Friday, July 31, 2009

Two Kings and Seven Devils!

Pictures L to R: The switchbacks...if you look closely. The upside was just as bad; The Big One; Way in the background are the Seven Devils in Idaho; Us on top of Mt. Howard; Wallowa Mountain View; Wallowa Lake and Valley; Betty and Merrill King--our hosts.

30 July 2009 Clarkston, WA to Wallowa, OR 141 miles

We got up very early today…Dave had spoken with Betty King, from the Capitol A’s, and we are meeting her and Merrill in Enterprise, OR between 10 and 11. Enterprise is about 90 miles away.

The drive was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l! With the early morning light the colors were golden toned as we followed the Snake River for the first 5 miles or so…then we turn inland and upward. Dave didn’t mind the inland so much, but he was not real happy about the upward—three separate climbs up and two down the side of canyon walls. The first one was not quite so bad, and as we reached the top, we were actually surprised to see the flat plateau. We felt like we were on top of the world, as the road curved along the cliff walls before turning further inland. Down in the valley, along the river, was the north end of Hells Canyon National Park. Up on this plateau is farmland—for cattle feed, I think. The golden hay was slowly waving and off in the distance we saw a coyote trotting through the field. Further along, we saw a doe and her two fawns along side the highway. One of the fawns was on the highway side of the fence, and started looking a little panicked when mama moved away as we drove by. I sure hope she figured out how to get back on the field side of the fence…

We slowly climbed in elevation until we were once again surrounded by pine forests. This was where Dave got a bit grumpy…when he saw the switchbacks heading down. However, with nowhere to go but forward, we continued on. It really was pretty…but also incredibly steep off the edge of the roadway…like almost vertical! We’ve decided that those three switchbacks were probably the worst climbs we’ve done on this trip.

After a brief rest, we continued on into Enterprise. Along the way we saw a herd of long-horned cattle, and a bison ranch. We met up with Betty and Merrill, and followed them into the town of Joseph (also named for the Chief) where we stopped for a root beer float before walking around the town. This town was neat to visit…somewhat of an artist’s colony…and when the logging and lumber mills closed, the space was converted to bronze foundries. The town has bronze sculptures along the main street—some incredible work. We stopped in one of the galleries and were just amazed at what we saw. Unfortunately, the pieces we liked were a bit beyond our budget.

We continued up into the canyon to Wallowa Lake, stopping at the gravesite of Old Chief Joseph (Chief Joseph’s father). This is definitely somewhere we will come back to visit. They have a campground at the end of the lake, and then the rest is hike-in trails and campgrounds up into the backcountry. We did take the tram up to the top of Mt. Howard, elevation 8,150 feet, and walked around the trails up there for a bit. Looking to the north, you can see the lake and the Wallowa Valley, and Washington state off in the distance; To the east, a view of the Idaho side of the Snake River and Seven Devils, the mountain peaks forming the east side of Hells Gate. To the south were the magnificent mountain peaks of the Wallowa Mountains, still spotted with snow, and waterfalls falling nearly to the lake level. To the west was Chief Joseph Mountain. Certainly well worth the cost of the tram ride!

We eventually made it back to Betty and Merrill’s home in Wallowa, which is the town where Betty grew up, and had a nice visit with them. Dave and Merrill eventually made it out to the cars (Merrill had his A up there) and they worked on a carburetor problem on his 1931 Victoria.

31 July 2009 Wallowa, OR to about 15 miles south of Baker City, OR 123 miles

Merrill mentioned that Betty has always wanted to open a Bed and Breakfast, and given the way we were treated, I think she would be a success. After a good night’s rest, we had a gourmet breakfast before leaving their home and continuing our way south.

The drive through the canyon leaving the Wallowa Valley was beautiful. Meandering along the riverside, the cliffs and mountain sides towered over us. Once outside the valley, we turned toward LaGrand, Oregon, a huge farming community. Merrill and Betty had mentioned that the crops grown here are hay, alfalfa, sugar beet, and mint. We also saw some fields of sunflowers. As we passed the mint, it was being watered, and the aroma was wonderful driving by.

