I try to engage with contemporary art because I think it’s just kind of a thing one should do. I don’t like most of it and have kind of honed in on what I enjoy but that’s partly the problem. Art, to some extent, should be a challenge. Art is something of a conversation between the viewer and the creator and this can result in some uncomfortable commentary. For instance:

Years ago, I was New York Maker Faire and there was an exhibit that was just like a square yard of e-waste. Broken printers, laptops, circuit boards, larger metal bits, and all sorts of other technological remains were strewn about a parking lot labeled as a “for kids” activity. They were given screw drivers, hammers, pliers and such. Then I read the label “This kid-friendly installation piece allows children to enjoy the same discovery and valued effort that kids all over the world get to experience every day”. It was then that it hit me that this was a piece on children in developing countries disassembling electronics to recover metals and plastics, likely exposed to toxic processes. The piece hit me. If it wasn’t the intent of the piece, it still got me to be much more mindful of how I disposed of each piece of technology.

MIchael Heizer is an American land artist and his piece, City, has been under construction for decades. It’s big. Something like a mile-and-a-half long and half a mile wide. It was opened for visitation in 2023 and there was a raffle process to get in. It started out with something like 120 showings in the year, each for six people, and costing $150 per person to spend three hours out the site. These parameters both interested and bothered me. The idea that at most 720 people a year would see this and it’d bring in 108K seemed questionable, but if I could be one of the 720 people, I wanted to. I made my spouse and a friend wake up at 3am to register for the lottery which was billed as first come first serve. Two of us were later contacted so we were either fast or lucky or both and our visitation was set for November 14th, 2023.

We stayed in Vegas and drove to Alamo, NV where the Triple Aught foundation ran the tour. There, someone would drive us 80 minutes to the site, let us see it without taking pictures for three hours, then take us back.

The drive to Alamo was straight-forward. A little less than two hours from where we were staying near Vegas. We checked in and Mark, our guide/docent/driver, met us and seemed genuinely excited to show us the piece. We were early and swung by Chester’s Fried Chicken to grab a late breakfast and quickly discovered that their definition of chicken strip was two sigma larger than I was used two. At three I was stuffed.

We returned to the pick-up point and met the older couple that’d be joining us as well as a 20s or 30s girl. We headed off and Mark immediately started telling us about the Pahranagat Valley where Alamo was situated. His family had been in the area for five generations and he spoke about working with the Bureau of Land Management, what it was like working in a national monument, what managing cattle was like, and the various jobs he’d done over his life. He was familiar with the local wildlife and pointed out what plants did and didn’t make for good feed and how they manage where cattle go. Finally, we got the what every-rancher-has story of a weird cattle birthing. This one involved a calf that had frozen to the ground after birthing which was then hoisted into a truck to warm up before it scampered off. Mark described which head were coyote killers and the difficulties of managing the herd when water or feed is scarce.

Then we got to the site. We passed Heizer’s home/workshop and saw the arrays of solar panels that powered the operation. Mark dropped us off, told us where the portable restroom was, and told us what we could and couldn’t climb on. Then he moved the Chevy Tahoe we had ridden in behind a mound and we were on our own and immediately split up. I headed southeast to use the restroom and encountered what was simply the cleanest porta porty I’d ever seen. Pristine.

As I said the site is 0.5 x 1.5 miles with the long axis being east to west. Around it were the Golden Gate mountains (at least what Mark called them) and miles of scrub range between the mountains and the site. Much of the site is composed of either mounts of pea gravel or small stone or concrete structures. They have no obvious naming nor arrangement but generally the concrete is angular and the stone is more gracefully curved in piles. In one particular area there’s a small placard with the arrangement of mounds in relief which I tried to make a rubbing of. It didn’t go great but I got about the third of the site embossed in a sheet a paper. The elements existed in kind of three levels, below grade, at grade, and above grade, with above grade being maybe some 40′ above grade. Likewise with the lowest portions being about 40′ below. While there is no place that gives a complete vantage, some spots allowed you to see the vastness of the site. A friend who joined us said “that’s the furthest I’ve ever been able to identify a person” as I was well over a mile away when she first spotted me and then it took us some 15 minutes to actually be face to face.

