web analytics

Light Pixie Studio – Sharyn Richardson » Preserve your memories | fine art portraits that tell a story | photographs and paintings by Sharyn Richardson | Light Pixie Studio | What do you want to remember? | worldwide

Masthead header

Tag Archives: American history

Paul often reads to me while I cook. With holiday preparations underway for Christmas 2016 Eve supper there was ample time for this week’s headline story in our small town newspaper of childhood Christmas traditions recalled. That led inevitably to stories from our own childhoods.

Sugar Plums first and then the Christmas tree

When we were young trees were decorated and packages arranged only after children were asleep in their beds presumably with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Children were expected to wait to be called or at least past a certain early morning hour before Christmas could begin.

Bells in the family

We’ve always had bells in the family, not the thin metal, cheap ones but real harness bells, weighty and resonant. My parents prized a strand of five woven into a red rope that hung from a hook on the back door. On Christmas morning they were rung to signal me and three siblings that it was time to come downstairs accompanied by Santa’s deep-throated gravely, “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” Our mother’s voice was never recognized in any hint of tone or timbre. Our father was by nature too guarded and serious to be so playful. Long after I knew their secret, it remains a special memory and a phrase like music that I can recall perfectly. Whether I say the words aloud or not, tomorrow morning the memory will connect me once again to Mother.

Who Santa really is

I was the eldest of four, each of us born five years apart. My parents grew concerned as I neared age seven that I might learn and tell the larger truth about Santa to the youngest. That Christmas Eve as they tucked me into bed, they revealed who Santa really is: the season’s love and generosity openly expressed and shared in gifts and greetings among cherished family and treasured friends. Parents, they said, are the real elves, surrogates who do the magic work themselves. They invited me to join with them for the sake of my siblings. The words were gentle and honest, words I emulated with my own children as they too began to participate in Christmas magic. But that night I closed my eyes and held my breath until my parents tiptoed away. And then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of reindeer who could fly and a red-suited stranger who visited all the world’s children in the night.

Guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet

Paul recalled a Christmas in Bronxville when his older brother waked him early on Christmas morning, “Wake up! Don’t you want to go down stairs to see what’s under the tree?” Paul was very young but savvy enough to see darkness outside and mistrust that it was past seven o’clock. “Just come look at my clock then!” which big brother had slyly set forward. So both boys navigated the wide staircase and flipped the switch to light the tree in a vision of sparkling light and color. That’s a strong, visual memory that Paul carries today. At long ago Christmases the children’s gifts weren’t wrapped but arranged openly beneath the tree. That year a train and a sled demanded immediate play. Tired after a while of their too early adventures, they went back to sleepy beds where their parents found them and when guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet’s deep pile gave them away.

Wishing you joy and peace and kindred souls

However you enjoy these wintry days, take time, as will we, to remember those who taught us by their example to love, respect, and be generous of spirit. Home is wherever and with whomever you rest your heart. May you be blessed with joy and peace and kindred souls. Merry Christmas to all!

Petersen Museum

Bugatti’s transcendent masterpiece . . .

Cars as tools

I wasn’t a car lover and and never knew any gear heads. After all, aren’t cars tools not treasures? A mindset can change and last week that’s what The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles did for me.

My life with cars

Most young people look forward to learning to drive but that wasn’t my priority. I walked or took buses. Finally, in my early twenties I borrowed my grandfather’s car to get a license. It wasn’t a smooth introduction: my first two cars were stolen! Friends thought my ’63 Olds with a Corvette conversion was cool ‘though to me it was simply hand-me-down practical and I missed it. Can’t recall what the other car was, a clear indication of how little it mattered.

Next I had a 1972 Datsun 240Z because it was cheap and available. Only later did I learn what it neat car it was. By then I had a baby who’d outgrown her carseat bolted to the rear deck. I traded up to what was now called a Nissan 300ZX; it might have been sexy transportation except for diapers, baby toys and bottles. The now three children couldn’t all ride at once!

So I relented buying sensible transportation for my first brand-new car! The Tudor red Honda Accord hatchback was a workhorse, an appliance, and for the very first time I changed my own oil. Yeah, and then realized it was much cheaper to pay the dealer. This was followed by a string of Volvos and more recently by Suburu Outbacks. See a pattern here?

I’ve had but one accident, serious–the other driver was legally blind–yes, really! And one ticket–for a heavy foot! All things considered my life with cars has been utilitarian–until I collided with knowledge last week and fell in love. Cars can be tools AND works of art!



The Petersen Museum full of powerful, engineering marvels, and oh so beautiful!

The Petersen Automotive Museum holds a collection of 300+ vehicles that illustrate the history of cars alongside the many ways in which they mold our culture and introduce cutting edge technology. As if that isn’t enough, the best of them are rolling works of sculpture too. Powerful, engineered to excellence, transcendentally beautiful works of art under jewel lights!

The 100,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Petersen Museum is ever-changing, telling new stories in unique ways. On any day you may not find what was there the day before, having been returned to the vault and replaced with another car treasure. The Petersen collects, preserves, and educates. They made me a convert and, wherever you are on the car spectrum, go visit for yourself for the surprise of it and the sheer beauty.