Skirting the base of the mountains , we were soon driving through high desert scrub brush before dropping into Baker City. We stopped to stretch our legs and walk around before refueling. Our initial goal was to reach John Day, Oregon, which is near Highway 395—the highway that will take us nearly all the way home. However, when we headed back up into a mountainous area along the way and happened to pass by a beautiful lake and saw a campground we decided to check it out. Union Creek Campground on Philips Lake almost has it all...Pine trees…shade…water…no showers...and it is Friday noon—once late afternoon hits, we have found that it is nearly impossible to find a campsite if the weather is good. We decided to stop and stay—it will be a two day stay, because finding a site on a Saturday is even harder.

“Camp” is set, and Dave is sitting reading while I finish up the last two days of journaling. We may go take a dip in the lake a little later…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Turning Left for the Last Time!

Pictures L to R: Near Lolo Pass on Hwy 12; Lochsa River; Clearwater Creek; Clearwater River near Kooskia, Idaho; Welcome to Washington--Our 4th Corner!; Henry in air-conditioned comfort.

28 July 2009 Lolo, MT through Idaho to Clarkston, WA 206 miles

Today was probably the most beautiful drive of our trip. Not surprising…we had had three different people tell us that this route was one of the prettiest they have ever traveled on. Heading west on Highway 12, we gradually made the climb up to Lolo Pass following alongside the Lolo River, and from then on it was downhill into Idaho and across the panhandle. This route not only continues along the Lewis and Clark Trail, but also the Nez Perce Trail—I believe they are one and the same at this point in the journey, although there might be some slight variations between the two. After crossing the pass at an eleveation of 5,235, our trek downhill, for the first 80 miles or so, began following the Lochsa River. Surprise, surprise…we traveled through some light sprinkles on and off. Mostly downhill, this route had some gradual hills, but was winding with the course of the river between the canyon walls. It was absolutely beautiful. The hillsides were covered with pine and other trees, and we were lucky enough to see a large female Elk standing near the water’s edge on the other side of the river. We also saw another Bald Eagle, and some wild turkey (I saw them, not Dave).

Once we got to Kooskia, Idaho, where we stopped for lunch and visited for a while with a local resident who has a 1931 Coupe, we continued our downhill trek until we were traveling through golden colored hillsides. The river’s banks changed from rocky ledges, to grassy slopes. I believe it was right around Kooskia that the Lochsa River merged with the Clearwater Creek, and then into the Clearwater River. We can understand how this river got its name…the water was crystal clear. So clear, in fact, you could see the different colors of the rock across the entire riverbed. This part of the drive was on the Nez Perce Reservation, and as we traveled west we continued to drop in elevation. Not surprising, we could feel the outside temperature rising—it might have also had something to do with the heat from the A, and the fact that it was 2:00 in the afternoon.

As we neared Lewiston, Idaho, we were surprised to see such an industrial community. Named for Meriwether Lewis, Lewiston sits at the confluence of the Clearwater River and the Snake River. Across the Snake River sits Clarkston, Washington, named for William Clark. Boy were we surprised when we passed a digital temperature sign reading 103 degrees. So…because it was so hot…and the fact that we have hit our fourth corner of this great adventure, we’re celebrating and checked into the Quality Inn in Clarkston, with a room overlooking the Snake River, for a two day break from driving before heading south into Oregon. Looking back in our records, we realized today that we have been traveling every day since New York. This two-day break will be nice to say the least.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bitterroot Valley Isn't so Bitter!

Pictures L to R: Climbing up to Chief Joseph Pass; Mountain fog; Down hill all the way to the valley floor; The Bitterroot Valley; Peggy answering questions about the car and trip.

27 July 2009 Wisdom, MT to Lolo, MT 143 miles

Last night we went to the Big Hole Crossings Restaurant for dinner, and it was so good, we returned for breakfast this morning before heading out. We had had some pretty good thunderstorms during the night, or early morning, and it was still a little bit drizzly this morning.

After filling up the tank, ice chest, and water bottles, we headed west on Highway 43. About 12 miles outside of Wisdom, we stopped at the Nez Perce Historical Battlefield and explored the battlefield site for a while. The park service has a nice video that explains the plight of the Nez Perce and their flight through Montana.