While people shouldn’t leave traces, the animals did. There was a spot where some bird of prey enjoyed regurgitating undigestible prey bits and others where different birds very much appeared to enjoy leaving droppings. In other parts, mammal scat was clearly present. No trash at least.

Based on my step counter, I covered some seven miles over the three hours there suggesting that I’d done the place stem to stern four times. Using the map I found as a base, I tried to cover the central east-west line and then a larger circle around it and then some of the far corners to see most of everything. And all of it paled in comparison to the mountains. It was certainly peaceful, aided by the area having no cell reception and Mark recommending we put our phones in airplane mode as to not drain our batteries. I even skipped listening to podcasts as I trudged around not wanting to break the mood. I only saw one other person in the first two hours, then re-met with my group as we compared notes. Sun was setting, shadows were getting longer, and the air was getting cooler but not yet chilly. With 30 minutes left, I returned to the truck to make sure I could find it before doing one last little loop and collecting my spouse. We stopped on the way out to use the restroom and admire the sunset. Overhead, some Air Force plane was writing graceful curves in the sky with its contrails. Over a few minutes we watched three planes cross, corkscrew, weave, and duck all the while leaving icy vapor behind.

So how was it? Vast and kind of small, a lot and not too much. I’m not saying it was explicitly paradoxical but it felt like we were exploring remains that had been smoothed over by time. The site has been worked on for 50 years and it sure doesn’t feel like it. Sure, the artist has done other things, but to get that out of $40m or so and 50 years of work just doesn’t seem like much. Then again this could be a case where simply moving that much dirt took that much time. I’d be fascinated to see pictures of the site over time. The place is over-shadowed by the mountains around. It just makes the work feel contrived and out of place like people aping the grandeur around them. The frustration was also seemingly evident as the place still wasn’t quite done with spots where it was apparent where breaks and concrete blocks had yet to be laid. At best I can say that “City” felt like, well, a kind of mock reduction of a city. It was a city in the same way iconography in a user manual reduces mechanical elements to their barest forms. If I wanted to I could refer to the heaps of symmetrical stone that lined the southern end as “the villas” and refer to one overlook as “the cathedral” or the place with the large cement triangles as “the market” but this would be entirely my contrivance that maybe another visitor would agree with roughly half of. One part that did stick with me was in the northeast corner and I’ll call “the basin”; a massive depression that gently met at a point like an incredibly wide but shallow funnel had been pushed into a gravel pile.

On the way back we compared notes on the experience and Mark told stories of his travels, weird things other groups had done, interesting visitors, and more tales from his desert (basin and range) life. We got back at about 6pm and headed to our next stop, dinner at a small chain followed by Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart which was simply amazing. I mention these things because of the things we did that day, this was our group’s rough ranking of preference.

  1. Omega Mart, hands down
  2. Mark, the guide
  3. The mountains around City
  4. The planes overhead
  5. The chicken from the Chester’s Chicken
  6. CIty

I’m by no means saying the work was bad. I quite enjoyed the smell of the native plants in some of the areas and I appreciated the engineering that went into it. At the same time, it seems like maintaining it is going to take a fair bit of work. What happens with the first heavy snow storm or wind storm or rain storm starts leveling the hills? How will the ground be groomed for the next season? Can we get more people to have a chance to see it? I suppose these aren’t criticisms so much as concerns. If this is to be a monument, is it still a monument if it falls apart without human tending? Is that the point?

I suppose my ultimate recommendation is, go to City if you can, if you find yourself in Alamo, ask for Mark, and definitely go to Omega Mart.

This post was written on 11/16/2023 and is back-dated.

