Monday, June 5, 2017
When we got up, the first thing was to start calling vets to see if we could get our cat’s health certificates updated or rewritten. Canada says your pet must have a health certificate issued within thirty days of crossing into the country. We had health certificates, but having gotten stuck in Purgatory for exactly thirty days, ours were expired. My second try got us an appointment for the following day. We decided to keep calling others to see if we could get something for today. That way we could cross the border tomorrow. After getting a few that would have to check and call back, I got a doctor who said that we really didn’t need to worry about the thirty day rule as long as we had documentation of their shots. With this in mind, we decided to cancel the appointment for the next day and keep our fingers crossed.
With that taken care of, the day was spent cleaning the inside of the coach, laundry and whatever we needed to do. We were sitting outside at the picnic table after lunch, when our neighbor came home. Leroy, is an eighty something originally from Santa Barbara, California. He and his wife had been full timers since 1999. She passed some time ago, but he’s still on the road visiting family and hanging out in Yuma, Arizona for the winter. He and his very cute rescue dog, Corky, sat down to chat. Leroy loves to chat. He told us all sorts of road stories from down through the ages. When he left, it was close to dinner, we got ready and went to Walmart to get the last of the things we are used to before crossing into a foreign country. We wanted to make it back before the storm came in. Then home for dinner. A word to the wise, if you are the type who likes to keep your awning out, don’t. Everyone and every printed paper warns of sudden storms and the impact on your awning. And they are not kidding!
After we got home, we still had to deal with the excess booze situation, as it pertained to the border. Technology, you are only allowed a case of beer, one normal size bottle of wine or a small bottle of hard liquor. Leroy got a birthday present. He got all the leftover booze! Tequila, gin and cognac. So much for my Steak au Poivre! We kept four bottles of wine and a six pack of beer. If we had to, we would pay the duty. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Today’s trek is to Great Falls, Montana, last stop before the border. We are planning on spending two nights here to get supplies, more cash, ship the guns to Alaska, and make sure we have updated paperwork for the cats. Busy couple of days.
The journey was breathtaking. Green hills, rocky outcroppings, trees and beautiful green valleys with one common thread, the Missouri River. I lost count how many times we crossed over it or ran beside it. The Missouri River is the longest river in North America, rising in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana. She flows east and south for 2,341 miles before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. So, needless to say, the ride was definitely picturesque.
Our campsite for the next two days is Dick’s RV Park on 11th Street SW in Great Falls. We had an end site, end on two corners of the park’s triangular three. On one side was the dog run next to the highway. On the other side was, come on, guess….. train tracks. Fortunately, these were defunct and not running, although we did have a bunch of train cars to look at. In case you haven’t figuring it out by now, trains are all over, everywhere once you move pass the east coast. The grassy area between us and the trains was home to countless rabbits and prairie dogs, an endless entertainment source for the kitties. They spent all their waking hours running from window to window to door following them. The prairie dogs kept their distance but the rabbits had no fear and would come right to where you were sitting.
We got great info for a gun shop to ship our guns and the names of some vets that might help us with our cat health certificate issue from the guy at the front desk. The vets weren’t open on Sunday, the gun shop was, so we headed on down to Mitchell Supply with a quick stop to Sam’s Club on the way. While the guy at the shop was drooling over one of Alex’s gun, I Googled Verizon, remember my update issue. I found the closest one and headed over, leaving Alex and the gun shop guy to yak. And they say women like to talk! Verizon was closed even though the website said they were open till four. When I got back to the gun shop, the gun shop guy told me of another one and once we were done with the gun shipment to Wolf’s in Tok, Alaska, we headed over.
It was about twenty minutes to closing when we got there and the only employee was finishing up with a customer, so we waited. The employee was Storm Million. I told her my story, including the one with the Grand Rapids woman, and hocus pocus dominocus, she had my phone working. I love when I find Verizon Bar geniuses. She gave me her phone number and email, should we have a problem updating Alex’s phone. If you are in Great Falls and have a problem find her. She is in the Verizon store across from the Expo Center.
With very bad, black clouds, thunder and lightning coming our way, we headed back home. We got two major pieces of our Canada trek accomplished and a trip to Sam’s done so it was a good day. Tomorrow we would conquer the cat issue and Walmart. Things were moving along. For now, it was ride out the storm. By the way, these plains storms are as bad if not worse than Florida.
Saturday, June 3, 2017
We’re moving to Montana! Not really. Always wanted to say that in memory of Frank Zappa. But really, Montana is gorgeous!
We left Sheridan pushing for Montana, the last state before the border. It was a beautiful ride. We crossed the Little Big Horn River, the Big Horn River and the Yellowstone River where the sandstone cliffs in Billings, known as the Billings Rimrocks or Rims, carved thousands of years ago, hang over the river like giants. From Billings, seven mountain ranges can be viewed. Billings, Montana’s largest city, sits in the shadow of these snow capped mountains, a magnificent site. The hills have a mixture of living and dead vegetation in stark contrast. They look so beautiful, but when you look closer, you see all the death, what it takes to survive in this wilderness of the plains.