Back in Baby, we headed up the grade. The climb was a long and continuous up hill until we crossed the Continental Divide, again, at Chief Joseph Pass with an elevation of 7,264 feet. Baby just purred...From the top of this pass, it was pretty much down hill into the Bitterroot Valley, which sits between 3,500-4,500 feet. At the junction of Hwy 43 and 93, we were in no-mans land for a bit. Stopping at the intersection for the traffic light, to the left of us was Welcome to Idaho sign, and to the right of us was the Montana sign. I'm sure the border is somewhere in the middle. Turning north, we continued down the hill past the grassy ski slopes of Montana.

The drive through the valley was beautiful, and we just enjoyed the passing scenery. The highway often followed the river, and the road was winding, but no big climbs. The one big glitch in our day was that the camera I have been using for blog pictures went on the fritz. If the lens would even open, as soon as I went to snap a picture, the shutter would close down and I’d miss the opportune picture. I was so frustrated that we finally drove fifteen miles past our turn into Missoula, MT to get a new one.

We stopped for the day about three miles west of Lolo, MT, at a small RV park that someone in Missoula had told us about. Way in the back, away from all the rigs and right next to the Lolo Creek is a tent area. We’re the only ones here…but we’ve had many visitors “going for a walk” stop by to see the car and visit.

We may be getting home sooner than we planned...Our plans for visiting friends in Walla Walla have fallen through, so now it looks like we will barely touch the corner of Washington State and then head south into Oregon to visit with Merrill and Betty King, some fellow Capitol A'ers who summer in Oregon. I think Dave is really anxious to get home...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cowboy Country and Cody, WY

Pictures L to R: Highway into Cody; The cherry wood bar at the Irma Hotel in Cody; Part of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Wapiti, WY; Green Creek Inn and RV Park.

24 July 2009 Cody, WY to Wapiti, WY

For most of the trip to Cody we sat in silence, just watching the scenery go by. Most of the drive between Thermopolis and Cody was very windy, so Dave was constantly fighting either a head wind or crosswind. He is guessing it was blowing at about 30 mph. As we neared Cody, we had to follow a pilot car for about a five mile stretch, and were amazed at the stupidity of the drivers ahead of us…trying to pass each other as we were being led!

We found Cody much to our liking. Yes, it is very touristy, particularly so because of all the Buffalo Bill hoopla and hype, but charming nonetheless, especially if you like the cowboy and Indian lore. We decided to stop and walk around town, but will save the world-class western museums for another trip. At one “Antique and Gun Shop” we stopped at, there in the corner was a gentleman, J. O’Ryan, working with leather. He primarily works on gun leather, horse tack, saddles, bags, and virtually anything you can think of that is made of leather. In fact, O’Ryan’s Custom Leather’s motto is “You name it, I make it!” Dave was very excited when he said he could make us new straps for our trunk—and that it would only take about an hour. The straps are perfect—high quality workmanship at a reasonable price.

We had lunch at the Irma Hotel, which was built by Buffalo Bill Cody back in 1906. Inside the restaurant is the original cherry wood bar that he had built, and it has just stunning workmanship on the woodwork. The ambiance is very “western” “big game” turn of the century, and the food and service was great.

Since the weather was iffy—possible rain, but still very windy, we made our way to Wapiti, WY, which is about 20 miles west of Cody, heading toward the east entrance of Yellowstone. We found a wonderful owner operated inn, Green Creek Inn & RV Park. It is small, but very clean and very well equipped, and much more reasonably priced than what we were finding in Cody. They have, I believe, 12 units, and a couple cabins, as well as RV hook-ups for maybe 10 rigs. Their facility also has on-site laundry facilities, grills and picnic tables, and stunning views. It is within walking distance to the Shoshone River. Jeff and Carolyn Rogowsky welcomed us with friendly smiles upon check-in; I’m sure we’ll find our way back someday.

Yellowstone and Old Faithful

Pictures L to R: Shoshone River on the highway into Yellowstone; Sylvan Pass, 8, 541 feet; Geothermal activity along Yellowstone Lake; Kepler Cascades; Old Faithful (not the best pic--my camera was acting up again!); Heading out of the park near West Yellowstone, MT.

