Wally's Most Excellent PCS Adventure
After spending a month at home in North Carolina, I reported for duty at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. I found out why my assignment had been deleted; the unit I was to be assigned to was being deactivated the following October. The Army thought it more cost effective to send me somewhere else as I was already in transit. That somewhere else turned out to be Ft. Lewis, Washington! I got nine travel days and six days leave to get across the continent in my brand new econobox; i.e., Nissan Sentra, which is practically Army issue considering how many GIs own them--cheap to buy, cheap to operate, cheap to maintain, and damned reliable. Ah, the wonder of it all!
I was a little put out at first; I had always wanted to spend some time in Massachusetts. I've always been something of a fan of the Red Sox and the Celtics; it would have been so sweet to spend a spring afternoon or a summer evening at Fenway or a cold winter's day in Boston Garden. I've been something of a Thoreauvian since I was fourteen and looked forward to experiencing the various seasons at Walden Pond. Being an old flag-waving patriot, I looked forward to visiting all of the Revolutionary War sites. Alas, it was not to be. In the Army, one learns that one must be "flexible," that is, be able to flip-flop sort of like a fish out of water, and the sooner the better. Army life is so much easier once you learn to say, "Oh, well!" It quickly dawned on me that I had fifteen days to get somewhere that would take no more than four days of solid driving. Thus began Wally's most excellent, taxpayer-funded, all-expenses-paid, cross-country adventure!
Of course, I spent the first day of my trip in Concord. I spent the late morning and early afternoon circumambulating Walden Pond. It was great; not even the brief, light, passing shower could spoil it. (It's good to be miserable; one can be miserable only if one is alive; it's good to be alive. Oh, well!) I paid my respects to Thoreau, Emerson, and the other luminaries buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. I spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Concord Battlefield; I marveled at the courage, anger, and even rage necessary for the Minutemen to fire upon their own country's professional soldiers. What magnificent foolhardiness is our devotion to and obsession with freedom!
After visiting a friend from the Army who lived in western New York for a couple of days, I spent a few days exploring both sides of Niagara Falls (New York and Ontario). Both towns have the hokie feel one would expect in a tourist trap but that didn't detract from the geological wonder of the falls and the escarpment. The observation deck on the Canadian side that overlooks Horseshoe Falls sits right on the edge of the fall. I stood at the retaining barrier and watched the torrent of green water flow over the edge. It looked so inviting; all I had to do was just fall into it and flow away with it. Of course, that would be a quick death. Absolutely insidious!
South Dakota Badlands and the Black Hills
It took me two days to get to the middle of nowhere South Dakota. I wandered Badlands National Park for a day. The Badlands rise up out of the Great Plains which of course is a big flat nothing; no wonder the Lakota would revere them. I spent a few days in temporary lodging at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City. Ellsworth is an ICBM and strategic bomber (both B1B and B52) base. With all those nuclear weapons, it is a prime counterforce target. (Please excuse me for my ingrained Cold Warrior mentality.) The guest reference book in my room actually had instructions about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack! I facetiously asked a desk clerk what I was supposed to do considering that I'm a sound sleeper and might not get the warning. He assured me that when the bombers scrambled I would wake up. I morbidly suggested that it really wouldn't matter considering that the base would be nothing but a smoldering, radioactive crater, and everything that had been in it would be subatomic particles heading for the stratosphere! I spent a few days exploring the Black Hills (even more revered by the Lakota: water, game, and actual forests)-- Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Monument.
Yellowstone National Park
Next I spent a few days in Yellowstone which turned out to be only months before much of it burned that summer! As I drove along the park roads, I noticed the unbelievable amount of deadwood that littered the forest floor. I recognized it as a fire hazard and wondered why it wasn't being cleared out. I overheard conversations between park rangers and visitors who planned on hiking into the back country. There were areas where hiking was being prohibited due to minor fires. Three months later they had grown to historic conflagrations.
I spent my first afternoon wandering around Mammoth Hot Springs. I spent the next day experiencing the geysers with most of my time in the Upper Geyser Basin-- Old Faithful! I had my most amusing and endearing experience of the day while walking along the boardwalk that meanders through the lesser geysers. Being volcanic features, the geysers voluminously fume sulfur compounds. One can't escape the stink out in the middle of the geyser field. Now, I have a notoriously poor sense of smell, but it was more than effective enough under those conditions. I have never smelled anything so awful in all my life. I was making a point of taking in big snootfuls to maximize the effect! It was so incredibly and delightfully putrid! Of course, not everyone appreciated the unpleasantness. Just in front of me were a little girl and her parents. All the little girl knew was that she didn't like the smell at all! She was yelling to her parents, "Make it stop! Make it stop!" All I could do was laugh. I spent my last day exploring both sides of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The best moment of the day came after I walked down a long staircase on the wall of the canyon that leads to an observation deck that overlooks the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. The mist follows the canyon walls up to the deck. As the mist fell on my face and filled my nostrils, I stood there staring at the falls with tears of joy welling up in my eyes. I had never seen anything so beautiful. After almost ten years, the memory is still vivid.
I drove out of the park on the Tower Road and headed on down I-90 and spent one last night in Montana. I had to sign in at Ft. Lewis by midnight the next day or be AWOL, but I had plenty of time. I spent the last day of my leave flying down the interstate. I had the "pleasure" of going through construction in Wallace, Idaho! As if the Columbia Basin weren't bleak enough, the sky was overcast. At least it wasn't raining; the Cascades took care of that. I didn't see Rainier for the first time until the next day at Ft. Lewis. Not just a mountain, or even a big mountain, but a huge, white, dormant volcano that dominated the range and loomed over everything!
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