Based on our 2-2-2 rule, Bozeman was right in line for a stop. That and Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory, picked it after the apartment was robbed. We thought it would be a fun lark, a goof. Turns out we loved the place. It is a University town and they are always fun places.
We stayed at the Sunrise Campground on Frontage Road. A nice enough place with very friendly and helpful people. It was full hookup with no cable and a few antenna channels. This is one of the few campgrounds that allow you to wash your rig, a nice bonus. Our spot was close to the road and on the other side of the road was a railroad track, with trains, which ran all through the night. A little after 11 PM, 12:30 AM, 3 AM, 4:30 AM, you get the picture, those were what I heard. The tracks were so close that you not only heard the whistle, you could hear the wheels on the tracks. If you were outside when it when by, you could feel the earth vibrate. Interesting night sleep! Talk about REM interrupted.
After getting setup, we drove into town and cruised their main road. The street was lined with old buildings, many that were brick, filled with bars, restaurants, and all sorts of clothing and specialty shops. We found a branch of our bank in town and got more cash for the time we would be spending in Canada. Most credit card companies charge you a fee for international use and we didn’t want to have to pay to use our card.
We checked out the local eateries, no national chains along this street. Most all of them touted craft brews, so we picked Montana Ale Works, housed in a retro-industrial railroad freight-house.
With over 40 tap handles, weekly rotators and select bottles, picking a brew is no easy task. But Alex did. He picked a local ale, me, I had a Pinot Grigio, with fabulous dry rubbed ribs. Our server, Jared, was funny and very personable. We got there early, around five. Okay, I know we’re seniors and that might sound like a normal dinner time for most, but not us. The only reason we were eating Lun-ner, think brunch , only on the other side of the clock, was because we didn’t have lunch and we were starving. The place was fairly empty when we walked in, but by the time we finished eating, it was jammed. And it was a big place! If you are ever in Bozeman, Montana, I highly recommend Montana Ale Works. Then it was home, resting up and getting ready for tomorrow’s drive.
Friday, June 2, 2017
Well we are leaving South Dakota heading to Sheridan, Wyoming. I have to say South Dakota did not disappoint. We will be back and for longer than a week.
A few fun facts about South Dakota. The population is only 814,180 people, ranked 46th in the country. That’s about one-tenth the population of NYC. It’s biggest city is Sioux Falls with 153,888 people, less than the population of the last county I lived in in Florida. These numbers are from my Rand McNally Deluxe 2017 Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas. A handy dandy item if you drive anything with height.
Before we go, we make a stop at Wallyworld in Rapid City. We also have to stop at a Verizon store next door. I did the latest software update on Tuesday and it seems to have hosed my phone. I could connect to the internet, get mail and sometimes texts, but when it came to phone calls, it tells me no service and doesn’t connect.
The woman at the Verizon store was less than helpful. She replaced the SIM card, but kept pushing for a new phone. I took my phone and left, still unable to get phone calls. I would hope for another update or Great Falls, where maybe I can find another Verizon store and someone more helpful.
When we crossed into Wyoming, the speed limit turned to 80 mph. Not a big whoop for an RV, but oh so nice for a car. We got rain by Gillette, otherwise the weather was fine.
The scenery was oil rigs, mining, cattle and farms. You could see the Big Horn Mountains looming ahead. Some peaks still had snow. Very impressive site. We got to Sheridan, Wyoming and the Big Horn Mountain KOA and set up. We opted for water and electric only, to save money, since we just came from a full site and would be at a full site tomorrow. This campground doesn’t have cable and you can only get three channels on antenna. For $45 a night, it is kind of pricey. We had checked around and this was in line with the others for price and the lowest. Not much around the area to do, except hiking, fishing, to command that kind of money.
It was such a beautiful day, the first one that was really nice, that we just spent the day sitting outside at the picnic table and plotting our trip to the border.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
A day at the campground. Time to get things done before heading out tomorrow.
My day is cleaning the inside of the coach, laundry, bills, figuring out next stop, phone calls to take care of whatever the world has screwed up now, lunch and dinner; braised beef short ribs.
Alex was working on the coach getting things ready. He went to the office and paid to wash a very dirty Claudia, our coach, and and even dirtier Sergio, our Fiat. Big jobs.
Later, somewhere between our coach and the garbage dumpster, he found six very plowed Canadians from Vancouver at their camp sites. They gave him a very good beer, Jack 90 Scottish Ale, he made them Admiral Nelson and Dr. Pepper. They all came to visit me. We swapped stories and then they went off to dinner.
So ended our last day in Custer.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
It’s going to be an exciting day! Wild mustangs! Well, really wild horses, but wild none the less.
