Lawless Lands is On the Loose!
Changements de latitudes, changements d'attitude
A little Devil's West Updatery
Meanwhile, my sister and brother-in-law and his mother were in town for a family member's 90th birthday party, so it was good to see them and all the mishpocha (extended family of blood and marriage) from his side. The weather was warm (HOT, by Seattle standards) but they seemed to be enjoying it. I took one day off to play semi-local tour guide, and then hid in the tasting room all weekend. You have to keep wineries/tasting rooms cool, to keep the wine stored in back (much of it in barrels) cool. A useful hint, next time you get stuck in a heat wave....
Busy week ahead. Thankfully, temps are supposed to drop 15-20 degrees back to Seattle-normal by tomorrow. And not a moment too soon...
We did some classic stuff. We stopped both at Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.
We started to see a few more families on the road at Wall Drug, but Mitchell could have been a ghost town. Shawn and I both remarked at how several store fronts were closed and/or empty in Mitchell. It's June. This should be the beginning of the tourist season for them, I'd have thought. We were there right at noon and I had a BLT from the one place we found to eat. That was the other thing, the 'historic' downtown didn't have a lot of places to get food. You'd think it would be more like the other tourist towns we travelled through, like Cody, which is just lined with diners and burger joints and pizza places. Something for everyone, as they say. All of that interspersed with trinket shops.... but no, they seemed to have department stores and... furniture? Not something you're going to haul the rest of the way across country with you.
This actually made me wonder if the over-the-road tourism is down in this part of the country. Okay, well, a quick Google tells me that my anecdotal sense is WAY OFF. Apparently, tourism numbers are up, according to the South Dakota Tourism Industry Information for 2016.
Maybe we were just lucky? Because we planned this trip so early into summer vacation?
I don't know. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that the largest draw to South Dakota is actually the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. Maybe that's the thing that's shifted? The demographics of the people traveling across country? We certainly saw a ton of motorcycles all throughout our visit both to South Dakota and to Yellowstone.
Also, I'm super curious why so many of my fellow travelers were white. It wasn't 100%--but there was a shocking sea of white faces waiting for the geysers to blow. Why is that, I wonder? Or is this another anecdotal misinterpretation of mine? I couldn't easily find a demographic statistic for the visitors to Yellowstone, though I did see that 2016 was a record-breaking year for them. So what do I know?
We did stop at the Minute Man Missile Site (Delta-09). That was kind of spooky cool. There was a fence around the site that had this sign:
It says, "Help us keep cows from entering this area. Please close chain as you enter and exit." There's a lovely little center icon of a big red no symbol over a cow.
One of the missiles is preserved:
As a kid of the 1980s, I found this very chilling, frankly. Mason looked at us and said, "And how do you think I feel, knowing that 45 has the launch codes?"
Right. So, that left us all feeling a bit... freaked out.
Otherwise, I have to say that the thing I'm noticing now that we're home is that I still have my tourist eye on everything. I kind of wished that I'd had my camera this morning when I went for coffee because I had a sudden yen to photograph the neat old houses that are in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Maybe this is something I'll have to start doing as an antidote for all the depressing politics.
I thought about going out to Pride today but I just couldn't muster the thought of fighting crowds after all of the fighting crowds at Yellowstone and whatnot. Good news: I'll be gay all year 'round.
Today’s Book: “Iwunen Interstellar Investigations (Prologue Season)”, a web serial by Bogi Takács
The Plot: A magic teacher from a planet of autistic people is shocked out of their routine by the arrival of a mysterious, injured stranger – and of some interplanetary intrigue.
Autistic Character(s): Almost everyone, including the protagonist!
Iwunen Interstellar Investigations is set on Eren, the aforementioned planet of autistic people, and so the first thing I want to talk about here is PLANET OF AUTISTIC PEOPLE.
We’ve seen disability-centric societies in previous Book Party episodes. “Kea’s Flight” is set in a society of developmentally disabled teenagers on a spaceship, but the teenagers are supervised by NT caregivers and robots. “This Alien Shore” gives us Guera, a planet where everyone, including the leadership, is disabled or mentally ill. But while there is a major character who comes from Guera, and some interesting scenes of intrigue between Gueran leadership, we saw very little of what Gueran life was like on the ground.
