also advisor to the Jurassic Park films. If you're thinking that you've already done dinosaurs with the kids or the grandkids, think again. This display will knock your socks off.

Din0saurs survived as a species for a hundred million years. And the descendants of avian dinosaurs are still with us -- we call them birds. Crocodiles, spiders, cockroaches; lots of life-forms have been around a lot longer than we have. We think we're so wonderful, but if the volcano seething and bubbling beneath Yellowstone National Park erupts again, we might end up being little more than a mote of dust in evolution's eye.

That thought sent me searching for a glass of red wine, which I found at Bozeman's second must-see destination, John Bozeman's Cafe on Main Street. Even on a Tuesday afternoon, the place was packed. (That's a good sign, I thought. And I was right) They managed to find us a table, and we did lunch. And what a lunch! Bao and I can personally reccommend the Flank Steak salad, but everything that went past on its way to other diners looked just as tempting.

Bozeman is definitely worth a side-trip. Do the dinosaurs, and and then do lunch at John Bozeman's. Trust me, it doesn't get better than this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bao does Yellowstone

Bao was scared of the geysers at first, probably because they smelled of sulpher.
He was even more scared of all the big, barking dogs in the cars. People bring their dogs to Yellowstone, and then (because pets aren't allowed on the boardwalks) shut them up in parked cars while their owners walk out into the geyser basins. And it was hot, even in Yellowstone. No wonder they were barking.
But there was a brisk wind blowing, and people kept stopping to pet him and take his picture. It wasn't long before he settled down to enjoy the spectacle.
And what a spectacle! The geyser basins are an Impressionist palette of vivid color, blue and yellow and green and orange and crimson. I found the colors surrounding the mud pots and hot springs even more spectacular than the geysers themselves. Especially Grand Prismatic Spring, where the steamy mist rising from the swirl of color contains dozens of diaphamous, shimmering rainbows.
Walking on the boardwalks reminded me of my walks through the crater of Kilauea, in Hawaii, over 40 years ago. There were boardwalks there, too. And lava fields. Now, it's a live volcano again. Certainly makes you stop and think.
We spent the whole day, but only managed to get from Old Faithful to Madison. We might have done more, but I drove off the road into a sink-hole while attempting to navigate a turn-out on Firehole Canyon Drive. We were wedged tight, and there was no signal (we were at the bottom of a canyon) so my cell phone didn't work and I couldn't call for help. This began to be scary. But then two women in a van who'd noticed me and Bao earlier stopped and -- with the help of a few other people who stopped as well -- finally managed to get us back on the road.
Shaken, we headed for Bozeman and a double scotch.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Floating down the Snake River on a big, soft raft. The sun is shining and a gentle breeze is blowing. The occasional gaggle of geese pottering in the shallows is utterly unperturbed. As far as the geese are concerned, we're just one more species. (Which of course, we are) The water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom. And to our right, the magnificent, soaring mountain range.

Even Bao enjoyed it. He's sleeping. You know he's having fun when he falls asleep.

We saw a pair of bald eagles and their two eaglets flapping their wings on the edge of the nest. We saw a mama moose and her baby, drinking at the river. We saw antelope. The current is quite strong, and there were tiny areas of rapidlets, but our raftsman Andy was so expert that we never even got splashed. That was fine with me. Bao and I don't do dangerous. We don't even do exciting. I guess we're getting old.

We also visited the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has been constructed from 433 tons of Arizona sandstone to look like an exotic outcrop overlooking the National Elk Reserve. Great art, but no elk. (They go south for the summer) That was fine with Bao. He doesn't like anything bigger than he is, unless it's stuffed.

Dick Cheney is in town. He lives here. Grand Tetons National Park is the only National Park in the United States that has an airport inside it, and Cheney often comes home to relax and indulge in a bit of hunting, or fishing. It's summer, so he's probably fishing. Thank goodness for that.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The best bargain in Grand Teton National Park is the little boat trip across Jenny Lake. Smile for the camera! I'm tellling Bao.

You're meant to take the boat to the far side of the lake and then hike up to Hidden Falls, and that's what we originally intended to do. Then a returning hiker told us about the bears he'd seen along the way. A Mama bear, with her cub. So cute! I looked at Bao and Bao looked at me and we got back on the boat.

The Grand Tetons are magnificent. You drive round a bend and suddenly there they are, veined with snow and gleaming in the distance. And it just keeps getting better. The view at Ox Bow Turnout is simply unbelievable.

We spent the day driving around the park, stopping at all the turn-outs. It's cooler, here in the mountains. I was actually able to turn off the air-conditioning and open the sun roof. We drove up to the top of Signal Mountain and looked at the glaciated plains below, and we had a great lunch at Jenny Lodge.

I asked a Ranger about the dying pine trees. (Throughout the park you see mature trees that appear to have suddenly turned brown and died) It's because of the drought, she told me. The trees are stressed and threfore, vulnerable to attack by pine beetles. So they're gathering seeds from the trees that don't get sick, germinating them and replacing trees that die with beetle-resistant seedlings.

