Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aladdin's General Store and Cindy B's

When we left Devils Tower, rather than retrace our route back to Sundance, we headed north on Highway 24 through Hulett with a stop in Aladdin, WY, before reaching home base.

Aladdin is home of the Aladdin General Store, the best preserved of Wyoming's five remaining 19th-century mercantiles.

As the Wyoming tourism web page reads: "When you need everything, including the kitchen sink, there's no better place to go than the Aladdin General Store. The Store, which has been amassing inventory since 1896, has antiques that probably weren't antique when they first came to the store. It also has everything from fishing supplies to clothing, groceries, art, beer and hardware.

"While the store's stock has probably changed a bit over the last 115 years, not much else has. The interior woodwork, cabinetry and windows are all original. The peeling wallpaper upstairs in 'Aladdin's Antique Attic' is original. The roll-top storage bins behind the counter are original... and old scribbled prices on them bear proof of inflation over the years"
( General-Store).

Walking through the store is like walking through displays of flea markets over the past half century. However, to truly study the variety of items for sale, walking would not be the best approach. Gathering a mental inventory would require more standing than walking. Only with a more stationary stance can one spot the one-of-a-kind, have-to-have treasure.

In addition to the antiques, collectibles, household items, and special stuff for sale, patrons can buy groceries, gas, liquor, and locals can pick up their mail. We could imagine this Acme Premier wood-burning stove at the center of a gathering of local residents on a cold Saturday morning.


Had it not been for a recommendation from the Sundance, WY, campground owner, I would have passed right by this place. We have eaten in some dives during our travels, but this place takes “dive-ishness” to whole new levels. But we were told that Cindy B’s Café in Aladdin had great “made from scratch” food; we put reservations aside and ventured in.

The café was purchased by Cindy Bringle in 2001 and probably seats no more than fifty in two small dining areas—one with a small counter. As you can see from the photos, all expense was spared on the décor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often dine while sharing a room with a refrigerator and chest freezer.

Table coverings were green plastic.

The colorful tile-topped table, which went with nothing else in the café, showed that the furniture was mix-and-match.

When we entered, only one table was occupied by an elderly gentleman, but over the course of our meal the café filled to three-fourths capacity with most of the customers knowing each other.

The menu was short and contained three salads (one being a Cobb), seven sandwiches, three burgers, and six dinners (eight-ounce sirloin, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, hamburger steak, fried shrimp, and fish and chips).

We knew something was unusual when a table tent announced that the day’s special beverages were chokecherry ice tea and chokecherry lemonade. We ordered one of each and knew then that this was no typical rural joint. Both beverages had a great, tart cherry flavor.

Chuck ordered the patty melt with cheddar cheese and sautéed onions and with a side of kettle chips. (Other side choices included fries or onion rings). The patty melt came on wonderful marbled rye and was grilled to a crunchy crispness. I thought that the eight-ounce beef patty was a little dry but, again, we forgot to specify medium and this is the result of that oversight. Chuck, on the other hand, disagreed with my assessment.

The accompanying kettle chips were amazing. We had been told that Cindy B makes as many as possible of the food items in-house, but we never expected homemade kettle chips. These weren’t as hard as commercially bagged kettle chips, but still had a nice almost brittle texture and were lightly flavored with some seasoning blend.

Later, when talking with the campground owner, we learned that she orders the patty melt with kettle chips; eats the chips; orders homemade pie; and takes the patty melt home to be reheated for a later meal.

Ordering beef in Wyoming isn’t taking much of a risk. I, on the other hand, violated one of my dining commandments--“Thou shalt not order fish or seafood when one is one hundred miles for a major body of water. I chose the tortilla crusted tilapia filet sandwich on a toasted buttered roll with a side of onion rings.

I don’t for one minute think that the tilapia came into the restaurant in a never-frozen state. This is Aladdin, Wyoming, with a population of fifteen in the middle of nothing. But this was still a very good fish sandwich. The crushed tortilla chips have great a texture contrast to the flakey and moist fish. And the accompanying tartar sauce, which contained minced onion and dill pickle and was lightly lemon flavored, was definitely made in-house. The beer battered onion rings were a bit thickly cut, but still had a light coating.