To each of our family members and friends, here’s a wish for a very Merry Christmas! May you be surrounded by those you love–present at your table, connected by phone or email, or in special memories.

Christmas Inspiration

Each year we look for inspiration from the trees and decorations of others. Our children are grown and, as we’ve seen most of them at Thanksgiving time, there’s a luxury in decorating or not. Today I’m posting my favorite Christmas tree of the 2015 Christmas season as seen in the foyer of Swan House, an elegant, late 20s neo-classical home designed by architect Philip Trammel Schutze for the Edward Inman family of Atlanta. Inspired by this lovely scene and in an excess of exuberance, we went all out in our own Christmas decorating here in Richwood Valley. Tomorrow I’ll post our own Charlie Brown tree for a smile! But for now there’s Christmas Eve supper to prepare.

May all the best and your hearts’ desires come to each one of you!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

My favorite 2015 Christmas tree in the foyer of Swan House, Atlanta, Georgia

Looking forward when you’ve lived more than one hundred years!

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

If you have good genes and reasonable health, your age is just a number.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, centenarian plus eight

For the last twenty years of her remarkable life, I was special assistant and friend to Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote the book on the Florida Everglades, was its feisty Evangelist, earning kudos from presidents, queens and princes! I asked her at the occasion of her 100th birthday celebration, how old she’d think she was if she didn’t actually know and she answered, “Interesting question! Age thirty-five, I’d think.” Now at the time, she was both blind and deaf and couldn’t see the etching of old smiles lined across her face, so she chose the age at which she was most vigorously alive, pursuing goals, writing passionately. She was always a bit embarrassed by the fame and fuss advanced age delivered her though she used it to advance her cause. Born in 1890 she lived purposefully until the age of 108 years–just a number after all! It was my happy privilege to help her navigate the high expectations (her own and those of others) on declining energy through those last years of her life.

Paul Johns, centenarian plus two

We have another centenarian friend, Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin, in whom it’s easy to recognize several common traits with Marjory. He celebrates his 102nd birthday today! Paul looks and acts years younger, has a valid driver’s license–no restrictions and a current ham radio operator’s license good for another decade. With enough electronic gear for someone half his age, he stays in touch via email and Facebook. In his nineties he enrolled in technical school to learn how to repair computers. A few years later he designed and still builds arguably the best radio antenna for small, fabric-covered airplanes.

While others struggle with names and memory, our friend seemingly remembers everything. No problem meeting someone he hardly knows; even out of context he’ll call them by name. Engage him in conversation and you’ll learn interesting details from long ago and as recent as yesterday.

Paul Johns is a pilot’s pilot and an engineer’s engineer. An anecdote told by a friend reveals a small detail from a long and amazing life. As a nurse adjusted Paul’s blood pressure cuff, with humble tone he spoke a startling sentence that began, ” When I invented that . . . .”

Paul Johns first learned to fly in 1929 when he was fifteen years old followed by another 66 years of active piloting. In his mid-seventies he built an airplane that he flew into his eighties. Some years ago he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently he was surprised and delighted by the renaming of Central County Airport near his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin, to be known as Paul Johns Field, an honor from the Central County Flyers and dozens of friends who join him on Fridays for the regionally well-known Lunch at Iola.

How to live to one hundred!

From these two I’ve learned that luck is another name for diligence and productivity. Both Marjory and Paul built purposeful lives that compelled them always onward and upward. Yes, they had luck on their side, but they also persevered through the challenges. Each of them collected a lifetime of unique experiences along with friends of all ages. Marjory never gave up and Paul still lives fully engaged, with a vigorous mind and plans for the future; there’s too much to do and a life to live. It reminds me that life is short no matter how long you live, that there is no do-over, that you’ll regret more what you didn’t do or try than what you tried and failed. Live!

Happy 102nd birthday, Paul! And thank you for these lessons.

 

 

A recent article by Jane Myhra in the Waupaca County Post highlighted select others of his lifetime achievements:

  • piloted the Boeing 314–the Flying Boat or Clipper–for Pan American Airways;
  • set up an instrument training program for Navy pilots in 1939;
  • recorded over 220 Pacific crossings during World War II for the Naval Transport Service, navigating the distance only by following the stars;
  • engineered, designed and built testing equipment to measure sound waves with laser light decades before most of us had even heard of lasers.

Playing in the cemetery

Playing in the neighborhood cemetery was a normal part of my childhood, a wooded place where my best friend Barbie and I played with our dollies among fabulous castles. Adults knew them as headstones and stately family crypts though to us they were exotic places for imaginary play. From time to time we were chased away by workers in the interests of decorum but most days we participated in the respectful quiet of the place. Summers were too-short seasons of playing with ball and jacks, jumping rope, hide-n-seek, swinging and sliding and teeter-totters, running through the sprinkler, outdoor activities that started early and ended only when called to supper.