We want to go to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and see the horses running free. We call to see if we can get a tour and wait for a call back while they check to see if they can get a driver. They can and we book the three hour tour for 1 PM.
We get dressed and head down 385. This is the first time we are heading in that direction. We thought we would stop in Hot Springs and grab some lunch before going to the Sanctuary. This route takes you through Wild Cave National Park, and just as the name implies, there is a cave, but it is a stop for our next trip. Little did we know, there would be a ton of wildlife alone this road through the park. Buffalo, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs. Naturally, we have to stop and look and take pictures. Before we know it, we are running kinda late. So we have to get a move on or we won’t make our 1 PM tour. This means no lunch. Hurry to Hot Springs and then a bit south to the Sanctuary.
Hot Springs is home to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on 13,000 acres. Dayton Hyde, in 1988, raised enough money for a down payment on land which would become the Sanctuary. He convinced the Bureau of Land Management to send him their wild horses that were un-adoptable. Since then, any horse that needs a home, for whatever reason, untrainable, abused, can find one here. This is a non-profit organization. They get no government money. They exist on grants and donations. For more information or to donate, you can sponsor a horse, go to http://www.WildMustangs.com or contact FreeToRun@gwtc.net.
The Sanctuary offers two hour guided bus tours for $50 for adults, $45 for seniors, $15 for teens and $7.50 for kids. The tours are at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM and 3PM May 31 – September 30. Other times of the year you would need to call for the times. They also offer a private three hour tour in a 4×4 that takes you places the bus doesn’t go for $150 per person.
We met our guide Rick, grabbed some bottled water and off we went. For the next three hours we were in horse heaven. I think horses are magnificent, intelligent and playful creatures. The horses we met were definitely that and more. Some have no problem coming right up to you, others want no part of you and then you have those that were abused. They want the love and attention, but are just a bit tentative. Rick coaxes them with treats. They take their treats but move back, still afraid of the human hand.
Even though these horses roam free, the Sanctuary keeps them in herds mostly by breed. Most males have been gelded. There are a few stallions kept separate to help repopulate the herds and there are a few wild stallions that truly run free who make it onto the Sanctuary and impregnate the mares. Each year they shoot a dart with a birth control chemical into as many mares as they can to control population growth. They don’t get them all, so little ones are born. You can sponsor these babies and for the right price, name them. We also learn that mustangs are really a mixture of different breeds, a Heinz 57, a mutt. Somewhat disappointing when you think of the mystique surrounding them in our western culture.
We stopped at the petroglyphs, an ancient site that has native Indian markings and makings left by a man who took up residence in the cave back in the ’40s. There is one drawing for the Indian version of Bigfoot. Naturally, Alex has to get a picture with it. The horses use the spot as a shade cover against the brutally hot sun. Fly season is just beginning, so you see the horses continually bobbing their heads and swishing their tails to keep them away. If you’ve ever wondered why horses do these things, now you know the reason.
The horses share the land with coyotes, cougars, white-tail and mule deer, elk, wild turkeys, eagles, falcons, prairie dogs and burrowing owls. We were fortunate to see a burrowing owl, lots of prairie dogs and wild turkey, the bird not the drink. That comes later.
Before we know it, the three hours have passed and we are back at the welcome center saying our goodbyes. We drive back up 385 and through Wild Cave National Park but since we are starving, we don’t stop. There aren’t that many animals close to the road anyway. We head back to Custer and grab a stuffed crust supreme pizza from Pizza Hut to eat back at the coach. What a fun day!
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Today we are going Custer State Park, 71,000 acres, home of the largest free roaming bison herd. They average between 1,300 and 1,450 strong. The park does not feed the bison. They truly are free to live their lives as their ancestors did, but without fear or predators.
Each year, the park does a scientific analysis using rainfall, vegetation, breeding and other factors to determine how many buffalo the land can adequately feed. Optimum conditions can support 1,450 bison. Every September they do the annual Buffalo Roundup, which started back in 1960’s to make sure the herd was free of the disease Brucellosis. A host of activities take place at that time centered around he roundup. They count how many bison are in the park. However many exceed the magic number of self sufficiency get sold off. Sick or injured are taken care of.
You can drive straight through the park without stopping for free, but if you plan on stopping anywhere you need a pass. The ten dollar fee allows you access to the park for seven days and there is no opening or closing times. The best times to see the wildlife is early morning or late afternoon when they are most active.
The park offers plenty of hiking, biking and horseback trails, as well as fishing, chuckwagon suppers and jeep tours to see the bison. Since wildlife abounds in the park, it is best to stay on the trails and stay in your car on the roadways. Plenty of signs to remind you. And there are several roadways to travel on that offer great opportunities to see the critters.
