The “deep, cleansing breaths” weren’t working anymore. I think it’s time for another ROADTRIP!!

I started a new job a few months ago and, among other benefits, the schedule was 3-on, one off, 3-on SEVEN off.  To anyone who has worked in the healthcare field, this definitely has some mental health benefits!  So, now what, or more importantly, where??

The answer came to me a few days later when I spoke with my buddies wife and I told Stacy, “Pack the cameras. We’re going to South Dakota”!

How many of us are lucky enough to have friends who are more than leaves on the breeze?  Renny was active-duty U.S. Army when we met at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas in the early 90’s.  We met as Radiography Techs in a busy Level 1 Trauma Center and grew close working and hanging out with each-others families.  He did a tour in Germany in the mid-90’s and came back to San Antonio, then Arkansas, and finally in Rapid City South Dakota where his wife, Nancy, took a job as a Respiratory Therapist. We kept in touch by phone or on Facebook, but the last time we’d shaken hands was almost 15 years ago.  It was time.

I talked to Nancy about my ideas and she reminded me about his upcoming birthday. So Stacy and I decided, it’s only a 20 hour drive, let’s just throw the cameras in the Jeep and go! Stacy travels differently than I however, and the next few days had her researching routes and hotels.  It all worked out.

MY preparation was musical accompaniment for the trip.  Along with my standard Eric Stone and Tom Petty I bought some acoustic guitar work. Peter Mayer “Elements”, Jack Johnson “Best of Kokua Festival”, and Jackson Browne “Solo Acoustic 1 & 2”.

We left San Antonio at the end of January and our first leg would put us in North Texas.  I had been talking to one of my co-workers and he reminded me of a restaurant in Amarillo I had seen on “Man vs. Food”.  Sounds like Amarillo and steak is in order.

The Big Texan

The Big Texan


Stop for the Night

Stop for the Night

They had room for us and even had a place to tie the horse!

The Big Texan’s claim to fame is it’s 72 oz. steak challenge. The steak is free if…someone can eat it, a roll with butter, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, and a salad…in less than an hour. As of April 2015, about 9,000 people had accomplished this.  In fact, as I was looking up background for this piece, a 120 lb. competitive eater from Sacramento set a record when she finished three, 72 oz. steaks, in 4 minutes and 18 seconds this past weekend! Four teams of two split 3 steaks, 3 baked potato, 3 shrimp cocktail, 3 salads, and 3 rolls.

We weren’t that ambitious but the food was excellent!

We planned to shoot the Palo Duro Canyon State Park just south of Amarillo but the light wasn’t on our side so we elected to save it for the ride back and hit the sack with full bellies.

Up early the next morning we headed north from Amarillo a short distance to our first way-point, The Cadillac Ranch.

The Cadillac Ranch

The Cadillac Ranch

Just off Interstate 40, the ranch is a public art installation created in 1974 consisting of cars half-buried, nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.  Nowadays, the spray painting of the cars is encouraged and The Ranch is memorialized in everything from a Bruce Springsteen song to Disney’s film “Cars”.


Stacy and Wilson

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My only disappointment at the site, and more-so with “people” in general, was the amount of trash and refuse littering the ground, despite the fact that trash receptacles were easily accessible.

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Heading North to our next eventual stop in Sterling, Colorado we passed many interesting, derelict old buildings and, more noticeably, fields of Wind-power generating plants reminiscent of California.

Once again, steak and calamari found us in Sterling that night and we weren’t long out of bed.

The next morning my navigator had us on the road headed north to our next way-point in Alliance, Nebraska.  The easy, rhythmic guitar work of Jack Johnson, Damian Marley, Willie Nelson and others from the Kokua Festival helped move us forward.

Just passing through a little “town” called Bridgeport, running parallel with the railroad tracks, was the first time this trip I had to stop and turn around.  I’m sure this was done as a public safety announcement for their local community, but from an EMS background I appreciated it.

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About 15 minutes further down the road Stacy saw Canadian Geese in a field so we stopped again.

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and they're off!!!

and they’re off!!!

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Back in the Jeep I threw the new Peter Mayer CD in the player.  I knew he had played accompaniment for Buffet and Mac MacAnally, but I hadn’t heard his solo work.  Not only is he a good guitar player, but he tells a thoughtful and humorous story.

