25 memorable sights: The Black Hills

The Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota) are an isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota. The range extends into Wyoming.  The hills are covered in trees, an effect that gives them a darkened appearance from a distance. The dusky corner was distinctive enough to garner the name “black hills.”

The grandeur of granite rising from the cliffs of Mt. Rushmore will in one upward glance sweep away any countryman’s negative sentiments. And impress the hell out of everyone else.  Mt. Rushmore is but one impressive sight however, among the many packed into South Dakota’s southwestern corner.

Black Hills South Dakota

the little squiggle that you can't read is a secret note in my Atlas. Sorry about that. While I won't share that, I did want you to see a map of the area. Nebraska to the south, Wyoming to the west.

 

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

First. -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

First. -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

Anchored by Rapid City (airport code RAP), the Black Hills area still echoes with the report of Wild West Colt pistols. You can wander through Native American Indian Reservations as you contemplate what to take in first — the sights of Mt. Rushmore featured on the big screen in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the cavernous limestone formations of Badlands National Park, Sturgis or the frontier town of Deadwood. Throw in the Crazy Horse MemorialCuster State ParkWind Cave National Park, the 1880 TrainBuffalo Gap National Grassland, the Geographic Center of the U.S., the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Jewel Cave National Monument, or the Mammoth Site, and a week’s vacation can be easily spent in one of the most scenic and pivotally historic areas of the lower 48 states. And that’s before you even cross into Wyoming. Forget the guidebook, you’ll need only your Atlas and a penchant for discovery.

The Badlands?

Badlands, South Dakota -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved.

The Route: starting in Rapid City

Interstate 90 East of Rapid City will deliver you to Wall, South Dakota. If you’re already parched or ready for a stop, the Wall Drug Store offers refreshment, take in the National Grasslands Visitor Center, or search for the Minuteman Missile Silo.  From there 240 South will take you directly to the scenic drive around the North Unit of Badlands National Park. The loop ends at Interior. To continue into the South Unit’s 2.7 million acres of sprawling erosion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proceed past Imlay to Scenic, turning South at the first/only turnoff. You’ll need to stop at the White River Visitor Center to get permission to proceed into the Reservation. West on Highway 2, then North on Highway 40 to Redshirt will complete the South Unit. “Highway” 2 is a misnomer. The road is gravel, albeit wide and well maintained. Continuing past Redshirt on Highway 40 to Hermosa presents the choice of turning North on Highway 79 and back to Rapid City, or west on Highway 36 to 87 South to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. From Wind Cave National Park you can easily hit 385 North taking you to Custer, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, and the ’1880 Train’ in Hill, as you progress northward.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Plains Indian Burial Platform

Pyre -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

The area is deceptively compact.  While distances aren’t great between any point (from Rapid City to Hot Springs on 79 is only 57 miles) you will not desire to cover any of it quickly.  And the twists and turns of the roads preclude speed.  While limited lodging is available in the smaller towns and in Badlands National Park, the high season summer months make day trips to and from your pre-reserved lodging in centrally located Rapid City conducive to combing the area.

Deadwood

Once you’ve exhausted the sights south of Rapid City, 385 will take you to Lead (as in lead a horse to water), Deadwood, the Geographic Center of the U.S. in Belle Fourche, and Sturgis to the East just off Highway 90.  Either of these towns is worthy of securing lodging if you’re ready to venture past the Rapid City anchor.  Summer is high season though and Sturgis along with towns in the area are choked with bikers for the annual Bike Week Rally usually the first week in August.

Deadwood is a personal favorite (fall only, please). Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in the Mt. Moriah cemetery. Saloon 10 is where Wild Bill made famous the Dead Man’s poker hand of Aces & Eights when shot from behind by Jack McCall (hanged for his crime). The town, while a haven for gambling is replete with history and the nostalgic charm of false storefronts.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

Regarding FOOD, if you’ve got a nose for chocolate on the road, stop by The Chubby Chipmunk for a fix.  For lunch, try the Deadwood Thymes Bistro. The last time there I had the White Bean & Chicken Chili, a Three-Cheese grilled sandwich with bell peppers and a slice of apple all melted together between perfectly browned, thick sliced bread, and a large, cold, creamy slab of their Peanut Butter & Chocolate Pie.  I was hungry; the meal memorable. I’d like a repeat please.  For dinner I sat one night on a perch over downtown Deadwood in the 2nd story location of Kevin Costner’s Sports Bar & Grill (above the Midnight Star casino on Main Street).  While I don’t recall the food in the same longing manner as the lunch from Deadood Thymes Bistro, I do fondly remember the view and the numerous photos/posters of Kevin Costner in his Western movie roles.

