Thursday, November 19, 2015

High and Dry

Yes, I'm a little late with a new entry. But I have a good excuse. The lack of snow and warm temperatures have made it seem more like September than November and I was very busy squeezing every little last bit of outdoor activity into these final days of beautiful weather before winter wakes up and realizes it is way behind schedule. For example, last weekend's 60 degree temperatures allowed me to do something I can't usually do in November - go for a mountain bike ride and enjoy a slow meandering 19 mile drive on the backroads in the Bearlodge area of Wyoming.

Across the highway from the campground is a seldom used Black Hills National Forest trail. I'm surprised more hikers and bikers don't take advantage of it. The views overlooking the steep cliffs are awesome. Also, less than a mile down the trail there is an area where you will find a group of split rocks. The cracks are so smooth it's like someone took a giant axe and sliced the rocks almost evenly right down the middle. 

Nature offers up a lot of interesting shapes along this trail. Some of the old tree stumps have decayed into strange poses.


Having come this way, I found myself near enough to that strange little town of Alva to warrant another look for any proof that humans actually live there. If you've read my past comments you know that I have long suspected that no one really does live there, and the town is just a cover for some secret government underground installation. My evidence is that I can't recall ever seeing any people out and about in the many times I have driven through this "town." This is the scene that once again greeted me on my most recent visit - 

I don't remember that camper being there the last time I drove by, but it could just be a new prop. I did, however, notice something even more strange than usual this time. I pulled in to the Post Office parking lot and noticed a light on in a window. Upon closer examination I could see a popular dish washing product and a wind chime in the window as if it was someone's apartment. This was on a Sunday. So, why is there a light on in the Post Office on a Sunday? And why those other items? Who lives in a Post Office anyway? The mystery deepens.

It was getting late in the afternoon and I certainly did not want to get caught in that place after dark, so I headed back toward home. But wait. There was one more detour. I decided to take the back roads that meandered through the forest past an old favorite location from my younger days... Cook Lake. The campground is closed now due to mudslides and washouts, but I was filled with fun memories of camping there with friends all those years ago. One old road sign is still standing, although it looks like something you would see in one of those 80s horror movies with a title along the lines of "The Skinny Dip Massacre." 

If anybody is planning on making one of those movies I would grant permission to use the photo. Just let me know and I'll provide a high resolution copy. Photo credits would not be required if it's a low budget independent project. But if you get Jennifer Lawrence to star in it, well, then I might insist on at least a mention in those credits that roll at the end. Have your people call my people. Maybe we'll do lunch and work out the details.

Roger O'Dea        11-19-2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Free Games and A Free Spirit - Adventures In Las Vegas

This is not going to be about wild times in Vegas. It is, however, going to be about being in the wild in Vegas. Actually, about thirty minutes outside of Vegas. In Red Rock Canyon. That's where it gets really wild. Wild, as in Wilderness. On our recent trip to meet up with our son and his girlfriend for a last fling before winter sets in I took a morning off from the craziness of "the strip" and met up with my friend Sara who is from the Black Hills but now lives in a Las Vegas suburb. During all of my previous visits I had never been outside of the city. Not even to Hoover Dam, which is okay because I've never really wanted to go to Hoover Dam. I don't think they allow fishing from the observation areas, so there just isn't much to hold my interest. Standing on 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete is not my idea of a good time. Standing on red dirt in the desert is, and I have wanted to do that for some time but never made the effort. I had a feeling it would be great. It was. It was even better than great. Awesome, mystical, inspiring, calming. These are all words that come to mind. And it was more than that, but words can't do it justice. Certain feelings can't be described in words, especially when you're not accustomed to looking at a landscape like this -