In addition to bison, there are pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, deer, elk, wild turkeys and a bunch of way too friendly burros. It is not uncommon for the burros and even the bison to investigate your car causing traffic jams and damage. One particular burro liked my side view mirror so much I thought he, or she, wasn’t going to get out to find out, was going to rub it off the side of my poor Sergio. Had to try and inch forward to get rid of the critter. One thing for sure, nobody moves till they decide to move.
There are several resorts where you can stay, each with a different flavor. We stopped for lunch at Blue Bell, with a mini dude ranch. There are scenic drives where you can see the beautiful landscapes and wildlife. We started out on Wildlife Loop Road, 18 miles, infamous for seeing bison and those very friendly burros. And we saw both, as well as pronghorn antelope and a gizzillon prairie dogs. These cute little critters pop up from their holes, stand up straight and then disappear back into the ground. A rancher told me that they carry the plague. You don’t want to get bite by one. They hire young teenagers in the summer and give the kids a box of shells and a rifle and have them shoot them to get rid of them. Target practice for the kids, problem solved for the ranchers. A different world.
If you want more scenery than wildlife, you can take Iron Mountain Road, 18 miles, and pass through a tunnel of stone to see Mount Rushmore framed with the tunnel’s stone. Needles Highway, 14 miles, gives you spectacular views of forest, meadows and mountains. Travel past Sylvan Lake and you can see a unique rock formation called Needle’s Eye, named because the opening was created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing. It looks like the eye of a sewing needle.
If history is what you are after, there are several sites. The Home of Badger Clark, poet laureate, the State Game Lodge, Gordon Stockade, Mount Coolidge Lookout, the Civilian Conservation Corps Buildings (CCC), as well as French Creek where Custer’s expedition found gold in 1874, sites that should satisfy any history buff. We went to Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower, built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This is not a trek for RVs, it is crazy enough for cars. The road up is a very, very narrow dirt road with no guard rails. On one side you have the mountain, on the other side you have your death. Arlo Guthrie’s “Motorcycle Song”, aka “I don’t want a pickle” comes to mind, but not with the same outcome. The road makes some very sharp twists and turns but the view at the top from 6,023 feet is pretty awesome! You can still see the effects of the Galena fire back in 1988. The Galena Fire burned about 16,788 acres of primarily ponderosa pine forest during July 5-8. They have been reseeding the land, but it will not be back to the way it was until 2032.
This is a place we will be coming back to in future travels.
Monday, May 29, 2017
Our sincere thanks and appreciation for all the men and women of our armed forces past and present. Your sacrifices for this nation are what make America great. Enjoy your day of honor.
This is it! We are going to Crazy Horse Memorial, to the top, on his arm! How fitting it should be on such an important holiday. We meet Tom, our driver and guide, a few minutes before nine. We sign a few papers, pay our $250, get our hard hats and off we go into the van and up the mountain.
On the ride up, Tom tells us that mountain goats hang out with the work crew. Both genders of the mountain goats have horns and they can use them if they get angry enough, so while they are friendly, it is good to remember they are wild animals that have limits. If we are lucky, we might get to see them.
Surprisingly, it is an easy ride to the top. I would have thought it would be a hairy ride, but no, it was just like driving on any other road. Before you knew it, we were parking and getting out of the van.
Tom made us look straight ahead at the construction equipment when we got out of the van. He told us not to look around. He wanted the first impression of Crazy Horse’s head to be spectacular. And it was! To be so up close and personal with the sculpture was incredible. You actually could touch it! And we did. You could see all the minerals in the stone. The sun had the mica sparkling! If you are a Dr. Who fan, the head kind of reminded me of the Face of Bo. If you’re not a fan, you have no idea what I’m talking about, so ignore the statement.
We spent about an hour walking around on the arm taking pictures and learning about the construction equipment used to cut and carry away the stone from the mountain. We saw how they bore into the mountain horizontally and then vertically with both cuts meeting at 90 degrees. That’s how they can remove big pieces of stone without damaging the rest of the sculpture. We saw the tools used to make the more detailed cuts and smooth out the surface.
On top of the monument, Tom pointed out a rock formation below and told us it was where Korczak, the sculptor, was buried. They bore a hole in the stone and that is where he is entombed. Ruth, his wife, and their two daughters that have passed, are buried outside. He alone has the honor of being buried in the mountain. There is a flag pole outside the tomb with an American flag flying, which we saw on the trip down.
On the way back to the van, we got to participate in the Memorial’s rock removal program; they let you dig through a bin and take smaller pieces of the stone from the carving as a souvenir. Tom and Alex were digging through the rocks, when I looked up and low and behold, the mountain goats were coming down to meet us. There were four all total, including a mom and two babies. The biggest and scruffiest of the bunch was the closest, about twenty-five feet. Momma and babies a little further. Another van came up the mountain and spooked them, but the big scruffy goats didn’t pay any mind.
