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Dismembering September

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Occasionally, the UK provides little scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in the wilds of the America West (admittedly there may be a certain lack of fire and brimstone).

One such occasion happened during our weekend in Minsmere in Suffolk where we enjoyed the spectacle of three otters winnowing about in the shallows of Island Mere. (There was also a fourth otter – we saw one earlier but it may have belonged to this particular trio). A Marsh Harrier circled the otters on the lookout for fishy scraps; a Kingfisher fished and caught a fish, a Bittern sailed into the reeds, and a Water Rail sprinted between reed beds.

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WaterRail

Water Rail Chick with a bald spot

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Rare Headless Water Birds

As dusk approached, a Red Deer trotted past us, and several Green Woodpeckers rose up and pegged it as we walked up Whin Hill. Late sightings of Stoats, Muntjac and Red-legged Partridges all capped a fine day.

Deer

With acres of woodland, wetland, scrapes and heath – and a bit of coastal to go with it, you could spend weeks in Minsmere and never think it enough.

Mingling with the ducks and waders were Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Avocet and godwits. Elusive Bearded Tits (stop sniggering at the back) showed well in the reeds, and a Red-necked Phalarope dropped in. Raptors were well represented by the harriers, a Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Kestrel. Emerging from the grazing marshes, a Chinese Water Deer stepped out from the tall grasses for a quick munch.

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There is much to recommend Southwold for its proximity when visiting Minsmere. Not least the Adnams brewery, which faithfully stocks the town pubs with a selection of its wares.

The town was also the home of a number of Puritan emigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony so it ties in nicely with the previous post.

Southwold has a pier, and a lighthouse; brightly painted beach huts overlook the sand and shingle beach.

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Pre-squabble Gulls

A short hop past the old and new water towers took us to Southwold Harbour, where a squabble of gulls fought over a dead rat. The rowing boat ferry service then rowed us over to Walberswick where a quick pint was quaffed. It was not long before the rain lashed down and forced us into Southwold’s pubs.

RainClouds

Now for a little Crow Collection cartoon before we go into the culture section: This one almost never made the cut as it was deemed too icky but it sold quite well:

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At the Barber Institute, there was a Monet doing the rounds.

Water Lily Pond, on loan from Chicago in exchange for a Gauguin, was showing well in the Blue Gallery. Probably one of the most recognisable motifs of Impressionism – the Japanese bridge over the water lily pond in Monet’s garden at Giverny was a theme he became obsessed with – and this version is considered one of the artist’s most luminescent masterpieces.

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Water Lily Pond

Minding its own business close by was an early oil painting by Henri Matisse – Landscape in Corsica – on long-time loan from a private collection.

The Barber Institute never fails to deliver, and in a little offshoot gallery, an exhibition was showing 19th-century portrait photography, with many public figures striking notable poses including Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde and John Hanning Speke.

 

Craig Deeley was appearing at the Glee Club’s Rough Works with Joe Lycett, Andy Robinson and a whole bunch of comedians. For the comedians, Rough Works provides an ideal platform to try out brand new material, and the packed audiences are very encouraging and supportive. A very funny night out with drinks before, during and after – and the comedy was pretty good too (drum roll).

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The resumption of Film Club opened with the Spanish animation film Wrinkles, the story of a retired bank manager who has been shuffled off into an elderly care home. The Tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes website gives it 96% and the consensus can be agreed on as such:

Poignant and tender without succumbing to schmaltz, Wrinkles offers a thoughtful — and beautifully animated look at old age.

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The “I Want! I Want!” Art & Technology exhibition at Birmingham Gas Hall was inspired by William Blake’s engraving of the same name. This little engraving shows a tiny figure that announces his desire to get to the moon with a cry, “I want! I want!” It conjures up a memorable image of aspirational zeal.

The exhibition features work by contemporary artists who have been influenced by the rapid development of technology. Some interesting stuff was on show – particularly the Dawn Chorus video installation and a computer animation by celebrated Blur cover-artist Julian Opie.

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Bostin’ in Boston

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Revolutionary Boston has been the scene-stealer of several key events of the American Revolution. Events such as the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Siege of Boston and, of course, the Boston Tea Party.