My first clue that it was going to be a special hike came when, instead of following the wide well-groomed main trail, Sara climbed over the cable marking the boundary of the parking area and motioned me to follow her down a less traveled trail. It was an alternate take on the advantages of knowing a Las Vegas "insider." We hiked down into a draw and came upon a beautiful spring. The water was incredibly clear and the red dirt and rocks enhanced the visual experience. Around this time it started raining. Not a common occurrence in that area. Instead of running for cover we welcomed it with open arms and continued on ... across a formation Sara called "Jabba." You would understand completely if you were to see it. (I didn't take a lot of pictures because I had decided to look at everything mostly with my eyes rather than through a lens).  Then we wandered into a stand of small trees where we took cover and talked about things friends talk about. From there we climbed up into a small grotto for a brief rest, then as the rain let up we continued back down the trail, stopping for a moment to walk a large labyrinth, and finally we were back at the car. It was a good walk. I needed something like that, and left feeling better physically, mentally and spiritually. I plan on doing something like this again when we go back. It's a nice change from the lights and sounds and excitement of the city. Not that I don't enjoy that also. I do. It's fun, as long as you have the right mindset and stay in control. I mean, after all, they have Flintstones slot machines!
"BIG WIN" is overstating it slightly. In this case, anyway. But it's still kind of exciting. Especially when you win free games. 8 free games to be precise -
I've won more than 8 free games on other machines, but this one sure made a big deal out of it.  

There's also art and culture. The Conservatory at Bellagio has some incredible seasonal displays, some of which include giant scarecrows -
There are also museums and art galleries. The Museum of Fine Art, also at Bellagio, is where several years ago I first saw and was inspired by those famous Andy Warhol Polaroid photographs. 

And don't forget people watching. No better place to do that than on Las Vegas Boulevard. Of course, sometimes the people are also watching you. Some may even be on a mustache-themed scavenger hunt looking for someone with a mustache who is willing to pose for a picture. Someone! 
Yes. Out of thousands of people in that area on that night they picked me. They never said if they were looking for the best, worst or most unusual mustache. So, I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or insulted. No matter. They were having fun, and brought me into it so I guess that's what counts. And mine is better than those fake ones. It is better...right?

It was a good trip. But it's always nice to come home. Especially when your home is someplace like this. Where there are still quiet places to hike, and clean clear streams to sit by and be still. And where it rains, sometimes even in late October. Oh. I should mention that right now on this night in late I'm finishing this story...outside my open's raining.  

Roger O'Dea        10/22/2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Feel The Change

The Autumnal Equinox has passed and days are getting shorter now. A change is in the air. I can feel it. It's time to face the stark reality that summer is over. Some people rejoice in that, but not me. Summer is my season. Winter is my adversary. It is a thief who steals my fun, even my health in some ways. And in the past I have not been terribly fond of fall. That is changing. I am beginning to see so much more beauty in this season, and learning to notice so many more details. As I become more mindful and aware I can see details and even hear sounds that escaped me previously. This leaf is an example -
I was on a walk during my semi-annual pilgrimage to Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary in the Black Hills (South Dakota) and happened to see it on the ground just off the trail. There was a time not too long ago when I'm sure I wouldn't have noticed it intermingled with so many other fallen leaves, pine cones and fairly thick brush. Or maybe I would have. It definitely stood out as one of a kind amidst the mostly pale yellow leaves covering the ground in that particular area. I'm just glad I saw it. The unusual and varied colors, lines, cracks and wrinkles make it unique, to say the least. It's tucked safely between the pages of a book at home now. Maybe I'll forget about it and many months or years from now I'll open that book to rediscover it and remember the day in September when it found me.

The Sanctuary is an amazing place. I make it a point to visit at least twice a year, generally in the  late spring and early fall. It's a special place. I always feel a certain energy from the moment I pass under the entrance sign and through the door.

It's a calming subdued energy. It is a place to be still. I am completely grounded there. Sometimes there are other visitors and sometimes I am the only one, as was the case on my most recent visit. Only me and Mother Nature. And we got along just fine.

Throughout the Black Hills this time of year you will see the wonderful colors of autumn. I stopped a few times on my way home to snap a picture of some scene that caught my eye, like this one -

I am learning to appreciate these scenes more. But there is still some sadness about summer being taken away from me. I wasn't done with it yet. So, once again, I turn to my old friend John Denver for some comfort... this time from Poems, Prayers and Promises. He seemed to share some of my same feelings about the subject. Funny how often music tends to make its way into these conversations -

Reflections on the water like shadows in my mind
Speak to me of passing days and nights and passing time
The falling leaves are whispering winter's on it's way
I close my eyes remembering the warmth of yesterday
It seems a shame to see September swallowed by the winter
And more than that it's oh so sad to see the summer end
And though the changing colors are a lovely thing to see
If it were mine to make the change I'd let it be

But I don't remember hearing anybody asking me

Roger O'Dea       9/24/2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's Not Over!