25 July 2009 Wapita, WY to West Yellowstone, MT 135 miles

We were excited to be heading into Yellowstone, and after a quick cleanup, we were on our way. The drive up from Wapiti was beautiful, as it passed through the Shoshone River Gorge. The wildflowers along side the roadway were incredible, and it was surprising to see so many different kinds and colors together in one place, especially at this elevation.

David was a little nervous about how Baby would do on these mountain passes, and when we left Green Creek Inn, we were sitting at 5500 feet elevation. Once we were in Yellowstone the highway continued to climb until we hit our highest elevation today of 8,657 feet. Baby did fine, and I think Dave is feeling pretty good about that.

We stopped along Yellowstone Lake to take some pictures of the geothermal activity along the shoreline and were amazed at the plant life that continues to grow in this environment. When we stopped to take some pictures at Kepler Cascades, we ran into a young couple from Germany who were fascinated with the car and the trip. So much so, that they asked if they could sit in it and get a picture taken. Kepler Cascades is a must-see at the park. The park service has built a viewing platform out over the cliff face, so that you are basically standing directly over the water about 50 feet below. It was so high, and with the water rushing past, I have to admit that I experienced a bit of vertigo.

From the falls, we crossed the Continental Divide (twice in fact, because it made a horseshoe path along the ridge line) on our way to Old Faithful. Although Old Faithful was impressive to see, the wait had heightened the anticipation of everyone around, and as the appointed time (give or take 20 minutes) drew near, it was almost comical to hear kids and adults alike talking to the geyser: “Come On!” “Just do it already.” “You can’t hurry nature.” These were just a few of the comments we heard.

Old Faithful was truly a sight to behold, and knowing that it was not man-made made it even more impressive. We were so occupied during the first eruption of Old Faithful taking pictures that we missed much of the beauty of just watching and experiencing this event. So we spent the next 90 minutes until the next eruption walking around and eating lunch—a surprisingly good meal—at the lodge cafeteria. Unfortunately, while we were waiting, the clouds started rolling in…it seems to be our life story on this trip! We were soon sitting in a sprinkling of very large raindrops. About the time Old Faithful finished doing her thing, the clouds let loose and we were in a downright downpour. We were both pretty wet by the time we made it back to the car.

We headed north around the loop, stopping occasionally, once the rain passed for pictures and although we saw signs telling us there was “wildlife” crossing the road, the only wildlife we saw were the two legged idiots who stopped in the middle of the highway to take pictures. We never did see any bison, and only saw two elk way off in the distance—perhaps we were in the wrong part of the park. Maybe they only hang out at the higher passes and elevations. However, we didn’t want to tax Baby on the 10,000+ foot passes, since we still want to make it home. Maybe we’ll have better luck next time…when we return in a modern car!

The rain cleared as we hit West Yellowstone, Montana, just outside the park gates. Boy is this a touristy town—souvenir shops galore, food booths offering all kinds of stuff, and motels everywhere. Looking to the clouds building in the west, and the way the wind was blowing, we decided to get a hotel room; but much to our dismay, every place we checked was booked for the night. Hoping that the “big” rain was over, we headed out of town in search of a campground…
We camped about 10 miles out of town at Lions Head Campground. We got set up and dinner done when the sky opened up and it began raining again in earnest. We jumped into the tent to sit it out, and finally it stopped about 7:30, but once the rain stopped, the Montana-sized mosquitoes came out. We headed back into the tent for the night just to escape them.

Hail on Badger Pass

Pictures L to R: Near Henry Lake in Idaho; An RV Pioneer; Montana highway; Beaverhead Rock State Monument.

26 July 2009 West Yellowstone, MT to Wisdom, MT 203 miles

We were told by many, many people that the route we mapped out was a beautiful drive, and boy were they right! Within about seven miles of leaving camp, we crossed into Idaho for about ten miles, driving along the shore of Henry Lake. The mountain peaks to the right of us were just stunning, and you could see that the Madison River follows a fault line. Being a Sunday, there were many people out in the middle of the river fly fishing. We also saw something we’ve never seen before…an RV’er traveling by covered wagon.

When we reached the town of Ennis, MT, we stopped to do some grocery shopping and walk around town for a bit. We ultimately landed at Corral Creek Coffee Company where we had lunch, transferred pictures to the computer, and charged the camera battery since it had died, and I refused to continue until we could take pictures! This was a great coffee shop, as they had all the specialty drinks (lattes, mochas, etc) as well as salads, sandwiches, soups, and a wide variety of cookies, muffins, bars, scones, and other wonderfully fattening desserts—all homemade! (They were also kind enough to let us take up a table for as long as we needed.)