An ecological response to an ecological problem. I guess pine beetles have to eat, too.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bao chilling out in a pole chair, in Dubois, Wyoming. Catch the tomahawks. I almost bought one. But what would I do with a tomahawk?

Butch Cassidy's girlfriend lived in Dubois (and it's pronounced du-boys) and that's why the Dubois Bank was never robbed. (Not because of the way it's pronounced, but because Etta lived there) It's a pretty little place, the main street -- called Ramshorn -- lined with buildings made of wood. And boardwalks, with verandahs over them. Art galleries. Places to get something decent to eat. Just a dot on the map, but not at all a bad place to stop for the night.

I saw photographs of the real Butch Cassidy -- and the Sundance Kid, and the rest of the gang -- in Thermopolis, at the excellent Hot Springs County Museum and Cultural Center. The real people didn't look anything like Robert Redford or Paul Newman. Actually, they looked a bit mean. Another fond illusion shot to hell.

We're a bit behind with our blogs, because there was a thunderstorm in Dubois last night. Seventeen drops of rain, two claps of thunder, no lightening, but it wiped out the internet signal. They don't have air conditioning, either. They've never needed air conditioning, until now. Actually it was okay, once the sun went down. You opened the windows, and breathed fresh air. Not at all a bad thing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wyoming is probably the only place in the world where you see road signs that say things like, Bighorn Dolomite. Ordovician. 350-500 million years. The scenery between Buffalo and Ten Sleeps is fantastic, as you can see. Mother Nature must have really put on quite a show -- too bad nobody was around to watch.

Ten Sleeps (population 435) is a few little shops, a campground and a horse motel. It's called Ten Sleeps because the Indians reckoned it took ten days to get here. Ten days, ten nights. Ten sleeps, get it?

We're in the middle of a heat wave. Looks like just about everybody in the United States is in the middle of a heat wave, as well. Bao isn't coping, so we're sticking close to the air conditioning. This puts a bit of a damper on sight-seeing.

On the other hand, there aren't a lot of sights to see here in Thermopolis. We are truly back of beyond, as they say in Australia. Hunting, fishing, shooting country. USA Today doesn't even deliver newspapers this far out. Or maybe people who hunt, fish and shoot don't read USA Today.

Hot Springs National Park is a small, green oasis in the midst of acre upon acre of yellow, parched nothingness. A little river flows through it, and there's a buffalo enclosure, but no buffalo in evidence. It's probably too hot for them, too.

You can aways immerse yourself in a hot, mineral bath but in this heat, a 113 degree bath is the last thing in the world I feel like doing. Gosh! I hope it's cooler in Dubois.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Termesphere Gallery

The most interesting thing in Deadwood is Mt. Moriah cemetery, best seen in the early morning while the gamblers are still asleep. But beyond Deadwood, wonderful things!

Just a few miles down the road, Tantaka's bigger-than-life bronze bison hunt -- 14 bison (another word for buffalo) being pursued by American Indians on horesback -- is utterly awe-inspiring and so realistic that Bao took one look, dug in his small heels and refused to go near it. This is the Black Hills, this is what it's about. Not casinos. Not slot machines.

Tantaka is Kevin Costner's baby. His dream was to build a hotel, but the idea never got off the ground. Perhaps investors thought gambling was a better bet. But Costner had already commissioned the bronze bison -- which were meant to stand at the hotel entrance -- so he created Tantaka: The Story of the Bison. There's an Educational Center and a recreation of a Lakota village, all beautifully realized. Getting as far as Deadwood and missing this would be like visiting San Francisco and not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, think spherical. Or more precisely, termespherical.

Walking into Dick Termes' Gallery was like entering another dimension. But we had to get there, first. It was a bit off the beaten track (just outside Spearfish) and Barbara didn't approve. Entering unverified territory, she kept saying. When we turned off onto the dirt road, Bao gave me a questioning, troubled look. Sometimes Barbara can be a real pain in the ass.

So there we were, in a fairytale world of revolving, globular canvases, "as if you put a transparent sphere on your head and painted what you saw" Dick Termes says. Pictures just don't do it justice. You're simultaneously looking in six directions. North, south, east, west, up and down. It's a six-dimensional experience. And these wonderful, miniature worlds are all for sale, although a tad beyond my budget at the moment. But what an glorious, mind-bending experience!

Onward, to Thermopolis.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If there's a winery in the vicinity, we'll find it. As you can see, there was.

Wine in South Dakota? You'd better believe it. The University of Minnesota helped Prairie Berry Winery to develop a special grape suited to local conditions, and the result is a selection of extremely interesting wines. I bought six bottles of red, four to save and serve to friends this winter, two to drink along the way. And then we did lunch. Bao and I love lunch.

We strolled through Hill City, an old mining and timber camp that has recreated itself as the Black Hills' eclectic art center, but the shop that sold homemade fudge was closed so we didn't buy anything.

Bao was still tired from yesterday, so we continued on to Deadwood. In 1875, they found gold here. I mean literally here, at the site of the First Gold Hotel, which is where we're staying. It's a bit out of town, but that's okay. At least it's quiet. Downtown is packed with what appears to be hundreds of aging bikies. Faded jeans, ratty T-shirts, tattoos, lots of (grey) face hair, big guys, big gals. But old. Older than me, even. They all seem to know each other, too. Maybe it's a convention.