A Wyoming Detour

Since you’re on the border and you could add another state-notch to your holster belt, or you’ve got another day or two to burn, why not venture into Wyoming? Devil’s Tower National Monument is a quick drive and well worth the time. Take Highway 90 to Sundance, Wyoming. From there head north on 14 for a few miles. Or if you’re sticking to the backroads, Highway 34 west out of Belle Fourche (turns into 24 at the Wyoming border) will get you there as well.  Should you venturing here during the off-season, don’t count on lodging nearby. There IS lodging, but…

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devil's Tower, Wyoming -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

President Theodore Roosevelt Proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument in 1906. Many Plains Indians have legends associated with “Bear’s Lodge” and consider it a sacred site. The Kiowas legend goes like this: Kiowas were camped by a stream where there were lots of bears. Seven little girls were playing away from their village and bears took chase. The girls ran and just as the bears were about to catch them, they jumped on a low rock. One of the girls began to pray. The rock began to push itself out of the ground raising the children higher and higher. The deep grooves running down the sides are said to be made by the bears attempting to claw their way to the top. The rock continued to push the children upward into the sky so far they reside in the sky today as the pleiades star cluster.

This Great American Drive will compel you to sing the Stars & Stripes and purchase a long, black duster.  Be prepared.

WARNING LABEL: If you decide to venture out of Belle Fourche to locate the original Geographic Center of the U.S. or anywhere in the above discussed areas, BEWARE of Rattlesnakes.

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

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25 memorable sights: The Black Hills

The Black Hills (Pahá Sápa in Lakota) are an isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota. The range extends into Wyoming.  The hills are covered in trees, an effect that gives them a darkened appearance from a distance. The dusky corner was distinctive enough to garner the name “black hills.”

The grandeur of granite rising from the cliffs of Mt. Rushmore will in one upward glance sweep away any countryman’s negative sentiments. And impress the hell out of everyone else.  Mt. Rushmore is but one impressive sight however, among the many packed into South Dakota’s southwestern corner.

Black Hills South Dakota

the little squiggle that you can't read is a secret note in my Atlas. Sorry about that. While I won't share that, I did want you to see a map of the area. Nebraska to the south, Wyoming to the west.

 

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Air Force One over Mt. Rushmore. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

First. -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

First. -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

Anchored by Rapid City (airport code RAP), the Black Hills area still echoes with the report of Wild West Colt pistols. You can wander through Native American Indian Reservations as you contemplate what to take in first — the sights of Mt. Rushmore featured on the big screen in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the cavernous limestone formations of Badlands National Park, Sturgis or the frontier town of Deadwood. Throw in the Crazy Horse MemorialCuster State ParkWind Cave National Park, the 1880 TrainBuffalo Gap National Grassland, the Geographic Center of the U.S., the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Jewel Cave National Monument, or the Mammoth Site, and a week’s vacation can be easily spent in one of the most scenic and pivotally historic areas of the lower 48 states. And that’s before you even cross into Wyoming. Forget the guidebook, you’ll need only your Atlas and a penchant for discovery.

The Badlands?

Badlands, South Dakota -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved.