We got back down the mountain a little before eleven and headed to Mount Rushmore, a National park, in Keystone. Rushmore, named after Charles Rushmore, a New York lawyer investigating mining claims in the Black Hills in 1885, is 250 feet across with each head measuring 60 feet. Washington’s head is the height of the entire Great Sphinx of Egypt. The noses are 21 feet long. Wow, what a schanaze! The mouths are 18 feet wide. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum and 400 men worked from 1927 to 1941 carving the sculpture which represents the first 150 years of American history to the tune of $989,992.32. Amazingly, no workers died, but Gutzon past in March 1941. His son Lincoln continued the project. Each of the presidents was selected based on what they symbolized; Washington for the struggle for independence, Jefferson for the idea of government by the people, Lincoln for ideas on equality and permanent union of the states, and Roosevelt for the 20th century role of the U.S. in world affairs. I wonder what these great men would think of our country now.
It was ten dollars to park which is also the admittance fee. We had our national park senior discount card so it was five dollars. One of the perks of being old.
After Crazy Horse, I’m sorry to say this was a big disappointment. It is a typical government park. You can see the sculpture from the parking lot. A stone entry bearing the park’s name leads you to a walkway with a bust of Borglum and on the opposite side, an information center and store. Walk a little farther down and you walk down the flags of the States to the Grand View Terrace. There is a gift shop to the left and a restaurant to the right. Then you are on the observation deck where you can see Mount Rushmore. Directly below is an amphitheater. You can take a walking tour which brings you closer and slightly higher to the monument. There are guided walks to the Sculptor’s Studio, Presidential Trail, talks on the Grand View Terrace and children’s activities. And that is pretty much it. The area does hold other attractions from helicopter tours to museums and everything in between.
We ate lunch at the restaurant and walked through the gift shop. Then called it a day.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Well our leveling job on this very narrow, very uneven site isn’t working. I guess our weight, the rain and gravity are just too much. We are jiggling like a bowl of jelly. Some of our wood we use for leveling split, so first stop today is the local hardware store. Best hardware did an excellent job of getting us the lumber we needed and doing the cuts for us. All for a great price. Can’t thank them enough.
Next it’s off to Crazy Horse Memorial. This is the closest of all the places to go from Custer, only a five miles up the road. The Crazy Horse Memorial is not State or Federally owned or operated. All its money comes from admissions, donations and the sale of gifts and tours.
Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. In 1939, Lakota Chef Henry Standing Bear asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create a memorial to show that “… the red man has great heroes,also.” The Lakota leader, Crazy Horse was chosen to be the image of the memorial. He will be riding his horse pointing into the Black Hills declaring, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”
The carving project began in 1948, with the first blast of the mountain. The early work was done by Korczak, his wife Ruth and their ten children. When Korczak passed away in 1982, Ruth continued the work and is responsible for the completion of Crazy Horse’s face. She expanded the Indian Museum of North America and started the Indian University of North America. She passed away in 2014 and now her surviving children and two grandchildren are carrying on the work.
When it is completed, the carving will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. Crazy Horse’s head is 87.5 feet high. The heads on Mount Rushmore are only 60 feet high. Currently, work is focused on the hand, arm, shoulder and the horse’s mane.
The first thing we do when we get there is watch the video and go through the museum. The museum is very large and has artifacts from tribes all over North America. This can take several hours if you really want to do it right.
In typical Black Hills fashion, just as we are going to pay the four dollars to take the bus ride to the bus plateau, at the base of the sculpture, the storms start rolling in. Once the weather center detects lightning, no on can go up till they give the all clear. The iron content in the mountain makes it a natural lightning rod. So we decide to go to the Laughing Water restaurant for lunch and wait out Mother Nature. A long wait. We check out the gift shop. The storms just keep coming in. No one is going up. But while we are wandering around, we discover something even better than the bus ride. We can pay to go to the top of the carving, not the bus stop a thousand feet down, but all the way to where they are working, the arm, all 6,500 feet above sea level. It’s pricey, $125 per person, but it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Once the memorial is completed, the public will never be allowed up. We make arrangements with Tom, the guide, for tomorrow at nine to take the van ride up.
With that taken care of, we head home and out of the rain. We are both so psyched! Can’t wait! We want to come back for the laser light show on the mountain at 9:30, but the storms don’t seem to want to cooperate. We decide to eat dinner and pack it in.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
We woke to 39 degrees. Brrrr!
We are told time and time again, the Black Hills generate their own weather. The morning forecast can say sunny, no rain, but by the afternoon, the hills say thunderstorm. And these puppies rival Florida T-storms, with lightning, thunder and wind. You can see them moving in through the hills. The wind kicks up, you think you are going to fly away. More than once my leg has gotten slammed in the car door when a gust comes through. The temperature varies with the hill’s mood.
