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Archive for July, 2010

old montana prison

I’m not sure how I feel about the Old Montana Prison, built in 1871 and emptied of prisoners and staff in the late 70s.

While sad, it also felt unhaunted and peacefully laid to rest. Inside the red castle-style walls the offices are in stasis—as if the job placement counselor and chaplain just stepped out for a coffee—and have a stark, government-issue beauty (if there was ever an oxymoron, that’s it).

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custer’s last stand

We visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument—a vast area 60 miles from Billings, Montana—on the day after it took place 134 years ago. Ralph “The Master of History” narrated the story of the clash between Custer, his two subordinates (Benteen and Reno) and the 600 men of the 7th Cavalry, and thousands of well prepared Native American warriors as we drove the length of the battlefield and back.

“What happened was this,” Ralph began patiently. “Custer divided his command into three, well, really three and a half parts” (already this account is getting complicated.)

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vinegar museum

How did Roslyn, South Dakota get to be the vinegar capital of America?

“Yes. Ok,” replied the amiable host at the International Vinegar Museum, who earnestly launched into his docent’s speech. “This fella by the name of Lawrence Diggs,” he said, pointing to the framed articles on the wall at the entrance. “He was living in California and looking for a place different from California. He happened to come through Roslyn and he’s been here ever since.” (What are the odds of this.)

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virginia city

Look up “Virginia City” in any thesaurus and it will be synonymous with “tourist trap”. Something about that name, from Nevada to Montana, means overpriced sassparillas, olde tymey portraits, tedious demonstrations, cheap t-shirts and worse.

Virginia City, Montana and it’s redheaded stepsister, Nevada City, are technically ghost towns that are described as “two of the best-preserved examples of the many mining camps of the West.” During the gold rush days in Alder Gulch, Virginia City—population 10,000—was the largest town in the inland Northwest. Now, it’s teeming with nearly that many sightseers, but unlike the Nevada version, it manages to retain a modicum of authenticity.

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the international

Lowered expectations are the key to happiness. Every Airstreamer under fifty warned me about the dork factor of the WBCCI 53rd International Rally. Thusly, we had a rockin good time.

Yes, there was a weird opening ceremony involving unit flags and the procession of club officers in their blue berets; the sort of ancient tradition like the Elks’ 11 O’Clock Toast or the Shriners’ love of clown cars that many people enjoy. And I was confounded by the focus on structured indoor activities that had nothing to do with camping: byzantine meetings heavy on the Robert’s Rules of Order, some board game called Joker, ham radio workshops…it was like being on a senior cruise without the buffet.

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