My father landed in the hospital a few days ago due to what is likely a combination of factors. Normally, I’d immediately notify my mom but she’s currently abroad and both because we are Irish and my dad’s health ruined their last vacation, my brother and I decided to gloss over the incident until she came back…until the hospital’s palliative care team called me and asked to talk to her.

Is my dad dying? No more than normal.

Did I nearly excrete masonry upon hearing from palliative care? Yes.

Getting a call from palliative care before getting a call from a doctor or nurse would be like getting a call from a behavioral expert about alternative education opportunities for your child before someone told you they’d knocked someone out in a fight.

In other times and places palliative care was the team you call in when someone is flat out dying and the hospital wanted to know if you wanted to spring for the scented morphine. Now they do a bit more and this was a courtesy check to see if my dad had advanced directives but they very much wanted to talk to my mother as my dad said she was in charge. She very much is not and the paperwork confirms it. My parents are very much divorced or at least as divorced as two people who are not actively co-acrimonious who previously shared 35 years together and currently share two children and a grand child. She should be called on to make no choices and she should be asked to make no calls. I’m pretty sure she’s not listed as anything but my dad says otherwise.

I messaged my mom to call when possible as dad was in the hospital.

We held the call with palliative care without my mom. Arnold from palliative care and I were in my dad’s hospital room and my brother called in. Arnold spoke with a deliberateness that reminded me of me and except for referring to things like an artificial heart as a “heroic intervention”. We all want dad to go home but it’s good to know we know what he wants if something pops up.

On the way out of the hospital my mom called. I braced for the observation that we’d hidden this from her and:

Me: Dad’s in the hospital and they want to talk to you.

I am no longer worried she’ll be mad at me.

I returned to work after my road trip and Cindy (not her real name) in claims had gotten a hair cut. Cindy has worked at my firm as long as I have and possibly decades longer. She’s had the same haircut that makes her look like a poorly tended labradoodle since I joined about six years ago. In fact, I’ve seen pictures of her from before my arrival and even then, she had the same haircut. Today, she had something different. Not a revolution, but something closer to a bob cut. It didn’t quite work but she tried something new and that deserves something. I decided to go vegetarian.

Sudden changes at my life seem to happen after road trips. My decision to become an actuary, my attempt at great weight loss, a return to dating, and now vegetarianism seemed to all flow from returning road trips. Maybe I have some hidden desire to show how the world has changed me or road trips are a convenient reset button. Either way, if there’s a life change you’re trying to implement, try a road trip to kick it off.

As of this writing, I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over three months with one or two off moments. I will still consume meat if it prevents it from going to waste and not in some lame way. For instance, party leftovers I won’t generally touch except in one case where a container of meatballs turned and I feared the second one would before my house mate could finish them so I threw myself upon that beefy hand grenade. I ate something like two Italian subs one evening when I was working late and housekeeping informed me they were about to be discarded. Otherwise, I’ve been good.

Here are some observations:
-Sam’s has no good plant-based alternative protein like tofu, seitan, tempeh. This is problematic as I do my grocery shopping there. Periodically they have vegan chicken nuggets which are surprisingly serviceable. My solution is that I will sometimes go to a suburban grocery store and buy literally all of their firm and extra firm tofu. My largest run was 24 packages from a single Giant.  I’m glad I use ripstop nylon bags.

-Plant-based meat analogs do not have the obese vegetarian in mind. I’ve given up access to the meat menu at Fogo De Chao, do not give me 4 oz of flavored tempeh and call it a “vegan steak”. A vegan steak should be at least 18 oz and have fake sear lines on it. Work with me, people.

-Trying to add glutamic acid via monosodium glutamate seems to be hit or miss as a little is meh, a lot makes you want to chew your own tongue, but the middle amount will give a veggie burger the meatiness of about a turkey burger.

-Holy shit I like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese plus PB2 makes this sating concoction I call peanut spackle. Peanut concrete is PB2 plus Greek yogurt so that name was taken.  If you mix in jam you have a PB&J flavored food puddle.