I’m not practicing religious by any means, but one track that really struck a chord with me, world politics and religion being what it is, is called “The Birthday Party”. He tells of Buddha rising from his stone altar to make a trek to Jerusalem. He prays with Hindus in India and boards a train with Mohammed near Arabia.  Together they sit and discuss stories of their years before meeting with Abraham who takes them to Christs birthday. I think, basically, this is a well woven story saying to all the fanatics that feel their way is the only way, “Hey, our respective Gods were friends long before us humans got involved.”  It’s on You Tube and, I think, worth a listening.

That said, his next track is “Scatterbrain”. Jokingly referencing the man who forgets what he’s supposed to be doing or looking for his glasses…that are on his head.  Not that I can relate to ANY of that…

Our next artistic way-point is “Carhenge” in Alliance, Nebraska.


CarhengCarhenge is a replica of England’s Stonehenge formed from vintage American automobiles.  Built in 1987, and dedicated at the June Summer Solstice, by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father.

This IS my happy face!!

This IS my happy face!!

Carhenge consists of 38 visible, grey spray painted automobiles (and three cars that are buried) with a 1962 Cadillac serving as the heelstone, In a circle about 95 feet in diameter, some are held upright (trunk down) in 5 foot deep pits with others welded on top.  Carhenge will be in the path of the Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.




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Also on the site are a few artistic works by various artists.


“The Ford Seasons”

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Waiting patiently

Waiting patiently

that's my smile

that’s my smile

Legs stretched, we were ‘forced’ to stop at an Arby’s for lunch.  I really dislike franchise-chain food while traveling but this seemed to be the lesser of the evils. It also got us back on the road quicker.  We had about 5 hours to make Rapid City and pull off this surprise!

Along Hwy. 385 we saw the beginnings of the Black Hills, stopped for a few images.

View out the right window heading North on Hwy 385

View out the right window heading North on Hwy 385

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Comparing notes later, I guess we both had the same composition ideas with the fence and barbed wire.

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Then we were off again.  We caught I-79 into Rapid City and found the hotel Stacy had gotten us reservations at by about 5:00pm.  All things said, it DID make a difference having a concrete destination to rest our heads.  The room had a full kitchenette and a living room/seating area.

We hung out there until Nancy got out of work and met us there around 6:00.  After hugs and tears, and welcoming Stacy into the family, we strategized. Renny, like me, is kinda a big guy and not one to sneak up on.  He’s also a country boy and very comfortable around a gun. So we agreed to the K.I.S.S. principle and kept things simple.

We followed Nancy a couple to miles down to road to their house, up a ways off a dirt road.  We stopped the Jeep in front of their neighbors house, and Nancy went in, faking a headache, to “just lie down for a bit”.  I gave her almost 5 minutes, I was pacing like a little kid, before rolling quietly into the yard and calling him on the phone.

“Whatcha doing man?”

“AHHH, just trying to get boxes packed.  Catherine wanted dinner and Nancy just got home. What’s up with you?”

“Just taking a walk outside, trying to decompress.”

“Yeah, at least it’s warm enough to do that in San Antonio.”

As we’re talking I was trying to get around to the back porch and up the steps without the dogs hearing me.  I saw the doorbell and it all fell in place.

“You’re right.  What’s the weather like in Rapid…  Hang on.  Someone’s at the door.”

I reached for the bell as he repeated MY last sentence.  The curtain pulled back and the look of utter confusion on his face was priceless.  His phone fell to the floor as Nancy reached past him to open the door, and bear-hugs were had by all.

I told him, “You’ve been got” as I walked into the house. “Couldn’t have done it without Nancy’s help.  You wanna tell your daughter it’s okay, it’s Uncle Dougie?”

We sat on the floor and laughed, looked at pictures, and traded stories for an hour or so.  He called their other daughter and passed me the phone. “Are we gonna get a chance to see you and the new baby this weekend?”  She was speechless and I handed the phone back to her Dad so he could assure her that it really was ME.  We made plans for Renny and Catherine to pick us up at the hotel the next day.  We were promised a guided tour by Catherine of her two favorite places (and another I’ll share later).  It was a good night.

The next morning they met us at the hotel and came up to check out our room.  The simple itinerary was The Noses (Catherine’s word for Mount Rushmore) and to see the “Buflo”, the wild buffalo at Custer State Park and take pictures.

15 years later and just a little less hair

15 years later and just a little less hair

Stacy grabbed some poor tourist to take this image and had it posted to FB within minutes.  The first comment was from their daughter Renee who finally realized we WERE here, “Holy Crap! My Dad is smiling!!”. Stacy echoed “Holy Crap! My husband is smiling!!”