The key role Boston played in the American Revolution is highlighted on the Freedom Trail, a walking route of historic sites that eloquently tells the story of the nation’s founding.

One of the most popular sites on this route is Faneuil Hall, an old market building sitting at the site of the old town dock. In the day, it was where Samuel Adams, John Hancock and other patriots debated the future of American self-government and set in motion the American Revolution.

Faneuil-Hall

Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and meeting hall since forever, with a statue of the “incorruptible and fearless statesman” Samuel Adams, presiding over the plaza in front of it. Bidding for top billing is the gilded grasshopper weather vane perched on the top of the building.

Grasshopper

Quincy Market is behind Faneuil Hall, a bustling stretch of colour and sound leading to the waterfront. There’s no shortage of food or street entertainment along the way. The street entertainers were quite brilliant with some amazing gymnastic/dance troupes, nimble acrobatic comedians, and an impressive young musician playing piano and saxophone to an enthralled audience. Apparently, the “Boston Piano Kid” has played with Billy Joel and, one quick YouTube search later, here he is:

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waterfront

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The Old State House is the oldest public building still standing in the eastern United States, now dwarfed by neighbouring skyscrapers. This was once the capitol of the colony, the centre of British authority, and also where the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony in 1776.

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To celebrate, they had a big bonfire and burnt flags and reminders of British rule, including the original lion and unicorn from atop the Old State House. Replicas of these have since been installed (quite right too!)

Beneath the balcony, there is a circle of paving stones laid out to mark the site of the Boston Massacre when a squad of nervy British officers fired into a jeering crowd and killed five of them – the first bloodshed of the American Revolution.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”

Thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Paul Revere is America’s most celebrated patriot (after Mel Gibson). Mr Revere took part in the Boston Tea Party but is better known for having embarked on a midnight ride to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the approaching British – the Battle at Lexington ensued, which led to a full-blown American Revolution.

The Boston Tea Party was the result of a resistance movement against the Tea Act, imposed by those pesky Brits – it violated Bostonian rights to “no taxation without representation.”

To ensure their action wasn’t just a storm in a teacup, the protesters boarded the ships and threw chests of tea into Boston harbour. Some chests were thrown in with a little milk, some with a squeeze of lemon. Reports of a sizeable digestive biscuit on the side remain unfounded.

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Paul Revere’s little wooden house still stands – it is Boston’s oldest structure. Revere’s remains remain in Boston, lying in the Granary Burying Ground, buried with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and a plethora of patriots. Mother Goose is also buried here.

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Sinking Headstones

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Samuel Adams

Named after its English counterpart, Boston was founded by the Puritans, a wealthier and more literate breed of colonist. The Old Corner Bookshop emerged as something of a literary centre with luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorn, and that Longfellow fellow all bringing manuscripts here to be published.

As well as being crammed with American history, Boston has its fair share of greenery and water too. Well, being a port, it would have.

Taking an afternoon whale-watching trip out to the open sea to see slices of Humpback and Minke Whales in their natural habitat was an enjoyable diversion from all that foot-pounding history. It also presented a good opportunity to view Boston from a different aspect, and to appreciate the city from afar.

Boston Common is the United State’s first public park, with the Massachusetts State House overlooking it. Just on the edge of the park is the arguably more famous Cheers bar. I popped in for a swift four-pinter and although nobody knew my name, it was a friendly enough place and I managed to grab a corner in Norm’s seat for a well-earned quaff.

Cheers

Norm

Norm

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Massachusetts State House

Before Boston, there was Charlestown.

Originally, the settlers settled (its what settlers do) over the river from Boston. However, the wells soon ran dry, and the settlers became unsettled. They decided to up sticks and settle in Boston – or Shawmut was it was then known. The plentiful springs of Boston ensured a steady growth while Charlestown became relegated to a sleepy country town until the Revolution.

The Bunker Hill Monument, a tall, towering obelisk, commemorates the Revolution’s first major battle, which the British won but at such a cost as to weaken their resolve.

BunkerHill

Patriot General Greene summed it up well: “I wish,” he said, “I could sell them another hill at the same price.”