The Route: starting in Rapid City

Interstate 90 East of Rapid City will deliver you to Wall, South Dakota. If you’re already parched or ready for a stop, the Wall Drug Store offers refreshment, take in the National Grasslands Visitor Center, or search for the Minuteman Missile Silo.  From there 240 South will take you directly to the scenic drive around the North Unit of Badlands National Park. The loop ends at Interior. To continue into the South Unit’s 2.7 million acres of sprawling erosion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proceed past Imlay to Scenic, turning South at the first/only turnoff. You’ll need to stop at the White River Visitor Center to get permission to proceed into the Reservation. West on Highway 2, then North on Highway 40 to Redshirt will complete the South Unit. “Highway” 2 is a misnomer. The road is gravel, albeit wide and well maintained. Continuing past Redshirt on Highway 40 to Hermosa presents the choice of turning North on Highway 79 and back to Rapid City, or west on Highway 36 to 87 South to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. From Wind Cave National Park you can easily hit 385 North taking you to Custer, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, and the ’1880 Train’ in Hill, as you progress northward.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Plains Indian Burial Platform

Pyre -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

The area is deceptively compact.  While distances aren’t great between any point (from Rapid City to Hot Springs on 79 is only 57 miles) you will not desire to cover any of it quickly.  And the twists and turns of the roads preclude speed.  While limited lodging is available in the smaller towns and in Badlands National Park, the high season summer months make day trips to and from your pre-reserved lodging in centrally located Rapid City conducive to combing the area.

Deadwood

Once you’ve exhausted the sights south of Rapid City, 385 will take you to Lead (as in lead a horse to water), Deadwood, the Geographic Center of the U.S. in Belle Fourche, and Sturgis to the East just off Highway 90.  Either of these towns is worthy of securing lodging if you’re ready to venture past the Rapid City anchor.  Summer is high season though and Sturgis along with towns in the area are choked with bikers for the annual Bike Week Rally usually the first week in August.

Deadwood is a personal favorite (fall only, please). Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in the Mt. Moriah cemetery. Saloon 10 is where Wild Bill made famous the Dead Man’s poker hand of Aces & Eights when shot from behind by Jack McCall (hanged for his crime). The town, while a haven for gambling is replete with history and the nostalgic charm of false storefronts.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

Regarding FOOD, if you’ve got a nose for chocolate on the road, stop by The Chubby Chipmunk for a fix.  For lunch, try the Deadwood Thymes Bistro. The last time there I had the White Bean & Chicken Chili, a Three-Cheese grilled sandwich with bell peppers and a slice of apple all melted together between perfectly browned, thick sliced bread, and a large, cold, creamy slab of their Peanut Butter & Chocolate Pie.  I was hungry; the meal memorable. I’d like a repeat please.  For dinner I sat one night on a perch over downtown Deadwood in the 2nd story location of Kevin Costner’s Sports Bar & Grill (above the Midnight Star casino on Main Street).  While I don’t recall the food in the same longing manner as the lunch from Deadood Thymes Bistro, I do fondly remember the view and the numerous photos/posters of Kevin Costner in his Western movie roles.

A Wyoming Detour

Since you’re on the border and you could add another state-notch to your holster belt, or you’ve got another day or two to burn, why not venture into Wyoming? Devil’s Tower National Monument is a quick drive and well worth the time. Take Highway 90 to Sundance, Wyoming. From there head north on 14 for a few miles. Or if you’re sticking to the backroads, Highway 34 west out of Belle Fourche (turns into 24 at the Wyoming border) will get you there as well.  Should you venturing here during the off-season, don’t count on lodging nearby. There IS lodging, but…

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devil's Tower, Wyoming -- Tammie Dooley all rights reserved

President Theodore Roosevelt Proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument in 1906. Many Plains Indians have legends associated with “Bear’s Lodge” and consider it a sacred site. The Kiowas legend goes like this: Kiowas were camped by a stream where there were lots of bears. Seven little girls were playing away from their village and bears took chase. The girls ran and just as the bears were about to catch them, they jumped on a low rock. One of the girls began to pray. The rock began to push itself out of the ground raising the children higher and higher. The deep grooves running down the sides are said to be made by the bears attempting to claw their way to the top. The rock continued to push the children upward into the sky so far they reside in the sky today as the pleiades star cluster.

This Great American Drive will compel you to sing the Stars & Stripes and purchase a long, black duster.  Be prepared.

WARNING LABEL: If you decide to venture out of Belle Fourche to locate the original Geographic Center of the U.S. or anywhere in the above discussed areas, BEWARE of Rattlesnakes.

