I went to Twin Falls, Idaho from Mountain Home and while the derailer on my bike was being fixed I rented a car so I could see some sights. The Perrine Memorial Bridge (above) crosses the Shoshone River and oversees a beautiful valley the the West, This is the bridge from which the skydivers jump off of in the video below. It’s about 480 ft. high. I visited the falls and while looking at a map of the region I saw that about 20 miles away was a former WWII detention center for Japanese Americans.
From July-December 2007 I’ll be biking across the U.S. This experience will be the basis for book that follows José Martí’s 1891 call in “Our America” for a distinctively American culture, one that embraces rather than denies, the dynamic and organic relationship between place, language, and experience that shapes the American continent. In the blog I’ll document the exchanges I have with people about the Latinoization of the U.S. as well as my own life experiences and thoughts.
I drove out there and had a difficult time finding it because though there was a historical marker at the turnoff, there wasn’t a sign designating the actual site and all that was left was a few ruins of the entrance and visitors waiting room. The surrounding area was farmland. When one recalls that many of these detention camps were mostly tent cities, it makes sense that there would be very little infrastrucure, but the absence of something more substantial to commemorate this sad and horrific history made me feel empty. I tried to imagine what life was like for the detainees. It was hard not to think of how harsh the winters were. Note the historical marker identifies this as Idaho’s largest ghost town. What a bizarre and disrespectful designation for a detention center! However, the plaques on the ruins do offer a more critical perspective about how this history should remind us of what happens when people’s civil liberties are violated. Something we sorely need to be reminded of more often.
Not too far from Twin Falls on the road to Pocatello.
Much of Wyoming was sparsely populated. Sometimes this made planning tricky because I couldn’t assume that I could find places to rest or eat in any given town. I wonder if Emblem was larger in the past, presently it only had about 4 houses and nothing else to designate it as a town. I wonder what the smallest population of a town is in the country. Is there a sign out there somewhere that says Pop 01?
I first saw mention of crazy woman at the above cafe in Ten Sleeps, Wyoming. I thought it was just a humorous name for a woman-owned business, but later I would see many references to it in other business names and markets. I eventually passed the creek somewhere between Buffalo and Gillette . The previous day in Buffalo I’d asked a woman about it and she told me a version of the story having to do with a woman who was left behind by settlers. Of course this made me think of Woman Hollering Creek near Seguin, TX and the legend of La Llorona and the fact that they both had to do with women dealing with death and abandonment. It struck me as a stark example of historical irony and female tragedy. You can find more versions of the story on this website: http://www.travel-to-wyoming.com/buffalo/crazy_woman_creek.htm
After having bike trouble on Big Horn Mountain I went to Gillette to get it fixed. I was extraordinarily tired so I decided to rest for a couple of days and rented a car so I could be more mobile. One of the places I visited which I would have bypassed if only on bike was the Devil’s Tower National Monument. As soon as I saw it advertised I recognized it from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and knew I had to go to satisfy my curiosity about all things having to do with life beyond earth. I didn’t realize it was a sacred site for indigenous peoples and the awesome magnitude of the tower was beautiful. I walked completely around it and took pictures from many angles. I also saw some cliff climbers going up one side. That was intense.
While I had the car I went to Deadwood and Sturgis because I intended to bike into South Dakota through a more southern route. Deadwood was a very modernized old western town. An plethora of casinos and bars.
Bikes, Bikers from every direction heading towards Sturgis for the big bike rally and accompanying festivities. I appreciated the fact that many bikers saw me as a fellow traveller and took the time to honk and wave. This always gave me a little boost, especially on a back road where there was little else going on. Unfortunately, the festivities were an occasion for every motel in Wyoming, S. Dakota and even western Minnesota to jack up their rates. I paid $95 for a Motel 6 in Gillette, Wyoming!