My career in the theater ends early

At eight years old we weren’t yet insecure about our talents. Barbie and I wrote a play, costumed it from our attics, sold hand-stamped tickets to the neighbors—a dollar’s worth at a nickel a piece, a princely sum to us. On the appointed Saturday only one ticket holder arrived to sit in the grass at the foot of the cement slab that was our stage. Burr Tillstrom (1917-1985), creator of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, lived four houses away and was generous and genuine in his encouragement of future thespians. My character was an Indian princess who was struck suddenly stage-frighted and mute. Barbie was a pirate similarly afflicted. Were we inspired by having just seen the Disney moviePeter Pan? Perhaps, but specifics are lost to the years. Our parents required us to return all of the money we’d collected, embarrassed of course, but our biggest disappointment was that motherly Fran Allison didn’t come along with Mr. Tillstrom.

A childhood of freedom and choice

It was a different world for a child then, with freedom to explore, make independent decisions, live the consequences, and where anyone’s parent was a trusted caretaker. At the age of eight we knew about violence, even death, and that bad things occasionally happened, but it didn’t color our basic perception of a benevolent world full of good people. And we knew whose mother made the best cookies! Those of a certain age will remember.

As grownups we set our own fieldtrips! Thus last weekend at the Oakwood cemetery in Dixon Illinois memories of childhood adventures came flooding back. Hover for slideshow controls:



Finding family in Dixon Illinois

We’d been meaning to make the trip, a bucket list item, for years. Paul and I flew the Husky to Dixon Illinois, on a mission to locate the family plot of Aunt Allie and Uncle Albert Richardson and their daughter Alice where personal memories mixed with family history and associations to a larger world. Paul Albert was named for great Uncle Al who served in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War and whose grave is marked with the honor. A graduate of the first electrical engineering class at the University of Michigan, he made his career at the Rock River hydroelectric plant on River Street, built in 1925 with five generators producing all the power the town of Dixon needed. Cousin Alice was a first year teacher when young Ronald Reagan was in her study hall class at the South Central School. The Reagan family home is four blocks south. Years later Alice was asked about her famous student and recalled only that he was a quiet boy.

Walgreen drugstores began in Dixon

Small Midwestern towns have historic charm, typically wide streets to match generous attitudes, neatly maintained centennial houses, clean cafes and friendly people. We came and went from the Dixon airport and were given a City of Dixon official vehicle to drive for the day. The airport was renamed in 1964 Charles R. Walgreen Field and dedicated by Merrill C. Meigs to honor the Dixon pharmacist/entrepreneur who was first to carry household goods alongside prescription drugs in his stores, to serve good, inexpensive food at lunch-counters, and invented the malted milkshake made with ice cream from their own factory. From the first tiny store in 1901 Dixon, Walgreens grew by 1927 to 110 successful stores across the Midwest and became the standard by which retail drugstores are still judged.

Repurposing iron trolley tracks into an airport hangar

Back at the airport the barrel-roofed Reinhard Schnell Memorial Hangar has its own unique history which you will recognize once you know the story. Near the Dixon airport in the roaring twenties there was a dance hall at the end of a trolley track that brought customers from town center. When the dance hall era ended the brick road was pulled up along with the iron tracks and, as we’d now say, the materials were repurposed. The exterior buttresses and interior roof trusses of the airport hangar are the actual trolley tracks and the walls are built from the street bricks! And as always seems to happen we talked with pilots from other places with missions of their own. This time it was a light sport Remos G-3/600 Mirage with instructor and student practicing crosswind landings. We wished each other good flying and CAVU (pilot shorthand for ceiling and visibility unlimited) as both airplanes prepared to depart.

The summer sky is a wondrous place. Respect its power and it can safely become your magic carpet.

The largest paddlesports gathering in the world takes place each March–this year just as winter suddenly switched places with spring. For kayak, canoe, outdoor equipment and clothing enthusiasts, all those who’re interested in learning to select, purchase and use the gear, this is the weekend for 20,000 vendors and consumers to gather at the Alliant Center in Madison, Wisconsin! We’re not among them this year but reminded of the beautiful Wenonah canoe from Rutabaga Sports suspended from the garage ceiling. It’s our annual reminder that it’s time to dust off the cobwebs, wind the lines, and get ready!

Gig Harbor, Washington

So here’s a toast to spring and farewell to the last bits of snow disappearing today! The kayaks below were photographed by me several years ago just inside Gig Harbor from Puget Sound. Kayaks seem to be more popular than canoes these days but either is an intimate ride on the water. This lonely spit of land is a few hundred yards from the Gig Harbor lighthouse; that day a storm was brewing and the kayak owners were nowhere to be seen.

GigHarbor-Kayaks-900px-70pct-sRGB

Galloping Gertie to Sturdy Gertie! Crossing Puget Sound at Tacoma Narrows

Our arrival that day was by flying Fire Horse, an Aviat Husky A1C-200, from the airport at Pullman in eastern Washington State. This is the double span Tacoma Narrows bridge which crosses the point where Puget Sound “narrows” to less than a mile in width. The need for an easier way to cross the sound was recognized one hundred years earlier. Finally, in June of 1940 a bridge called Galloping Gertie opened and from its first day everyone knew it had serious problems, an unstable design that allowed huge vertical oscillations in even small winds. Immediately engineers tried to dampen and correct the problem but not before the bridge collapsed on an early November day that same year.  The first span of the new bridge below opened ten years later and is appropriately known as Sturdy Gertie! The fascinating story of the area from the Puyallop people to the 21st century and the tale of the bridges is told by the Washington State DOT with these links (will open in a new window).

