Tuesday, August 14, 2012

South Dakota and Back Again....Part 3 (The End)

Tuesday, July 31st

A late start as Gabriel and I mutinied and refused to get out of bed until a reasonable hour.  At 9am we were heading south on the 385 into Nebraska. With every trip, we try to take new road, whether it be a two-lane blacktop or freeway and driving into Nebraska was all new territory.

We stopped in Chadron at the Country Kitchen for an adequate, but not entirely delicious, lunch and then it was back on the road.  We saw lots of pronghorn (pronghorn!) and then lo' and behold we saw these strange green things!  During our last trek through Nebraska (in a Toyota Yaris, nonetheless) we saw lots of cornfields, but this, this looked liked trees.  Yes, indeed, pine trees!  And lots of them!

Trees in Nebraska, who would have thought? But once we got through the Arkansas National Forest, it was back to cornfields and flatness.  Bah.

And then yet another HUGE surprise.  As we traveled through Sidney, we saw a water tower, not unlike all the other water towers we'd seen during our trip, but there was something a wee bit different about this one.

For one, it was green instead of white and instead of the town's name, it read, "Cabelas."

That's right, Cabelas' World Headquarters!   Do you think we stopped? Duh, but this time we got away cheap with just a coffee mug.

At 2:30pm we crossed into Colorado and then our engine died.

Robert coasted to a stop, put us in park in the middle of the road, turned the key and the engine started up again and we had no other problems the rest of our trip.  I think I should make a notation here, that just prior to the engine dying, we passed quite a few prairie dogs as in probably a few dozen, maybe upwards of 100 or more as they are so hard to count.

Robert yelled, "Prairie Dogs!" as we'd done numerous other times during our trip when we'd see prairie dogs.  We then joked about feeding peanuts to the ones at the Ranch Store, which probably killed them.  It was just after that our engine died. Coincidence?  I think not.  I believe it was Prairie Dog Magic that caused the engine to die and had any of us exited the vehicle at that point, we would have been attacked and most likely ripped to unrecognizable shreds.

With all our lives (and body parts) still intact, we rolled into Denver at 5:15pm to drop off Gabriel at Carrie's house.  He was flying home to Virginia the following day.  After another short visit with the family, we were southbound on the I-25.  We hit a major thunder and lightening storm (no need to reiterate my feelings about thunder and lightening).  Lots of rain and FLASH BOOM BANG!!

Made it to Colorado Springs unscathed and spent another night in a KOA.

Wednesday, August 1st

Another hot day as we traveled south on I-25.  At Pueblo we saw some workers on the side of the road picking up trash.  The kind of workers who are not there by choice, but are doing community service work as a condition of their probation.  They were wearing black and white stripped pants like the chain gangs of the old days!

Honked and waved at them, but no one paid any attention.  Turned west on the 50 and headed through Canon City, established in 1860 and home to nine state prisons and four Federal penitentiaries.

Reached the Royal Gorge Bridge by 10:30am and it was already 90-degrees!

The Royal Gorge Bridge was built in 1929 and is a suspension bridge that hangs 956-feet above the Arkansas River, which makes it the tallest bridge in the United States.  It's wooden walkway consists of 1,292 planks.  Of course there are large spaces between the planks, so looking down was a bit unnerving.  Robert, also wary of heights, stayed mostly in the middle of the bridge except when a car rolled past and we had to move out of the way.  The speed limit is only 10mph, but the entire bridge shakes when cars cross.  No shame in admitting I was scared, but once across the bridge, there is no other way back except to cross the bridge again.  On our way back, we rode on the trolley car, so it didn't seem as scary.

Across the Royal Gorge Bridge is a theme park with zip lines, an aerial tram, petting zoo, a mountain man town, and various other attractions.  You can also ride the Silver Rock Railway.  You can see the tracks at the bottom of the gorge running along the river bank.

Passed through Gunnison (elevation 7708-feet) where we hit heavy rains that followed us all the way to Montrose.  Guess where we spent the night?  Another KOA Kampground!

Thursday, August 2nd

Welcome to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!

Our 4th, and last, National Park of the trip.

There wasn't much of a chance to see wildlife as there was in some of the other National Parks we visited.   The park road followed the edge of the canyon, so there were no large meadows or other open areas where one might see elk or other wildlife gathered, but we did see a deer at the entrance to the park.

