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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Takes an Old Fossil to Know One

Monday, October 3, 2011

An old fossil from Le Mars suggested some stops and short cuts that made our recent trip to Portland, Santa Fe and Denver more enjoyable. He mentioned the Ash Fall Fossil bed site west of Creighton, Nebraska, and it is a very worthwhile destination.

After Le Mars we intended to first stop at Monowi, Nebraska, population one, on our way to Portland, Oregon to visit my grandson, David. Once with a population of 150, Elsie Eiler is now the only resident of Monowi. As mayor she grants herself a liquor license and collects taxes -- from herself and from her business, a tavern which draws tourists, as well as regular customers from as far as 80 miles away.

Elsie and her "Monowi Tavern" have been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, twice, on the History Channel and the Today Show. Our lunch plan was thwarted due to highway flooding, but I called her. Although she now closes on Mondays, for chemo treatments, she opens, "about nine AM and stays til about ten PM," Tuesday through Sunday! Business has been, "real good all summer," she said. She sounds like a real live-wire and we hope to visit her someday.

About 12 million years ago, a volcano in southwest Idaho spread a blanket of ash over a very large area including the Ash Fall site. The Mt. St. Helens eruption in Washington (1980) was like a puff of smoke compared to this event. One or two feet of this powdered glass covered the flat savannah-like grasslands of northeastern Nebraska. Over 200 fossil skeletons have been discovered at the site so far, and you can watch as exploration continues. A National Natural Landmark operated by the University of Nebraska, it is open in the summer. This, and Monowi, would make a nice day trip from Le Mars.

Our Old Fossil adviser was Rod Scholten, former Westmar Prof, summertime trucker, and current coffee drinker. He apparently knows the west coast run like the back of his hand. His recommendations were golden - his sketches were sketchy.

Rod said Dubois, 60 miles east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is interesting and it sure is. We spent a few bucks in the General Store where Butch Cassidy shopped when he was a local cowpoke, before he, as the locals like to remember, "Became a modern day Robin Hood." Long ago cowboy movie star Tim McCoy punched cows there, too.

Dubois is also the home of the largest bighorn sheep herd in the lower 48, and the Tie Hack monument. I knew about tie tacks and tie racks but had never heard of a tiehacker.

Between 1914 and 1946, Scandinavian loggers known as "tie hacks" produced over 10 million hand-hewn ties that were floated 100 miles down the Wind River to Riverton in massive weeks-long drives. A wooden flume constructed to carry the ties from the mountains 17 miles to the river was considered a marvel of engineering at the time, and large sections of the flume are still visible today.

2,500 to 3,000 ties are under each mile of railroad track and until the 1940's the Dubois area was the leading source of railroad ties in the United States.

For many years the ties were all cut and shaped by hand, "hacking" with a broad axe. Much of the economy of Dubois was dependent on the tie hacks. They worked all winter in deep snow and bitter cold, and when they came into town they played as hard as they worked. Thus, even throughout prohibition, the town remained pretty much open. The bars had gambling, and even the drugstore had slots.

Traditionally, ties have been made of wood but concrete is now widely used, as well as steel and plastic composite ties are currently used as well, although far less than wood or concrete ties.

In Washington we toured the beautiful Mt. Rainier area, as well as the still devastated Mt. St Helens region. Mother nature gives, and she takes -- so much of each.

In Portland we camped on the 12,000 acre Sauvie Island, which is at the junction of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. A flora and fauna treasure, we gorged on wild blackberries as we hiked. There are five long beaches. With Heather's gentle assistance I averted my eyes as we drove past the mile long "Collins, clothing optional" beach. Gee, I only wanted to see which clothing is optional. Not sure if it is named after the Kingsley, or Le Mars Collins families.

Portland is among the most permissive and liberal cities in the country, rivaling Berkley, San Francisco, Boulder, and Madison.

Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236 -30-

By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That

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