Posted by: Jim E | June 5, 2012

Vacation Yet???…The Dakotas…The West…Or Not???…

I don’t know if this ever happens to you…I’m in the kitchen doing something and looking out the window…the window looks down the street and to the mountains near along the Arkansas River…okay, so it’s a few miles away…but don’t ruin my story…this happens to me often but now it’s serious…why???…because it’s June and June means school is out…and for an old school guy that means the pressure was off…summer was ahead, and though I still was at work…I looked ahead to some sort of vacation from the job…when the kids were young, we always camped…we had a Starcraft pop-up camper…we used that thing up…we had it almost 15 years, or there about…we mostly traveled in Minnesota but we also traveled to the East coast with it…and to Michigan to see Judie’s folks and relatives…so, again, we used it up…we loved traveling with that camper…well, to tell you the truth, without the camper we couldn’t have traveled that much or vacationed as we did…with my salary and a family of 6, it would have been prohibitive…

Here was my reasoning, we had to eat anyway…so the cost of food wasn’t the problem…since we still ate at the campsite…not much eating out in those days…so it was gas and campsite cost…and that was cheap in those days…gas under $1 per gallon…maybe 70 or 80 cents, whatever…and we mostly spent most of our time within 100 miles from home, so it was reasonable…and Oh, those were great times…we still talk about them and as I look out our kitchen window, I do what I often do…I find myself in Wisconsin somewhere…or a Minnesota campground or state park…quiet and near the fire…or just back from swimming in a pool or lake and hanging our towels out to dry…see what I mean…the picture tells it all…in the woods…smoke from the fire, in the air…our “fire sticks” at the ready…(“fire sticks” i.e. long sticks use to “tend” the fire, if you know what I mean)…and smores, a hot dog or two…Tonka pies…we called them that because the “irons” we had were made by Tonka…two buttered pieces of bread…and anything from meat and cheese or canned pie filling, jam or even peanut butter…over the fire and there you go…great stuff, and fun to do…do you see why my looking out the kitchen window is a great view???…

Now, where to go…I love to go West…we used to travel across North Dakota to visit Judie’s brother and family over the years…and I loved when we left Fargo, North Dakota and headed West…it seemed that the sky opened up…many don’t like traveling across the prairie, but I loved it…you can see forever…and it is beautiful…the sky so blue…crops go for miles…and the towns are different than they are going east…just different, I don’t know exactly why but they are…I love the feeling…for years North Dakota was losing population but recently, with the oil boom, near Wiliston, it has been growing and employment is up…luckily the oil is on private land so the federal government is not stopping the boom like it is elsewhere…and all across North Dakota are towns that speak of the history of settlement there…Mandan, Buffalo, Medora…over the last 100 years or so…towns like New Salem, Hebron and Beulah…ah, Beulah…lots of Biblical names across the prairie…now you will have to pardon this musical interlude…with the town, Beulah, I’m reminded of a Southern Gospel song written and sung by Squire Parsons…called “Sweet Beulah Land”…and it talks of heaven…but to me it may as well be talking about Beulah, North Dakota…at least the first settlers must have thought so…the song taken from Isaiah 62:4 and talking to Israel,  “Thou shall no more be termed Forsaken, neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shall be called Hephzibah (My delight is in Her) and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

And on we go through the prairie and all of the sudden the bottom falls out of the prairie and we find ourselves in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the North Dakota Badlands…and the town of Medora…it is worth our stop…all summer the town puts on the Medora Musical…an outdoor show that is worth your time and money…it is an outdoor musical and stage show…hard to believe in the middle of the hills outside Medora is this outdoor theater…and the show has music, comedy, history, patriotism and horses on stage…what a time we had there…are you still with me…the overlook as you come from the east is excellent…and the town, though a tourist town, is fun to go through…but the surrounding trips you can take by car is worth the time…buffalo, deer and scenery is wonderful…look around can you see it…I can, right out my kitchen window…the sky, a blue that you have never seen before, is above you…with white clouds dotting the sky…I’m having a wonderful time…and as the sun goes down over the set of the Medora Musical…and the lights go up…the music starts and the colors of the sky are beyond my abilities to describe…and where do all those people come from that are at the Musical…hundreds every night, out in what may be called “the middle of nowhere”…but they are there and all enjoy the evening…a few years ago I read “Mornings on Horseback” by David McCullough, the story about Theodore Roosevelt’s life in North Dakota…most don’t know he really lived near Medora and spent much time there…it was a great read…he went there to experience the West before it closed…

The towns of North and South Dakota over the last 50 years at least, have been dying one after another…what with farming changing so much…farming is still going on but with fewer and fewer farmers…and the towns that supported them died too…some like I mentioned before are growing because of the oil boom but who knows how that is going to go…but the larger cities in the Dakotas are still vibrant and many are growing…we traveled through South Dakota a few years ago…along I-90…Rapid City and stopping at places like Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota…the badlands and Mount Rushmore…all very much worth the trip…there is a beauty about the Dakotas that I will never get used to…knowing a little of the history of this part of the country helps to enjoy it more…the circle car tour at Mount Rushmore is fantastic…all kinds of animals to see…and Mount Rushmore is inspiring in itself…along with all the surrounding sights…

So I’ve enjoyed this view out our kitchen window…all the memories are still stuffed in my brain somehow…and with the exception of the Minnesota State Fair…I still prefer the quiet and serenity of the prairie…and the mountains…and all that it holds…let me give you a picture idea in my mind…now I know that many would prefer a rock concert to the prairies of the Great West of the United States…but a picture tells more than I can write…

Would I rather be in that crowd of people…or in a quiet spot in the part of the country hardly anyone has seen or studied…it is the reason Theodore Roosevelt went west…after he lost his mother and his wife…he needed to find his bearings again…and he went west to find just what he needed to come back and be president and all the other things he did in his life…sometimes I think taking a vacation…whether outside our kitchen window…or actually going there may help all of us to find our bearings on what is important in this life…it’s what settlers found…and it’s what I find when I go somewhere without hoards of people…and can think…how about it…come on along…join America as it was…and is…

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