Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More Than Meets the Eye...

Mike Yonts Films recently had a very fun time shooting a new TV spot for the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. It's for their new exhibit entitled "Transformers: Robots in Disguise.™" And they were kind enough to feature us in a blog post about the entire production process.

Friday, March 27, 2015


My good friends at Vincennes University have been recognized for their advertising efforts with a bunch of awards!  I've been helping them create their TV spots for several years, and so I was flattered to get a mention.

Every trip down there is challenging and fun.  Congratulations, VU!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation takes up a huge chunk of South Dakota, and I wanted to see some of it.  Before we started our trip, I had contacted the Odd Duck Inn on the reservation near the tiny town of Kyle, and booked a night for myself and my son Max.  Now, after a couple of nights of camping, we were looking forward to sleeping indoors.  We packed up our gear and drove south through Badlands National Park one last time.  After we got onto the reservation and went through Kyle, the road became gravel.  At the end of a washboard road we found a couple of trailers: plain, a little weather-beaten, but clean and comfortable on the inside:

The owners of Odd Duck are Mark St. Pierre, a writer, filmmaker, and passionate advocate for the Lakota people who live at Pine Ridge; and his wife Tilda Long Soldier St. Pierre, an artist and a full-blood Lakota.  We had hoped to arrange a few hours of horseback riding, but when that fell through, Mark took us on a tour of the reservation.  He proudly showed us the college, a small tourism center, and a movie theater that was started by a member of the reservation.  He talked about how important local businesses are to keeping some of the money on the reservation.  He pointed out a credit union that's about to open–the first banking services ever available without a long drive.

On several occasions he emphasized how well cared-for the facilities were.  He was clearly irritated by talk that it's futile to provide the reservation with any help.

In another part of Pine Ridge he showed us some of the Oligocene fossils that weather out of the buttes.

He took us to the little town of Wounded Knee, known for a 19th century massacre and for a standoff between Native people and the federal government in the 1970's.  The Lakota killed in the 1890 massacre were thrown into a long trench.  About 20 years later their families marked the mass grave and erected a memorial.

People leave offerings and prayer flags today.

The site is still used as a cemetery.  Mark pointed out that, tragic as the deaths 120 and 40 years ago were, there is other tragedy represented in the graveyard.  Many of the graves contain people who died young and poor.

Mark works at a nonprofit development organization, although lately they haven't been able to pay him, so he's more of a volunteer.  Whenever somebody tries to make things better on the reservation, he's there to help however he can.

Back at Odd Duck, I paid Mark for the stay and the tour, and I bought one of his books as well as a DVD of one of his documentaries.  I went to bed and listened to the rain on the roof, and was pretty sure I heard coyotes.

They're Real!

At Wall Drug, a jackanapes on a jackalope:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

In search of something tamer than the wind and sun of the Badlands, we went looking for some intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Luckily, South Dakota has plenty of those.  With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, many of them have been dismantled, with one unarmed missile and a launch control facility preserved for tours.  (There are still nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missiles deployed in other parts of the west.)

The Wikipedia entry describes the site very well, so there's no need for me to repeat that information.  To take the tour, you need to find the Conoco station at the same exit on I-90 as the eastern entrance to Badlands National Park.  There's a trailer at the south end of the parking lot that houses a visitor center with a couple of displays, a short movie, and the ticketing.  It's not the most dignified home for a facility that could have helped end all life on earth!  But apparently a new one is in the works.  The best way to get a ticket is to be waiting for them to open at 8:00 AM–they sell out early many days.  You'll get directions to a couple of other I-90 exits a few miles away.

The launch control center houses one of the the famous facilities where two Air Force officers known as missileers sat ready to turn the keys as depicted in many movies.  While you're waiting to get in, though, you might see a sight that looks like it came from a different film genre:

Cowboys! Riding horses, herding cattle, wearing hats, the whole thing.  It's a great example of the contrasts that you see in this part of the country.

Inside the facility you see the very ordinary living arrangements used by the people who worked or visited.  The facility was handed directly from the Defense Department to the National Park Service, so everything is preserved in its early-1990's glory.