TacomaNarrowsBridge-900px-50pct-sRGB

Sometimes a quiet ride on calm water needs only a small boat. These are working boats along Puget Sound near Point Defiance, rough and rugged.  A map to orient the bridge, the sound and the harbor to Tacoma and Seattle is here.

TheHawthorn-U_9644-1000px-50pct-sRGB

One of the largest water falls east of the Mississippi River

Upper Tahquamenon, has a thunderous roar and a startling color. Four miles downstream the Lower Falls are less dramatic yet produce beautiful, foamy swirls deposited decoratively into broad pools below a central island.
TahquamenonFalls-N_3849crop_900px-40pct-sRGB

Nature’s golden hue and a backdrop to history

The river’s water is stained gold-brown from tannic acids leaching from cedar, spruce and hemlock swamps and used in tanning hide. The softening effect of the tannins combined with agitation from the falls produces the sudsy, natural foam. This is where Longfellow’s Hiawatha built his canoe, where Iroquois and Ojibwa fished the river, farmed the coastal prairie, trapped beavers, mink, otter, and bear. Two hundred years ago lumberjacks came to harvest tall timber and to float it downstream to mills on Lake Superior and from there to build a continent.

Tahquamenon, a wilderness apart

It was and still is a wilderness apart. The park area preserves old-growth maple and hemlock forest, and conifer lowland species, hosting songbirds, herons and ducks, woodpeckers, owls, hawks, eagles, and countless avian species.  In addition to white-tailed deer other large mammals are black bear, a free-ranging moose herd, and a controversy of cougar as evidenced on trail cameras and in fecal samples. Human inhabitants around the Tahquamenon River and Falls are relatively few: from the small village of McMillan near the spring fed source, small town Toonerville with its narrow gauge railroad, unincorporated Paradise with fewer than 500 souls to the east, three-times bigger Newberry to the west, and on to Lake Superior hugging the beaches and sand dunes at Whitefish Bay, all host sightseeing tourists, history buffs, hunters, fishers, campers, hikers, cross-country skiers, dogsledders, snowmobilers, and birdwatchers. Blueberries and cranberries grow here although the Centennial Cranberry Farm family operation near Whitefish Bay has recently closed after 140 years. Shipping lanes still ply rugged waters a few miles offshore of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point and a series of sunken wrecks at the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.

Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Off this shore on November 10, 1975 the great oreship Edmund Fitzgerald sunk in a Lake Superior gale with the loss of all hands. Canadian songwriter, Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr.’s haunting lyric made this sad event apocryphal and memorable. He got one thing wrong: when the bell at the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral in Detroit rang out it would have been thirty times, not twenty-nine, as by longstanding tradition it rang once for each crewman plus one more time for all those lost at sea. Years later after watching a documentary that proposed a rogue wave had broken the ship, Gordon Lightfoot did alter his lyrics to eliminate a reference to a hatchway failure and the suggestion of human error.  The Fitzgerald is the largest and most famous of the Great Lakes shipwrecks and, thanks to the great success of Lightfoot’s song, it has come to stand for the thousands of others. As Lightfoot wrote, “Lake Superior never gives up its dead,” and only one Fitzgerald crewman has ever been discovered. For more on the story and the history of the ship they called Big Fitz checkout the videos below the Lightbox Gallery of my recent Tahquamenon to Whitefish Point photos.

As you will  see the entire area is compelling and its year’round colors are beautiful, but autumn magnifies the amber hues for an especially showy impression at the same time that late autumn weather makes a dangerous sea route. The trip is memorable! Enjoy the sites! Learn the history!

(Click an image for Lightbox Gallery)
Crewman found

In 1994 a manned submarine expedition discovered the body of a single crewman lying on the lake bottom below the ship’s bow. In the months that followed, families of the lost crew worked with the Shipwreck Museum toward a permanent memorial at Whitefish Point. An expedition was mounted to recover the heart of the ship–its bell–as the centerpiece of the memorial and to replace it with a new bell engraved with the names of the twenty-nine seamen. The Canadian government has designated the site as a memorial gravesite and prohibits visiting. The You Tube videos that follow are fascinating on all fronts. The first tells of the discovery of the crewman and the second from the Discovery Channel bell-recovery expedition is the larger story of the ship and the mystery surrounding its loss told with great respect and honor for the dead.

This is the last photographic installment from last summer’s travels across America and the final images from my old but reliable camera. After three years of considering the options, my L-lenses are mounted on a new Canon 5D Mark iii. It’s love at first shutter click! As an official farewell to my old EOS XTi, here’s a look at the Badlands of South Dakota from two perspectives.

Badlands, South Dakota

What’s GOOD about the Badlands!

First thing is to make a plan and then change it when that’s the smarter thing to do.