The temps warm up and we are off to Deadwood, the town where James Butler Hickok, alias Wild Bill Hickok, breathed his last. Deadwood is about fifty-eight miles north of Custer, back on winding 16 and 385. Deadwood started in 1874 when Col. George Armstrong Custer’s expedition discovered gold in French Creek in the Southern Hills and it officially became a town in 1876, the same year Wild Bill was no more.
Deadwood was a rough town with gambling halls, saloons and brothels. Today the gambling halls and saloons still stand but the brothels have been replaced with retail stores, wine tasting and restaurants. She is a party town when the lights go down, but during the day it is more family oriented with shoot out reenactments and Wild West story telling.
We stroll the streets and shops and take in the shoot out in front of the Tin Lizzie. All the kids there are deputized. So many kids. Lots of fun for them. We decided to stop and have lunch at the Deadwood Winery. There are tours, museums, the Historic Adams House, plenty for the family. We go to Nuttal & Mann’s (Saloon No. 10). You can pay $10 to see the spot where Wild Bill was shot while playing poker.
Wild Bill is Deadwood’s most famous resident, even though he was only there for one month before being killed. Oddly enough, today is his birthday, May 27, 1837, 180 years today.
Like most colorful men of that time period, he was many things. He was a soldier, spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, to name a few, but above all else, he was a gambler. It was while he was playing poker that he was shot in the back by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. Five card draw. He had just discarded. The cards he was holding were the two black aces and the two black eights, Aces and Eights, forever to be called the Dead Man’s hand.
Wild Bill is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery alongside his good friend, Martha Burke, alias Calamity Jane. They had come to town together, along with Charlie Utter, from Cheyenne by wagon train and she was there in Deadwood the day Bill died. For two dollars you can walk through the cemetery to see Wild Bill’s, Calamity’s and the graves of other notable, colorful characters from that time. I have to admit, it is a very beautiful cemetery, quite and peaceful in spite of all the visitors. If you plan on visiting, be forewarned. It is on a hill, so be prepared to do some climbing.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Today we are heading back east to exit 110 to visit the world famous Wall Drug, in none other than Wall, South Dakota. It is about an hour and forty minute drive from where we are staying in Custer.
Back in December of 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought the only drug store in Wall, SD. It being the Great Depression, business was bad. And wasn’t improving. Ted was a pharmacist, Dorothy had a teaching degree and had taught high school in Sioux Falls. By the summer of 1936, the business hadn’t grown. They weren’t starving, but they weren’t exactly raking in the dough. Their five year plan was nearing its end. What to do?
One of those hot summer days of 1936, when Dorothy was lying awake with the heat and noise of the jalopies that were going by on Highway 16A, the idea came to her. She figured out how to get those cars to stop at their store. Free ice water. Exactly what hot travelers wanted and needed after driving across the hot prairie. Ted and his son made signs and put them up along the highway. The people came. Dorothy and Ted poured gallons of ice water, filled jug after jug. And sold ice cream and everything else. From there, the little drug store turned into a roadside attraction with saloons, stores, restaurants and of course, the drug store, though no longer in it’s original form. The backyard has T-Rex, a jackalope, shooting gallery, video arcade and other attractions for the kids.
They have plenty of other gimmicks, too, like 5 cent coffee, great donuts and pies, and of course free ice water. To the tune of 5,000 glasses a day. We ate at the Ice Water Store Cafe that seats 530 people. Place your order, pick it up when your number is called. This third generation enterprise is still going strong and looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Back up and on the road again. This is going to be fun! We are going to spend a week in Custer, South Dakota, right smack dab in the middle of the Badlands. Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Deadwood. Been waiting for this one my whole life. Guess I fancy myself as something of a Wild West fan. Always been one of my favorite times in American history. Love the 1800s!
Since the Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort’s check in time is 3 PM, we take our time when we get up and make a few phone calls to take care of business. Then off we go. We cross the Cheyenne River. Even though the twenty-first century looms all around, I feel like I am back in time. I can imagine what it was like. I can feel like I am there.
A quick stop at the Flyng J at exit 61 in Rapid City for gas and great burgers and fries then it was time to make our way to the campground. Custer, and our campground, are about 44 miles southwest. If you are driving a car, maybe something a bit sporty, the drive is awesome! Twists and turns, and ups and downs, with great scenery. However, if you are a 35,000 pound class A towing a car, not so fun. Steep hills up, steep hills down, winding turns all make for white knuckle driving! But Alex is a pro and gets us there stressed but in one piece.
When we pull into the campground, we are blocked by trucks dumping stone on the roads. Getting ready for the season. Alex keeps Claudia and Sergio off to the side and I go into the office to check in. Bob, the owner, starts up a conversation and gives me a bunch of magazines and brochures about the area and places to see. I meet John, their six month old puppy, who probably stands a good thirty inches tall already. I’m told he usually barks at everyone, but me he is nothing but hugs and kisses.
