Sunday, August 10, 2008

You're Back, How Was It?

2008 Summer Road Trip, 9093 miles 186 hrs 35 min (driving time)

So the trip is over. Overall I would say the the trip was a success. We did a lot of traveling and saw a lot of the United States. I got to go to many places that have been on my list of places to see for a long time.

The biggest highlights of this year's trip was not a location but the time we were joined by Mary and my dad on the road. Getting to share part of experience with Mary was very special. It changed the dynamic of our group for the better. Sharing the experience is always better than the telling of it later. I really enjoyed having my dad along. The boys had a great time and were almost as disappointed when he had to leave as when Mary did. I think he a good time and I also hope he can join us again in the future on a trip. We both still have Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks on our lists.

It was great to visit relatives that we had not seen in a long time or who the boys had not met. Neal is always great to visit with. Seeing Aunt Norma was wonderful. We promise it will not be so long until we visit again.

The beauty and diversity of our National Parks were definite highlights. These places that we have set aside to preserve our heritage and protect our natural wonders are some of the most special places in our country. The history we learned was so much more poignant when standing in the spot it occurred. Also hope burns a bit stronger that we as a nation can make our country and the world a better place if we continue to protect the land.

WPA Poster of Arches National Park

WPA Poster of Bandelier National Monument

Route 66 was a great drive. For awhile I was confused on how I felt about that part of the trip. To me it was, "okay." Then I realized the problem. It was that we didn't camp as much as I wanted to. Route 66 is a trip that begs to stay in the motels along its course. Once I had that out of the way I can confidently say it is a great way to cross the country. We met a lot of neat people and saw some really cool stuff. I am glad that we drove Route 66. After all how often do you get to sleep in a wigwam?

A Postcard of Route 66

I hope the boys remember this trip fondly even if they do not remember all the details. When I look back to places I visited 30 years ago I find that my memory of them include very few details though the trip is deeply ingrained in my "mythology". The memories from this trip, driving the Generals Highway with mouths agape in total awe at the trees towering over us, the feeling of wonder looking out over the vastness of the Grand Canyon, and the amazement of the spectacular beauty of the Yosemite valley will last forever. At least one place we visited is no longer. A few days after we left Arches National Park Wall Arch fell into memory.

Now the planning for next year has started. Shorter than the last two years. We are going backpacking on Isle Royale National Park for two weeks with a circle tour of Lakes Superior and Huron thrown in. Right now though we are again headed to the shores of Cape Hatteras for a week of hanging out on the beach in the sun.

By the numbers:

Days on the Road: 39 days
Totals Miles Driven: 9,093 miles
Time Spent Driving: 7 days 18 hrs 35 min
Gas: 420.29 gallons at $1,734
Food: $1,135
Lodging: $554
Entry Fees: $377
States Visited: 19
National Park Units Visited: 28
Junior Ranger Badges: 22 each

The Prairie Dogs are Pretty Big in South Dakota

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mounds, Taliesin, Madison and Home

Joe Standing Tall with the Jolly Green Giant

Waking up early we were on the road by 5:30 am. Our first stop of the day was the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. He stands 55 feet tall and was created in 1978 to mark the completion of I-90. Ned was still asleep so Joe ran out and stood at his feet. He doesn't normally wear a t-shirt though at Christmas he sports a nice red scarf.

After leaving Blue Earth we were back in the Iowa countryside on our way to Effigy Mounds National Monument on the Mississippi River just north of Marquette, IA. There we hiked up to the bluffs over the river to view some of the 200 mounds that are preserved by the monument. Most of the mounds are conical or bar shaped but 31 are effigies in the shape of birds and bears. We also hiked out to Fire Point Overlook with views of the Mississippi River and Wisconsin. At Eagle Rock Ned saw a bald eagle soar past. When we returned to the visitor center the boys received their 22nd Junior Ranger badge of the trip.

Little Bear Mound

Joe Reading How the Mounds Were Built

The Upper Mississippi River from Fire Point Overlook

Leaving Effigy Mounds we crossed the Mississippi River and to Prairie du Chien, WI. When we crossed heading west the river was high with flood waters and we were high with excitement for the trip ahead. Now crossing east 37 days later the river was back to normal and we were high with the anticipation of returning home and back to Mary.