Then you crowd into a small elevator and ride down thirty feet.  After you step out of the elevator, you see the massive blast door, painted with some wacky end-of-the-world humor:

Behind the blast door is the room where the two officers sat during their shifts.  If they ever had received valid launch codes, they would have taken keys from lock boxes and turned them at the same time, give or take a second or two.  Contrary to what you see in movies, this was only one part of the launch process.  Two turning keys alone would not have launched missiles.

The control facilities were guarded fairly heavily, but surprisingly, the missile silos were unguarded.  The silos were surrounded by fences with motion detectors.  If a cow, a protestor, or anyone else set off an alarm, security people got into a vehicle like this:

They went to the missile silo and chased off or arrested whoever was there.  The guy who gave us the tour said that during the Cold War a minister climbed the fence of a silo once a year, laid a flower on the silo, and waited to be arrested.

To see the missile in its silo, you go to yet another exit on I-90 and follow the signs.  The silo was originally covered by a massive door that was supposed to shoot off and land a hundred feet away in the event of a launch.  That door has been moved partly open and covered with a glass enclosure so that the missile is visible:

And there it is, an inactive Minuteman II:

Our tour guide (who doesn't go to the silo–that part is self-guided) said that he has talked to many missile personnel on the tours.  In the event of a launch, they would have been told to "await further orders."  If it ever really happened, most of the population of the earth would have been dead or dying, including every member of the missileers' families.  Most of them told our guide that they had planned to launch the missiles, go upstairs, crack open a beer, and watch the fireworks.  What else would be left to do?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Badlands National Park

From the Meadow of Strange Art we continued west on I-90 to Badlands National Park.  (Nature helpfully located many of South Dakota's most interesting features right next to the interstate!)  It's two parks in one: the eroded buttes and spires that give it its name, and enormous stretches or grassland that are home to bison, mule deer, antelope, and prairie dogs.

We pitched our tent in the primitive campground, which featured nothing but picnic tables and pit toilets.  Backcounty camping is permitted in some parts of the park, but the views wouldn't have been much different.

We stayed two nights, and the weather followed a consistent pattern: strong wind, distant thunder-and-lightning, dramatic skies, but little-to-no rain.  Around dusk coyotes would start yipping, usually from multiple directions.  It sounded like we were surrounded!  At some point the first night, the wind blew so hard that the tent wall started pushing in on us.  I was lying there in my sleeping bag holding it up and wondering if we should run for the car.  Little did I know that would be a common occurrence as the week went on!

We saw two separate bison herds, with maybe two hundred individuals in each one.  Solitary bulls would amble right by the campground early in the morning and late in the evening.  

Prairie dogs were in their villages, doing their standing-on-the-hind-legs act.  If we stopped the car to take pictures, they prepared to duck into their holes.  I'm sure the local people think of them as pests, but since I don't farm or ranch, I just think of them as cute.

Not long after we arrived, we saw a family (a flock?) of bighorn sheep right by the road, with several people pulled over to take pictures.  We didn't have a camera in a convenient place, so we didn't take any pictures.  (We learned our lesson after that!)  But one morning we got up early and managed a few shots of one:

Early morning and late evening are great times to see wildlife, and provide beautiful light for photography:

Badlands is one of those parks that's a little less known, so it's not full of people in the summer–my favorite kind!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Porter Sculpture Park

Once you're on Interstate 90, head west through the Great Plains section of South Dakota until you see the head of a giant bull rising from the prairie.  Get off the highway at the exit and follow the signs down a dirt road, past a herd of real cows, and you'll be at Porter Sculpture Park.  Pay the small admission fee and have a look at a strange collection of welded work by South Dakota native Wayne Porter.

The centerpiece is this enormous bull head, guarded by sheep-skulled skeleton soldiers, and tended by faceless monks, all welded from scrap steel:

There is a small amount of political commentary, with the occasional misspelling:

And everyday animals, fantastical animals, and mundane objects writ large:

What do these sculptures mean?  The answers are as elusive as the wind that howls through their empty eye sockets.