-Taco Bell’s online ordering can meet seemingly any dietary requirement as I once a week get a veggie burrito that contains seemingly an entire salad for under $5.00. And, because it’s Taco Bell, I can have them throw in Fritos for an extra quarter.

-Chic-Fil-A now holds nothing for me except a bagel with peanut butter.

-The Impossible burger is quite good.

-Going vegetarian has resulted in me shedding no weight.

I don’t anticipate going vegan as eggs and dairy are vital to me.

So why vegetarian?  I didn’t want as much stuff to die for me to live.  As a fat person, I can literally consume a chicken in a day without breaking a sweat (and have).  Also, as a big person, eating my 3500 calories a day likely required something like 7000 calories in raw energy to produce.  I’d like to bring that number down a bit.  I wished to start considering both the price and the cost of what I was eating.

Fall marks the start of me biking outdoors again and involves converting my Trek 7.2 from a stationary bike back to its normal road-worthy form. I thought I did so properly until I wanted to go right and my wheel kept pointing forward and I ate it on the sidewalk two houses from me. I had failed to sufficiently tighten an extender for my handlebar so the wheel and handlebars were no longer tightly connected. Being 350 lbs and somewhat tall, I can build up a fair amount of kinetic energy even in the process of falling 5 feet or so and was left with large cut areas on my right leg and elbow. As a note, this is my 4th fall on a bicycle as an adult and all have been on my right side.

The neighbors were walking back to their house as I was sprawled on the ground waiting for the pain to pass. “It’s our neighbor” one said. “My name’s Terry, <>.” They asked me if I needed help and I passed on their assistance. I righted my self and returned to the house to clean up. After washing up, I went food shopping and then returned home to study.

Things seemed normal until I tried to sum two three-digit numbers in my head and could not, for the life of me, do so. Further more, multiplying two two-digit numbers also proved outside my realm of mental arithmetic. I can’t say the fall caused it, but it seems to have happened at about the same time. This was worrying at first so I ran through a few other tasks. I could do two digit addition and subtraction and multiply up to a normal 12 x 12 times table. Division was ok if the answer had no non-zero remainder. I could do calculus and symbolic manipulation. This was more strange than menacing. The brain is weird, sometimes things break.

After about three days, my numerical faculties returned and I at least felt they were somehow sharper, at least for the next day or two, and I could multiply arbitrary two digit numbers and add three and four digit numbers again. This acuity returned to its normal level after about two days and I feel like I’m back at where I was pre-crash. I don’t know what ultimately felt weirder, that mental arithmetic had left me, or that it had returned. I wonder if there are any weird cross wirings now like I’ll smell daffodils when I see purple. None yet.

This post is backdated and was posted on November 7th, 2018

Adam Savage can be a noisy fellow when it comes to something he likes.  One of those things is the magic show/one person show “In and Of Itself”.  In it, Derek Delgaudio does six tricks in some 75 minutes wrapped together with some narrative work.  The overall theme seemed like it was supposed to be something to do with identity and what we call things and ourselves but that felt thin.  Importantly, that integument was unnecessary.

Most of his tricks were somewhat predictable in the sense that you knew what the trick was going to be well before it unfolded creating an attitude of “this guy is going to x” followed by a kind of madness when the guy did x.  There’s a kind of boldness to “this is what I’m going to do now watch me do it”.  The penultimate trick involved a memory or hidden communication trick that had me going “this guy is going to point at me and say a thing and I’m going to cry” and lo and behold, at the end of the trick he had pointed at me, said a thing, and there I was crying.  This trick was quickly followed up by another where I think the audience collectively shit itself in amazement.  I nearly leapt up yelling “WITCH!”.

