Wednesday October 29
We breakfast on fruit, instant oatmeal and yogurt and head off to the Colorado Museum of Corrections. I am absolutely shocked that we are the only patrons. The museum is actually fascinating. Colorado has a huge prison industry but the museum's presentation is quite unbiased. There is a replica of a device used at the turn of the century to flog prisoners and a couple of genuine nooses from actual hangings. But there are also remnants of a kinder gentler era when women inmates decorated their cells with curtains and doilies and the recreation areas held pianos and other musical instruments and a juke box. Perhaps the most moving thing was a recorded interview with a former warden. He acknowledged the controversy about capital punishment but accepted that it was part of the position he'd agreed to fulfill. His mother, he added, was vehemently opposed to the death sentence and he found out after he retired that she had written a letter of comfort to each of the men whose executions he'd overseen. Like with the folkart museum, I am enchanted with the human need to create decorative objects with whatever is available and I am charmed by inmate crafted items made of wood scraps and cigarette wrappers.
We cross then the Colorado plains and stop in the tiny town Simla for lunch at the Hen House. Himself again discovered that the single vegetarian dish available at most roadside stops is covered with shredded lettuce which he despises. He has done quite a bit of lettuce picking but I think he's learned now to order more wisely. The meal concludes with pie. I don't even like pie but I couldn't turn down strawberry rhubarb and when the girl asks if I want it heated with some ice cream, I say,"what the hell?"
The next stop is The Best Value Inn in North Platte Nebraska. Driving into the down reminds me of Vegas, aglow with bright neon although instead of casinos, North Platte offers every conceivable brand of fast food and chain motel. Our motel is sui generis but the owner is friendly and tells us about his days in Camp Pendleton. We are so full from the Hen House that dinner is popcorn and tangerines from the provisions we've amassed along the road.
Thursday October 30
We visit first thing the Golden Spike Railroad Observation Tower. North Platte has the world's biggest rail yard, having been in the heyday of the railroads a prime stopping location for many routes. At the top of the eight story tower there are rail tracks and repair buildings for as far as the eye can see. The ladies of North Platte had a well organized program during the Second World War to deliver baskets of candies and cookies to the many troop trains that stopped at the depot.
We cross the Colorado Sand Hills for a hundred miles and arrive at the well preserved brick town of Alliance. Our lunch at Newberry's is served by a curious waitress and we get the impression that not many Californians pass through the sweet little town. Another hundred or so miles of Nebraska plain bring us cross the South Dakota border and into the Black Hills. We stop at a small market in Hot Springs for provisions before we set out for our cabin on a horse ranch. Our little cabin is done up with kitschy cowboy décor and our host is helpful and genial. I'd failed to notice that there is no stove so our dinner is improvised. I soak pasta in a bowl with boil water from our kettle and cook some onions in the microwave. I defrost some frozen spinach using the water poured off the noodles, throw in a can of tuna and a little cheese. We have no salt and pepper but I shake off a bit from the bottom of a pretzel bag and while it is far from haute cuisine, it isn't the worst dinner we'd ever had. We walk among the horses, surrounded by huge ranches and wild country. A horse kisses Himself and we end our first day in South Dakota.