From Ennis, we headed around the Tobacco Root Mountains to the Ruby Valley. What an awesome drive. The road goes through Virginia City, an old time western town that offers visitors a peek of a time gone-by with living history events every weekend. This highway we were on were gently winding roads that followed the base of the mountain ranges. Once we turned south on 41, we were once again traveling along the Lewis and Clark Trail, and stopped at the Beaverhead Rock State Monument, named for the huge rock that resembles the head of a beaver. This beautiful valley, traversed by the Beaverhead River, was the summer gathering site for the Shoshone Nation, and one that Sacajawea, the Indian guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition recognized and told Merriweather Lewis that they would find her people there and that they could help them restock their supplies.

From Dillon, we followed route 278 around Pioneer Mountains and into the Big Hole Valley. I can understand why Lewis and Clark chose this route, as it follows rivers or creeks for most of the way, and the passes were gradual climbs This route took us from 5,500 feet elevation, up over two passes, the highest (Big Hole Pass) being 7,360, and then back down into the valley to 6,000 feet. Going over Badger Pass, the first one, we encountered our first hail-storm of the trip. Fortunately, the hail was only pea-sized and quickly dissipated as we dropped in elevation. The valley floor is a huge cattle ranching community and we were amazed at the gigantic bales of hay we were seeing. It turns out that during the summer, they grow the hay and alfalfa for the cattle to eat during the winter, and leave the 20 ton, 30 ft high haystacks out in the fields were the cattle will be corralled during the winter snows.

Thunder storms are surrounding us on all sides, and the nearest campground is 27 miles away…so when we rolled into Wisdom, MT, Population: 150, and saw the Nez Perce Motel, we opted for a hotel. It is clean and neat, and across the street from a great place to eat—the Big Hole Crossing Restaurant.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And Miles to Go Before We Sleep...

Pictures: Baby and the Pines Motel, Newcastle, WY; Thunder Basin National Grasslands; Coal Cars; Baby dropping her oil at Express Lube; Wind River Scenic Highway (2 pics)

23 July 2009 Newcastle, WY to Shoshoni, WY 311 miles

There is a whole lot of land in Wyoming! It didn’t help that we traveled about sixty miles west across the top third of the state, then turned south for about seventy miles to Douglas before turning west again. We decided on this route because it was the only one that we could bypass all the interstate highways.

The drive from Newcastle to Douglas was beautiful. We went through the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, which was the epitome of the wide-open spaces I’ve always pictured Wyoming to be. Rolling hills, and sometime plateaus of grassland. We saw many, many antelope (Dave said they were Pronghorns) along side the road, and oftentimes they were intermixed side by side with cattle on the ranches.

Just before we turned south on Highway 59, off in the distance we could discern a haze in the sky. It turns out that this part of Wyoming is home to Thunder Basin Mining Company, which is the largest surface coal mine in North America. The mining site utilized those huge monster-sized dump trucks. This operation was massive. On the opposite side of the highway from the mine, a six-track railroad yard was busy filling rail cars with the coal. Over the next 80 miles of driving, we probably saw at least 10 trains hauling coal to whatever power plant they were headed for. This obviously led to a discussion about coal mining…we were estimating that each car probably held about 196 cubic feet of coal, (this number may be way off, as I have no idea how big a train car is) and the trains were at least 100 cars long. That is a lot of coal!

This part of Wyoming is also dotted with oil pumping rigs. We made an observation that there are many similarities here with West Texas…

We still felt pretty good when we hit Douglas, so we stopped for lunch and decided to go another 45 miles to Casper. So from Douglas, we headed west once more along highway 20. We thought we were taking a side road which would lead us to another road that would bypass a 40 mile stretch of the interstate, but much to my chagrin, the side road we were aiming for must have a secret entrance. Instead, this roadway merged onto the interstate, along with three other “highways.” There was no choice for the frontage road, and not a single exit for 23 miles, and there was no way to make a u-turn. We were stuck on the interstate until we hit Glenrock where we were able to take a side road into Casper.