Too full and too calorie conscious (yes, us) for pie, we left Cindy B’s following a 4.0 Addie lunch. As the trite old saying goes—“never judge a book by its cover.” Or a café by its exterior.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Close Encounter with Devils Tower

Cue the music: the five-note motif* from John Williams' composition for the 1978 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

We left our campground in Sundance, WY, and began our 27-mile trip by heading west on Highway 14, then north on Highway 24 toward Hulett. Minutes after turning north, we saw Devils Tower** rising from the surrounding plains--even from a distance it looked imposing.

Of the several legends surrounding the Tower, this is believed to be the most popular: "One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped upon a rock abot three feet high and began to pray to the rock. 'Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.'

The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and and jumped at the sides of the rock, broke its claws, and fell to the grouknd. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seen little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet."

As one looks at the artist's conceptualization (above) of this legend, and the ridges on the Tower (right and below), it isn't hard to imagine this legend as fact.

"About 50 million years ago, molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rocks exposed Devils Tower" (Park brochure).

The paved mile-and-a-quarter Tower Trail circles the Tower and provides close-up views to the life and activity of the area beneath the tower, which rises 867 feet from its base.

The rocks and boulders around the base are broken pieces of columns which had fallen from the sides.

Some of the views along this walk included this burst of color from the yellow flowers against the background of gray rocks and

the valley below the Tower.

At other locations, we saw prayer cloths hanging from branches of the trees. Devil's Tower is considered a sacred landmark by more than 20 Native American tribes. The Lakota refer to Devil's Tower as Bear Lodge and historically used this sacred place for prayer offerings, among other ceremonies.

This red squirrel paid little attention to me or the other passersby.

We also came upon this group of climbers. In the photo on the right, one climber (top right corner) awaits his three fellow climbers (center, lower portion). (Double clicking the photo will enlarge it.)

As we watched the next stages of the climb, we admired the people who had accepted the challenge of the climb.

The Tower was first climbed in 1893, and today approximately 5000 climbers come here from all over the world each year to climb one of the 220 routes to the Tower's top.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument.

As we were leaving the Park, we again noted the imposing nature of Devils Tower as the clouds formed and the Tower appeared as a silhouette against the horizon.

* We found it interesting that Steven Spielberg a five-note greeting that humans would use to solicit a response from the aliens. Williams had the theme to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in mind from the start (and would eventually weave that tune into the last minutes of his score), but despite Williams' request to be able to use seven or eight notes to form the greeting, Spielberg was steadfast in placing the five-note limit. After all, greetings are meant to be succinct and it's no coincidence that the word "hello" is five letters long. Williams ran through hundreds of permutations and neither man was satisfied with the results. After several sessions, Spielberg chose one out of frustration and, ironically, it was the successful and famous motif known to the world today (

&& The name Devil's Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean "Bad God's Tower." This was later shortened to the Devil's Tower. All information signs in that area use the name "Devils Tower", following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated (

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interior's Human and Natural Landscape

Before leaving South Dakota's Badlands, we took a walk around the area around our campground, located near the town of Interior. The White River runs for most of its length in South Dakota, where it drains to the Missouri River. The tremendous, fossil-rich badlands landscape it adjoins is often referred to as the White River Badlands.

The White River gets its name because it retains a milky hue; its clay sediments--which repel each other with a mild electrical charge--don't settle to the bottom, even when the current slows.

Just a short walk away along the virtually deserted highway was this scene. The colors of the plants and the presence of the wooden fence pieces made an interesting photograph.

This photo shows how close our campground was to the Badlands National Park.

The southeast entrance to the park is named after the town of Interior.

To say the area around Interior is sparsely populated is a definite understatement. The village itself has a population of 94, which, in one sense, is surprising.

With the frequently-visited Badlands minutes away, we expected, as a minimum, the usual array of restaurants, basic services, and the array of souvenir shops. However, the opportunity to live near "bad lands" may lack the appeal necessary to build even a modest population base.

It was late afternoon when we took this short ride around town. The grocery store (photo #4) appeared devoid of shoppers, but the Wagon Wheel (#5) appeared ready to greet diners for dinner.

The Holy Rosary Catholic Church (left) and the First Presbyterian Church (below)seemed well-maintained and serving the small community.

In contrast to the emptiness of the other areas of town, the Cowboy Corner was doing an active business.

The next day, we hitched up and headed to Sundance, WY, for a planned three-day stay.

