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From Sea to Shining Sea - America the Beautiful

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Posted: Friday, July 14, 2017 11:56 am

Part 2 of Phil’s series sharing his travels with his family as they crisscrossed America by car this summer

Our route to Yellowstone Park took us along the Teton Mountains still capped with snow. Met up with a caravan of three trailers from Homestead which included my brother-in-law Bob. Their plans were altered from a southern cross-country trip when they hit a heat wave of 115 degrees. Using his camper as a base we scouted the park for two days seeing a variety of four-legged wildlife that included deer, elk, coyotes, a fox and lots of bison (buffalo) but no bears or moose.

Wildlife is not the only attraction in the park. We did short hikes through the woodland, around hot springs and snow-covered areas. Spent a few moments having a good old- fashioned snowball fight. Other highlights included the colorful but stinky Sulphur pits, the Continental Divide and Old Faithful which spewed exactly 1 hour and 26 minutes after her last showing. We broke camp the following morning with only one negative experience…the huge mosquitoes. Think they are as large as the ones I fed in Alaska several years ago!

Glacier National Park yielded its beauty plus many sightings of black bears. Experienced mirror lake, dined on buffalo burgers and tacos at the Lake Mary Lodge. Visited Jackson Glacier. Like most glaciers in the world, this one is receding and predicted to be totally gone by 2030. Records have it being in decline since 1850. This is long before the industrial revolution or Al Gore. A bit disappointed that the road to Logan Pass was still closed due to the remains of a harsh winter.

Off to Cody, Wyoming for several days in this historic western town. As a lover of western folklore, I was in heaven visiting Buffalo Bill’s town. After watching a staged gunfight, we headed inside Bill’s famous Hotel Irma, (opened in 1902) for a sarsaparilla and an all you can eat prime rib buffet. Would have preferred buffalo but settled for beef. Visited the Buffalo Bill Museum and learned many interesting facts about one of my childhood heroes. At 17, Cody joined the 7th Kansas Cavalry as a scout. He fought in the Civil War then turned his attentions to another enemy, the Indians. In later years, he became universally known with his Wild West Show that traveled the world preforming for Queen Victoria and royalty around the world. A large part of his cast and crew of close to 600 were American Indians who he treated with respect. He became an advocate for their rights criticizing federal policies as being unfair and he pushed for citizenship for American Indians. Other famous names that traveled with the show were Chief Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley. After making and spending a fortune on bad investments, Buffalo Bill Cody was forced to close the Wild West Show. He reunited with his estranged wife who took care of him in his failing health. To this day, he remains an icon of the glory days of the “Old West.” 

It was time to live a little adventure of our own as we headed to Shoshone River for some river rafting. Though the rapids were rather calm, the beauty of nature and wild life made up for the lack of rough water. This event should be done earlier in the season when the snow melt is at its prime to get some white cap action.

Passed through Rapid City, South Dakota to see the Devils Tower. Seeing the American Flag wave proudly in front of this landmark is enough to bring chills down your spine. Devils Tower is the first National Monument dedicated in 1906. Part of it can be climbed with advanced permission.

Spent that evening at the newly renovated Nest Motel, in Choteau. We were cordially greeted by Tom, the second-generation owner. It was our base to ride out an unexpected storm with 60 mile winds.

Mount Rushmore at twilight
Phil Marraccini

Fortunately, it blew through so fast that an early dinner could be followed by a late afternoon viewing of Mt. Rushmore. Mt. Rushmore is everything and more than expected. We arrived around 6 pm and decided to wait for the evening light to shine on the four Presidents who looked down on a thousand or so. This work of art was designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum who died before its completion. Construction started in 1927 and was completed in 1941.

As sun began to set around 9 pm, a short presentation on the contributions of each President was given. After Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, the focus turned to Theodore Roosevelt. It was Teddy Roosevelt the avid hunter, who saw the need to protect the beauty of our country and its wildlife. Roosevelt was responsible for establishing five National Parks, 150 National Forests, 18 National Monuments and 51 Federal Bird Reservations. In all, some 230 million acres became protected under his administration leaving our nation's natural beauty to be enjoyed by us and generations to come in the form that God created.

About the time you figure every type of rock formation has been seen, along comes a completely different terrain, thus we entered the Badlands. This is a rugged area with few grassy plains but still worth seeing. If hiking, watch out for rattlesnakes. That evening we relaxed at the North Sioux City’s Hampton Inn where we conversed with Director of Sales John Beumler over a cup of coffee. It’s amazing, people have time the time to sit down and talk…still no horn blowing yet!

Being in the corn belt of the United States, we had to detour to Mitchell, South Dakota’s Corn Palace. This structure was built in 1887, a time of plenty while the Middle West suffered from a drought that missed Sioux City and the surrounding areas. Each year the entire building is stripped of its “corny” cover and redecorated with an untold number of split ears of corn at a cost of $137,000. The building is one of a kind, but its ears are not quite as tasty as ours in Homestead.

Jumped off the freeway in Omaha, Nebraska for a visit with one of Michelle’s friends when I noticed a sign for Boys Town. Memories of the classic movie flashed through my mind. After lunch, we doubled back for a visit to Father Edward Flanigan’s Home for Boys.

In this day of bashing the Catholic Church it was wonderful to see the true side of the faith that has been tarnished by a few “bad apples.” Started in 1917 by Father Edward J. Flanigan, Boys Town is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The young priest realized a social crisis regarding the youth of Nebraska. He opened the doors to orphans, the rejected and abused plus young rebels. Private funding enabled the frugal priest to purchase 160 acres of farmland and begin construction of some of the buildings that are in use.

In 1938 Hollywood made a movie titled “Boys Town” starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. The movie was shelved for several months by the studio owner claiming it would not sell, “not enough sex.” Cast and directors convinced him otherwise and the movie became a blockbuster earning Tracy his second Oscar. The actor would present the Oscar to Father Flanigan where it can be seen in the museum at the facility. Armed with the publicity of the movie, Father Flanigan was able to introduce his successful program throughout the world.

On one such trip in 1946, Father Flanigan succumbed to a heart attack.

Father Flanigan’s dreams would not end with his death. In 1979, a girl’s section was added. To date 40,000 youth have passed through Boys Town of Omaha. But wait, there are Boys Towns scattered throughout the United States, three in Florida. Quite an achievement for a man who believed “there is no such thing as a bad boy.”

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