We started looking for camping possibilities, but we’re not coming up with a lot—there were some for RV’s, but not tent camping. We decided to go into town and ask someone, and also, if possible, see if we could find somewhere where Dave could change the oil in the car. He has been wanting to do this before we started pulling the elevation gains. When the first few places he called to see if they would be able to dispose of his oil for him told him no, we headed for AutoZone. Right next to AutoZone was a Lube Express, so Dave thought, “It can’t hurt to ask!” He pulled in, and when he explained that he just needed them to drain the old oil, and that he had everything else he needed, they said, “No problem!” They were not busy at all…in fact they were just standing around. When all was said and done, they wouldn’t take any money from us, and the oil change only took about five minutes—Dave says, “Almost like a NASCAR pit stop.” While this was happening, Dave did notice that water was draining out of the radiator hose. We thanked the Express Lube crew (after they were done taking pictures, of course) and went in search of some shade to replace the hose. Once again, the parts are under the back seat, so we had to unload the car to get this job done. Once fixed and filled with water, we took out the map…

It was decision time…go back, and north 15 miles to the nearest campground, get a hotel, or push on. It was only 2:00, and neither one of us are into retracing our miles, and we were in a hotel last night, so we opted to push on to Shoshoni, WY, a long, desolate stretch of high desert—94 miles of it—to the west. This was far and away the longest stretch for us…probably because it was coming after already completing close to 200 miles, it was at the end of the day, and also, Central and Eastern Wyoming are experiencing a heat wave…and temps are about 10 degrees above normal—I think we hit 90 or so. Unfortunately, the heater in the A was working at optimum capacity. We restocked our water supply and a few snacks, with the idea that we might stop for ice cream at one of the three or four towns along the way. This didn’t happen, because those “towns” consisted of a sign with the elevation, and maybe two or three run down buildings.

We made it to and through Shoshoni, and headed northwest to Boysen Reservoir State Park, which is a reservoir along route 20 as it heads toward Thermopolis, WY. We are stopped, on the lake, which looks and feels an awful lot like Lake Havasu, on the Colorado River. So after nine hours of driving, and over three hundred miles, we are crashing. Our only consolation is that tomorrow’s drive will be shorter.

24 July 2009 About 5 miles north of Shoshoni, WY to Cody, WY

Once the mosquitoes started attacking last night we quickly brushed our teeth and climbed into the tent. It was a beautiful night. I woke up a couple of times torn between sleeping and forcing my eyes to stay open to watch the stars…sleep won out! (David said he did the same thing!)

We woke up this morning before sunrise and decided to pack up and head into Thermopolis to try and find a laundromat and breakfast before it got too warm (or the weekend laundry crowds hit). The drive between Shoshoni and Thermopolis is probably one of the most scenic drives we’ve seen on this trip. Traveling along the Wind River, (much of this area is part of the Wind River Reservation) between two towering cliffs, we felt like we were driving on the valley floor of the Grand Canyon. Absolutely stunning. With the river traveling down the center, the railroad went along the base of the cliffs on the west, and the highway on the east. We picked a perfect time to travel…not only was traffic light, but the early morning light hitting the canyon walls was spectacular. Supposedly, bighorn sheep and antelope are prevalent in this area but we did not see any this time.

After breakfast and laundry, we continued on our journey toward Cody, WY. We are planning on staying at a forest service campground which means no electricity for a few days...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

South Dakota Badlands and Mt. Rushmore

Pictures L to R: Dave and Henry in Cornhusk; Henry waiting for breakfast; Highway in South Dakota; Wildflowers along the highway, SD; Henry and his new friend; Badlands National Park (2 pics); Mt. Rushmore; Baby and Mt. Rushmore.
21 July 2009 Spencer, NE to Interior, SD (Near Badlands National Park) 253 miles

OK. Before I start on today, I need to backtrack to last night. Dave and I were sitting reading when the thunder began rolling in the distance. However, when we started smelling the rain we decided to move our “camp” under the small cabana. We got the tent moved and tied down to the table legs, just in case the wind came up. We did have a pretty good rain, along with a lightening show to the north of us. During the night the wind picked up and it rained on and off…it was a good thing we were tied down. The temperature dropped down a little bit as well.

