Black Hills & Badlands: a temple of democracy, void of women and minorities

Even though we had already experienced many national parks, we found both the Balck Hills as well as the Badlands impressive. Upon our arrival, a heard of bisons welcomed us to Black Hills, which we entered through Custer State park.

We took the Needles Highway, a scenic drive to Mount Rushmore. We could see the four presidential heads – Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Jefferson – posing in distance through the several tunnels of the highway.

The weather was hot, we discovered when arrived at Mount Rushmore, which could only be accessed by parking a car in a huge parking garage from where we walked up to the visitors center and the actual site. The site was super tourisitic.

The loop walk along the mountain with several views up towards the heads turned out to be very nice. The presidential heads were enormous. They were strikingly one the most powerful materialization of the white mail dominated world we have and still live in I had ever seen and experienced.

We spent the night in Hill City, and the next day took another scenic drive, highway 16 before driving through the Badlands. We stopped for a swim and picnic at Sylvan lake, a gorgeous clear water lake surrounded by huge rocks. There was a nice walk around the lake and just perfect to walk and explore with kids.

On our way to Badlands, we stopped to buy some water at a tiny little town, Scenic, which appeared as a ghost village, one that we never had a chance to see.

The Badlands, an extensive area of desert like terrain where the land and the rocks have been extensively eroded by wind and water, was stunning. The temperature outside was 110 Farenheit (44 Celsius), and one could just imagine how hard it must have been to try to make ones way through these beautiful – and yet bad – lands as a Native American riding on a horse.

With the Badlands in our rear mirror, corn fields appeared. We drove through various empty looking villages and observed signs with God’s greetings followed by signs with welcoming to Casinos and (free!) whiskey tastings.

Driving through Rosebud, Indian Reservation in South Dakota made the ambiguity surrounding us suddenly very tangible: these lands used to belong to very different people with very unique, and rich cultures, and now a fragment that’s left of these people has been gathered to live in reservations, and run casinos for living.

As we left the natural parks behind, we entered the very central states of the US. It had taken us more than two weeks to get middle way, and it would only take us five more days to arrive at our final destination of the road trip, North Carolina.

Wyoming and South Dakota: From rocky mountains to black hills

Teton National Park through which we drove on our way to Black Hills was stunning although it has not deserved as much attention as Yellowstone. There were lots of relatively short and tempting hiking trails around the area. The mountains ruled the scenery.

Throughout our travels in different places and countries, we had developed a tradition of swimming (or dipping ourselves) in different lakes, creeks and oceans – so far our check list in the US included the Pacific Ocean, Crater Lake, Ceour d’alene lake, Yellowstone lake – and now we added to the list swimming in the String lake surrounded by the mountains, Grand Teton, Middle and South Tetons, Mount Moran and others.

On our way to Balck Hills we made two stops. The first night we stayed at a lovely little cowboy town, Dubois. The next stop we made at a tiny little town called Lusk, with a population of 1500, where we stayed for a couple of nights to rest. The Covered Wagon Motel, the other one of the two Inn’s in the town, had everything we needed for relaxing: an inside pool and a hot tub, a grill, a playground, and a basketball court. An interesting detail was the Tesla charging station, which none of the cowboys, construction workers and random poeple staying at the Inn used.

To our surprise, there was a very interesting museum in Lusk, the Coachwagon museum. It entailed the local history ranging from dinosaurs to old mailboxes and local schools, from barbed wire models to wooden wagons. One of its famous possessions, we learned, was a two headed baby cow.

Old issues of LIFE magazine were for sale and I found an issue on USA national parks. One dollar couldn’t capture the value it represented to us, making our way by traveling across the country and exploring its national parks and other sites.

A highlight of our stay in Lusk was our son’s birthday. We organized a pool party, with an ice cream cake, and Finnish Moomin candies and cookies I had saved for the occasion. When my son was blowing the four candles on the cake and making his wish, I felt so proud of this little guy who had traveled half way through America, as well as of the other, still little guy, wanting to be a big boy, for being such a great big brother.