After a quick lunch we set off for Spring Green, WI. We had a 1:30 pm tour at Taliesin the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Taliesin has been on my places to see list for a long time and I was excited for this opportunity to visit. Taliesin is where Frank Lloyd Wright spent a large part of his youth working on the farm. It is also where he located the Taliesin Fellowship to provide architectural training with a"learn by doing" approach that stressed appreciation of all the arts. Students and staff lived and worked on the Taliesin property. Frank Lloyd Wright also used the property to develop the ideas and techniques he later applied to buildings he designed. The community continues today as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture whose members are still known informally as the Taliesin Fellowship and who reside at Taliesin during the summer months.

We went on a tour of the Hillside House. Wright designed Hillside in 1902 for his aunts, who ran an children’s school based on the motto "learn by doing." Wright's building was as innovative as the school it housed. After his aunts retired and sold Wright the building he used it to accommodate the Taliesin Fellowship. Highlights of the tour are the Assembly Hall, the Drafting Studio where work is still done, the Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower, and a small theater with a handmade curtain given to Wright by his students. We will have to return to visit the main house when the boys are older.

The Entrance to Taliesin

Hillside House at Taliesin

The Romeo and Juliet Windmill at Taliesin

We left Taliesin and drove through the Wisconsin countryside to Madison, WI. We drove through town a bit and found ourselves by the capitol building. We stopped and went up to the sixth floor museum and observation deck where we could look out over Madison and the picturesque waters of Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. Madison was a place I would like to visit again.

After leaving the Madison we were only about seven hours from home. So we headed south skirted Chicago and then east through Indiana and into Michigan. We had dinner at Redamak's in New Buffalo, MI for dinner. I had told Mary that we taking another day and driving home through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so when we arrived home just after 11:00 pm she was surprised. The homecoming was wonderful.

The Wisconsin State Capitol

The Interior of the Capitol Dome

The View of Madison from the Dome

Blue Earth, MN to Ypsilanti, MI, 731 miles 12 hrs 13 min

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Badlands, a Corn Palace and Loose Meats

Hey Ned and Joe, Where Did You Find Harvey?

It started to rain last night and when we awoke we found that water had seeped up through the floor. It wasn't even that hard of a rain. It is always annoying to break camp when everything is wet. At least the rain had stopped.

After a stop in Rapid City, SD for gas we were heading east on I-90. We didn't have have far to go until our first stop, Wall, SD the home of the famous Wall Drug Store. The store is more like a mall with a drug store, gift shop, restaurant, other stores and a low key amusement park. It was just a typical drug store until 1930's when the owner's wife had the idea to advertise free ice water to travellers on their way to the newly opened Mount Rushmore. Wall Drug also earns much of its fame from its billboards that can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. It still gives away about 20,000 cups of water per day during the peak tourist season.

The place was packed with motorcyclists. We looked around a bit watched the T-Rex roar and then left. We didn't get any ice water unless the drinking fountain counts. Just south of Wall is Badlands National Park's Pinnacles Entrance and the beginning of the Badlands Loop Road.

Joe Likes to Ride the Jackalopes

Ned Rides Ol' Hopalong

Motorcycles Lined Up Outside of Wall Drug

Badlands National Park has one of the world's richest mammal fossil beds and the country's largest expanse of protected prairie ecosystem but its main attraction is the landscape of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. Because of the relatively wet summer the green of the grassland made for a sharp and beautiful contrast against the sandstone. At the visitor center we learned about the different animals that lived here in the past and now and the boys successfully completed their Junior Ranger books and received their badges.

The Badlands Stretch Out to the Horizon

This Way to the Visitors Center

Next was a quick stop at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site but the tours of the underground launch control center and a missile silo were filled. We watched a short video about the Minuteman missiles.

We made an unexpected stop was at arest area where I-90 crosses the Missouri River near Chamberlain, SD. There was a Lewis & Clark interpretive center with maps and displays and an upper landing with a full size replica of the keelboat used by their Corps of Discovery to travel up the Missouri River. The keelboat opens onto an observation deck overlooking the Missouri River, right where Lewis & Clark camped.