We’re starting our blue-sky day count again. Today is day one! It has been beautiful all day long. We made it to Cornhusk, NE today and I got pictures of Dave and Henry near the signpost.

Shortly after Cornhusk, we crossed the border into South Dakota near Fairfax. This is beautiful country through rolling farm and ranch land. We saw a number of pheasants along the highway—just walking—or sitting on bales of hay. We stopped to stretch our legs a couple of times, and went shopping at the local thrift store in Burke—for jackets. My little windbreaker didn’t keep me warm enough last night. After Burke, we stopped again in Winner and had lunch because we were not sure what we would find ahead of us, as much of our route would be traveling through Indian Reservation land. Rolling hills, cattle, grazing land, bison, alfalfa, hay, and corn were our sights for most of the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any fuel stations…By the time we made it to Martin, SD, Baby was running on fumes…when we got gas, she took 10.6 gallons! Pretty good for a 10-gallon tank!

We were also surprised to find that the nearest camping was 30 miles south in Nebraska—no showers or toilets, or 54 miles north near the Badlands National Park. We opted for heading north, because at least they had toilets. However, this made for a long driving day…253 miles. At least none of it was in stop and go traffic.

We did resort to playing the Alphabet game…however it took two days to get through to Z, due to the lack of signs in this part of the country. I also entertained Dave with some songs…Oh Susana…Down In the Valley…I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad…you get the idea; he did join in.

We’ve crossed another time zone today into Mountain Time, so we are now only an hour’s difference from our family and friends in California.

22 July 2009 Interior, SD to Newcastle, WY 165 Miles

Last night after we closed down the computer we went for a walk around the campground. Just as we were getting back to our site, David noticed a huge green caterpillar—I can’t even imagine what kind of moth or butterfly this turns into! Henry immediately wanted to play with it, and they were soon best friends.

For whatever reason, we woke up early today (5:15)…it may be that we are moving back into our own time zone, and our bodies are still on the California clock. It was so quiet, we had first dibs on the showers and decided to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road…hoping to get to Mt. Rushmore before many of the other tourist we were sure were heading up there today. Besides, it takes us twice as long to get there…we’re figuring about three hours.

So under blue skies again (Day 2) we headed west. Our route would take us along the southern end of the main part of the Badlands National Park. What we were seeing was breathtaking…especially with the sun still somewhat low in the sky, and it was not the “main” event! I coerced a promise out of Dave that we would return someday to do the main areas of the Badlands, and not just drive through them.

On the advice of other travelers, we skirted around Rapid City, SD and headed toward Mt. Rushmore. The scenery almost immediately changed from grassland to pine covered mountains. The drive up to the National Monument was beautiful; it even smelled good! However we were surprised at all the tacky tourist traps along the way…Rushmore Waterslide, petting zoos, Bear Country USA--Driving Adventure, Reptile Gardens, Play Park Maze, Flying T Chuckwagon Supper and Show, Fred Flintstones Amusement Park, the Cosmo Mystery Spot, the Presidential Wax Museum, miniature golf, …and more. Just about any thing you could think of to separate you from your money. They just kept coming…up until about 3 miles from the park turn off.

We turned the corner, and there it was…Mt. Rushmore! What an amazing feat! Majestic…Awe-inspiring…Amazing…Mind-boggling! After paying our $10 parking fee we made our way to the top viewing area for some great pictures, and then went downstairs to the interpretive center see the movie of how Mt. Rushmore was created by Gutzom Borglum, his son Lincoln, and the crew of workmen. This monument is well worth the drive from wherever you live!

After leaving Mt. Rushmore, we headed down toward Custer. Along the way we saw the work in progress of Crazy Horse, which is being completed by Borglum’s son, Lincoln.

We made our way out from Custer, just enjoying the scenery along the way. Our plan was to camp in Newcastle, WY, but the lone campground they offer is not something neither Dave nor I felt comfortable with. We stopped by the local forest service office, as well as the BLM office to see if there was any other camping nearby. There isn’t…So instead, we found Pines Motel, in Newcastle, WY, a small, family owned and operated motel tucked up in the hills surrounding the town. It is very secluded and quiet, with very comfortable rooms and reasonable prices. It just seems a shame to hotel it when it is not raining.