Yellowstone: geysers that don’t need names

Our first day in the Yellowstone national park began with an exploration of the Mammoth Springs. The walk took us around the spring area to admire the paths the vulcanic water had made around the area.

The lodge area right next to Mammoth springs unfortunately somewhat spoiled the view from up the springs – why build something so close to these beautiful sites?

After the springs, we headed to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This impressive site can be explored from many spots and directions. We decided to do one hike, from where we could see both falls of the canyon. Unfortunately, the Tom’s trail we were supposed to take was closed, so we needed a new plan. We decided not to do any other hikes which were much longer and since there was so much to see around the area, we figured we make few stops at the manyfold lookout points.

Our first stop was at the Artist’s point. The Canyon opened before us in manifold colors. It was difficult to capture the view – lower waterfalls, deepness off the Canyon, incredible wideness and colorfulness -surrounding us by any camera.

Next we went to see the Upper Falls, after which the kids fell asleep so Arttu and I took turns to see another lookout point, the Grand View into the canyon while the kids were sleeping in the car.

On our way to Lamar valley to search for some wild life we did some planning for the next day in the midst of enjoying the incredible views.

At the end of the day we had seen pronghorns, elks, moose, bisons, a coyote, chipmunks, ground squirrels, ospreys, ravens, canadian geese, and many other birds that we didn’t recognize.

The next morning we had our last delicious breakfast in the Yellowstone Basin Inn.

We spent the next two days exploring water elements of the park, hot springs and geysers, and the lakes. A walk around the Mud vulcano was unexpectedly one of the most impressive sites of Yellowstone. It was however, not merely what we saw but even more what we smelled and heard that was unforgettable.

Bisons did not seem to mind the smell. The dragons mouth impressed us with the roaring sound and bursts of steam coming from a mouth-like cave.

We took a nice swim at the Yellowstone lake, where the boys swam in a smaller and warmer part separated by a narrow and long sand cape from the main part, fresh and chilly were we adults dipped ourselves.

The path taking us around the area of Midway geyser basin was amazing. Upon our arrival to the area the sun came from behind the clouds revealing all the amazing colors of hot springs and geysers and the soil surrounding them.

There was the Grand pirsmatic hot spring, the economic spring, the excelsior geyser, the veteran geyser, and many many more named pools, springs and geysers. And then there were those that didn’t have a name. They were too small, too light colored or just too many and too ordinary to earn a name.

Great analogy to researchers: not everyone can be (at) the top; only a few become the ones being referred to.

One of the top sites in Yellowstone is Old Faithful, the geyser that faithfully erupts every 90 minutes. Just like those famous senior scholars, (not necessarily in age, but in terms of their academic record) publishing regularly and with high impact.

Walking around the area is worthwhile taking an hour or more to explore its numerous hot springs and geysers, both with names and without.

After seeing the second time the eruption of the Old Faithful, it was perfect timing to take off. Next, we would drive through Teton national park and head to the Black Hills, and the Badlands.

Oregon – Montana: leaving all behind

From Portland our trip took turn to the East. We traveled three days before we reached the gates of Yellowstone National Park. It was, however, very close that we didn’t arrive to our final destination, Gardiner, on time.

There are basically two ways to drive to Gardiner, Montana from Portland, Oregon. One can drive via south, highway 84 through Boise, or one can drive via north, highway 90 through Spokane, as we did.

We spent our first night in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a small lake resort some half an hour drive from Spokane, Washington. The lake water was beautiful, even slightly too warm for our Northern senses, and the beach was long and perfect for the kids. We took turns to do a morning run with Arttu, to try our brand new running shoes, which we bought from the Nike Company Store located near Portland.

For the second night we drove to a small remote place called Maxville, on road 1 off the highway 90. We booked a small cottage on airbnb. It was located next to the main house and right next to a beautiful creeck.