No doubt I often felt like I was hot in the trail of every summer vacation family as I traversed the west during the middle of summer. In addition to motorcycles, RV’s were out in force. I rode into the Blackhills through Hamilton, Wyoming and went east to the towns of Custer and Keystone where the Crazy Horse monument and Mt. Rushmore are located respectively. By this time the heat had dissipated some so it was only in the low 90s and thought there were some steep hills, they were not so steep nor so numerous than what I had encountered before. It made sense to me to go to Crazy Horse first since this was sacred land of native peoples. I cannot tell you the impressiveness of the project based on its sheer size. For details, look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crazy_Horse_Memorial. It was begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mt. Rushmore under Gutzon Borglum. Though the foundation’s history of the project tells us that in 1939, Mr. Ziolkowski received a letter of invitation to make the mountain carving from Chief Henry Standing Bear, which stated in part “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too” the project remains a subject of controversy among the native community today due to the non-native origins of the project overseers and the foundation caretakers as well as the fact that there are those who see it as being against the spirit of Crazy Horse.
This is not a simple question to be swept aside. However, when one considers the history, artist and purpose of Mount Rushmore, one can appreciate the fact that Crazy Horse Monument dwarfs the national monument. Only from looking on the web did I learn of the sordid past of the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum not only erected this unfinished government funded monument in tribute to the “founding fathers” responsible for fulfilling Manifest Destiny and U.S. territorial expansion, and thus native decimation, he was also an active Klu Klux Klan member. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Rushmore for more info. Though it’s not clear from the pictures, the entire Mt. Rushmore sculpture would fit inside the head of Crazy Horse monument.
After visiting the monuments, I camped out and that night I heard on the radio a broadcast from the Pine Ridge Pow Wow-the grand entry of the dancers. I listened and thought I would make it there by the last day, Sunday. The next day I took a highway paralleling the mountains with plans to stop in a small town just west of Pine Ridge. When I arrived it was still fairly early and I saw a sign for a casino hotel on the reservation just 12 miles away. As I headed east I learned first hand about how strong prairie winds can be, so it took me almost 2 hours to get to the hotel. At the casino I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt with the quote: “We didn’t cross the border, the borders crossed us: Native Pride” and I felt an affinity through this slogan. The next day I got a late start and headed towards Pine Ridge. I stopped to rest at a convenience store in Oglala and pressed onward. Because of winds I was making pretty slow time and began to worry about whether or not it made sense to stop at the pow wow since I also wanted to see the Wounded Knee Memorial. In Pine Ridge I asked about lodging and there was none, but then at a Pizza Hut I went in and asked about camping and the young native man there told me–“Just go through the intersection over to where the pow wow is being held and you can camp there for free–there’s no charge, this is not Amerika-ka-ka. I said, “I know that’s right, I’m glad to be here” and decided to stay there for the night.
I rode around the area a bit and decided on a place to set up camp. Just a few minutes into this as I was setting up my tent, a guy came up to me and asked where I’d ridden from. When I told him I had left from California, he said “Wow, I want to hear more about that.” He told me that he lived in Oglala and that he and his family had seen me on the road and he had wondered, “Who is that guy?”, “Where’s he coming from?” and that his questions must have led me to stop right in front of him. He then invited and insisted that we move my tent to be near his family’s and that he would introduce me to everyone. I accepted the invitation and he placed my tent right in the middle of their camp. His name was Jose Cervantes, his dad was from Guadalajara, his mom was full-blooded Apache from New Mexico and he’d grown up on the Mescalero Reservation there with his sisters. He was living in Oglala because he’s married a Lakota Sioux Woman (Olivia Yellow Cloud) and he’d been there about 25 years. Jose was in his early 50s. They’d pitched a large canopy over a wood post frame they’d made and had picnic tables, chairs, and plenty of food and drink–which they told me to help myself to. I feasted on Buffalo stew, which was just like caldo de res except for being buffalo meat, and some fry bread. I was welcomed by all family members–an entire clan of extended family of all ages, though Jose seemed to be the oldest and the one who seemed to be held in high regard. What I most appreciated was that I really felt like I was adopted for the day. No awkwardness, they joked and laughed and quibbled as any family would and I had a great time. I met spouses, sisters, cousins, nephews, sons, daughters, and in-laws–all of whom were having a great time. One portion of the family was up from New Mexico and they spoke a lot about how their pow wows are a bit different: no entrance fee, it was okay to drink alcohol, and so on. For a while I thought I might of even go into the pow wow site because there was so much to enjoy just under their tent. Eventually Jose decided we would go to the carnival and ride one ride, which he and I did together.