We left Afton on an early August morning with no certainty of where we might end the day. The forecast was thunderstorms and rain with low ceilings across western Wyoming and into the plains. We gave up our week long plan to land at Green River Intergalactic Spaceport (for the novelty and to be able to say we’d done it) but to make a beginning nonetheless. The first half of our VFR (visual flight rules) plan didn’t work out but we used all our resources, and made deviations to a fuel stop at Casper, Wyoming. You may recall that Casper is where four years ago in high and gusty winds we nearly rolled the airplane into a ball on its very first landing ever away from the Aviat factory in Afton. Today the winds were mild and the weather pushed us along in that direction. All went well.

 

Discover the unexpected!

We left Casper under instrument flight rules (IFR) and were able to resume the second half of our original plan which took us over the Badlands in good weather–clear air, visibility unlimited. We landed on a very nice grass runway at Philip, South Dakota in late afternoon and were met by a rancher/pilot who was driving past the airport when he saw our landing and wondered what kind of airplane it was. He helped us with keys to the airport loaner car, called someone to open a hangar for us ($15 for the night) and generally was a good friend to a pair of vagabonds new to the neighborhood. Before long the plane was refueled, installed safely in the hangar, and we were welcomed to a small, family run motel in the nearby town. The airport loaner car was in good condition so we decided to drive the 60 mile Badlands National Park loop road toward Wall, SD. 

The Badlands from two amazing perspectives

Without further ado, here are the Badlands first from the air as a bird or pilot sees it and then on the ground as others do. Other worldly I’d say–from either perspective. We ended the day with steak dinners in a local bar and fell into an early and sound sleep, full of anticipation for returning home tomorrow.

Like a living geography lesson, tablelands and ancient erosion carve a rugged topography

Like a living geography lesson, tablelands and ancient erosion carve a rugged topography

Aerial view of the Badlands, South Dakota

Wild and hidden from all but the most determined, note the road running diagonally through the scene.

Badlands, South Dakota

Cattle Rustlers, Cowboys, Homesteaders, Bandits and Lawmen. The transit was hard but the privacy was endless.

Badlands, South Dakota

Glorious South Dakota sunset over the Badlands

Badlands, South Dakota

Mountain Goat stare-down on the Loop Road in The Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Explorations near Salmon, Idaho

Imagine being a very young child raised by loving parents, suddenly snatched from your mother’s arms to new life among sworn enemies. Imagine losing contact with all you’ve ever known–torn from peace into a harsh and lonely life among Hidatsa captors, the years of hardship only ending when as a young woman you’re sold to a stranger as the prize in a game of cards.

From Captive to Heroine

Kidnapped from her Shoshone childhood Sacajawea became a slave in the Dakotas worth only what her labor bought. Tears would not move her captors’ hearts. Remember, Readers, what you were told of Sacajawea and know that you only learned the smallest part of her remarkable story; she was so much more than an Indian guide and so completely the reason Lewis and Clark survived to succeed in their Discovery Expedition!

Birthplace of Sacajawea

In August 2013 we landed our Husky in Salmon, Idaho. There are still places where you can expect a friendly welcome in the midst of strangers. Pilots in general aviation find generosity everywhere. No matter how big or small the airport, it’s typical to have a comfortable place to rest, a computer terminal, snacks, kindly advice, and most often the use of a free loaner car with a full tank of gas. In Salmon that loaner car took us into the countryside to discover the real Sacajawea, an unlikely heroine of the American west.

Salmon Idyll

Sacajawea Interpretive Center

The Sacajawea Interpretive Center outside of Salmon tells of her capture and then shows you what her native Shoshone culture (known among themselves as the Agaidika, the salmon eaters) was like. You learn that the stranger Toussaint Charboneau who bought her became her great rescuer, making her not just his wife but his full partner as trail scout and guide. She was a clever student, skilled in finding food and herbal medicines, and able to recall the difficult route back into the mountains to Shoshone lands. Her wise negotiations in two Indian languages saved them again and again. The Lewis and Clark party survived the harshest of seasons because of what she knew. And so it was that she found herself back in the summer retreat of her people introduced at campfire as interpreter to a great chieftain whom she recognized as her very own brother.

Sacajawea and the Shoshone Tradition

Shoshone Tradition

 

Long on accomplishments in a very short life

After her homecoming was warmly celebrated among family and while many months passed in gathering supplies, she and her husband Charboneau and their infant son, Pompy, continued the route west with the Discovery Expedition through the upper Columbia basin eventually to the Pacific Ocean. At the age of twenty-five Sacajawea was dead leaving Charboneau heart-broken and truly alone. For when the great journey ended at St. Louis their son went with Meriwether Lewis to be educated and apprenticed according to his parents wishes for his better life.

 

Sacajawea and Pomp

Within the 71 acre Interpretive Center she and her son Pompy are commemorated in this beautiful bronze sculpture by Agnes Vincens Talbot. Standing before the statue below the Beaverhead Range in the Lemhi River Valley surrounded by a garden of natural rock and flowers, it seems a fitting tribute to the little girl returned.

Sacajawea earned her place in American history by overcoming every kind of hardship and bias. She was fortunate in having a good mind for solving life’s thorniest problems and smart enough to give her loving heart to a good man who worked just as hard alongside her. While the full extent of her contributions are not widely known, be one of those who knows and remembers.

[To learn what the modern Agaidika think of Sacajawea, read the essay by Rozina George which evaluates the Lemhi Shoshone qualities in Sacajawea that helped share her culture and knowledge.]

