RoadTrip 16: Parting Shots


Photo bomb at Mousehouse Cheesehaus, Windsor, WI


Green Giant Statue, Blue Earth, MN


Mixed messages, Deadwood, SD


Wall Drug, Wall, SD


Big Bear Motel, Cody, WY


Wildlife encounter in Cody, WY


Quiet reflections, Moran, WY


Morning meditations, Badlands, SD


Scat, Beartooth Highway, Montana

Photos ©2016

RoadTrip 16: Speaking of Stories

The first book I read upon my return home from the epic RoadTrip 16 was Jenny of the Tetons by Kristiana Gregory. It’s a sweet piece of historical fiction written for young adults based on the life of English trapper Beaver Dick Leigh, his Shoshoni wife Jenny, and their children. Using excerpts from Leigh’s own journal, the book tells a story of this pioneer family living in the Grand Tetons of the 1870s.

Wonderfully, Gregory was able to obtain a photo of the Leighs from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, which makes the story all the more poignant.

The photo, the maps, and her descriptions of the Tetons and Wyoming offered a chance to see the place I had just visited in more vivid and layered detail. Perhaps that is why I arrived home with a small collection of books, and an even larger Reading List—both related and completely otherwise—dotting the map from Wisconsin all the way to Jenny’s Grand Tetons!

Maybe you’ll find something that whets your curiosity, too!

Spring Green, Wisconsin
The Women, T. C. Boyle
Loving Frank, Nancy Horan
Frank Lloyd Wright & His Manner of Thought, Jerome Klinkowitz
Never Enough: The Creative Life of Alex Jordan, Tom Kupsh
The Bird Sisters, Rebecca Rasmussen
A Basket of Sculptured Thoughts, Gladys Walsh
The Fellowship, Harold Zellman and Roger Friedland

McGregor, Iowa
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Little House on the Prarie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pipestone, Minnesota
Sister to the Sioux, Elaine Goodale Eastman
Old Indian Legends, Zitkala-Sa

Rapid City, South Dakota
The Thin Place, Kathryn Davis
Independence Day, Richard Ford
Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide
Waiting, Ha Jin
My Seven Lives, Solveig Sedlet
The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Crazy Horse, South Dakota
Flight, Sherman Alexie
Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexie
The Spirit of Indian Women, Judith Fitzgerald and Michael Oren Fitzgerald

Yellowstone, Wyoming
Death in Yellowstone, Lee H Whittlesey

Jackson, Wyoming
La Rose, Louise Erdrich
The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams
The Earth Shall Weep, James Wilson


©2016 Jen Payne. Photos: reading in the library room at Hisega Lodge; message at Art Alley, Rapid City, SD

RoadTrip 16: Everyone Has a Story

DeLinda and my journey began 25 years ago on Chapel Street in New Haven. It includes miles in Connecticut and Texas, days along city streets and back roads in France, and now great expanses of highway from the east coast to Wyoming. We have a story.

We have a story that intertwines with others’ stories…

Like the cool family who recently purchased the Hisega Lodge near Rapid City, South Dakota (above). Taking over this historic 1908 lodge was no small feat, but they seem to have settled in quite nicely. They’ve created a friendly and easy-going space for guests, staff and their gregarious son, Dash. They have a story.

stories-003Their guests have stories, too, like Justin and Robin from Kansas — the enviably energetic young couple who loved to be outdoors, and especially enjoyed the breakfasts at Hisega. Or George and Deb from Colorado who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. Quiet conversations over breakfast and on the sprawling front porch revealed a recent tragedy in their life, as well as an amazing sense of gratitude. They definitely had a story to share!

stories-004Like “Kentucky,” the traveler we met along the Beartooth Highway near the Montana border. His favorite place in the world was Yellowstone, he’d traveled there many times. The Lamar Valley was the best place to see wildlife, he told us. He was wide-eyed with wonder, like a child might be seeing something for the first time, and willing to share his enthusiasm with us and with others along the way.

stories-005“New Jersey” had a story, too. We met him on the benches near Old Faithful. He was introducing himself, getting us to talk to each other in that way folks used to but don’t quite as much anymore. Getting us to see the connections—“I lived there, too.” “I went to school there.” “My parent grew up in the next town over.”

Such a small world.

Indeed. We met up with “Kentucky” again at Old Faithful, some 350 miles and 24 hours later. And the next day, we reconnected with “New Jersey” — at Jackson Lake Lodge, where we all enjoyed a view of the sun setting below the Grand Tetons.

The happenstance of all of that is part of our story now, too. And theirs.

©2016, Jen Payne

RoadTrip 16: Creative Interpretation

The world was never meant to be WYSIWYG. It’s meant to be torn open, explored, interpreted, and shared through the lens of creativity. That’s why the Universe made artists — in all of our weird and wacky permutations.

