Tuesday, September 8, 2015


West of Denver, and fittingly, just down the hill from the grave site of Buffalo Bill on Lookout Mountain, you can find one of the state's most beloved attractions - Denver's American Bison (commonly referred to as Buffalo, also) herd.  They have an area on both sides of the highway, with passage underneath, so it's always a game of "I-Spy" on any given day, whether they will be within sight.  This day, we got extremely lucky - not only in sight, but close enough to photograph (after a small hike back), from behind the protection of a heavy fence.
In 1914, Denver acquired both Bison and Elk from the herds in Yellowstone, hoping to propagate the Bison and improve their odds against extinction.  The herd was split in 1939, and moved to another spot in the state of CO (Daniel's Park, by Castle Rock) - both herds are said to be maintained now at about 24 adult animals.  Small numbers, but a mighty and moving sight.
The American Bison once freely roamed the Great Plains and much of North America, numbering in the tens of millions.  Imagine a hillside like the one above, completely covered, as far as you could see.  These animals were critically important to the Plains Indian societies, being considered a sacred animal and religious symbol.  Not only did they provide food for these peoples, but the entire animal was revered and used, when taken - and they were only taken as needed.
During the 19th century, some 50 million of these great beasts were killed, mainly for sport, by the white man...MOST left simply to rot on the open prairies, the thrill of the slaughter being the main motivation.
These enormous herds were reduced to a few hundred animals in record time.  Pre-1800 estimations on numbers of bison is in the 60,000,000 (that's 60 MILLION) range.  By 1900, there were 300 left in the US.  Their numbers today are said to be somewhere around 200,000, with protected herds mainly on preserves and private ranches.
Standing about 60 to 70" high at the shoulders, the males can top the scales at over a ton.  Both sexes have horns.  For the first two months of life, the calves are a light, reddish-brown color, before turning dark, like the adults.  They do have a thicker coat in winter, which is what you see them shedding in these photos. Life expectancy for these mighty animals, under today's conditions, can be around 25 years.
Enjoying a lazy day - this was obviously "THE Man" - that's a female behind him.  They look docile, but are definitely not a force to be reckoned with - each year there are reports of gorings of ignorant tourists (mainly in Yellowstone National Park, where they roam free). Fences are in place for a reason (it also takes a LOT to contain Bison - ordinary fences don't usually deter them if they want out) - respect the fence that was put there for your protection.
These magnificent beasts are another reminder of the great stupidity and greed of man - almost doomed to never be seen by any of us, or our children and future generations.  Brought back from the brink, most thankfully.
Want to see this group?  Start looking at Exit 254 on I-70, around the Genesee Park area west of Denver.  Stop and marvel at this remarkable remainder of what once was the American Wild West.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