My theater partner and I bolted for the train which we narrowly missed and then waited for 15 for the next.  That was enough time to get a donut and a water and cool down from turbo walking a mile through the hot city.  Over that walk the magic wore off a bit.  The contract between the sublime construction of the magic tricks and the greasy real-ness of the city.

When we returned to my place, sirens were going off throughout the evening.  My area loses a fair number of residents to drug abuse, about two a day by my math but recently there’d been a string of problematic overdoses where drugs had been spiked with something.  Possibly fentanyl and possibly some sort of muscle relaxant.  Earlier in the evening, I waved at Sarah Silverman who was also in the audience and now I’m listening to people clinging to life.  It’s about as much juxtaposition as I can bear.

The day was driving and if I were lucky I’d get in at 2-3am.  Chicago was unkind and the Philadelphia Turnpike was under heavy construction so I wound up getting in arount 5am.  Such is the way of things.  I have no great notes on the drive home except that it was long.  Whenever I take a long drive, I miss returning to my previous house in the burbs.  The roads would go from Interstate, to US route, to state route, to county route, to driveway.  For the city, it goes from highway to big street, to home and the whole time the city is visible on the horizon.

Overall Thoughts: The Dakotas are beautiful.  The upper midwest is an area where I’d like to spend more time and I hope to make time to do so.  The distances are long but not too long compared to east of the Rockies.  The terrain created by glacial movement is quite pretty.  After I got back, I compared my actual map with what I came up with on Roadtrippers and am amazed at how much I missed.  Dozens of sites.  Guess I’ll need to go back.

Total distance: 5,264 miles
Gallons of fuel: 149.9
Fuel Economy: 35.1 mpg

Total cost: $1508.84

As a note, I spent about equal amounts on lodging, food, transit, and attractions.

What was the goal?
I’ve driven something like 400,000 miles in my life. In that time, I’ve spent little time in North Dakota, South Dakota, or Minnesota and I wanted to fix that. Much of my travel was to visit members of my Team Fortress 2 team and since few lived in those states, I mostly crossed them rather than properly visiting. These states also contain a lot of good Americana. It’s “farmers with sheet metal welding equipment and time” country and there’s some gorgeous installation pieces that seem to fit that theme. Also, a coworker of mine from mainland China wanted to take an American Roadtrip so she was going to join me for the first week. Ideally, I’d hit about five National Parks and some dozen other sites.

I periodically check OKCupid while traveling to see what kind of people “match” me in an area. I’m generally progressive but with a strong free speech streak. Younger folk tend to be more progressive than older ones so if I tend to match with people younger than me, I’m inferring that the area is less progressive as it takes a “younger” person to be in the same part of the political as me. Also vice versa as on the west coast I tend to match with older people.

So far, Chicago seems to have the most people with which I mesh and a significant number appear to be red heads.

Also areas become less densely populated, the “looking for someone with this distance” distance tends to increase. In Chicago 5-10 was common, in Duluth and Ely, 100.

I rose early as today would see two national parks and three other sites. I quickly packed and headed to Wind Cave National Park where I found out the tours were not running as the elevator was not operating. I had signed up for the Natural Entrance tour which I assumed involved taking the natural entrance but apparently the elevator was required to run any tour and thus the tours weren’t running. I sped off to Mount Rushmore to visit before it was overrun with tourists on a Sunday and found: 1) The fog there was comically dense 2) the place was still over-run by tourists. So, on to Badlands.

Before Badlands, I saw a sign for a tribal area with a scenic overlook and stopped. It was a badlands formation. The Dakota Badlands are a byproduct of very soft sediment being washed away and there’s little proper rock or vegetation. Badlands look the like the geographic equivalent of a Weierstrass function being at all places rising or falling. I went back to my car to grab my drone an encountered a….man:

Him: Neat isn’t it?
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular what water can-
Him: What do you think caused this?
Me: Just soft material that’s been washed away by wind and wat-
Him: Think an earthquake did it?
Me: Nope just water.
Him: Huh….you know a lot about this stuff, why is the grass so short?  I live in Chicago a long way aways and wish my grass were this short.
Me: I mean, it’s not that short, if you look over there it’s much much taller and it’s probably short because people walk here.
Him: I wish it were this short. I have to keep mowing my lawn in Chicago.
Me: You have grass in Cook County?
Him: Nah, we’re outside of Chicago but pretty close.
Me: Really?
Him: Good to talk to you, I’m going to talk to my family.