Sacajawea and Pomp

“Sacajawea and Pomp” by Agnes Vincens Talbot

William Clark compared these to the “Pirimids of Egypt”
Lewis and Clark

In our adventuring into the backcountry hills on August 22, 2013, north along the Salmon River to Tower Creek, we discovered these just as the Discovery Expedition did more than two hundred years earlier. Their Shoshone guides led them along old Indian trails eventually toward the Columbia River and the Pacific. Along the way they camped at The Bluffs and the next day started into the hills where the travelers were amazed at sights like this.

The waist of Idaho is formed of sedimentary deposits where harder caprock protects softer limestone creating uneven erosion, odd promontories, and weird shapes. When William Clark explored beyond Tower Rock seeking a passable route through the mountains to the Pacific, he found these formations and wrote in his journal that the shapes reminded him of descriptions of the Egyptian pirimids and his name and spelling have stuck! Clark also wrote that the lead pack horse tumbled backward from the steepness of the terrain on the first morning out. It happened right here.

Salt River Valley

Salt River Valley

Afton, Wyoming, may be small but it’s the biggest little town in the Star Valley

Exhausted Mormon travelers emerged from the Lander Cutoff and settled in the Star Valley to build their futures. At fewer than 2,000 people in the 2010 census, Afton is the largest town among Smoot, Thane, and Etna strung along U.S. Highway 89 south of the Palisades Reservoir. It is ranch country for raising horses and cattle along with the grains to support them in rich pasture land beside the Salt River. Country people, cowboys and cattlemen live side-by-side with newcomers attracted by the pastoral calm of a gorgeous place. There is world class fly-fishing in local streams. The town’s water supply pours out of the world’s largest Intermittent Spring in the crotch of mountain peaks high above the town.

They ride horses, drive cattle, and they build and fly airplanes

The second family vehicle is often a horse trailer, an RV, or an airplane. Seventy-five miles north, the more famous Jackson Hole anchors Grand Teton National Park and the southern entrance to Yellowstone. But here in Afton the day-to-day is working class normal. This is a place where generous people judge your character and may offer you a place to rest or even perhaps their brand new truck to drive for the week. We know because it’s happened to us. Oh, and about those airplanes . . . the Aviat Husky factory occupies a hodge-podge of nondescript buildings which look like war surplus, the Second World War, that is. That’s what takes us to Afton! We fly a Husky A-1C 200 and return each year for its annual inspection.

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at KAFO

Afton, Wyoming, on the ramp at the fixed-base, the Afton Municipal Airport (KAFO)

Skilled employees build a world-class bush plane, the Aviat Husky

In 2010 we drove into Afton for the first time to take delivery on our plane. A Husky is a superbly competent little bush plane with excellent performance and short takeoff and landing capability. We tease that we spent our children’s inheritance which isn’t too far from the truth. Imagine then, arriving in a small western town with one main street, armed with an address to which we’d sent our money, and what did we find but a shabby collection of derelict grey buildings hard on the narrow sidewalk. (Since we first saw it, there’s been a makeover and last fall was nicely repainted.) Don’t judge this book by its cover! Inside is a factory employing a few dozen industrious employees who basically hand-build the aircraft. They know each one intimately by the time it’s finished and they take great personal pride in putting a bit of themselves into each one by building it right!

Star Valley and Afton WY

What is it about Afton Wyoming? THIS is what it is!

Afton, Wyoming

The Corral

The best food in Afton comes from the sea!

There are several good restaurants that serve generous fare but the most unexpected, and for our tastes, the most outstanding is Rocky Mountain Seafood run by the colorful Larry and his partner Julie. He’s a retired ship captain and she a harbor master transplanted from Pacific seacoast to interior mountains. And they still have good connections in the coastal fishing industry! The seafood arrives as air cargo and is trucked from Salt Lake City direct to the restaurant, deliciously prepared and on your plate before the tang of fresh salt air has faded. The menu is simple, a mix and match of basic preparations where one type of fish can be switched with another. The whole point is for the flavor and quality of fish to shine rather than indulging a cook’s conceit. If you have a kid’s tastes or don’t like fish, there’s always an excellent steak or Julie’s fine mac ‘n’ cheese. The atmosphere is dockside fish market, casual with sturdy picnic table seating, a diner where you can take your catch home in a sack or have it prepared, seat yourself–among friends or friendly strangers. Don’t look out the windows at majestic western mountains and you just may forget you’re in Wyoming!

Where dreams come true and those dreams can FLY! At the Aviat factory, home of our very own Fire Horse.

And for us there is the added inducement of this, the Aviat Aircraft Company where our very own Husky named Fire Horse was born. They also build the Pitts Special, the renowned competition aerobatic plane, as well as the Eagle II which is available as a kit or factory complete. But we’re partisans for the Husky given our 900′ runway below 200′ cliffs–we need a bush plane!
WhereDreamsFly_900px-70pct-sRGB

Giant arrows are for pointing the way!