Iwunen Interstellar Investigations starts us off right at the beginning with scenes of relatively normal life on Eren. So right away this is EXCELLENT. Ranai ta-n Iwunen, a magic teacher, is depressed, and is hoping that a new student, Wuda-reyun, will give them something to do – but Wuda-reyun, who is from another planet, is presumptuous and seems ill at ease with Ereni culture.
By the way, Eren is not just a planet of autistic people. It’s a MAGICAL planet of autistic people, in which magic (called “māwal”) is interconnected with high SFnal technology. This is exactly my jam. Unfortunately, once we have gotten to know Ranai and Wuda-reyun, the plot begins to move at such a fantastically fast clip that we only see Ereni society in glimpses. There are some really delightful details woven in – people are formal about power relations so that they are easier to remember! The word for “rules lawyering” is monomorphemic! – but in general, the story is not interested in explaining a lot about Eren. The story is interested in ADVENTURE! Pretty soon, Ranai et al are in a different part of the galaxy entirely, investigating something involving interplanetary politics and weapons deals.
The plot in general goes by quickly enough that readers not familiar with Bogi’s work might get confused at some points. The “Concepts” section on the website does a good job filling in basic background about the universe, and I would recommend it during the early stages of reading.
As to the characters themselves, they are just fine. Almost everyone on Eren shares the “Ereni cognotype” (their word for autism), but characters have their own diverse personalities, from the cautious and authoritative Ranai to the naive and principled Abinayun to Mirun, the stranger from another world, who literally crashlands in the story with great eagerness and little control. We also see glimpses of Ranai’s daughter, Birayu, a creative child with atypical language skills who adores food. Birayu’s presence is important from a representation perspective, as it shows that not everyone on Eren is “high-functioning”, and that a range of abilities are accepted. Ranai is a single parent who employs someone to assist in raising Birayu, which seems to be an arrangement that is working out, although I would have liked to see them and Birayu interact more in early chapters.
There is also a hint of a budding romantic attraction between Ranai and Mirun, both of whom are nonbinary. Since Ranai is demisexual, this part of the story occurs gently and gradually and is still far from being resolved at the end of the season. (Mirun’s origins, by the way, are among the things that aren’t explained in this story. But if you are up for some darker fare, you can find them in “Toward the Luminous Towers“.)
Bogi objected when I filed this story, on Patreon, under “cheerful books”: some bad things are certainly implied, both in Mirun’s vaguely-hinted-at backstory and in the political intrigue. It’s just that, as a dedicated reviewer of books about autistic people, a disproportionate amount of my reading deals with ableism, abuse, and other Bad Things. There are some really well-done, really important books that talk about Bad Things, and Bad Things are pervasive in real life. But I cannot describe how refreshing it is to read an adventure with a happy ending in which autistic people run around without being constantly oppressed for being autistic. That’s what I mean when I call this one “cheerful”. I don’t want there to be fewer books about Bad Things, but I do want there to be MORE books like this one!
This is overall a sprightly, enjoyable read with many twists, and with a gaggle of interesting autistic characters whose personhood is never in question. I’m looking forward to further installments in the series, and I’m hoping that they will take us in even greater depth into the world of Eren.
The Verdict: Recommended
Ethics Statement: Bogi Takács is someone I would consider a personal friend. I read eir web serial by waiting for the chapters to be posted for free on eir website. All opinions expressed here are my own.
This book was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I read it because I was excited enough about it to read it on my own time. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the pipeline, and you can become a backer for as little as $1 if you’d like to help choose the next autistic book.
For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.
On the lookout for ragged robin, finding none in the usual locations. Maybe too early, maybe too late, maybe too mowed. Did see a patch of blue cornflower blooming, plus a lot of birdsfoot trefoil, orange and yellow hawkweed, and the first hop-clover.
No roadkill seen, despite extended survey.
Got out on the bike, temperature in the 70s F with a nuisance breeze. Did not die.
30.45 miles, 2:43:43
Here is our postcard perfect shot of Mount Rushmore.
Turns out Shawn LOVED the museum at Mount Rushmore and we spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Today, over dinner, she said that Mount Rushmore was one of her favorite parts of today, in fact.