Oooooooookaaaaaay.  This was a special kind of violent boring.

Badlands National Park started with 18 miles on an unpaved road approaching the park from the south.  After another few miles of poorly paved road I came upon the first turn off which was at a prairie dog town.  This was a new type of prairie dog that was the size of a dachshund and would waddle over looking for food.  A woman was feeding one sunflower seeds from her hand and another was feeding one almonds.  I remembered that contact with a prairie dog was one of the few ways to get bubonic plague and I smiled.  The park was slow going and contained much more badland formations.  I got my fill and exited early into Wall, South Dakota.  Home of the ur-tourist trap, Wall Drug.  I had a few people ask about this place and after giving it a glance, decided to move on.  I’m fine with someone creating or promoting the kooky but such an obvious ploy was a bit much for me.  As a gift, headed east on I-90 there was a skeleton person walking a skeleton T-Rex.

I shot east in an attempt to make a sculpture garden before it closed and not just any one.  This one is a spot on the morbid side with a red-eyed jack-in-the-box smiling with blood about his mouth and a giant bull head.  Traffic slowed me to the point where I missed it and I floated on fumes to refuel.  I was done.  I had driven for four days and covered some 1300 miles by myself and that was enough.  I had spots that I wanted to see on the way back but it was late and none would be open until tomorrow which would likely delay my return back a day.  Let’s go home.  With that, I put my home address in my GPS and I set back.  Working backwards from it being 8pm or so, I’d have 20 hours of driving plus losing another hour to a time zone.  Five hours today would put be at 16 hours tomorrow plus stops.  Ugh.

When driving, I tend to drive as long as I can before I feel sleepy. The moment my head bobs, or I feel like it will soon, I call it a day.  Sometimes this causes problems as wind up driving until 3am, check in at a hotel, and then get kicked out at 11am after having slept for 7 hours which makes for a crappy driving day.  So now I start looking for a place where I can land between 1 and 2am and on this trip, that turned out to be La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The Motel 6 fit the bill and the obvious signs of an area dealing with opioid abuse were present.  I already felt like I was home.  The room had an air conditioner that seemed incapable of reducing the humidity, oh well.

This post is backdated and was published on August 2nd, 2018

The dryer at the airbnb was nigh useless and I lost two hours to it just heating up the clothing in the dryer without seemingly drying. On inspection, the dryer had no vent and had some sort of condensation tank that was in no way collecting condensation. Anyway, off to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’m now in the land of prairie dogs. In the same way an ant hill will seemingly destroy an 8″ x 8″ plot of grass, a prairie dog hole/warren/den does the sae on a much larger scale. They are one of the few ways one can encounter the bubonic plague so it’s good they don’t generally let you get close. When approaching an area with nests, at about 75 feet away, the prairie dogs would go up on their hind legs and stare at you. At 50 feet, they’ll lie low in the depression made by their dens. At 25 feet, they’ll start chirping at you and disappear under ground. These three concentric rings were centered on you and followed you as you moved, giving you a nimbus of chirping prairie dog as you move around.

…or at least that’s how I thought prairie dogs worked. With a little more experience with them, there seemed to be three types:
1) Those as listed above
2) Those used to cars where you could practically run them over but that would scurry away if you opened your door
3) Those used to humans and who’d waddle over if you had a peanut

Theodore Roosevelt was pretty as a park but didn’t have any exceptional areas. The geology again was the geology of glaciers plus a river. I took pictures, looked at more prairie dogs, and moved on.