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

50 Things to-do in Jackson Hole & Grand Teton National Park

April 15, 2012 - National Parks,Wyoming

There is something to be said for the delicious stride of habit’s familiarity.  Some can’t fathom traveling to the same place twice; there is indeed a great deal to see in the world. But even among those with the most severe case of wanderlust, many have a favorite destination – a place whose familiar embrace is longed for.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is that place for me. At some point during every year, my thoughts turn to it. A hunger to see it, breathe the mountain air, gaze upon the abundant wildlife, dine at my favorite restaurants, and hike favorite trails, inevitably begins to gnaw.

The wonder and enchantment of the mountains and the valley is constant. It’s the intrigue generated by the continual motion of rotating sensory stimulus that causes me to travel there again and again — it is never the same twice.

Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole overlap (one of only two airports in the United States in a National Park).  But I’ve broken the list down by what’s technically in the Park and what isn’t. With a map and this list, you’ll see some of the best the area has to offer.

Mormon Row Barn

Explore!

Grand Teton National Park

1. Walk through Jackson Lake Lodge. The wall of windows at the back facing the Teton Mountain Range frame a spectacular view. The wildlife watching at dusk from the outdoor patio at the back is fantastic. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson Lake Dam.
2. Enjoy a meal on the patio at Signal Mountain Lodge – the PILE of memorable (based on size and taste) nachos and the tequila lime chicken quesadilla are a must. Add insult to injury and get the chocolate pecan bourbon pie to go and one of their palm-sized homemade cookies at the checkout counter.
3. Since you’re already there, drive to the top of Signal Mountain. Teton Park Road south end of Jackson Lake. And yes, you CAN drive to the top.
4. Take the boat across Jenny Lake and walk up to Inspiration Point/Hidden Falls. Teton Park Road.
5. Take a hike. There are many from which to choose and for all fitness levels. From the Taggart Lake hike of 4 miles to the all day not-for-the-faint-of-heart Amphitheatre Hike (rated very strenuous), there’s something for everyone. Taggart Trailhead – Teton Park Road just north of the Moose Entrance gate; Amphitheatre Trailhead – Teton Park Road, Lupine Meadows, north of Taggart trailhead and south of Jenny Lake.
6. Drive to Antelope Flats for wildlife viewing. Road turns East off of Highway 89/191 just north of Moose Junction. Watch for a sign.
7. See the barns on Mormon Row for a classic view of the Tetons. 13 miles north of Jackson on 89/191, go east at the Gros Ventre Road turnoff, then head north on the first road that junctions. Mormon Row is in the southern area of Antelope Flats.
8. For scenery and wildlife viewing, find Schwabacher’s Landing. It’s a photographer’s dream. Highway 89/191 north of Moose Junction.
9. The same goes for Oxbow Bend. Highway 89/191 north of Moran Entrance Station and south of Jackson Lake Junction.
10. Find the spot where the 1953 Western film, Shane, was filmed (towards Kelly).
11. See the Gros Ventre (Grow Vaunt) Slide Geological Area. On June 23, 1925, 50 million cubic yards slid off the side of Sheep Mountain damming the Gros Ventre River and creating Lower Slide Lake. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson and south of the airport, turn East onto the Gros Ventre Road. Follow the paved road past Kelly.
12. Stand in awe at the Snake River overlook made famous by Ansel Adams. Highway 89/191 north of Schwabacher’s Landing, south of Triangle X Ranch (all marked).
13. Locate the Old Patriarch Tree (about a 15 minute walk off the road). 89/191 north of Moose Junction. If you want the GPS coordinates, you’ll have to leave a comment and ask me for those!
14. Stay at a dude ranch. Any dude ranch.
15. Take a horseback ride. Anywhere.