200 miles east we stopped in Mitchell, SD to see the famous Corn Palace. Can you drive across South Dakota without stopping at the Corn Palace? The Corn Palace dates back to 1892 when early residents displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building's exterior. They continue the tradition with new murals created each year depicting an important facet of the lifestyle of South Dakota. The murals require thousands of bushels of corn, grains and grasses each year. We toured the inside of the building where there are more murals. There are also photos of the building from the last hundred years showing each year's exterior mural.

The Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD

Inside the Corn Palace

Ned and Joe are Acting Corny...

C0rn Palace Exterior Detail

From Mitchell we went to Sioux Falls then south and into Iowa to have dinner at Bob's Drive-In in Le Mars, IA. Western Iowa has a specialty called loosemeats which is a sandwich of ground beef that is cooked loose – unpattied – and served sauceless. At Bob's its called a Tavern and is very good. They also have really good milkshakes made with Blue Bunny Ice Cream which is made in Le Mars. The Bob Dog, a hot dog covered in loosemeats, is also really good.

It was pretty late and dark when we left Le Mars and turned north into Minnesota. Once back on the interstate we got as far as Blue Earth before pulling over at a rest area for some sleep.

Custer State Park, SD to Blue Earth, MN, 628 miles 10 hrs 58 min

Monday, August 4, 2008

Two Caves and Mount Rushmore at Night

Joe and Ned Show Off Their Wind Cave Junior Ranger Badges

Today was a busy day. We started the morning at Jewel Cave National Monument. With 143 miles of tunnels and chambers mapped it is the second longest cave in the world. The glimmer of calcite crystals that fill the cave make up the "jewels" of Jewel Cave. Of the four different ranger led tours available to explore the cave we took The Lantern Tour. We entered the cave through the historic entrance carrying only oil lanterns to light our way.

The tour covered the original explored 1/2 mile of the cave and lasted an hour and 45 minutes. The ranger wore an older version of the uniform to give the tour a 1930's feel. It was a neat experience to explore a cave by only lantern light. We even saw a bat. After the tour we explored the visitor center and the boys received their Junior Ranger badges.

We Enter Jewel Cave for the Lantern Tour

Stairs into the Cave

We stopped in Custer, SD for lunch and then went to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is the world's fourth longest and one of the most complex caves. It is well known for its boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. Of the six cave tours offered we went on the Natural Entrance Tour. It includes a visit to the natural entrance then enters the cave through a man-made entrance and then down through the middle level of the cave. There are 300 stairs on the tour but most go down. At one spot the ranger turned off the lights and lit a candle to give an idea of how early tourists saw the cave. The tour lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes and we didn't have to climb back up the stairs, we took an elevator back to the visitors center where the boys received their 21st Junior Ranger badges of the trip.

Driving out of the park we saw a large herd of bison along with a prairie dog town. The prairie dogs were barking at anyone who came near them. In Custer State Park we saw a herd of Pronghorn Antelope and some wild burros.

The Natural Entrance of Wind Cave

The Stairway Into Wind Cave

Wind Cave's Famous Boxwork

Joe and Ned, Spelunkers

A Prairie Dog Barks a Warning

Pronghorn Antelope Along the Road

I really wanted to see the lighting of Mount Rushmore in the evening. So we drove back to Mount Rushmore on Iron Mountain Road, another part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. To lessen the impact on the natural habitat when it was constructed the road sometimes doubles on itself in pigtail loops to climb up the mountain. There are also three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore as you travel north.

When we got to Mount Rushmore we visited the gift shop and then found a seat in the amphitheater. The Evening Program started with a ranger talk on the presidents, patriotism and our nation's history. After the talk the ranger called all servicemen and women to the stage for a flag ceremony. It was followed by a film called "Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy." As the film neared the end the lights started to come on lighting the memorial. It was an inspiring event to watch. On the way back to the campsite we would catch glimpses of the lit sculptures as drove along the highway.