The only other attraction here is gambling. Slots, in particular. Deadwood used to be an outlaw town but 15 years ago there was no industry, no cash and no tourists. So on November 1 1989 they legalized gaming (has a nicer ring to it than gambling) and by 2006, they'd made $90 million dollars. The wages of sin are damn good.
Trouble is, I don't gamble. It's not that I disapprove. I just hate losing. So Bao and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the air-conditioning. I wrote up my journal, and Bao slept. He sleeps a lot. He's a dog.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bao meets Bear Cub. (A very short story) Bear Cub stares at Bao. Bao stares at Bear Cub. Bao takes a tentative step forward. Bear Cub does the same. They are practically nose to nose, with the fence between them. Woman in Pink says, That is so cute! Give me your camera and I'll take a picture. I give her the camera. Bao barks, Bear Cub runs away. Woman in Pink takes the picture anyway. End of story.

We did a bus tour yesterday. Reptile Park (plus a giant tortoise) Bear Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Custer National Forest. I saw elk, reindeer, wolves, black bears and buffalo herds, living free. I'm a city girl, and I've never seen anything like it. The mountains. The country. The animals. Wow.

Except for his encounter with the bear cub (he was too scared to go near the tortoise, which would have made a better photo because tortoises don't run) Bao slept, only waking up long enough to share a Buffalo Burger.

Mount Rushmore was the brainchild of State Historical Society of South Dakota Secretary Doane Robinson, who thought a massive sculpture of Midwestern folk-heroes carved on the granite pillars they call The Needles would be really cool and attract lots of tourists, which would also be good for the economy. But Sculptor Gutzon Borglum said The Needles were too crumbly and the subject matter wasn't noble enough. Let's do it on Mount Rushmore, he said. And let's make it Presidents. It worked a treat, as they say in Australia. Tourism is Rapid City's biggest industry. I think it may be Rapid City's only industry.

At the moment, 40,000 people are here (thus doubling the population) to see the Mount Rushmore Fourth of July Fireworks, which will take place tonight. I'll watch them on television, in Deadwood. Crowds make me nervous. I've asked half a dozen people why the July 4th fireworks are held on July 3rd, but nobody seems to know. Nobody knows why they call it Rapid City, either. Maybe because it grew so quickly?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rapid City, South Dakota. This is where you lived if you were a Sioux, 200 years ago. Or for that matter, 2000 years ago. It's not so bad inside a tipi, much roomier than you'd expect. Cozy, too; buffalo hide rugs, backrests, all the comforts and no utilities bill!

Rapid City's Journey Museum recreates this life -- and its destruction -- with a fascinating display of everything from stereoscopic photos taken during Custer's geological survey expedition to war-clubs, miners' candlesticks, sepia photographs of settlers and Colt 45s. What you notice is how fine and delicate and sophisticated the Indian artifacts are, and how rough everything else is. If they hadn't discovered gold in them thar hills, it all might have turned out quite differently for the Sioux. But they did, and it didn't.

When I was a kid, we used to play cowboys and Indians. Of course the cowboys were the good guys, so we always made the little kids be Indians. From this perspective, it's all looking quite different. I suddenly felt like the great-grandchild of a barbarian, living in what was left of Rome.

Bao had a more down-to-earth take on things. He was transfixed by a stuffed wolf. All these years later, it still must have smelled like a wolf. It certainly looked like one.

Outside, it was 100 degrees in the shade, if you could find any, and severe thunderstorm warnings were posted. All of the weather here is severe. In 1972, the whole town was almost washed away by a flash flood.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Couldn't leave Sioux Falls without seeing the epononymous falls, could we? So here they are. Not exactly Niagara, but pretty formidable if all you've got is a bark canoe.

You can just glimpse the beginnings of Falls Art over my left shoulder. This is a major, annual local art festival and we stumbled serendipidously right into the middle of it -- and stumbled out again several hours later with two wonderful pieces of pottery, a little nymph with turquoise stained glass wings and a small painting. As I always say, you don't have to be Peggy Guggenheim to collect art. You just have to know what you like.

Cornfields gradually gave way to grazing cows as we headed west into "Dances With Wolves" country. 200 years ago, all this belonged to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota, the people of the Seven Council Fires. When the Spanish arrived in the 1600s, they'd already been here for 20,000 years, hunting buffalo. I guess they thought they'd be here forever.

We stopped at the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. It was awesome. Dioramas, time-lines, artifacts, art. All beautifully done. Bao learned the Lakota word for dog. It's sunka (pronounced shun-ka). The Lakota kept dogs as pets.

We spent the night in a lovely little motel on the outskirts of an extremely small town called Oacoma, on the north bank of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark came through here in 1804, when it was all Indians and buffalo.

They're long gone, the Indians and the buffalo herds. Now it's paved highways, and the ubiquitous, golden arches. But you know what? We're not all that different from the Lakota, thinking the land is ours, and will be forever.

On to Rapid City.