I like this shot because it highlights one of the things that first struck me about Mount Rushmore. Most of the pictures you see look like the one I took, so you never have the sense that these faces are just carved out of the top of a mountain. When Shawn and I traveled here in the 90s with Karl from Czech, that was the thing I most remembered: that Mount Rushmore was actually just a tiny fraction of the mountain. For some reason, I had somehow thought someone had carved an ENTIRE mountain.
This time I was able to be more impressed.
From Mount Rushmore we took Iron Mountain Road "backwards" towards Custer State Park. If you go the other way, several of the tunnels have been cut to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. Having done it the right way with Karl, we didn't feel we needed to do it that way this time. Iron Mountain Road is famous for its pig-tail bridges and switchbacks. There are also one-lane tunnels cut out from rock. We stopped at one of the overlooks.
The road was really fairly beautiful, lots of tall pines and jutting rocks. We've been having amazing weather, too, the wind was actually chilly this morning. You can see that the "sky was not cloudy all day" as the song says.
After getting off 16A, we turned toward Custer State Park. There is an entry fee to the park of $20 per vehicle. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and heard the park ranger telling tourists that there was good bison viewing off Fisherman's Road. To get there we took off on Wildlife Loop. Shawn and Mason were pretty convinced we'd never see any animals because most of the view consisted of miles and miles of this:
We started making jokes about a government conspiracy to hide the wildlife, especially the elk (which we kept mispronouncing elf). However, we did turn off on Fisherman's Road, which was dirt and gravel. But, that was where a lot of the wildlife was (no elf,) but we did see a huge herd of bison (including babies) and more pronghorn.
And my favorite: PRAIRE DOGS.
I love how this one is just sitting with its feet in the air.
Then we got a classic bison blocks the road moment:
And, then, the "tourist" burros. Apparently, the burros are not native to South Dakota, but they were left in the park by workers. They are super friendly, looking for hand outs, and will stick their heads in your car.
Unlike some people, we didn't get out of the car or feed the burros.
From here we drove up Needles Highway (aka Highway 87). I... could have used a few more guardrails on this drive. The roads were super-duper narrow and there were sections where there was just a tiny bit of asphalt between me and the cliffs.
This scary-ass road culminates in this:
The "eye" is so narrow that as our car went through, Mason could stick his hand out the wind and touch the wall of the tunnel. I have no idea how some of these big-ass trucks that kept passing us on the road got through that thing without scraping off their rearview mirrors (at the very LEAST.)
I was really sort of surprised that the rangers that took our money did not measure the width of the car.
Even though I white-knuckle drove this, I think it was probably my favorite part of the day.
We then stopped at a Subway in Hillcity for lunch. Subway has become a weird go-to lunch place on the road. Shawn used to hate Subway, and now she's like, "OH LOOK, A SUBWAY!" I think because the food is always consistently decent and there are vegetables.
After this we turned towards home base. We dropped Shawn off at the hotel, and then Mason and I took in a round of mini-golf at the pirate themed mini-golf course just down the street from our hotel. From there, we tried to go back to our creek, but it had been discovered by some frat boys (and one girl) who brought pizza to the rock, so we went across the road and found a new creek to wander around.
And explore, we did:
I call this one "uh, Ima, what do leeches look like??!?"
From here, we turn towards the home fires. Probably taking I-90 through Wall Drug.
Some things I’ve read recently!
The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata
If you didn’t read Nagata’s The Red Trilogy, well, you might want to consider doing so. But whether you have or you haven’t–The Last Good Man is near-future military sf. It’s tense and compelling, and features a middle-aged woman protagonist, an ex-Army pilot who now works for a private military company. During a rescue mission she discovers something that casts a new and disturbing light on an event that she’d thought, well, not safely in the past, but over and done with and accurately understood. But she wants the truth, no matter the cost. If near future and/or military is your jam, don’t miss this.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This is volume 1 of the Murderbot Diaries, and I suspect a certain percentage of my readers don’t need to hear anything more. Go, purchase, download! You will enjoy this.
Murderbot is a SecUnit–a security android, part organic part mechanical, that isn’t supposed to have any sort of free will. It does, though, and having achieved that free will it secretly names itself Murderbot and then works hard to hide its freedom of thought from the corporation that owns it. It doesn’t actually want to murder anyone, though. It just wants to be left alone to watch its stories. Unfortunately, someone is trying to kill the humans Murderbot has been tasked to protect.