Before we got back we made one last stop at the Norbeck Overlook to look out over the Black Hills and the glowing memorial to four of our nation's greatest presidents. It was pretty late when we finally got to camp. Tomorrow we were heading east and home.

Mount Rushmore Framed by a Tunnel on Iron Mountain Road

Ned and Joe Hamming it Up Presidential Style

Mount Rushmore National Memorial at Night

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Devils Tower to Rocky Faces

Devils Tower Early in the Morning

After last night's drive it would have been nice to sleep in a bit but since we slept in the car that didn't happen. Sleeping in the car is not very comfortable. The boys sleep reclined in their seats and I sort of lie down across the front seats where there is always something sticking into my back. There is one advantage, we are up and on the road early and since it was only 33 miles to Devils Tower National Monument we were there by 6:30 am.

Devils Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Many years ago it was hidden beneath the land and slowly appeared as the surrounding sandstone eroded. Over 20 tribes have a cultural affiliation with Devils Tower with many having stories about how it was created. Most talk about a giant bear scoring the Tower's sides with its claws. It is a sacred site for many American Indians and as we walked the base trail we could see offerings tied to many of the trees. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower a National Monument, the first in the country.

We had a quick breakfast and then hiked the trail around the base of Devils Tower. It was very quiet on the trail and the boys enjoyed clambering on the boulders strewn about the base. We watched climbers making their way to the top. The visitor center was open when we finished so the boys were able to get their Junior Ranger Badges.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower on the Horizon

As we headed east on I-90 we stopped to check out the Vore Buffalo Jump near Beulah, WY. Active from 1500 to 1800 A.D. it is a natural sinkhole that Native Americans used to trap bison by driving them over the edge of the hole. This allowed the Native Americans to process large quantities of meat and hides to survive the prairie winters. It was discovered during the construction of Highway I-90. There is a building with displays about the site and then you walk down into the sinkhole where there is an excavated section with some of the many bones that were piled up by the Native Americans working there.

The Bottom of the Buffalo Jump

Buffalo Remains at the Vore Buffalo Jump

After entering South Dakota we drove through Sturgis, SD home to one of the largest gatherings of motorcycle enthusiasts in the world. Each year around 400,000 bikers come to this small town to hang out for a week. Though the official start of the week was Monday there were thousands of bikers everywhere. Some were riding the coolest bikes I have ever seen.

It is not far from Sturgis to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Like everywhere else it was packed with bikers. Mount Rushmore has changed quite a bit a since I was there 30 years ago. In 1998 the park service finished a complete redevelopment of the visitor facilities. The only thing left unchanged are the heads on the mountain.

The sculpture of the presidents is impressive. The boys were excited to visit. We joined a Ranger Walk along the Presidential Trail which follows the base of the mountain and we heard about the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. One thing we learned is that portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of our nation.

After the walk we went to Gutzon Borglum's studio where his original model of Mount Rushmore is displayed. It started to rain so we stayed and listened to a ranger talk about the tools and techniques used in the carving of the mountain sculpture. We also went to the Lincoln Borglum Museum. There are exhibits on the mountain carving, the presidents, the sculptor and the workers and a movie on carving Mount Rushmore. Before leaving the boys received their Junior Ranger badges.

From Mount Rushmore we drove the Needles Highway, part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, to our campsite in Custer State Park. You can't be in a rush when driving the Needles Highway especially during Sturgis. Only 14 miles long it passes between granite towers and over pine covered mountains with many twists and turns and stunning scenery. There are also three narrow tunnels blasted out of the granite with the narrowest only 10' 4" wide. Along the way we stopped was at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park where scenes for National Treasure were filmed.

Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres and an abundance of wildlife. Just before got to camp we passed a group of male Bighorn Sheep. Once camp was setup and we had some dinner we went the campground evening program on the animals of Custer State Park.

Bikers Line the Street in Keystone, SD

Joe and Ned Having Fun at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

George Washington First President First Carved

George, Tom and Teddy

Lincoln Preserver of Our Nation

Moorcroft, WY to Custer State Park, SD, 209 miles 5 hrs 25 min