Take, for example, the carousel at House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, seen above. Sure, its creator Alex Jordan could have simply built a carousel. He could have found a place on the rolling farmland near Deer Shelter Rock and built a sweet little merry-go-round with colorful horses for guests to ride. OR. Or, he could have built the largest carousel imaginable, built it inside a room in his house, and then furnished it with over 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers, hundreds of mannequin angels, and 269 animals not one of which is an actual horse!

A walk through House on the Rock — well worth the drive to southeast Wisconsin — is a walk through true creative genius. Or true insanity. Take your pick. Still worth it. Author Neil Gaiman writes about it in American Gods: “Forty years ago, Alex Jordan…began to build a house on a high jut of rock in a field he did not own, and even he could not have told you why. And people came to see him build it – the curious, and the puzzled, and those who were neither and who could not honestly have told you why they came.” Dylan Thuras, co-founder of Atlas Obscura calls it “one of the greatest works of installation art ever created.”

From the envious architectural structure of the house itself and all of its shadowy nooks and overlooks, to the myriad of displays, walkways, collections, gardens, and themed spaces of the museum, you can almost hear the murmur of Jordan’s internal collaborations: Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, P.T. Barnum, Dante Alighieri, Gustov Doré, Giovanni Battista Piranesi.


“What inspires most creators I think is an unquiet mind,” says artist Wayne Porter, creator of the Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota (pictured below). “That, and a sense of play.”

wayneporterYou certainly see that at House on the Rock AND in Wayne’s own phenomenal collection. Set on 10 acres right along I-90, he has created more than 50 metal sculptures with names like Smell the Roses While You Can and The Magic Dragon. But don’t let the colorful pieces fool you, there’s an edge to Wayne’s work that speak frankly of that unquiet mind, of the internal conflicts we all confront. Sure, carefree goldfish swim across an open meadow and a giant vase of red flowers entertains a nearby heard of live cattle, but wander father afield to see a mangled Wise Man, the Dissection of a frog prince and maniacal Jack-in-the-Box. Take heart, though, “Pain and joy can co-exist,” Wayne explains in on of the many signs that dot the park, “but neither stays forever.”

So what inspires this SDSU graduate turned sheep farmer turned artist? “Where one comes from matters. I am from an area with lots of horses and cows so it turns up in art. Every book one reads becomes part of oneself and those thoughts can turn up in art. My political science and history interest can be seen in the art and poetry.”

Wait, poetry? Yes. Accompanying the fantastical display of metalwork are a number of Wayne’s original poems. Together, they give you insights into this creative man who works on a hillside next to a highway, greets curious travelers like old friends, and shares his story with the lucky ones who happen upon his world.

“It’s about how we assemble our lives by the decisions we make.” — Ballerina, Wayne Porter


Carousel photo courtesy of House on the Rock. RoadTrip text, carousel video and photos ©2016, Jen Payne.

RoadTrip 16: Wide-Open Spaces

Did you know that there are there are 58 national parks and more than 150 national monuments across this county? Not to mention the hundreds of historic sights, state and national forests, and scenic byways. Each offers a fascinating glimpse into our history as a country and as a culture — perhaps even providing insight to the issues that plague us in these tumultuous times.

Being away from the headlines and out in wide-open spaces lent new perspective on this amazing and wondrous country. From the grandeur of our National Parks like Badlands, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons, to the significance of National Monuments like Pipestone, Devils Tower, and Mount Rushmore, it was easy to see the diverse fibers of this nation. We are not one color, one voice, one god. We are many, sewn together in the quilt pattern so easily seen from above

Easily seen, too, if you make time to get off the highways and visit places like Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Black Hills National Forest, or Custer State Park.

At each of these special spaces, there are dedicated stewards; people like you and me, who love their country, love nature and history and literature. Individuals from different backgrounds and with different influences and beliefs who are passionate about protecting the vast and varied blessings of this country.

This year, the National Park Service celebrates its Centennial Anniversary. That’s one hundred years of conserving “scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein.” That’s one hundred years of honoring the diversity and differences that make this country so amazing.

Even better? You don’t even have to drive 3,700 miles. Click here to find a National Park near you, then make plans to visit soon. We are blessed by this country’s abundance, go see for yourself!


Shores of Lake Michigan


Indian Lake Passage near Spring Green, Wisconsin


Pipestone, Minnesota


Pipestone National Monument Loop Trail


Near Montrose, South Dakota


Badlands National Park





Custer State Park, Black Hills, South Dakota




Mount Rushmore as seen from Iron Mountain Road


Buffalo National Grasslands


Beartooth National Highway, winding through Montana and Wyoming



Views of the Absaroka Mountains




Steam rising at Yellowstone National Park


Yellowstone’s glacial erratics


Where the buffalo roam



Artist’s Point, Yellowstone National Park


Aspens at sunrise, Grand Tetons National Park


Harvest Moon over the Grand Tetons



Grand Tetons Glacier


Grand Tetons from Colter Bay

Photos ©2016, Jen Payne