Bob takes us to our site and now the fun begins. Even though they just put down stone, the site pads are narrow and taper off at the edges. They sloop downward to boot. Add the foliage and you can barely get your wheels on the stone. We spend the better part of two hours digging stone and moving the coach to try and get her level. Here is where wood blocks for the tires come in handy. At one point the back wheels were off the ground. A definite no-no. Finally we get her right.
By this time it’s after four and we are pooped. Time for cocktails!
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Today we leave Mitchell and continue our trek west on I-90. The visitor information center woman at Corn Palace told us about a rest area by Chamberlain that has a giant statue of a Native Indian woman that had only recently been completed in 2016. She claimed it was a must see. She was right!
In the rest area right after Chamberlain, on the Missouri River, stands the giant statue of a Native woman named Dignity. She stands a massive 50 feet tall wearing a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes designed to flutter in the wind and change color with the amount of sunshine hitting her. The quilt represents respect, honor and admiration in Native American culture. LED lights at night cause the diamonds to glow, which can be seen from the interstate. The rest area also houses exhibits on the Lewis and Clark expedition and their interactions with the native population.
We walk the paved trail down to see the mighty Mo as she flows along much like she did when Lewis and Clark first encountered her. The views are spectacular. We take a walk off the paved path onto the dirt one, watching for poisonous snakes like the signs say, to get down even further and get a closer look. A site to see.
Back in the rig, we cross the Missouri River for the second time and somewhere east of our destination, we change to Mountain Time. The terrain is also changing to a more hilly landscape. We are heading to the Belvidere KOA. They call it Belvidere, but it is really in Midland, South Dakota. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, for twenty miles in either direction except the 1880 town. It is a stone’s throw from the campground. You can see it from the highway. Richard Hullinger began this “town” with a gas station in 1972. A nearby abandoned 1880’s movie set and Indian artifacts and antiques from his father brought this little town to life. There is the out of place 50’s Train Diner that is a cafeteria in a 1950’s railroad dining car. Really very cool! Wild West fans will love this place.
The campground offers “homemade” pizza. The owners tell us it is real pizza, not frozen or pre-made. The real deal! Being pizza junkies, we give it a shot for dinner. All I can say is it was edible!
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
We are heading to Mitchell, SD, home of the World famous Corn Palace. Who knew?
We cross the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark rose to fame with their explorations. The river is impressive in the twenty first century. I can’t imagine what it was like to see it it it’s original form. I can only wonder at the beauty of the land before the white man marched through and tried to improve on nature.
We are staying at the Dakota Campgrounds in Mitchell. After Sophie, our MapQuest GPS, had us make the last left instead of right, we finally found the campground. The fun part about traveling to these seasonal campgrounds before they get into full swing, is that you see the staff doing the final touches to the sites, namely, trying to level everything after winter.
It is a very quiet campground, being off the beaten path. And you can’t beat the price. Twenty eight bucks a night for full hookups.
It’s early so we head off to see the Corn Palace. I have no idea what to expect. I have to say I am impressed. First off, it is an event center. They have musical artists perform. Of notable fame. Secondly, the outside and inside has beautiful murals that depict a theme that is chosen each year. This year it is “Rock of Ages”, a rock and roll theme. The murals are redone each year. If that is not impressive enough, the murals are made of corn ears and grains!
After, we go to the Prehistoric Indian Village. It is a dig that is encapsulated under a dome. The weather here is not the best to excavate for artifacts in the dead of winter, so they erected a dome to allow year round work. It is manned by archeology students who take you around and show you the site and answer all your questions. The dig will go on for another fifty years. You can see the artifacts they have already dug up and see the cooking areas, storage areas and other places they have found. There is a twenty minute video you can watch to learn more about what goes on under the dome.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Today we are traveling to Onawa, Iowa. Miles and miles of farmland. And then more acres of farmland. And then more. There are miles of wind turbines along I-90 amid the farmland. I love wind turbines. Beautiful kinetic sculptures of grace and power making clean, renewable energy. I don’t know how some people think they are an ugly eyesore. I would rather see them then some smoke spewing electric plant. Maybe in time others will see it as well.
We saw an unusual site while driving to Onawa. A caravan of eight brand new school buses were traveling on I-29. An odd site. It reminded me of a giant centipede.
Onawa Blue Lake KOA is in the heart of the Loess Hills (pronounced “luss”), unique formations made thousands of years ago. It is about a mile off I-29, so no highway noise, but you can see the interstate. The campground is located on Blue Lake, a big beauty where you can fish or boat. For things to do, there is the Blackbird Bend Casino five minutes down the road and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
The day turned sunny. This is the first day in a long time where it isn’t cloudy, rainy or horrifically windy. We put the TV on outside and spend some time just chilling.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
We wake to a cold and very windy day, making it seem even colder. No rain, but pockets all around. Just a matter of time.