At the visitor center, I asked if there was a good place outside the park to fly my drone. The guide indicated it was illegal in the park. I said that I asked for something outside the park. The guide said “oh, yeah, you did” and proceded to circle some places on a map for me to look at. I thanked him and drove to the first spot with drone in hand. Wow. The guide was right. There were some lovely rock formations separated by verdant valleys where he recommended and considering the high and pointiness of the flora, I would have stood little chance on foot. From sufficient height, a field of prairie dog dens look like prairie acne or a field overtaken with ants. I saw a group of antelope for the first time as they scampered majestically, later realizing it was probably due to the sound of the drone being that of a cloud of angry bees.

Then next stop was the Enchanted Highway in Regent, ND.  For about 32 miles there are large metal sculptures at 4-6 mile intervals with a little parking lot and turn out for each.  Each is quite large, made of scrap metal, and planned by a local artist as an attempt to not have local towns go extinct.  At the end in the town of Regent I stopped at a small gift shop.  The elderly shopkeeper asked “coming on going”.  I assumed coming was coming for the highway and going having seen it.  I said “goin’.” he said “right”.  I bought a small Christmas ornament and some local fudge.  Small towns in this area seem to usually have public bathrooms.

In Meadow, South Dakota, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation there is a spot that is 120 miles from the nearest McDonalds.  Referred to as the McFurthest point, this spot is as far from you can get from a McDonalds in the lower 48.  I stopped, tried to take a picture, and was eaten alive by mosquitoes.  My next stop was….wherever I was staying for the evening which was still a good number of miles off.  The next urban center was Art Alley in Rapid City, SD and the next other site was Mt. Rushmore/Wind Cave National Park.  I opted to skip Rapid City and head straight to Hot Springs, SD to rest.

This post is backdated and was published on August 1st, 2018

The first morning without company was dull.  Families with fathers wearing polo shirts and wives in white fluttering around the reasonably good breakfast offering at the hotel.  Every time I got up for more coffee my plate was taken even if it has something on it.  I wonder if this is just borne of the reasonable prior that empty plate was a sign of departure with someone failing to drop their plate at the bus station rather than it being someone getting a refill.

The first stop was at the KVLY mast.  This antenna 2,063 feet tall and when constructed in the 60s was the tallest artificial structure and first over 2,000 feet.  It held the record for tallest until the Burj Kalifa was built and is now #4 but still highest in North America.  It’s hard to register that it’s over a third of a mile tall and is seemingly jack straight.  The guy lines extend out to a distance that the total area under it is 160 acres of which most is cropland.  I got a little hit of adrenaline driving to the next site.  I was far enough into North Dakota that I would pass a vehicle a few times an hour at best and in those cases the oncoming driver usually waved.

The next stop was the Nekoma Pyramid or the Pyramid of the Dakotas.  The approach involved seeing large fields of yellow medium height something which was likely rapeseed or canola.   The pyramid itself was the radar array for a missile defense base that’d include dozens of nuclear tipped surface to air missiles that’d notionally shoot down incoming ICBMs.  Now it’s a slightly weedy monument to the hopes of technology.  I wanted to drone over the area but it’s within the airspace of a special air region used by the air force. Boo.

Next was W’eel the Turtle.  This turtle was made by a mechanic who had collected 2,000 or so tire rims over 16 years and who had them welded them together to make a large turtle.  The turtle is inspired by the nearby turtle mountains.  The mosquitoes were large and aggressive to the point that slapping them involved blood smears on my hands.  The turtle sat in park about 14 miles from the Canadian border through the region of the upper midwest that’s simply a band of hills and lakes formed by the ice age.  I opted against it as I had another 260 miles to drive that day.  Headed west across North Dakota was a glimpse of a different place.  The most ubiquitous bird was the red winged blackbird which I saw at the regularity of a mourning dove or house sparrow.  Next were the fields.  The crops were canola, flax, barley, and wheat with very little corn.  The fields weren’t labeled like in many other areas and most farms seemed to have one or more apiaries.  Railroads tracks were ubiquitous and I felt like I was constantly driving along side them even as I made my way through the state along right angles.  Finally was how quiet it was.  The birds weren’t particularly noisy.