I do a few weeks of traveling through Native American lands every summer, in New Mexico and Arizona.  These states are dotted with what remains as a reminder of some of the worst travesties inflicted upon a people by the greed of the United States government - the Indian Reservations of the American Southwest.  I have a weird relative that halfway believed, right up until a few years ago, that Indians lived in tepees, still.  Those would probably be more comfortable than some of the hard truths of the reservations of today, and those that choose to remain - but that's a post/photos for another day.  Today is for old traditions being passed, thankfully, to a younger generation - at least in one family, but I'm hoping this rings true for quite a few.
We spent a day at the Loveland Invitational Fine Arts Festival, outside of Denver, this past month. The arts committee had brought in the Tony Duncan family, from Mesa, Arizona, to entertain during a short period of the first morning.  Tony, and his three beautiful children, ranging in age from 6 to 2 - not only is dad (with Apache/Arikara/Hidasta tribal nation roots) an accomplished Native American Flute player, he is also a 5-time World Champion Hoop Dancer.  We were told that Mom, Violet Duncan (Plains Cree and Taino), an author and former Miss Indian World, was the one responsible for most of the beadwork seen that day.
She's already been a Tiny Tot Princess, several times over!  These are not everyday clothes, but typically reserved for ceremonial dances, such as the big Pow Wows (the family had spent the summer apart, attending events in Canada and the States).  The dress worn here is referred to as a Jingle Dress.  Originating with the Ojibwa tribes, and spreading through the Sioux nation and Plains tribes later, the tin cones on the dresses were originally fashioned from tobacco can lids.  The sound is enchanting.
Mom's brother hailed from Canada, and performed the fast-paced Men's Fancy Dance, based loosely on the War Dance.  During the 20's and 30's, many of the Native American dances were outlawed by the American and Canadian governments.  Many dances went underground to avoid detection, and eventually dances were reworked as to be danced legally in public.
The Kiowas and Comanches created new styles of dance regalia in the1930s, that included long-johns with bells attached to the knees, arm and back bustles, beadwork harnesses, feathers, streamers of horsehair, and a large porcupine hair roach atop the head.  This was all eventually incorporated into the Fancy Dance.
The Grass Dance was another Northern Plains Indian style of dance.  The dance wear generally has few feathers, as compared with the Fancy Dancers, but is plentiful with swaying fringes of yarn and ribbons.  Not as fast as the Fancy Dance, this is still "taxing" in its movements.  We were told this dancer was of the Arikara nation - gorgeous regalia including another beautiful roach atop his head, colorful applique work, and what appeared to be porcupine quill work on the dance moccasins. 
As someone who "dabbles" in sewing and the occasional beaded piece of jewelry, I can tell you the sheer amount of skill and time in these handmade pieces was mind boggling!  The breastplate on the upper right was all hand beaded by the dancer's sister (Violet), and I had to smile at the little guy's beaded Ninja Turtle medallion - infusing new with old.
Dad (Mom can be seen in the background) and the Hoop Dance - a storytelling of sorts, with the use of between 1 to 30 hoops, at any given time.  During the dance, shapes are formed for storytelling - eagle, snake, coyote, to name a few,  Fast-paced, with the dancer moving through or using the hoops as an extension of his body - Tony Duncan holds 5 World Championships, and is now passing his art down to his little ones.
Another beautiful example of Violet's mind-blowing beadwork craftsmanship, and Tony's prowess with the hoops.
Truly a modern-day family affair of time-worn traditions, most thankfully!
Which brings me to the youngest of the troupe - Manaya, Naiche, and little Nitanis.  Words cannot express the love on this stage - proud of a heritage, and carrying on the old ways through a new generation.  The oldest daughter poised beyond belief at 6 years old - performing dances completely by herself, as well as with her younger siblings.
It saddens me to see many of the old ways and traditions (crafting and ceremonial events included), being pushed aside due to progress and time, and a desire for moving ahead with "the new"...
THIS renewed a hope that all is not lost - carried on through the eyes and hearts of these little ones. Also, a pretty cool day at the park with Dad - I could never really master a Hula Hoop, and these little ones have it going on, and then some!  Carry on, Duncan Family - you're doing it COMPLETELY right!

Sunday, August 30, 2015


The rest of the best...just a few descriptive comments for the ones who don't recognize what they're seeing - the Aladdin's lamp from atop the Aladdin Casino (now Planet Hollywood); the first half of the Stardust sign (another casino of Vegas "legend" now).
Lido de Paris, which was inside the Stardust Casino; Fitzgerald's golden coinage; and retro stars from the Stardust.
So much going on here, and not sure of all of it, but definitely a shamrock from Fitzgerald's; the old Riviera sign in the background; a large E that looks to be from the Frontier, at one time; and a king among men, though I didn't pay attention to where he held court before the Boneyard.
The old El Cortez sign (the hotel still operates downtown); and The Showboat (up the river without a paddle - in other words...gone, too).
The old Sahara Hotel and Casino - gone, but replaced by the SLS (referred to by some locals as the Sahara with Lip Stick).
You got me?!
One of the old motels on the outskirts of town.
Local signage - the pool player is all welded metal and rebar - pretty impressive work of art.
Self explanatory.
Wedding chapel, dry cleaners, Fox Theater, and the Flamingo; a hod-podge of business signage, including TELEMUNDO!; the old Silver Slipper and Desert Inn signs; and the last Frontier.  Gone, gone, and gone.
Silver Slipper; letters from the Desert Inn; and star from the Tropicana, I believe.
Wedding Chapel sign bottom right.
Lady Luck and Fitzgerald's.
Tropicana (still around); Moulin Rouge (long gone); and the Shamrock from Fitzgerald's.  The DUCK mentioned in the first post - a LARGE sign from a local used car dealership.  Great example of how intricate some of the neon could be - the blue channels between the features and yellow feathers, separated the different colors of neon, so it didn't all "blend together" upon viewing from a distance!
Vegas was home to "Mr. Showmanship", Liberace, for years before his death in 1987.  This hung above the old Liberace Museum in town, which is now defunct - his mansion has recently been restored to it's old grandeur.
Fun among the signs...Queen of Hearts Hotel (formerly The Casbah), was demolished in 2010.
And last, but never least, the large Silver Slipper that once stood high above the old Strip Casino and Hotel.  This stands to the side of the Neon Museum on LV Blvd., as part of the National Scenic Byways “Neon Signs” Project. The Museum (or Boneyard, as it is lovingly known around town) was established in 1996 (I first walked the lot in 95'), as a not-for-profit organization, the Museum's mission is to collect, preserve, and exhibit the classic Las Vegas art form of neon.  All proceeds from sales/"donations" of ticket prices go directly for preservation of the signs (the latest is the Desert Rose Motel sign).  In town and want to check it out?   They're serving Cosmic Cocktails among the lit signs on the evening of September 18th -