For the third day, before arriving to Gardiner, a small town right at the border of the northern gate of Yellowstone, we had planned visits to two special sites, which were both conveniently located on our way. The first one was Granite ghost town state park in Phillipsburg, and the other one was Lewis and Clark Caverns state park, a site with caves near Butte.

Gardiner is one of the many ghost towns in Montana that thrived as a silver mining town in the late 19th century. Reaching Gardiner State Park required a four wheel drive, because it could only be accessed through unpaved remote roads.

Google maps took us to bumpy and steep roads high up in the hills. Though somewhere inside me my intuition told me to turn back, we continued climbing up the hill with huge holes and rocks in the middle of the road and without any phone coverage. Suddenly, steam started coming from the hood, the engine turned off and the car stopped in the middle of a steep hill.

There we were on our way to ghost town, which we would never find.

Our radiator cap had come off letting all the cooling liquid out of the radiator. We discovered that the fitting of the radiator hose was broken. The motor was hot. And so was the air outside.

I guided the kids to sit in the shadow under the trees and gave them some left over popcorn from the night before to keep them busy while we tried to figure out what to do.

We pushed the parts back together, added some water, and took the risk to drive to the nearest house where we got some help to get us to a car repair. We drove to the nearest town, Anaconda only to discover they could not help us. We stopped to have a picnic at the (only?) park in Anaconda and Arttu managed to find a person who would fix our car.

We drove over an hour to Belgrade, where Don at Don’s car and radiator repair changed us a new radiator and fixed our car in less than an hour.

So happy we were that we treated the whole family with ice cream. We were able to make it to Yellowstone Basin Inn, Gardiner right for dinner time.

In the morning we would wake up to see the Mammoth hot springs and many more amazing natural and historic sites. Looking forward to everything that we would still be experiencing, I felt anxious of having left so many amazing things – and people – in something that I’d soon be calling the past.

Portland, Oregon: Independence, from whom?

Finally we got to visit Portland, the city we had heard so much of. It greeted us with 12 bridges of varying sizes, designs and usages crossing over the Willamette River. We had a guided tour to Portland’s coolest sites by locals.

My husbands’ cousins took us to a lovely area surrounding the Mississippi avenue with numerous chick shops and restaurants. After lunch in ‘Por qué no?’, a mexican restaurant we headed downtown.

Our tour started with delicious ice creams at Ruby Jewel, after which we went to the world’s biggest book store, Powell’s city of books. Totally worth spending a few hours exploring its million – new and used – books under three and a half thousand categories.

After Powell’s we visited the West End shop, a women’s clothing boutique owned by my husband’s cousin, and saw mountain Hood from 11th floor of her apartment.

Portland hosts tens of different food trucks serving food all over the world, from Poland to Japan, in one of its central quarters, SW 9th & Washington. A Living room movie theater offers movies with a dinner. Beautiful coffee shops and boutiques can be found side by side within a few quarters from Powell’s.

We didn’t spend our nights in the city, but in a suburb called Sherwood. Sherwood was a picturesque little place with beautiful neighborhoods and parks, surrounded by vineyards.

We got to experience the traditional 4th of July barbecue starting with a cute little parade in the morning. The boys were super excited about seeing police officers who wished happy fourth, and about candies thrown by the kids walking in the parade.

It happened to be our anniversary and so we escaped for a couple of hours to visit the Ponzi vineyards and did some wine tasting. Their oak barreled Chardonnay revealed to be delicious!

In the evening relatives came over, and the whole street gathered around a barbecue hosted by Arttu’s cousin and her husband. Fireworks echoed through the night and the US flags decorated porches.

The next morning we would start finding our way towards East. The road trip would really begin. Listening to fireworks in the darkness I took my new book, the People’s history of the United States by Howard Zinn that I bought from Powell’s and started reading about the stories that never get told in schools.

Independence Day, I thought, the day the great nation freed itself from the British Empire but destroyed all the native nations of the New Empire.