I’m not kidding, I can almost guarantee that my readers will enjoy this. I have already pre-ordered volume 2, which is out in January.
Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns
So, Lesbian Space Pirates. Out at the end of October. That may be all I need to say.
Or not. Our heroines hijack a colony ship in a bid to join a famous band of space pirates–only to discover the pirates are not, as widely believed, hiding out on Barbary Station rolling in money and loot, but are in fact trapped there by the station’s renegade AI. Why is the AI doing what it’s doing? Is it conscious? Does it matter when it’s trying to kill you?
This book is good fun. Set in the Solar System, lots of action, I really enjoyed this, and I bet you will, too.
Mirrored from Ann Leckie.
This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time) that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site. 79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture. You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us. A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.
However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time. The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig. When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating. At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism. But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13? He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.
Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!
I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths. Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths. Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone. They're actually just dried bone.
There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear.
I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop. That's pretty cool stuff.
We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day. I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.
Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park. We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave. What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs! I love prairie dogs. If I had a fursona, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.
I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.
As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road. Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn.
I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip. Just as I did not expect bears. We also saw what we figure was a marmot sitting on a fence post in Wyoming.
From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo. Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out. However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:
Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.
Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town. We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard. We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.
Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.
Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk. At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation. :-)
As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring. There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads.
I managed to drop my phone in the water. Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.
However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)
Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park. Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!
Rhododendrons dropping flowers, those full fairy-skirt blossoms that want to be strung into a lei or other garland. Lupines building seed pods at the bottom of their spikes. My itchy eyes say that the grass is also blooming . . .
Yesterday's yearling raccoon remains. I'd expected it to vanish -- perfect take-out dinner for a coyote or fox.
Breezy, pleasant temperature, got out on the bike. Did not die.
15.25 miles, 1:15:33
1) What makes a good potty? The number of variations is overwhelming. We want something pretty simple, I think: looks like a toilet, no branded characters, doesn't play music, sits on the floor, is basically a bucket with a seat. In the more distant future we'll need one that folds up or goes over the toilet seat or something, for when we're on the road, but right now this is just for Kit to examine and contemplate and get used to the idea of.
2) Like most 18-month-olds, Kit is full of energy. Unlike most 18-month-olds, Kit can barely walk unassisted and can't run or jump. They've only just started climbing around on the most low-level playground equipment and are very uncertain; they can get up five steps to the top of the baby slide but haven't yet sorted out how to slide down it. When they can't burn off all that energy, they get very agitated and fussy. How do we help them get something like vigorous exercise on the weekends? So far my only idea is to take their walker wagon to the park so they can toddle along at a fairly fast clip for longer distances than our apartment allows—there's a good smoothly paved straightaway there—but that's a pain because the sidewalk between here and there is very uneven and narrow, so I'd have to figure out some way to carry the (heavy, bulky, non-folding) wagon while pushing Kit in the stroller, and that may surpass my own physical limitations. Maybe a lightweight folding medical-style walker? Is that a ridiculous expense for a kid who probably won't need it anymore by the end of the summer? And what do we do when it's not park weather? The nearest real play space for kids is the Brooklyn Children's Museum and it's kind of a haul from here—two buses, and you have to fold the stroller on the bus. They can only crawl around our apartment for so long.
EDIT: We did have a great dance party to the B-52s on Sunday—their pure sincerity is a perfect match for toddler sincerity, plus a good beat—so I should remember that's an option for indoor days. Friends on Twitter and elsewhere also suggested walking while holding Kit's hands/arms; playing follow-the-leader movement games ("Stretch WAAAAAY up high! Now bend WAAAAAY down low!") or doing movement to songs; setting up a tumbling mat and big foam blocks to climb on if we can get some that fit Kit's room (need to measure the open floor space); getting a cheap flimsy lightweight doll stroller to use as a walker in the park.
I'd really appreciate any suggestions on either or both fronts!
I should say, clearly, people still do, but they all seem to be retirees, no children. There were hardly any groups that included children, unless they were Native American. We saw several Native American families all traveling together. (Also, the majority of tourists in these places seem to be white.)