Charlestown also harbours another monument of sorts in the Navy Yard – the U.S.S. Constitution; the most celebrated ship in American history is berthed here. The Constitution is most noted for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom when she defeated five British warships. Expect Mel Gibson to be starring in the film any day soon.

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U.S.S. Constitution

Although the Brits consider the War of 1812 as little more than a minor skirmish of the Napoleonic Wars, the Americans see it as a war in its own right. Of course they would, they won it!

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Washington wearing a Grackle

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A Grackle

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Salt Lake City to Denver

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First impressions show Salt Lake City to be an excruciatingly clean and tidy place, tucked-in and turned-down with nothing remotely unmade about it. True, there are a few homeless sprawled on the lawns of parkland and slumped on the swards but it still looks like someone has been busy putting this city together in as ordered a manner as possible.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons are to blame. They had such a work ethic when creating this city, Utah would forever be known as the Beehive State in homage to those crazy workaholic insects that find it impossible to pull up a chair and relax.

Seeking to escape religious persecution, top Mormon Brigham Young founded the city in 1847 when he and other followers settled in this inhospitable valley. The valley was dry and surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, as well as being circled by the steep Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges. (Average snowfall in the mountains near Salt Lake City is over 40 feet – nearly 5 times the average snowfall of Juneau, Alaska).

The streets of the city are wide, deliberately designed as such to accommodate the turns of wagon teams (without “resorting to profanity.”) It is also probably quite useful to contain those bloaters who are no strangers to the Kentucky Fried Bargain Bucket Feast. (The first Kentucky Fried Chicken was established in Salt Lake City in 1952).

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Overlooking downtown Salt Lake City, Capitol Building is a striking architectural landmark, located on a hill, and set on over 40 acres of sculpted lawns, trees, flowerbeds and shrubs.

Temple Square is the main focal point that draws locals and tourists in, home to the granite-built Salt Lake Temple, and the neo-Gothic Assembly Hall.

The Family History Library houses the largest collection of genealogical information in the world with copies of millions of original records including the names of more than two billion deceased people.

In 1875, two 35-foot Australian whales were shipped to the Great Salt Lake, wherein they were released with the intention of creating a tourist attraction. Off they swam, never to be seen again.

The whales may have fared better in Bear Lake, a natural freshwater lake on the Utah-Idaho border, with a rich turquoise colour, and a shoal of species that occur only within the lake and no where else.

BearLake

For those with piscatorial leanings, you may be interested to know that these endemic fish include a strain of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, Bonneville Cisco, Whitefish, Bear Lake Whitefish and Bear Lake Sculpin. No sign of the rare Bonneville Whales though…

For those with Pleistocene leanings, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville and is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake.

For those wondering who the heck Bonneville was, he was a fur-trapper and explorer in the American West, noted for blazing sections of the Oregon Trail. He was made famous by an account of his explorations written by Washington Irving (who also penned Rip Van Winkle while residing in Birmingham…)

For those wishing I’d just get on with it, we continued out from Bear Lake and made for said Oregon Trail, trundling along to the little town of Afton with its impressive arch of elk antlers and stunning chocolate emporium.

Afton

ChocShop

Mmmm…chocolate!

Jackson Hole is a valley, which has the rather majestic Teton Mountain Range ranging along beside it (that’s what ranges do). The town of Jackson is also very much into antler arches and has a selection looped around the George Washington Memorial Park. A few of us settled down to a beer perched on saddles at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

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We were to spend a couple of days in the Grand Teton National Park, and checked into the Jackson Lake Lodge. The lodge is listed as a National Historic Landmark with a flat roof and huge windows providing stunning views of the Tetons with Jackson Lake shimmering in the near distance.

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When the sun goes down there is another stellar performance lying in wait when the night sky floods with countless constellations and luminous whorls of stars.

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…and the sunrises weren’t bad either.

Sunrise

A quiet welcome to the morning was provided by a rafting trip along the Snake River, which ran smoothly through a pristine natural landscape of open meadows and low forests with the ever-present peaks of the Teton Range keeping pace. It was really a gentle ten-mile float entirely within the Grand Teton National Park, covering this most scenic stretch of the Snake River in the Jackson Hole Valley.