Jackson Hole Area

Home Away From Home

Big Smile, Tiny Cutthroat Trout

16. Get pictures at the top of Teton Pass (8,341 feet), in front of the famous Teton Pass sign with the cowboy pointing towards Jackson Hole (especially fun during the winter when the snow covers most of the sign). Approximately 11 miles west of Jackson on Highway 22 and just up the mountain from Wilson.
17. Speaking of Wilson: grab a cappuccino and bagel at Pearl Street Bagels (my fav? everything bagel with sundried tomato, olive oil cream cheese + an oatmeal craisin cookie) and eat it on the picnic table just out back.  There’s also a Pearl Street Bagels in the town of Jackson but it lacks something (even though the food is just as good) compared to the Wilson location.  Also in Wilson, eat at Nora’s. Shop at Fish Creek Interiors. Get a soda pop at the General Store.
18. See the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Just north of Jackson on 89/191. Be sure to check out the gift shop.
19. Drive to the Curtis Canyon Overlook. In Jackson behind the hospital, take the Elk Refuge Road. It’s a dirt road that makes a forced turn to the north – after that change of direction, take the first road east. Wind your way into the backcountry until you see the sign and the overlook. Great place. I once photographed an eclipse from there. And big horn sheep.
20. If you know how to flyfish, then wet a line here. If not, take a lesson or a guided trip. Check out Jack Dennis or several other flyshops for their offerings.
21. Take a drive on the Moose-Wilson road. Make sure you have binoculars for the wildlife. North of the airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Before you get to the Grand Teton National Park gate, you’ll see a sign for the road on your left.
22. Wine tasting at Dornan’s; pizza at Dornan’s; cookies at Dornan’s (inside the grocery shop). North of airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Dornan’s has a sign just past the turnoff.
23. Raft down the Snake River (through the Canyon). Several outfitters to choose from.
24. Chicken pizza at the Brew Pub (Snake River Brewery – downtown Jackson). Any beer at the Brew Pub – micro brewed on the premises.
25. Latte & Bagels at Pearl Street Bagels (one in downtown Jackson and another location at Wilson)
26. Stay at Wyoming Inn (Red Lion Inn), or the Four Seasons, or the Snake River Lodge & Spa, or the Wort Hotel.
27. Try Pica’s restaurant near Albertsons in downtown Jackson. There’s a florist and a few other shops next to them. They have great Mexican food, terrific margaritas. The fish tacos are my favs.
28. Breakfast at Bubba’s – biscuits and gravy, pancakes – best I’ve ever had!! Great omelets.
29. Any meal or snack at The Bunnery (downtown Jackson)
30. The Blue Lion Restaurant! Have the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and the lamb shank for an entree (downtown Jackson).
31. Dinner & oyster shooters at the The Rendezvous Bistro. My husband loves the green oyster shooters, I love the red ones. Try both. (South of downtown Jackson)
32. Massage at the Rusty Parrot (downtown Jackson)
33. Take in one of the many festivals. The Fall Arts Festival is in September. Film Festival in September/October. Music Festival in July and August. 
34. Lunch at Sweetwater Restaurant, on the patio (downtown Jackson).
35. Shop at Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering in downtown Jackson – my two favorite shopping excursions in the world (go up the stairs in Teton Mountaineering and you’ll find their sale items).
36. Check out Cloudveil’s flagship store (they’re headquartered in Jackson). It’s on a corner in downtown Jackson, but off the square.
37. For fun, unique, home interior shopping and small colorful gifts, check out Wild Hands for really neat artsy colorful objects (downtown Jackson), Paradigm Interior Design next to Pearl Street Bagels, and Jackson Lighting.
38. Shop at The Bootlegger in downtown Jackson.
39. Take a sleigh ride on Elk Refuge in winter.
40. Order an Arnold Palmer wherever you eat (it’s a tea/lemonade mix and very Jackson).
41. Tram ride to the top of the Teton Village mountain (Rendezvous Mountain) and hike down, or NOT.
42. Enjoy lunch or simply a walk through at Teton Village’s Mangy Moose Restaurant. The Idaho trout fish and chips are memorable as is the full sized stuffed moose hitched to a sleigh hanging from the ceiling.
43. Dinner at the Bar J Chuckwagon on Highway 22 (on the way to Teton Village). You’ll get a real chuckwagon meal (fit for a king), a wagon ride, and a cowboy music show.
44. Hike to the top of Snow King (ski mountain in downtown Jackson) and if you can’t do that, take the ski lift – GREAT aerial view of Jackson.
45. Hike up High School Butte and watch the handgliders take off.
46. Find the Sleeping Indian (hint: Sheep Mountain).
47. Find the town square’s live webcam and wave to friends at home (stand on the corner near the stagecoach office and wave to the cam on top of Jackson Trading Company); sit in the town square, admire the elk horn arches (all naturally shed), and people watch.
48. Attend the Shootout every summer evening at 6:00 p.m. (downtown Jackson)
49. Find an art gallery brochure and take a self-guided tour around the galleries located on the Jackson town square.
50. Attend a rodeo.