The trip to Sundance was a relatively short one and the highways were relatively empty, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

And in the wide open space of western South Dakota, we did not catch glimpses of scenery, but long lingering looks were constantly available.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pedro Sez...

“You have to stop at Wall Drug.”

If you have ever found yourself driving on I-95 South to South Carolina, you are sure to have seen the plethora of politically incorrect and stereotypical billboards featuring the Mexican bandido Pedro. He is encouraging you to stop at “South of the Border”—a rest stop and roadside attraction that includes restaurants, a motel, gas station, and tacky souvenir stores.

Pedro entices you to stop with witicisms prefaced with “Pedro Sez”: “Pedro’s Weather Forecast: Chili today, hot tamale!;” “You Never Sausage a Place! (You're Always a Wiener at Pedro's!);” “Keep yelling, kids! (They'll stop.);” and, the worst of the lot, “Honeymoon Suites: Heir Conditioned.” (Aren’t they clever?)

Well, South Dakota has its answer to South of the Border—Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

From the moment we hit I-90 in Murdo and over the intervening eight-two miles west, the landscape was flooded with signs of things to crow about for Wall Drug.

Free ice water.

Frosty beer mugs.

Five-cent coffee.

And the T-Rex Dinosaur.

And more and more. I couldn’t get a photo of the sign encouraging you to buy your cowboy home décor at Wall Drug.

So when we learned that our Badlands scenic drive would bring us about fifteen miles due south of Wall, we decided that a brief—let me emphasize, brief—visit was in order. Along with breakfast.

Yes, we could have eaten at the Wall Drug café, but I was approaching Wall with a bad attitude. Too much touristy schlock. So we rejoiced when we saw the sign at the Cactus Café that read “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” A reprieve.

The Cactus Café has been owned and operated by the same family for fifty years spanning three genera-tions. As the name suggests, the décor theme is heavy on cacti-related ornaments.

The breakfast menu is not long but seems designed for hearty appetites. You can order three-egg omelets, steak and eggs, huevos rancheros, pancakes, French toast, or eggs and meat combos. One item includes biscuits and gravy with eggs, potatoes, and bacon or sausage. Egad!

Chuck, ever the light eater, ordered the chicken fried steak with home fries and scrambled eggs. This was surprisingly good. The steak was crisp and juicy without a trace of gristle, and the white gravy was rich and creamy. The home fries were made with red skin-on potatoes. The eggs were eggs.

My choice was the breakfast burrito filled with eggs, hash browns, and taco seasoned beef and smothered with green chile and cheese. Salsa and sour cream came on the side. The beef did taste of “Ortega” type seasoning and here “less” would have been “more.” But the mildly hot green chile had a nice fresh pepper flavor and a bit of chile heat. This was so large that half came home and was eaten for breakfast the next morning.

While certainly not the greatest breakfast ever, this did surpass our expecta-tions. We were looking for merely sustenance and got more than that and award the Cactus Café 3.5 Addies. Now off for a bit of touristy schlock.

Right across the street was the promised Wall Drug. It covered an entire block, although we weren't quite sure if every store within the block was truly part of Wall Drug.

Just above the door on the left is an arrow and a sign that reads "Wall Drug Main Entrance No. 3." This door led into a huge space with a cafe that seats 500 and a large store with every tourist souvenir imaginable. And even though this space was expansive, in this town with a population of 786, the large store was filled with travelers who, no doubt, just had to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the other entrances opened into an enclosed passageway with small shops opening off the walkway. It had the flavor of a carnival midway. And surprisingly, along with the life-size figures and popcorn and candy stands, there was even a very small drug store.

In December of 1931, Dorothy and Ted Hustead opened the drug store in a town of 326 poor people in the "middle of nowhere." They gave themselves five years to make a go of it.

In July of 1936, with barely five months left in their self-determined time limit, Dorothy, noticing all the cars passing by the town, noted: "Well, now what is it that those travelers really want after driving across that hot prairie? They're thirsty. They want water. Ice cold water!"

Placing signs, fashioned along the lines of the Burma Shave signs, along the highway was a success. "For hours we poured gallons of ice water, made ice cream cones and gave highway directions. When the travelers started on their way again, refreshed and ready for new adventures, they gave us hearty thanks."

And today as many as 20,000 visitors a day stop into Wall Drug to get refreshed.