Newton, Iowa is home to the Iowa Speedway, designed by Rusty Wallace and owned by NASCAR. This particular track runs the truck and Xfinity Series. Alex, being a big NASCAR fan, had this squarely on his radar.
The track is about a mile from the KOA on the same road. Even though it was the weekend, there were no races running. We drove around awhile, stopping to check out the track, when we eventually caught the attention of one of the track workers. He stopped. We stopped. We told him we were staying at the KOA, big NASCAR fan, just wanted to see the track, from Florida, yada yada. He told us to follow him and he opened the gates so we could go in and get a closer look. He and Alex swapped stories and information while I snapped a few pictures.
We seem to hit a store just about every day. There isn’t a lot of room to store things in an RV, so a good part of your existence is maintaining your existence. The farther you go from the populated eastern seaboard, the harder to find the stores that supplied you with the things you use. Today’s quest is dry cat food and litter at a Petco by Des Moines. We head west and about thirty minutes later we arrive at Petco and get our stuff. Across the street is an Applebee’s so we head there for lunch. While we are eating, I realize we are going to Skype with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter at three o’clock. But three o’clock their time means two o’clock our time. It’s after one. We beat feet back towards home.
We decide to get off the exit before the campground to check out the town of Newtown, and when our Skype call comes in, I can pull into a parking lot. We no sooner get into the town and our call comes through. We get to talk and see our brilliant, beautiful granddaughter, Ola, and her equally brilliant and beautiful mother. Always a pleasure.
After that it’s a quick stop at Wallyworld then home for dinner and a rest.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Today we really need to out run the storms. Alex is up at five. Within an hour he’s got me up. There are massive yellow, orange and red blobs coming at us with bad winds and possible hail. Time to go!
We head west on 24. I’m following the radar on my iPad. We are going to get rain before we get to I-39. We are running in the green mass on the radar, so we have rain, just not the monsoon kind. Based on the radar, our goal is to make it north to the I-80 interchange so we can avoid the yellow, orange and red and hold up in a Flying J in LaSalle, Illinois.
Not long after we get there, the heavy rains come. We wait it out by having something to eat.
Once the really bad rains pass, we get on 80 west to Newton, Iowa KOA. We have rain on and off the entire way, but we’re getting used to this weather.
One interesting thing on the highways of Iowa roadways is their rest areas. They have two kinds; a rest area and a modern rest area. Modern rest areas have bathrooms, vending machines and wifi. Straight out rest areas are nothing more than a parking space. Another different thing is they use the indigenous red rock to make the roadways. Kind of cool to be driving down a red road!
The Newton Iowa KOA is a very nice campground with exceptionally great cable, something you don’t often get in campgrounds. We had a very nice spot, number one, at the end of a row looking out to the wooded area. They have a four acre pond stocked with fish for catch and release. No license required. Even though the entrance was not directly off the interstate, the campground was. So you do hear the road traffic. One other negative, and I am sure it was a result of winter and the spring rains, was the cavernous holes at the entrance. They could do some serious damage.
Since it was raining and we still were not feeling great, we spent the rest of the day relaxing and getting some rest.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Escape from Purgatory! Finally, we are out of here! Westward ho!
We are outrunning the rain. Making a mad dash west on 24, a two lane state road that takes us through farm lands and not much else. Occasionally, there is a town that slows the speed limit down to 35-40.
We made it to a Pilot in Gilman, Illinois. Eastern time it was about 2:30. Central time, we crossed the time zone, made it only 1:30. Early stop for us, but the rain and road made for a stressful trip. Being early, we found a spot along the side where we could open one side of the coach so we would be able to sleep and have some room.
We were by the dumpster and not long after we setup, we had a woman in an SUV pull in front of us. She had a small dog in the car. She also had her left arm in a cast. She go out in the drizzle and walked to the edge of the pavement by the back of the dumpster. She opened a can of dog food and emptied the contents onto the pavement, then went back in the car and sat tAkins pictures. She sat for a good hour waiting while the birds picked at the food. Eventually she left. We never saw the critter she was feeding, but in the morning the food was gone.
Across from the parking lot we had Burger King and a McDonald’s across the street. The best food find was a pizza place right in front of us. Monical’s Pizza has locations in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri. They advertises thin crust pizza. We ordered a Delight but got a Deluxe. Surprisingly, it was very good! I would go back. It was the best pizza so far.
Trains, rain and Vino. That is the only way to describe the night’s sleep. There were train tracks a few hundred feet away and the trains came, even through the night. Since there is a highway that the train tracks cross, the train blows its whistle while the gates clank and bang. Add rain, heavy rain, and a cat that had to be vocal over all the noise, and it was a lousy night sleep.
New rule! No more truck stops unless it is an emergency. Using the fuel for the generator, dinner out, so we don’t cook making a mess, and us being an episode of Hoarders climbing over our stuff because we can’t open up, it doesn’t save anything. Campsites and home cooked meals is in our future!