 

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The Brown Hotel – Springer, New Mexico

February 17, 2012 - Lodging,New Mexico

The Brown Hotel & Cafe

My feet thrust to the bottom of the bed in choreographed unison with arms yanking the comforter to nose hair level. The inexpensive hotel sheets are rough; chewed from the passage of a multitude of feet sliding across the surface. I like the way they feel. Without cell phone service, the hotel has my full attention. I’m alone to savor it and can’t suppress a clipped squeal as a mournful whistle from the wind’s turn of the sharp corner of the old building, calls out the storm.  A hand shoots out and flicks off the old lantern. As the dark tucks around I’m reminded for the first time in a long time of childhood stay-overs with Loretta Branton. In a tiny clapboard house whose roof was hardly wide enough to cover the heads of everyone inside, we’d settle down under a pile of quilts in the thin light of an early winter night. The sheets were pebbly from the friction of feet over coarse woven cotton and harmless leftover sand from an occasional unwashed foot. I’d sink into that fat bed, flat on my back, arms straight, trying hard to not take up too much space from my tiny friend and a sister or two stacked beside us. Laughter and some shuffling for position soon brought soft sounds of rhythmic breath and my conscious contentedness was alone in the room. Between that forlorn but comforting wail of the wind and the erratic crash of a piece of displaced tin roof, my mind wallowed in the joy always present in that house, and the lingering taste of raisin pie.

Loretta had a slew of siblings and the abundance of personalities was equally offset by the lack of money. My own home wasn’t exactly plush – we didn’t have an indoor bathroom until I was 12. But there were fewer of us and so it always seemed a bit more towards the upper end of the impoverished scale. I don’t recall much about Loretta’s Dad but I remember her mother well.  She was always in the kitchen when I arrived. And come to think of it, in the kitchen when we went to bed. But despite the crowd, I’ve never been in a house so thunderously peaceful.  Her secret as I’ve considered it over the years, had to have been the raisin pie. I’d never tasted one and a moment of lifelong eureka and wistful longing resulted from that first bite. Between a substantial double crust that melted in your mouth in glorious stages – first a savory velvet sand, then dissolving even as you fought with your tongue to contain and coax it to stay ’round, the raisins were fat as grapes, though with more give, and suspended in a thick chestnut tinted goo. There were platelets on the bottom crust from the goo that coupled with the pan on the other side of the pie shell. Those prized bits were magic – the collision of molten sugar and crackling crust.  Loretta told me her mother made several a week. I wanted to move in.

On a road trip, staying in some sort of motel/hotel is part of the adventure. It’s not the same as staying at Grandma’s, or better yet, Loretta’s house. Besides, staying at Loretta’s was the experience it was because Loretta was there. And of course her mother’s raisin pies. But an old hotel is as close as I can get today to the experience that thrilled me as a kid. They’re interesting and fun and the always friendly sometimes odd-turned proprietors are attempting to preserve something old and grand. It’s impossible to walk one of the creaking hallways and not get lost in thoughts of the early travelers – the grandeur of anything that wasn’t their own drafty bedroom, something large and with all those rooms had to sweep away their imaginations and fuel the thrill of travel for them. When I stay in Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hotel or Old Faithful Inn, I choose the oldest rooms for this reason and stay at any old hotel along a road trip journey – they fuel my imagination too.

 

Built in 1922, The Brown Hotel has 11 rooms available for rent. The sheets are not high thread count Egyptian cotton, the comforter isn’t down, clothes hangers are thin wire – the ones of your youth, the towels from Wal-Mart. Wind whistles around the eaves, the gas radiator chugs, and the sink with its separate hot and cold spigots presents the dilemma of how to get the right mix in your hand with which to splash your face. All for $54.91 including tax and a breakfast so good I’d just as soon keep that to myself (the Huevos Rancheros!).

 

Brown Hotel

No cell phone service. No complaints. Just before the snow storm struck with force.

 

Brown Hotel

That Thing Above My Head

They did what they could in those days with bare lightbulbs.