Jose had been in the marines for six years and had traveled to Okinawa, Africa, and Europe. He and his sister Maria told me a bit about his life growing up, which sounded very harsh as his father had died when they were young and his mother was an alcoholic. He said he basically raised the family from the time he was eleven. His youngest sister (Maria) was a stay at home infant and he said one of the primary motivations for staying in school was so he could save half his lunch and bring her food to eat. Maria is a retired (disabled) security office from the schools in Mescalero, but she runs security for their pow wows each year. Her youngest son, Flaco, had driven up with her. He will began college this fall. They knew some Spanish and joked around by calling me ese and using vernacualr slang when they could. I had a great time and at the end of the night, close to midnight we went to go see the dances. Darlene’s cousins were singing and drumming and we saw the performance of the rabbit dance, another form of couple dancing, and the fancy dancing which ended in a dance off of a chicken dance. Beautiful dancing, beautiful garments, and beaustiful people.
At some point I asked Jose how life on Pine Ridge was, that I knew it was one of the poorer reservations. He said that things had been improving. that most people could get work and that the casino opening up had helped a lot by creating some good jobs for a number of people.
I stayed up until about 1:30 at which time I excused myself, crawled into my little tent, took some notes on a recorder and went to sleep to the sound of drums. The next morning I awoke and they were up before me sitting around the table. Jose and his family had gone back to sleep at their house in Oglala, but we’d said our goodbyes the night before. I got some advice from Oliver, Jose’s brother-in-law, about possible routes to take once I went to the memorial and left.
After stopping to get some breakfast at the gas station I headed out towards Wounded Knee and made it there in an hour and a half or so. The memorial itself was modest, but knowing the history, I felt humbled and saddened to be confronted with yet another example of government decimation of people without any regard for the sanctity of life. It’s this history that makes me have little respect for those who would like to proclaim that we’re a nation of laws that promotes freedeom and social justice. I was honored to see the graves and was surprised to see so many who’d served in the military, dating back to WWI. I was also humbled by witnessing an elder woman in her 80s who said she’d moved away from Pine Ridge at 18 and is now living in Wichita, KS. She walked the path around the monument praying and crying in honor of her ancestors.
From there I went to the town of Martin, South Dakota and realized I was too far to make it to anywhere that might have lodging or campgrounds, so I checked into the only motel in town. I had a good conversation with the manager, Rudy Requejo, a mexicano originally from Nebraska. His granparents had immigrated to the US in the 30s. I asked Rudy about immigrants in the state and he told me that there were some doing field work but their public presence was minimal. He said there were no controversial issues with immigration in the state because the numbers were small and the real concern was with the native populations. But he said, in his opinion, that one of the reasins this doesn’t get addressed is because of the denial of the persistence of racism.
I asked him where the grocery store was because I wanted fresh fruit–a watermelon. And we agreed that I could come back and talk to him some more later. However, by the time I ate and rested it was late and the next morning I wanted to get an early start. I picked up his card and plan to write him–I told him I would send him a book on Chicanos as he was reading a book called AZTEC by Gary Jennings.
For two days I faced strong prairie winds that left me tired and frustrated because I hoped to move faster once I hit flat terrain. I decided to cut up north towards I-90 to see if the winds would lessen. Immediaely I began to move faster with the wind at my back but the road I was on ended and I had to go a 23 mile stretch on gravel. I made it to a rest stop near Belvedere and settled down for the night.
The next day, I got off to an early start and went to a rest stop called 1800s Town, which was purely tourist. I ate breakfast and encountered some African A,merican bikers from Florida who were part of a Buffalo Soldiers Brigade.
The next two days I flew because I did get away from the wind. For two days I went about 90 miles and then on the third I went 170 staying at rest stops along the highway. My intention had been to stop in Sioux Falls but once I arrived there it was early and I was only 10 miles from the Minnesota border, so I rested and continued on. An interview had been arranged for me in Worthington, about 45 miles into Minnesota, so I decided to try and make it all the way since I needed a shower badly as well as to wash my clothes. I ended up having to ride into the dark and arrived in Worthington about 9:30. A triumphant day.
I’ll catch you up on my experience in Worthington next entry. Above is a picture of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.