Berkeley – Portland: the hands that destroyed America

An important part of any road trip is to have a good playlist. In our family of four, everyone gets to pick their favorite songs to add to the list. Our playlist reveals songs ranging from Johnny Cash to Sia, from Vygotski to Pulp fiction sound track, from Verneri Pohjola to Fröbelin Palikat. Many more will be added as the road gets longer behind us.

Our first legi was to get from Berkeley to Portland.

The first day we drove to Eureka, where we spent the night. We stopped for a lunch in a cute little restaurant in Mendocino named Flow after which we drove to see the glass beach in Fort Bragg. Smooth glass pieces of different colors where washed at the shores. How beautiful can waste be! There was something very ambiguous about experiencing this site.

The next stop was a drive thru tree in Legget. After this stop we took a scenic road through the Humbold redwoods state park. Avenue of the giants has definitely earned its name.

On the next day we immersed ourselves into experiencing the world famous Redwood National Park. We walked a loop at Lady Bird Johnson Grove – a beautiful path in a magical forest. A perfect loop for our soon-to-be-4-year-old and a six-year-old kids.

Next we drove to the Fern Canyon, where parts of the Jurassic Park 2 movie were filmed. We cooked lunch in the assigned picnic area by the canyon and then hiked in and around the canyon. This was one of the most impressive places I have ever been to.

Before getting to our next motel in Shady Cove we took another scenic road through the Jedediah redwoods.

On day 3 we drove to Crater Lake. The East Rim Drive was closed due to the snow so we took the West Rim Drive. We made our first stop at Sinnot Memorial Overlook to find the stunning view overlooking the lake.

We continued the drive between snow walls and warm sun, and stopped for a lunch break at Palisade point, which we reached only some 15 minutes later.

The only path taking down to the lake is Cleetwood Cove Trail, which is a 1.3 mile (one-way) steep path leading to a dock for boat tours and to the rocks from which one can jump into a 10 Celsius degree (50 F) crystal clear water (the yellow is pollen).


While we had a Manduca carrying bag for our younger child, the 6-year-old walked all the way down and then climbed up again.

Crater lake certainly was impressive and unforgettable site to visit before going to Portland.

On our way, when sitting in the car, U2 was singing about the hands that built America. Boys were sleeping in the back seat. The first three days of our trip had been full of amazing landscapes and unforgettable experiences. And yet, while listening to the song I couldn’t help but to think about all those hands that cut down 95% of the old grown redwoods that used to grow on the West coast. Or those that polluted half of the rivers and lakes in the US currently no good for fishing and barely good for swimming either. And those hands that built millions of square miles of parking space and paved road for cars, not people.

We will spend the next three days in Portland with cousins of my husband after which our road trip will finally take the turn to East.

From Berkeley, with love

My research visit to UC Berkeley has come to an end. Needless to say, time has gone by so fast, but above all, this time has been filled with unforgettable memories with family and (new) friends, interesting research insights, and positive energy.

Throughout the Spring I participated in biweekly paper development meetings at the sociology department. It was directed mainly at doctoral students to help them develop their thesis manuscripts to publishable articles. I learned about many fascinating and societally relevant research topics: how private universities operate as tax havens, how big political struggles end up producing small fish, how cultural taste matters in reprocing inequality.

The most insightful thing for me was, however, to observe how everyone including both professors and doctoral students committed to this seminar, read everyone’s paper, and provided very constructive feedback. I learned how important it is to be interested in other people’s research in order to think together and help people to develop, and how this can be encouraged within a research community.

It was great to experience such an intelligent and super encouraging atmosphere!

I will miss conversations with some very nice people I met at ISSI. They would always ask how I was doing, how the family was, and whether we were enjoying our time in Berkeley. They would be willing to help with any question I had. I learned about research being done in the fields of political history, labor studies, linguistics, and bioethics.

I will miss jogging in the hills, hanging out with the friends we made, exploring new lunch places, going to numerous playgrounds, taking my kids to school and daycare, talking with random people in grocery strores, and many many more things.

Saying goodbye to people and places we became attached to hasn’t been easy. But before we leave America, we have one more thing to experience. We will drive thru the country.

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