IMG_0511

Floorboards creak and groan all night. But the winter storm bearing down swung around the eaves of this old place in such a fashion as to create the whistle and moan of the wind of my youth.

IMG_0513

Really love having a separate sink and mirror. It makes the tiny bathroom much roomier.

IMG_1767

 

The Brown Hotel & Cafe

(575) 483-2269

302 Maxwell Avenue

Springer, New Mexico

 

Who has a recipe for raisin pie?

 

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Shutterfly: VividPics Technology

February 9, 2012 - photography

Unless I capture an alien and ask Shutterfly to print the photograph, I want no part of green in my black and white prints. Recently this is what Shutterfly gave me in a 4×6:

Shutterfly printing green

Wedding Photo in Green (by Shutterfly)

Oddly, the 5×7 was about as perfect a B&W print as I could ask for (short of printing them myself). Nice blacks. The groom’s shirt is white; the wedding dress was a champagne color, so those are about right too.

0496a

Upon contacting them to request a reprint of the photos, I learned something new about Shutterfly when they sent this reply:

 ” I am sorry to hear that your order did not arrive as you hoped. Shutterfly analyzes your photos and automatically applies enhancements to the photos to improve the exposure and colors in the photos in order to give you the finest quality prints. This feature, which we call our VividPics technology, is applied by default to all Shutterfly prints.”

They went on to say the VividPics technology/process was what was causing the green cast and then gave me a link with instructions on how to disable it.  They did NOT discuss why within the same order, the 4x6s were in green and the 5x7s weren’t…  What they didn’t want to tell me was they’d hired a little green alien in their 4×6 printing line.

 

So I went to the link, disabled VividPics and received another order of, yup, green 4x6s. Three’s a charm they say and they got it right in the 3rd reprint. It obviously was not the VividPic process, but I learned something in the exercise.  And to their credit they re-printed every time at their expense with no hassle.

If you do a bit more research, there’s a section about ICC Color Profiles: “If you turn off VividPics, all our printers will produce sRGB colors accurately.”  What you have to understand is that to get the photo on your screen at home to look very similar in a printed copy, you’ve got to save your images as sRGB AND calibrate your monitor properly for sRGB output.  Shutterfly mentions a spectrophotometer but only in a sentence that also includes the word “inspired.”

Screen shot of Shutterfly's Help section on color profiles

Bottom line, I learned something. And discovered the “Help” section of the site is quite extensive. Good information.

I’m working on a post comparing a Shutterfly photo book to a Blurb photo book. Good stuff.

Here are other Shutterfly posts on this site:

Shutterfly vs Snapfish, Take II

Shutterfly vs Snapfish

 

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John Batdorff. Book Review, “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”

February 6, 2012 - photography

There have been a few perks to writing this blog. Many connections have been made with individuals that are interesting, talented, and sometimes inspirational.  The people perks are the best but there have been a few damned fine freebies in the way of software (Lightroom for instance) and books. Some of the people connections have been with authors who realized I could write a halfway decent review for them if they comped me an autographed copy.  A few were right in that presumption, but mostly the books never escaped the box before getting the boot to Goodwill (of which I’m a huge fan).

 John Batdorff's Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Self-help books have a difficult time clamoring into my reading stack. It’s not that I don’t want to improve. I do. But it’s hard to execute from a recliner. Or with my ass bolted to a truck on some American backroad. 

A friend astutely summed it up, “improvement takes a lot of energy.” No shit. It’s one of those ply you in the face truths whose full impact is only grasped when enough birthdays have passed.

The friend, a baker, had worked herself into the landing gears up position for a rant. “It’s simply a truth like fruit isn’t a real dessert. Or church is not church unless someone thrusts a stick of gum at you.” 

My last conversation with John Batdorff, one of the interesting, talented, AND inspirational connections I’ve made, went like this: “I’ve got to photograph the wedding of a nephew as a favor and there’s no natural light. I don’t even own a flash. Any tips?”  John replied “rent the flash, speak to the Pastor about positioning during the ceremony, and remember to turn the flash back on after you’ve turned it off.”  He’s a lot like my baker friend – they speak in truths that slash right to the good stuff. 