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A couple of Bald Eagles, and an Osprey provided ornithological interest, and a female Moose munched away on a riverside salad.

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The name of Snake River was derived from an S-shaped gesture the resident Shoshone tribe made with their hands to represent swimming salmon. Explorers misinterpreted it to mean a snake, giving the river its present-day name.

StainedGlass!

The Church of the Transfiguration is a wooden chapel sited within view of the celestial peaks of the Tetons – there is little point in having stained glass in such a window.

Then it was time to enter the legendary Yellowstone National Park.

Renowned for its unique geothermal activity, wide, sweeping landscapes and spectacular wildlife, Yellowstone has run out of boxes to tick. A little taster in the form of the Lewis Falls and the surrounding forests readied us for a similar cascade of memorable wildernesses that bubbled and steamed with fire and brimstone.

A Grizzly Bear was spotted swaggering along the Hayden Valley; Elk were spied sporadically, and there were plenty of Mule Deer, but it was the herds of Bison that bossed the park.

Yellowstone was the first National Park in the United States, and is crammed with natural wonders – many of which would burn, scald or eat you.

A stroll through the Upper Geyser Basin, the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Norris Geyser Basin made you think there was more basin than bison in Yellowstone. The colours of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with its dramatic drop of the Lower Falls perfectly illustrated how the park came to be named as such.

Of course, you can’t visit Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, the reliable geyser, which has a good gush about every 90 minutes or so. The nearby Old Faithful Inn is also worth gushing about. Built with Lodgepole pine logs, wooden shingles and stone, the hotel features an immense lobby (complete with tree-house), plus a massive soaring stone fireplace and handcrafted clock.

Let the photos begin:

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Alas

Alas! He sank and left hardly a trace…

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DragonMouth

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

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Mud Volcano

Clarke's-Nutcracker

Clarke’s Nutcracker

Bison

Bisons

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Yellow-Stone

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MuleDeer

Mule Deer

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Castle Geyser

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Crested Pool

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Fountain Paint Pots

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An Elk

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Old Faithful

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After departing Yellowstone, we travelled through the stark Shoshone Canyon and Absaroka Rocky Mountains to reach the Wild West town of Cody. En route we checked out the old hunting lodge of Buffalo Bill – now a trendy hotel.

Cody was named for William Cody AKA Buffalo Bill, which trips off the tongue a little more smoothly than the more accurate Bison Bill.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West was built in honour of the great American Western legend. It is also a quite brilliant museum, or rather five museums rolled into one with whole wings given over to the history of Buffalo Bill, a Natural History museum, a Plains Indian section, an impressive Art Gallery, plus a detailed exhibition of firearms.

Buffalo Bill Fact: When touring England in 1903, one of the entourage gave birth to the first Native American Indian child born in England. They were performing in Aston at the time and named the child Alexandra Birmingham Cody Standing Bear.

Obviously not content with our appetite for the awesome, the landscape conspired to blind us with more staggering views as we crossed through the Bighorn Mountains on the way to Gillette.

After staying overnight in Sheridan, and with a Solar Eclipse looming large on the horizon, we headed over to the astounding Devils Tower, the stark geological feature that protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills.

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Dtower

It’s also difficult to imagine a more fitting location in which to witness the solar eclipse and, sunglasses at the ready, the eclipse was summarily witnessed.

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Plains Indians depended on buffalo for most of their material needs – food, clothing and tools – but before they had horses, the buffaloes were hunted with bows and arrows. Tribes often joined in communal hunts by driving herds of buffalo over a cliff – one such is a natural sinkhole now known as the Vore Buffalo Jump. Huge volumes of bone and assorted artifacts have been held in place over time by the bowl shape of the sinkhole, and archaeological studies have unearthed much evidence about this period and its people.

Bones

The things you find when you take the carpet up…

A talk given by a Native American about this period was undertaken in the blazing sun amid tepee and props from the Dances With Wolves set. A piece of artwork commissioned by Kevin Costner rides over such a jump.

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BuffJump

The wonderful Spearfish Canyon was the splendid setting for our next stop-over.