The site, and the museum especially, was quite impressive.  The collected photos and printed work that chronicled the building of the monument were just amazing! When you thought of the technology available at the time…



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A lone Birch. I liked the lines of the bark against the rough stone and the green shoot of color against the white bark

A lone Birch. I liked the lines of the bark against the rough stone and the green shoot of color against the white bark

Back into the truck we piled and Renny drove us into Custer State Park in search of Catherine’s elusive Buflo.  Many twists and turns later, through beautiful landscapes, we turned a corner and sat right behind a heard.

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Giving us the raspberry sticking out his tongue

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These are some of my favorite images, watching the buffalo slowly walking away through the mist.

Slow procession...

Slow procession…

...and away...

…and away…

...they go...

…they go…

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As we were leaving…  I said there was a third place Catherine wanted to take us to.

When Renny asked her, in their own special code, her face lit up with smiles and she was squirming like a puppy!!

Burger King was IT!!! Do you REALLY think someone's gonna tell me to take the crown off??!!

Burger King was IT!!!
Do you REALLY think someone’s gonna tell me to take the crown off??!!

After lunch we went our own ways to nap and agreed to meet for dinner later and see Renee’s new baby, Serenity.


After a fun dinner at TGIF we all headed home.  It was Superbowl weekend, the snow had started and things were getting messy.  We agreed to play it by ear the next day and see how the weather held.  By 10:00 the next morning the roads were passable and our guides picked us up to head toward Fort Meade and Sturgis.

Fort Meade was beautiful from an artists eye.  Just point your lens and shoot…

Unknown to us at the time, this was Nancy's grab shot.  Very well done!!

Unknown to us at the time, this was Nancy’s grab shot. Very well done!!

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Thanks Nancy!!

Thanks Nancy!!

Alright...enuff already!!

Alright…enuff already!!

And then Sturgis, on a non-bike rally month.




On the way back for lunch, Renny found a city park with some moving water to play with.

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We met the kids for lunch at one of their favorite home-cookin’ places

We were talking about the buffalo sticking his tongue out. Catherine was giggling so hard she snorted.... She and I were off after that!!

We were talking about the buffalo sticking his tongue out. Catherine was giggling so hard she snorted…. She and I were off after that!!

and we stopped at Walgreens and I picked up something to thank Catherine for showing us around.  Back at the hotel and,YES, I snorted in her ear as Nancy was taking our picture!!

“Tiger” was her thank you gift

It was a great visit with old friends and new memories!!

We headed out the next morning and went south on I-79 until I decided to detour at Hot Springs.  Supposedly there were wild mustangs on the premises and I wanted to see what we could get.

DSCN5553There were a few on the lower pastures.DSCN5569


We were able to watch a group in the distance traverse the rock

and go up over the hill.  Our glass wasn’t strong enough to bring

them in any closer.  Beautiful to watch though.




We headed south to pick up Hwy. 71 for the LONG FLAT drive to our next stop.  The mind-numbness finally got to me around Fort Morgan, Colorado so we found a room and some food.  Loading the Jeep the next morning we heard the geese playing on the pond behind the hotel.  Nice to not have a time table.

playing with reflections

playing with reflections



and down.

and down.






Breakfast at Burger King…just because…and we headed to our final way-point.

Just southwest of Amarillo was Palo Duro Canyon State Park that we had missed the light on on the way up.  Stacy found a hotel on the other side of town, closer to the park, but we STILL drove back to The Big Texan!  When in Rome…

Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States, is almost 70 miles long and averages 6 miles in width.


Formed by a fork of the Red River, it shows evidence of human habitation going back 10-15,000 years, and is believed to be inhabited to the present day.

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The first Europeans to discover the canyon were said to be members

of the Coronado expedition in 1541.  The U.S. military mapped the

canyon in 1852 and the land remained under Native American Indian

control until Colonel Mackenzie was ordered in 1874 to remove the

Indians to reservations. (A good read on this is “Cities of Gold” by

Douglas Preston).

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In 1934 the upper section of the canyon was purchased by the

State of Texas, turning it into a 20,000 acre State Park.

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Looking up...

Looking up…

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As always, Thanks for joining us on the ride!!

Images are ours, mistakes are mine


By the way, Catherine had so much fun watching her Mom and us taking

pictures that we made an investment.  We found a beginners digital camera

that’s tough enough to handle bumps and dumps and connects via USB to

their computer.  I’m told it’s never out of her sight and that every time her Mom raises the lens, Catherine is never far behind.

I can live with that.

Doug Clark

22 April 2015