Friday, May 8, 2009
North Dakota Heritage Museum and Knife River Indian Villages
It was time for me to renew my Red Cross First Aid (every 3 years) and my CPR/AED (every year) this week, and I traveled to Bismarck, ND to the Red Cross office to take care of it. Last year, I was able to retrain with the park, but the schedule with moving over to Pipestone made that impossible. I was pleased to be able to do the training portion of the recertification online, through a curriculum put together mostly by the Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis. Having different videos to watch and the ability to get up and move around more often and not worrying about how bored I looked while watching the video really made for smooth sailing. With the three hours of classes out of the way, doing the practical portion in Bismarck went quickly.
Amber had decided to take the day off of work and tag along. She studied her project management book while I was performing CPR on mannequins, which, to me, looked a lot like taking a nap, based on what I saw when I got back to the car. We had debated what to do while there, and I suggested the North Dakota Heritage Center, located across the street from the brutal state capitol building.
We walked around outside a little bit before going into the museum, finding a statue of Sacagawea, another of a bison, and then proceeded through the unnecessarily angled doors to the Heritage Center. A retired man volunteering there greeted us, and proceeded to give us the "brief" explanation of the museum, which felt like it took ten minutes as he brutally explained every corner of the museum in alternating excruciating detail and frustrated forgetfulness. I sort of stopped listening when he talked about people "coming to North Dakota," and then indicating that "I guess the Indians were coming here at that same time, 1733, too." No, dude, they were here for about 9,000 years before that, as your museum indicates with all the clovis spear points. I felt sorry for him and just wanted to take the map and be on my way.
The museum is divided into every facet of North Dakota history, starting with natural history. There is an impressive bird collection. Amber and I played a bird ID game where I tried to ID all of them. It's hard with taxidermied birds all mixed together because the context of habitat, behavior, and sound are all taken away, plus the feathers lose some of their color over time.
Beyond that was a section of paleontology. My favorite was the dromaeosaur display, a dinosaur that is about 6 feet long with that long tail. The resemblance to modern birds is striking, yet because of the clawed hands, seems that much more terrifying. If these were running around today, people would freak out. I think they're awesome. I often look at modern birds and think of them as dinosaurs.
Behind the dromaeosaurs was a nice, big picture of the Little Missouri badlands - my home - with a model of a big, honking oil well in front of it. How sad that someone would be proud of this. Speaking of the badlands, and of terrifying beasts, how about this prehistoric bison?
One exhibit highlighted the importance of bison for native peoples, explaining in the usual ways how different parts of the bison could be used for a number of purposes. You had to look on the opposite wall to see the most interesting point about that, though, which was a seeminly out of place black barrel labeled "crude oil." The message by the barrel contained a warning that the natives' dependence on bison was not unlike our dependence on oil today.
As we continued clockwise around the museum, time progressed through the 18th and 19th centuries, which included diary entries from early settlers questioning why they had tried to live in such a terrible, terrible place. Norwegian stubbornness paid off eventually. There was a display that showed some of the familiar Norwegian colors and designs used on clothing and other household items.
Tucked away near the entrance, seemingly almost an afterthought, was a display on the Cold War. We almost skipped it in our desire to get back outside and on to Famous Dave's for lunch, but I was glad I detoured over to it. This little cove of the museum described North Dakota's role as the front line of the Cold War, mainly because Minot AFB was a nuclear strongpoint. A map compiled from information obtained from the former Soviet Union in 1990 showed all of the nuclear targets in the state that would have been bombed by the Soviets if it had come to that.
The centerpiece of the Cold War exhibit was a reconstruction of one fellow's bomb shelter, basically a transplant of the actual shelter. It was eerie, the stuff of video game legend. It had all of its original accoutrements including canned food, cots, sanitation kits, citizens band radio, and survival guides.
One of the placards explained that fallout shelters were "a fad of the 1950s and 1960s," and that what the government did not tell people was that, fallout shelter or not, they were screwed in the event of a nuclear attack. They had an actual school desk and an explanation of "Duck and Cover" to highlight the futility. Putting that stuff in a museum setting seemed to highlight the futility.
Following lunch, and a shopping excursion for new shoes and a wok (it's a pun, but it's true), we continued on to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. We walked around the earth lodge, which was stocked with all of its artifacts, and took the walk out to the two village sites near the visitor center. I observed clay-colored sparrows and tree swallows, and Amber found the white-crowned sparrows. I knew well enough to expect pheasants to explode out of the grass, but they seemed to take Amber by surprise the couple of times it happened. I have a double hatred of pheasants, first as a non-native species wrecking the balance of native plants and animals and second as a threat to pleasant walking and driving. It's easy to find bones emerging from the soil around the village sites, indicating that these villages were occupied not so long ago. I found a partially worked piece of flint, and reburied it as I had done when I walked around the site with one of the rangers there on my first official visit to the site back in 2007, so that others would not disturb it or steal it.
Along the river at the site, the power of the Knife River to erode the banks in the last flood was evident. Iron spikes for the barbed wire fence along the trail had been bent over 90 degrees and a lot of debris had floated up to the trail. In another area, flooding wiped out part of the park's service road. Flooding did uncover some interesting new features, as an article in the Bismarck Tribune indicated.
On the home front, the leaves continue to sprout from the bushes and much-anticipated summer birds are becoming more numerous. White-crowned sparrows have been visiting the seed I put out for the birds by my apartment, as have some spotted towhees and a Lincoln's sparrow. I also heard a field sparrow yesterday. The towhees are fun to watch. It's the closest I can get to attracting a dromaeosaur to my window.
Lastly, I would like to mourn the passing of an old companion, a juice pitcher from my childhood. The seal was getting leaky and dumping precious orange juice on the counter whenever I poured it, and its time for a replacement finally came.