“How is it that I’ve heard so much about the Grand Canyon, when this is even more miraculous?” Thus spake Frank Lloyd Wright when viewing Spearfish Canyon.

“That was a bugger of a climb.” Spake me thus, after inadvertently following the route up to the rim of the canyon rather than the recommended preprandial recce to the local waterfall. It was a decent slog up to the top with wide vistas across the canyon, and ever-diminishing views of the spacious hotel we were lodging in.

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Spearfish Lodge

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Spacious for sure…

Custer State Park is renowned for its beauty and serenity, and home where the buffalo and antelope roam. On a scenic tour of the back country by jeep, suitably attired in cowboy hats and neckerchiefs, close encounters with Bison were inevitable and we enjoyed getting up close and impersonal with the shaggy beasts. Pronghorn antelopes roamed about in small herds, Prairie Dogs chuntered around their network of burrows, and there was always a Mule Deer peering out of the forests.

Finishing the jeep tour in a secluded canyon, an authentic Chuck Wagon Cookout was served up with Old Western entertainment providing the tunes.

YeeHaw

Yee-Haw

Cowboys

Crossing the high plains to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we made our way to Deadwood, the town made famous during the gold rush of the 1870s. Famous residents included gunslinger and gambler Wild Bill Hickok and not-much-of-a-looker Calamity Jane. It is not difficult to imagine the Old Western days of warring gunslingers here despite the sidewalks being paved and bereft of tumbleweed.

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Deadwood

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Wild Bill enjoying a Skinny Latte

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Where Wild Bill was Killed

A cool beer was taken in the bar where gunslinger and gambler Wild Bill Hickok met his end, shot in the back of the head while holding the playing cards that would become known as Dead Man’s Hand.

I think that a lot of the conflict that happened in the Wild West could’ve been avoided if town planners in those days just made their towns big enough for everyone.

Here’s a photograph of Deadwood from 1876 to help with the imaginings:

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Probably the Black Hills most famous landmark is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a carved mountain monument to presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (Ted to his friends). Jefferson was originally intended to appear at Washington’s right but the rock was unsuitable – the original unsatisfactory result was dynamited out and a new figure was sculpted to his left.

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Elsewhere in the Black Hills is the much larger Crazy Horse Memorial, carved into the granite rock face and constructed to commemorate the famous Native American leader as a response to Mount Rushmore. It will eventually be nearly ten times larger than Mount Rushmore.

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“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.” Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear insisted.

The United States had seized the area from the Lakota tribe despite it having been granted to them in perpetuity (might have had something to do with gold being in “them thar hills.”

Crazy Horse took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against encroachments on the Lakota territories. He helped defeat US Army Poster Boy George Custer at the Battle of Bighorn, forever etched in history as Custer’s Last Stand.

Work on the memorial began in 1948, and it will eventually depict the Lakota warrior riding a horse and pointing into the distance. Crazy Horse refused to have his photograph taken so it would be interesting to know what he would have made of the memorial. (“My friend, why should you wish to shorten my life by taking from me my shadow?”)

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Time for some Native American wisdom:

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Crazy Horse

When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

Cree Prophecy

When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.

Cherokee proverb

Denver was our final destination on our group tour although several did escape in Rapid City en route. Rapid City proved a bit of a diversion for the rest of us, trying to identify the statues of former U.S. presidents that loitered on every corner.

Denver, the Mile High City and capital of Colorado, lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and dates back to the Old West era. I was already hooked by the fact that Colorado produces more beer by volume than any other state and Denver ranks first for the U.S. cities.

Denver’s bustling downtown is centred on 16th Street Mall, a mile-long promenade with free buses shuttling up and down it.

In between sampling some of that voluminous beer, there was time to visit the Colorado State Capitol with its rather fetching gold-plated dome, and the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel with its massive atrium and equally impressive guest-list. Having played host to presidents and pop stars alike, the Beatles seemed the least impressed with the plush surroundings of the hotel and didn’t even bother coming out of their room.

Now for a Photography Masterclass:

PhotoClass

Nailed it!

…and now for the official group shot:

Group

Next morning, it was time to fly out to Boston.