Why do people keep saying that summer is over? Yes, it's past Labor Day. And, yes, temperatures at night are now in the 40s rather than 50s or 60s...or 70s. It's true the sun is rising a little later. And setting a little earlier. Leaves on some trees are starting to turn a lighter shade of yellow. So what? It doesn't mean summer is over. It's not over! As Animal House's Bluto so enthusiastically said in his rallying speech to his Delta Chi brothers,
"Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
I know it wasn't the Germans, but that's not the point. The point is that there are still plenty of things that I fully intended to do this summer but was never quite able to complete the task.  Like...
1.  Finding a rock and cracking it open to discover the wonders of a Geode. I cracked a lot of rocks but, alas, no Geode.
2.  Mountain biking the Big Hill trails all the way down to Spearfish Canyon, then into town. Did that last year and was hoping to repeat it this year.  
3.  Motorcycling to Montana, then cutting across to Devils Tower in Wyoming and back home. Made a run to Devils tower, but it was the short cut. Had my Polaroid camera along -

4.  Drive or ride on a photo safari through the badlands. Didn't even get close to doing this.
5.  Hike around the Stratobowl in the Black Hills. No excuse for not doing this. So close.

I also didn't spend enough time with friends. I tried and failed with some. Succeeded with others, but even then it wasn't enough time. It's never enough. There are other things that weren't necessarily in the plans, but would have still been awesome if they actually happened. Like...
1.  Getting caught in the rain a long way from shelter. I was too careful.
2.  Camping out on Sand Creek, or up in Spearfish Canyon. Even if just for old time's sake. I know the right spots.
3.  Stopping at a flea market. Drove by one many times.
4.  Spending most of an entire day at an auction with lots of "miscellaneous items." Timing was never right.
5.  Going to a drive-in theatre. They're still around.

I suppose the list could go on. But why dwell on what might have been? It's time to get serious and make up some lost time before autumn hits and then...winter. There's still time. Because summer is not over. It's not over until I decide it's over! And once more I will look to Delta Chi for my inspiration. This time from Otter, "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."
And I'm just the guy to do it. Who's with me? Let's go!

Roger O'Dea        9/8/2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Polaroid Rally

This was a big one. The 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Hundreds of thousands (some say a million) motorcycle enthusiasts attended this year, making it quite possibly the largest event of this kind in the country. It was also an excellent opportunity to try out the new Impossible 2.0 black and white film for Polaroid 600 type instant cameras. So I loaded up my Polaroid Spirit 600 CL and headed out on my classic 1999 Valkyrie F6 to shoot whatever caught my eye and my interest in the normally sleepy little town of about 7,000 people which, including the surrounding campgrounds, had now grown to the single largest city in the entire state by population standards.
My first stop was the Rally headquarters of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. I stop there every year to pick up a t-shirt, coffee mug or some other souvenir for myself or that one person (there's always one) who says, "Get me something!" The old school Polaroid camera around my neck generated a lot of interest , as evidenced by the fact that I shot an entire pack of film there but only made it out with one to keep for myself. I didn't think it would be a good idea to refuse their requests to keep the pictures I took of them. I heard a lot of, "Take one of us!" And, "Can I get one, too?" What am I going to do, say "No?" Actually, they all seemed like good people. Just there to have some fun, sell some shirts and perhaps gain a few new recruits.

Of course there were girls everywhere attracting attention in one way or another. Girls selling shirts. Girls selling beer. Girls selling tattoos and body paint. Even selling guns.

And guys, too. Guys directing traffic. Guys handing out bibles. Guys staying sober. Even guys with beards sitting on a bench.

Kids. Couples. And workers on break.

And, of course, motorcycles. My favorites were the vintage bikes.

It's over now. Things are back to normal here in the Black Hills of Dakota. People are thinking about summer ending soon and back-to-school time, and about next year. The 76th annual. Probably not as big as this year. But likely to be just as fun. That is if you like this sort of thing. And I do.