Today, however, was one of the few days I regretted this idea. We saw some pretty amazing things, which I'll get to in a moment, but we spent a lot of time on the road. Worse, we kept hitting road construction that was more than a slowdown through some orange cones. We'd come to a full stop and then have to wait for a "Follow Me: Pilot Vehicle." This was frustrating as heck, though occasionally it meant that I had time to frame a kind of lovely-in-its-starkness photo.
I call this, "Lonely Fence Post."
We also legitimately came across sections of road in Wyoming that had been sloppily paved over and a road sign that read, "Road Damage." My family and I spent some quality time trying to figure out if it was more expensive to print up the sign and mark the road or to actually fix it. Obviously, Wyoming Department of Transportation figured the signs were cheaper.
The interstate driving was really, really dull through much of the state. I kept saying, "Well, there are some horses. We must still be in Wyoming." A lot of it looked like this, only more desolate:
The nice surprise was the Big Horn Mountains. Shawn had done some research (naturally) and found us a highway that was rated safe for RVs. Shawn had found a blog and a video of people in an RV driving over one of these stretches (maybe Beartooth?) and we kept repeating what the blogger had said anytime we went down any grade as steep as 7 percent, which was, "My wife was on the floor... crying." (Their experience was apparently much steeper and their brakes were burning out.) We didn't have anything like that, but it was pretty exciting driving through this:
We would pass signs that would tell us which era of rocks were exposed. There was a lot of "Pre-Cambrian" and "Lower Cretaceous." At one point, after a particularly long and arduous "Follow Me" truck construction zone, we decided to stop at a roadside diner called "The Meadowlark Resort," just outside of the town of Ten Sleep. The diner had a poster of Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire from the TV show Longmire/books by Craig Johnson. Apparently, the nearby town of Buffalo was an inspiration for the novelist. The only reason that was particularly striking to us is that Shawn and I, who loved the show, had started thinking about the fact that the landscape must be very similar to the faux Absaroka County that Longmire is the supposed sheriff of.
It was good to sit and have a real meal, something we've been neglecting this whole trip. We've been subsisting on road food and things we've packed like trail mix, chips, beef jerky, and granola bars. A real omelet made by an actual short order cook was just the ticket. It probably added a half hour to our day, but I regret nothing.
Except all that interstate driving. The interstate was hideously boring. I kind of wanted to claw my eyes out after driving for hours and hours along the interstate. The only good thing about the interstate was that the speed limit was 80.
Eventually, we got to Devil's Tower. Or, at least the turn off for Devil's Tower. Devil's Tower was made famous for my entire generation by the mashed potato scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." There was, of course, another "Follow Me" truck on the way to Devil's Tower. Also, the guidebooks lie. This is not a quick jaunt off the highway, this is a legitimate detour WAY THE HECK OUT. However, it is classic:
The gift store would sell you aliens.
Also, because I could no longer take the Interstate, I insisted on a detour through "ANYTHING PRETTY." So we took off on 14-A towards the Black Hills National Forest. This also took us through Sundance, Sturgis, Leads, and Deadwood.
The Black Hills National Forest was really amazing, but Mason was starting to lose it in the back and said, "OMG, it's just more rocks and trees. Shoot me now!"
As you can see, he's not wrong. We were getting pretty punchy by this point, too, and Shawn was snapping photos by sticking the camera out of our sunroof. We got some surprisingly good shots that way.
Then, finally, we made it to the hotel! I was super-ready to be here. Our only concern at this point is, do we really want to spend the next several days DRIVING AROUND???!! Ask me tonight and my answer would be: no $%!@ing way. I'm going to guess that tomorrow, I'll be all, "Pack up the car, we're on the road!"
We have to AT LEAST see Mount Rushmore.
One yearling raccoon up near the golf course, several gray squirrels here and there. I've seen dead raccoons about the same size in that area, several years. Think there's a raccoon mama that doesn't raise her young-uns right.
Peonies blooming, water parsnip, more orange hawkweed and wild roses. Black locusts dropping their flowers in snowdrifts.
Got out on the bike, did not die. More wind than I'd prefer.
15.25 miles, 1:15:16