I set off from Dunseith and headed towards Dickinson in western North Dakota near Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  The drive was lovely and I made several failed attempts at acquiring laundry detergent.  Google twice directed me to a non-existent stores and then to a string of several closed ones.  I failed to consider how large Dickinson was and there was a 24 hour Walmart that had detergent in spades.  I got my detergent, some drinks, and went to my Airbnb to start cleaning my clothes.

This post is backdated and was posted on August 1, 2018

We departed the Hungry Hippy Hostel at 6:30am and drove 90 minutes made it to the dock to catch our Ferry. The dock wasn’t open yet so we jetted to a convenience store where I accidentally bought and then ate a donut breakfast sandwich. It contained egg and possibly a meat and after 60 seconds of microwaving it was a hot soggy slightly sweet mess. Thinking I had minutes to consume calories before being on a ferry for 90 minutes to an island for a day without other provisions I wolfed it down. Returning to the dock we learned the lake was too choppy and the ride was cancelled. I think I would have been angrier if anyone else had been in any way angry but staff and other visitors shrugged with a “whatcha gonna do” look.  Almost all of the other day visitors were fit women in their 50s and 60s and I was curious what would happen to the people on the island expecting the ferry to return them to the mainland.

We drove back to Duluth to hit the Glensheen Estate and the Great Lakes aquarium which I had been told was amazing. It was not. One exhibit of note was the sturgeon petting tank. Shark petting tanks are common and the sharks will sometime swim by and you can two finger pet them. The sturgeons seemed to seek out fingers like they enjoyed being pet. If only they had enough face muscles to smile.

We continued on to the Glensheen mansion where the ticket vendor recognized us from our last time. The tour went through the house as it was in about 1910 where it was quite modern for the time. Central vacuuming, a central boiler, and electricity were present in each room. While the house was neat, the depth of knowledge from the tour guides was amazing. Most were students at University of Minnesota at Duluth and knew the origins of most of the major objects, most of the symbols used, and even what was original and what was redecorated. Guides were broken into three tiers and then one became a manager. I asked a question on one of the internal windows looking like it was in the Prairie style and he brought up the blog post he was working on about the history of windows for the house. One guide was particularly incredulous that I was in Duluth on vacation.

Guide: So you’re from around here?
Me: No…
Guide: Went to school here?
Me: No…
Guide: Here for work?
Me: No…
Guide: You have family in the area?
Me: No, I’m
Guide: Then why the heck are you in Duluth

Our next stop was lunch and we found that Duluth’s main corridor was being torn up. The Indian restaurant we wanted to go to had literally no side walk in front of its door but they were open. “Just take the skyway”. Duluth has a network of aerial bridges and corridors used to connect the area when it’s covered in snow. We took a back entryway and came upon a pair of white Duluth residents serving toothsome Indian food with all the patrons talking in a thick Minnesota accent. “This pah-nyeer is delish, don’t ya know” and such. The mango pudding was amazing.

Our next stop was Minneapolis which would be where my travel partner departed but first we had a goodbye dinner that a now long-time friend from the area joined. I’ve known him for about 9 years and he was the majority of the reason I visited Chicago so many times over the years. He’s doing well, having finally completed a large property sale his family had been working towards for nearly a decade and also having finally gotten treatment for a medical issue. He’s in his early 40s and trying to build. I feel spoiled that I got to spend my early 20s figuring out who I was and then my mid 20s figuring out a social toolbox. Sometimes I feel like I’m coasting on the work of previous Terries and will need to pay some bill for the social riches I’ve reaped. We went over much and it was just grand to see him.

This post was made on 2018-07-31 and is backdated.