Once there were hundreds of giant arrows made of cement pointing the way across America, directing traffic for transcontinental airmail routes. In some wild, lonely places where the weeds grew faster than towns, the arrows remain, forlorn without fresh yellow paint, cracked and waiting to be rediscovered by the adventurous or the lucky few.

Giant Arrows across American

This is the beacon tower and generator shack sitting atop one of the giant arrows at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, still standing in September 2013

 

Giant Arrows included infrastructure for ground maintenance and transient pilots

At right is the same station as it looked in the early 1920s–the two forefront buildings for administration and crew quarters are long gone. In the background you can see the generator house with the prototype black band and the tower.

We’d heard that one of the giant arrows could still be found at Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Last month offered a chance to fly a low course down the wild runway chasing antelope out of the way before flying a proper pattern to land. Later that same afternoon we found the beacon tower at Rock Springs as well.

 

 

 

 

One of the Giant Arrows is at Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Back-country wilderness strip at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and our Husky.

In 1920 the world’s first ground-based air navigation system was authorized by the Congress of the United States

Pilots flying their wood and fabric taildraggers needed guidance from station to station. This first continent-spanning airway was an impressive beginning but in inclement weather with reduced visibility or in the dark of night a pilot couldn’t reliably follow railroad tracks and early road maps. These open-cockpit airplanes only had a magnetic compass for navigation plus a turn and bank indicator and altimeter for flight instruments.

 

A system of lighted beacons atop giant arrows was needed to keep the airmail moving

In a fierce blizzard (1921) a relay of six airplanes and six pilots flew routes coast to coast in opposite directions. One determined pilot named Jack Knight flew three segments of the trip from San Francisco to New York. He succeeded in large measure because of a long series of bonfires along the remotest parts of the route that were tended by postal employees.

As a result of this grand proof of concept, funds were appropriated in 1923 and work began immediately on the first segment of lighted beacons from Cheyenne to Chicago. Why here in the middle of the country? A pilot could start at either coast and reach the long stretch of numbered and color-coded beacons by nightfall to follow them through the dark landscape.

Giant arrows across America

The beacon towers were placed on the mid-point of the concrete arrows to shine their lights forward and back along the route.

By 1926 a 650 mile route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was marked every 10 to 15 miles with a yellow painted arrow and a 51 foot steel tower topped by two 100,000-candle 24” rotating beacons pointing back and forth along the airway. A generator shack for continuous power and quarters for crew to keep it running completed the scene. At night pilots could see the flashing lights over forty miles away and flying closer to the beacons a clear panel at the top projected light onto the overlying cloud deck to help determine the ceiling.

The first of the giant arrows and its beacon were built at Rock Springs, Wyoming

By 1929 the giant arrows spanned the continent with 13 intermediate stops. Mail could now travel from New York to San Francisco in just 30 hours. So much achieved in so little time!

Another of the giant arrows can still be seen at Rock Springs

In 1930 a spacious hangar was built at Rock Springs with room for two 18-passenger airplanes and a waiting room. Amelia Earhart visited here and hangared her “Little Red Bus,” the Lockheed Vega she flew across the Atlantic, the one that’s in the Smithsonian. $45,000 bought a lot of hangar in 1930!

One airmail pilot offered route advice; decades later his words give a pretty good idea of the challenges faced by aviation pioneers:

  • CHE + 0 (miles from) Cheyenne Wyo. — Can be identified by the barracks of Fort Russell. The Cheyenne field is three-quarters of a mile due north of the town and due north of the capitol building, whose gilded dome is unmistakable. The field, though rolling, is very large and landings may be made from any direction. A pilot landing here for the first time must “watch his step,” as the rarified atmosphere at this altitude (6,100 feet) makes rough landings the rule rather than the exception. Fly west over or to the north of Fort Russell, which is about 4 miles from town, following the Colorado & Southern tracks to the point where they bend sharply to the north.

CHE + 80.   Elk Mountain Wyo. — To the north of the Medicine Bow Range, a black and white range of mountains, the black parts of which are forests and the white snow-covered rocks. Elk Mountain is 12,500 feet high. Fly to the north of this conspicuous mountain over high, rough country. The Union Pacific tracks will be seen about 15 miles to the north gradually converging with the course.

  • CHE + 134.  Rawlins Wyo. — Follow the general direction of the Union Pacific tracks to Rawlins, which is on the Union Pacific tracks. The country between Walcott and Rawlins is fairly level, but covered with sage brush, which makes landings dangerous. Rawlins is on the north side of the Union Pacific tracks at a point about a mile east of where the tracks cut through a low ridge of hills. Large railroad shops distinguish the town. The emergency field provided here lies about 1¼ miles northeast of town at the base of a large hill.  Landings are made almost invariably to the west. Surface of field is fairly good, as the sage brush has been removed. Easily identified by this, as the surrounding country is covered with sage brush. Landings can be made in any direction into the wind if care is exercised. Several ranch buildings and two small black shacks on the eastern side of the field help distinguish it. Leaving Rawlins follow the Union Pacific tracks to Creston.
The Rock Springs beacon and arrow are hidden behind newer buildings and forgotten

The original beacon house and light tower still stand at Rock Springs, Wyoming, surrounded by newer buildings. Rock Springs was a favorable place to begin the beacon system as somewhat lower terrain gave safer passage through the mountains. It served as the region’s Flight Service Station for 70 years until decommissioning in 1991. The current FBO staff was unaware of its long history.