Monday, July 20, 2009

We're In Cornhusk Country...

Pictures L to R: Toll into Nebraska?; Nebraska highway; We're actually passing another vehicle!; Spencer, NE Campground.

20 July 2009 Osawa, IA to Spencer, NE 173 miles

Let’s see…it must be day three…yes, gray skies and thunder booming to the west. Well, at least we had two beautiful days of blue skies!

We got up and headed straight to the bathhouse for showers, and by the time Dave got out it had begun sprinkling; by the time I had my hair dry, Dave had the tent down, and car packed and idling to warm up. Maybe we are bringing the rain with us…and it just takes two days for the thunderstorms to figure out which way we’ve gone!

The rain wasn’t bad for most of the morning. After a quick Egg McMuffin at the Golden Arches in Osawa (one of the only places open for breakfast) we headed west for our first glimpse of the Missouri River and Nebraska. Imagine our surprise when we got to the center of the bridge and there at the other end was a big sign that said, “TOLL $.75” and a second one that said, “Welcome to Nebraska.” And here I thought that the admittance to each state was free! (Actually, the toll was for the bridge but this was too good not to comment on it.)

By the way...we are off the Lincoln Highway, since we've decided to head further north along the north edge of Nebraska and the southern end of South Dakota so we can add Mt. Rushmore to our trip. (I talked him into it Bob!)

We turned north just past the Missouri River and have been following the Lewis and Clark Trail through this part of Nebraska—beautiful doesn’t describe it! Rolling hills of fields, and the forested areas really makes it possible to imagine just what Lewis and Clark saw on their journey. This route takes you through the Winnebago Indian Reservation where we saw some buffalo—with their babies. Once again, we were surprised to discover that not all of Nebraska is flat…much of our drive today was quite hilly.

Just as we turned north northwest on Highway 12, just west of South Sioux City, Dave started concentrating intently on the car—he said it felt like it was suddenly vibrating more. We stopped along the highway where he checked the motor, but everything seemed fine. He ultimately decided that it must have been a combination of the roadway, the way the wind was hitting the car from the back, and the fact that he wasn’t using much acceleration…once we headed up hill accelerating more, he relaxed and said the car felt fine.

It began raining as we left Crofton where we had stopped to walk around the town for a bit. As we neared Niobrara, NE, we began seeing less corn fields, and more hilly cattle-looking country. With the rain continuing to fall, we stopped for lunch to sit out the rain and asked our server at the diner about any nearby hotels…the rain is supposed to continue…but she said that there was one 30 miles south in O’Neill or, she thought two in Spencer 40 miles to the west. After Spencer...nothing to her knowledge as it was all cattle country.

We decided to drive to Spencer, and once we got there, the rain had passed so we stopped and were looking again at the map for the nearest campground. One of the local ministers stopped by to visit (we were parked across from his church) and mentioned that the city had a small campground near the pool. We drove by and decided to stay here instead of driving another 20 miles or so to the next campground on the map. This city campground is right next to their county fair grounds, and is basically just a flat grassy space. They do have showers and bathrooms, and the cost was too good to pass up--$8 for electric and water hookups, and $3 for dry camping. The view to the back is rolling hills dotted with cattle. We are guessing that the electric was put in for the carne’s trailers when the fair is on…which by the way will be next week.
We have see such neat stuff that I’ve finally resorted to making notes as we go so that I can remember all the witty things I’ve thought of for the journal. So here we go…

Yesterday as we were driving past the millions of acres of corn and soybeans, we kept passing Burma Shave signs. Obviously a farmer with a sense of humor! We finally decided to take a sequenced picture of the next one we came to, but unfortunately, that farmer’s acreage must have come to an end, because so did the Burma Shave signs!

Something else we’ve noticed…as we pass through many of these smaller towns—they all seem to have their own resident monument shop—for gravestones, that is. I have seen more of these along the Lincoln Highway than I think I have in my entire life.

Now that we have the tent set up, clouds are beginning to gather once again. According to the NOAH radio there may be another storm coming in tonight in this area…in fact it might have some high winds and could produce quarter-inch hail…luck of the draw, I guess…anyone for sleeping in the bathroom?