Roger O'Dea    8/11/2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sturgis 75th - And So It Begins

Early projections said 500,000 were expected to attend this year's 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Then it went to 750,000. Now some are predicting a million. I don't think that's going to happen. One million is the entire population of Montana, and nearly twice that of Wyoming. The media hype is getting a little carried away with the numbers, but it is going to be big. There is no doubt about that. I've been around here for a lot of years and this is the most activity I've ever seen this soon. Earlier this week I visited Sturgis to check out the situation. It's a sure bet that rally time is near when the old familiar haunts start opening back up. This one in particular -

It's a dive bar in every sense, but that's part of what gives it personality. And it has plenty of that.

I was a little surprised by all of the vendors that have set up shop already. 

Looks like there will be no shortage of t-shirts or caps again this year. I got mine already. Not just "as is" off the rack, though. It's customized.  Every year for the past few years I've been buying a plain Dickies shirt with no graphics or brand logos. Especially no Harley Davidson logos. Way too much of that stuff. (Disclosure: I ride, but not a Harley). I then pick out a patch with a Sturgis logo on it for the current year and have them iron it on. Over the years I've acquired quite a collection. The logo this year is pretty cool. I like it. Looks good on my shirt.

It should be fun this year. A couple of rides are already planned with some friends. Also, I've been in contact with an international company in regards to a photo project collaboration. Details still haven't been completely worked out, but I can say that no digital cameras will be involved. We're going old school on this project. I hope it works out. 

So for those of you who don't like this time of year because of all the motorcycle traffic, the noise, or all those other things that come with at least half a million bikers invading your back yard, you'd better start stocking up on groceries and get ready to hunker down for the next two to three weeks.  And for those of you who love this time of year...Let's Ride!

Roger O'Dea      7/22/2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Room With A View (Back To The Poet's Table)

After six weeks I am finally inspired to write again. And it's no surprise that the source of my inspiration is that lovely place high up in the Black Hills called The Poet's Table.
I had been slogging through weeks of mostly rain and cool temperatures and had let the weather get to me. But I was resolved to get back out into my beloved Black Hills...rain or shine. It was rain. Didn't matter. I took off that morning with my backpack stuffed with a raincoat and extra insulation around my cameras. That turned out to be unnecessary as the universe answered my prayer for a good day. I wouldn't have even cared if I had to hike in the rain, as long as I was able to get to my destination. As it turned out, by the time I reached the trail head the rain was far behind me and the temperatures had warmed considerably.
Because of a wrong turn off of the main trail I ended up taking a longer, more strenuous route. That wasn't a bad thing, however, as I certainly can use the exercise. Seems I have gotten a little soft over this past long winter. But, as usually is the case with me, I tend to be in a little better shape than I look so the trek was not particularly taxing. I made it with only a couple of brief respites for rest and water. As I took the final steps around the rock wall and under the fallen tree a familiar feeling came over me.  It's a feeling I never get used to, and yet it's one I can't really describe. I just feel peaceful there. And thankful. Thankful for this day, this place, and this view.

I rummaged through some of the notebooks in the desk behind the table, which was nearly overflowing with papers and items...much more than I remember being there on my previous visit.

On that visit I had left a photo and a paperback copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Both were gone. That's okay. I hope whoever took them had a reason and are enjoying them still.

Nothing really piqued my interest so I just sat in silence for a while enjoying the moment. Then something caught my eye. It was a piece of weathered crumpled paper stuffed into a small crevice on the side of the rock.

I walked over, removed it, and began reading the story of Jenny and Jeremy. It was hand written on one sheet of paper, front and back. Jenny loved Jeremy but couldn't leave her boyfriend, who was not Jeremy.  Jeremy apparently said some mean things and at some point after that the relationship ended. There were a lot more details about time spent together, deep feelings, and what might have been. No need to go into it more here, but it was a very touching and heartfelt letter. In closing Jenny wrote that she hoped somehow Jeremy might find the note. I hope he does. It might be too late now. But maybe, just maybe, there is still a chance for Jenny and Jeremy.
It is truly a special place, this Poet's Table, hidden in a secret location in those beautiful and mysterious black mountain hills of Dakota. If you haven't already been, you should go there. I can't tell you exactly how to find it but I would be willing to offer up a couple of clues. Or, even better, I could take you there some day...if you are in the area and the timing is right. So go ahead and ask me.  And if the fates allow, we will make the journey together. I'm always ready to go back.

Roger O'Dea     6-17-2015