CHE + 231.  Rock Springs, Wyo. — After passing Black Butte, Pilot Butte will be seen projecting above and forming a part of the Table Mountain Range. This butte is of whitish stone. Head directly toward Pilot Butte and Rock Springs will be passed on the northern side. The field is in the valley at the foot of Pilot Butte about 4 miles from Rock Springs. It is triangular in shape, the hangar being located in the apex. The surface of the field is good. The best approach is from the eastern side.

  • CHE + 246.  Green River, Wyo. — Follow the Union Pacific double-tracked railroad from Rock Springs. There is an emergency field here which is distinguished [on] account of its being the only cleared space of its size, near the town. Green river is crossed immediately after the city of Green River is passed. Here the course leaves the railroad which continues in a northwesterly direction. By flying approximately 230˚ compass course from here, Cheyenne [Salt Lake City] will be reached.
Original station interiors were utilitarian spaces

The original station interior at Rock Springs

Technologies have always changed us and made new opportunities

But technology never stands still–within twenty years the giant arrows were outdated. Most of the steel in the decommissioned towers went to the war effort. In most places the evidence is entirely gone.

There are exceptions. The Aviation Heritage Museum in New Mexico, has successfully restored one of the old sites, similar to those rediscovered in Utah and elsewhere which inspire hopes for their preservation.

Others like Medicine Bow are mouldering away in the sun, backdrop to cattle ranching and wilderness. An incredible place to visit. Whether you’re a pilot or not, AirNav gives particulars for the primitive airstrip (80V) that are fascinating. I learned for instance that there are on average only 20 aircraft operations a year, that the runway we landed on is graded annually and is in fair condition (the other is not maintained and is considered poor), that there is a lot of wildlife in the vicinity of both runways. There are gopher and badger holes, berms, ditches, fence obstructions, soft when wet, rough and uneven the entire length. And of course, there are no services.

Except we learned that the small hotel in town would pick you up if you called. Nice!

NOTE: In March 2014 five of my photos (with credits to Sharyn Richardson – Light Pixie Studio) were published in The American Surveyor magazine (the top journal for professionals in land surveying and GPS technology) to illustrate the cover story, “Arrows Across America,” by Mike Mickelsen, including the two-page lead. Check it out here.

Wild west at the Medicine Bow station

A bull stands guard with his harem at the old beacon station in Medicine Bow

An airplane is a marvelous way to discover a place, to see its colors and contours in scale. It is a living geography textbook! We’ve just returned from three adventuring weeks flying our Husky west to learn America. Along the way we discovered Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Scotts Bluff is an impressive natural feature in western Nebraska designated in 1919 as a National Monument for its unique geology and heroic human history. On the morning of our first night out, we left the town of Scotts Bluff in instrument weather disappointed that heavy cloud cover would deny us a look from our airplane. But with a bit of weather luck the low overcast parted briefly and voilà–a hazy but recognizable view, not the more famous Scotts Bluff, nor the Jail and Courthouse rocks, but right next door beside the Old Oregon Trail. This is what our early emigrants struggled to cross in their ox drawn Conestoga wagons.

Hover your mouse over the image to see what it looked like straight out of the camera. The goal is ALWAYS to get a great shot from the camera but that isn’t always possible as atmospheric conditions can vary widely, as does our actual distance above or sideways from the target shot. For those times when nature has another plan and a do-over isn’t possible, a photographer needs other workflow tools: What worked here: Multiply and Soft Light blend modes, a Layers adjustment expanded to the right of the histogram, then contrast, white balance, and saturation adjustments. A bit of sharpening was required and almost always is because a small airplane is an inherently unsteady platform and handheld shots are the rule. I generally avoid electronic IS and use a faster speed, higher ISO with f11 for depth of field. While my favorite lens is a 100 mm prime, this time I had a 17-85 mm telephoto in place which let me get several shots at differing focal distances into a few seconds. I think of these decisions during and after the shot as a kind of forensic retouch as necessary.

Eons of wind and water layered areas of hard limestone over softer deposits of sand, lime, fossils, and volcanic ash; uneven erosion left behind unusual shapes high above the Platte River. Geologists are especially interested in the exposed 740 strata of Scotts Bluff. But early travelers on horseback cared less about how they were made and more about how to overcome them.

One early traveler described it this way as, “a large and deep ravine . . . very uneven and difficult, winding from amongst innumerable mounds six to eight feet in height, the space between them frequently so narrow as scarcely to admit our horses.” Mid-19th century emigrants in wagons following the Platte River west along the Oregon Trail were halted by such impassible barriers until improvements in the trails were eventually made and they found new and better passes out of the valley.

But the terrain features had advantages too as Westward bound emigrants of the Lander, Mormon, and California groups used these huge structures as landmarks to lead them along the base of the bluffs. In our airplane we used them to point the way west toward Afton, Wyoming, the home of Aviat which builds the Pitt Special, the Christen Eagle, and our own Husky.

For the next leg of the journey read about the treacherous Lander Cutoff on the Oregon Trail.