Friday, August 28, 2015


Today's the day my Mom was born, and celebrates as her own.  I miss being home for the special days, but celebrate them each and every day, in my heart...today is one of the most special!
She's our rock - our anchor.  Loved by all - envied by some - hated by the new insurance companies (HA!).  Barbara; Bobbie; Babe; Mom; Gra (as in "Graugh" - the name my 1-year-old son hung on her, that has stuck a lifetime...my two kids STILL call her Gra to this day); Grandma; Great-Grandma; love of our lives.  These were all taken this summer in Santa Fe, and Denver - she makes oppressive heat look cool, somehow!  She'll be here in a few weeks, and we will continue the celebration we started last month, when I was home.  Party Central's got nuthin' on us, girl!
So, here's to you, Barb - 29 never looked better!  Love you to the moon and back, Mom - XOXO

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


What better way to start off vacation photos than with a trip through my "backyard".  A nod, right off the bat, to the latest Las Vegas iconic casino to close (just this past week) - the old downtown Las Vegas Club Casino.  Disclaimer up front, these have all been color enhanced a wee bit - these old signs screamed "circus sideshow feel" to me the other day, so I breathed just a tad of life back into them.  Beautiful on their own, these faded beauties made me smile with the added "oomph" to their old colors - I do love color!  This will be a two-part post - "Field Trip Friday" will follow...on Friday, of course.
If you're in Vegas (or you live here and don't get out much), this is one of the BEST attractions outside of the glitz and glamour of the casinos - the signs that lead many TO the glitz and glamour INSIDE the casinos. Two acres (it's all outdoors, so plan accordingly - umbrellas and water are HIGHLY recommended) and 150+ old rescued neon signs, ranging from the recognizable Las Vegas landmarks, to restaurants, to a duck from a used car dealership.  It's where old signs go to die...and hopefully find new life at the hands of some great restorative workmanship.  The giant Silver Slipper is one of eight, so far, placed at various spots along downtown Las Vegas Boulevard.
The lobby from the original La Concha Hotel was moved in 2006, from it's location on the Las Vegas Strip, to serve as the museum's Visitor Center.  Originally built in 1961, it's the perfect example of the space-age/atomic craze of the time (THE "Bomb" had its beginnings here in the Vegas desert. Vegas also houses The National Atomic Testing Museum, which is quite something to see, too).   Tours are all docent guided, and all start through these doors. The upper right neon sign was from the original facade at Binion's Horseshoe Casino.
One of the original downtown casinos - the Golden Nugget, built in 1946.
It is thought that the 1905 reference above the big golden nugget is to the year Las Vegas was incorporated as a city.
The La Concha sign traveled with the original lobby.  Large pink feather from The Flamingo, resting in front of the old Fox Theater sign. The remaining letters from the Moulin Rouge Casino are bottom right.
So many memories down this lane - Stardust, Showboat, Sahara, Sassy Sally's - all visible remnants. The City Center Motel sign leads me to wonder if the NOW City Center complex wasn't named for this, exactly! And the lower right is, obviously, the "money shot"!
Sassy Sally's
Two of the more "old school" memories - Binion's Horseshoe and The Stardust signs.
In addition to the "big guns" of Las Vegas neon, are the smaller motels and restaurants.  It's amazing to me just how much of the original neon tubing, and how many of the light bulbs have actually lasted, intact, over all these years (and moves).
The Minima sign was in front of a roadside truck-stop - offering free aspirin and "tender mercies" for those leaving town (the amount of free aspirin given away was staggering).  The "Color TV" sign made me smile - SUCH a big deal in the motels at one time...something we take for granted now.
Neon letters - I go back in a few weeks, and have promised myself an entire alphabet.  This was my third trip through - ten years ago were the first two treks.  Ten years ago, this was housed in a LARGE, fenced, vacant lot with knee-high weeds, broken glass, and a seriously different vibe, though WAY fabulous.  Today, you walk with your head up and not looking down at what you are stepping on, through some seriously well thought-out display areas.  My fine-arts grad daughter even commented on the great shadows being cast by the structures that day, along with the obvious visual overload.
This trip was spent with two of my favorite girls...my daughter Jaci (pronounced "Jackie"), and her cousin (my niece), Jessi.  Lots of photo ops here, along with some great history on the signs AND the town itself - the docents are well versed.  A little more about the park itself on Friday, but you can click here
If you want to go, and are facing incredible daytime heat (we are STILL in triple digits - I was watching last night, and at 9:00 p.m., it was 99 degrees), shoot for the morning hours.  If the heat doesn't bother you (it's not this hot ALL year round - just most of it), you're "in like Flynn! Take that water - take that umbrella - make your reservations in advance, as they are selling out weeks in advance - yes, it's that cool!