 

When I opened John’s autographed book “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”, it was three months before I worked up the energy to flip the pages. But only one evening of page turning and highlighting to complete it.

You shouldn’t bother with this book unless you really do want to expend the energy to improve your black and whites or pry your butt from the recliner over and over. It’s not a read-and-put-away book. It’s one of those rare outputs from a pro photographer that shares not only useful insights and tips but plops you in the action of their workflow – which I’ve struggled with; oh how I’ve struggled. 

 

John begins with a peek into his equipment bag. Real pictures of the crap he hauls around. An order with B&H was the first reason I left the recliner. Something must be crooked on me because my horizons are always askew. The bubble level pictured in the book solved my problem. I didn’t know such a thing existed. And The LensPen – you need one of these too. The order halted when I got to the ND filter. Geez I’ve experimented with long exposures with very few satisfactory results. Okay none. Now I know why. The neutral density filter is another must have. But not cheap. It’ll have to wait.

Back in the recliner I get to the part about post-processing software – namely Lightroom.  I’ve got Lightroom! Still in the freebie box however because I just can’t make myself learn yet another software program (or social networking site), I get out of the recliner again to open the damned box. John raves about the program, convincing me finally that it’ll be the last major workflow change I make. Even before I load the software I know he’s right. I’ve fought against moving away from Camera Raw/Bridge. It was a gallant fight but if I want my photography to reach the next rung, Lightroom must be conquered.

Histograms?!  Shit. Another rocking back and forth to extract myself from the recliner to fetch of all things, my camera. I could feel the strain in my thighs that time.

Histograms smack of bell curves, financial analysis – things I know something about. Yuck. So I’ve steered clear of them almost as vehemently as Lightroom. He takes you step by step through a histogram. It’s a rather useful thing.  Looking for a U-curve is something I’ll be doing from now on. It’s the opposite of a bell curve. Which makes me a fan.

And shooting with intent. Well that’s a biggie. You know it is. Although John doesn’t say a pro shoots with intent and an amateur doesn’t, that’s exactly what he means. And even if you have no goal to become a pro in the sense of money exchanged for services, if you’re serious about your photography you’ve got to have enough knowledge about the photographic process to shoot with intent. The only way to shoot with intent is to know what the hell a histogram indicates. Okay and a few other things like exposure, composition, framing, contrast. All of which he covers in a very readable voice. 

John’s a rule breaker, which contributes to my being a fan of his work. He refers to keeping all the rules in your head as “paralysis of analysis”.  I agree. And that paralysis hits me in the “darkroom” as well as on site. I begin viewing a likeable image and mentally start breaking down over what should be lighter, darker, what shadow detail I should worry about, the highlight details that may be blown out, etc. A lot of great shots never get the deserved attention because I’m too overwhelmed with analyzing the image. He takes us by the hand and walks through all of that utilizing Lightroom – all the way through printing and/or sharing the image online.

What about watermarks? I said in the beginning that this is a book for those photographers desirous of taking the craft to the next level.  That means branding our images.

I want to deter theft.  I’m not a pro but nothing makes me angrier than to see one of my images used elsewhere without credit. If I got the image to the point I was willing to share it, that means I put some time into it and thieving assholes should be lashed for lifting it. In order to save myself from a stroke at the next infraction, I read the part in the book about watermarks, lifted my trembling thighs once again from the recliner, became a Digimarc customer, and followed John’s directions for use. 

There are assignments at the end of every chapter. But geez that would have meant a full work-out.

Fun things in the book I didn’t know but should have: 1) photographing the sun or other lighting sources with a high f-stop will result in a starburst effect and 2) since I shoot in RAW, I can have my camera display in monochrome and still capture all the color information too.  Very cool.

You’re ready for the truth and someone worthy of delivering it in a way that makes you want to pry from the recliner? Then get John Batdorff’s book: Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots (click here for link to Amazon page). 

Can you say Virtual Copies??

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John Batdorff is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer who splits his time between Chicago and Montana. His black and white images have been featured in the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  See his work and read his popular photography blog at: John Batdorff Photography Blog

John, thank you for the wedding photography advise. I followed it. And I’ll never photograph another wedding. Ever.  – Tammie

 

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Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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