As we climbed into the RV after walking back from one of the viewpoints, Robert happened to glance in his side mirror.  He saw a bobcat emerge from the brush along the trail right where we had been just a few seconds earlier!  The bobcat had most likely been hidden in the thick brush along the trail and had watched us walk past, but we never saw it. Eeek!

Robert's not very fond of heights. Notice the death grip on the railing.  Ha Ha.

Straight down!  Robert wouldn't look as I leaned out to take a picture.

The view from Cedar Point was spectacular.  Even though we were so high above the Gunnison River, we could still hear it's roar and with the chirping of birds....so peaceful and amazing.

The park road ended at High Point (elevation 8,289-feet), but to reach the overlook we would have had to hike over a mile.  Not a long distance, but at altitude, this city girl wasn't really feeling up to any strenuous activity.  As it was, I was having a hard time breathing just walking some of the shorter trails.

After leaving Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we had lunch at the Red Barn in Montrose.  I had a bison burger and Robert a chili burger that he ended up spilling on his shirt.  The waitress called him, "messy."

When we travel, Robert likes to pick up newspapers from the local communities.  On our way out of the Red Barn, I grabbed a copy of the "San Juan Horseshoe."  We didn't immediately notice the warning on the front of the paper, "Warning: May contain revisionist thinking."

Here a just a few of the headlines from the paper:

"Sadie Hawkins Day Concept Lost on Taliban"

"Senators Promise to Hire More Domestics" and the article read in part, "In an attempt to create more jobs, members of the United States Senate today voted unanimously to hire at least two new domestic servants in their multiple households before the end of the year...."  Glad to read they are doing their part.

"Huge Asteroid Barely Misses Earth"

...and my favorite, "Homeless Tough on Grocery Carts."  An interesting read to say the least.

From Montrose, we headed south on Highway 550.  Got caught in a bit of traffic south of Ridgeway because the heavy rains had caused a mudslide across the road.  The were in the middle of clearing the road, so our delay wasn't very long.

If you are afraid of heights, do not travel along Highway 550 in Colorado.

Just south of Ouray,  a quaint little town worth visiting, we drove up and up and up.  There were no guard rails and the drop looked very painful.  And I'm not exaggerating.  About a foot of space lay between us and death.

I think at one point (ok, several points), I leaned so far over to get away from the edge that I was in Robert's lap!  Elevation: 9,155-feet and climbing!  Driving the road was more scary than walking across the Royal Gorge Bridge.

More rain as we went over Red Mountain Pass (elevation 11,094-feet) and arrived in Silverton.

Silverton  is linked to Durango by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which is a National Historic Landmark.  As we rolled into town, we could see in the distance the steam rising from the train.

However, it was pouring rain so we just drove through town and didn't do any sightseeing, although I tried to take a few pictures out the window.

Silverton was established in 1874 as a mining town.   It now has a population of 638.  It is a wonderfully historic town and we were disappointed we didn't get a chance to explore it.  I suppose we could have sat in a saloon, had a beer, and waited for the rain to stop, but the rain didn't seem like it was going to stop anytime soon.  Actually, it got worse while we were driving through.

Continued south over Molas Pass, elevation 10,197-feet and Coal Bank Pass, elevation 10,640-feet and into Durango.  I don't know how it could be pouring rain and 80-degrees, but so said the temperature gauge at the local bank.

Welcome to New Mexico!

We headed south to Farmington, east to Shiprock and then south again into Gallup.  We were still traversing new road, and it lead us into the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation and to be honest, it was quite depressing.  For every one unkept child we saw, there were two, three, or five equally unkept dogs chasing after them.  The houses looked as if a strong wind might blow them away and several had tires on their roofs, which I figured kept the shingles from falling off.  It was so sad that I wanted to pullover and pass out money and food to the kids we saw.  It made me very thankful for what we have.

Hitchhiking seemed quite common on the reservation as we passed many with their thumbs out, but one hitchhiker was quite disturbing.  Actually it was two, a father and son.  The son looked to be maybe 3 or 4 years old.  As they heard us approaching, both of them stuck out their thumbs to hitch a ride.  Obviously this wasn't the first time the baby had been walking on the side of the highway thumbing a ride.

In Gallup, we stopped at McDonalds for a quick bite.  You know you're in a bad neighborhood when there is a security guard standing watch in McDonalds.  We haven't done much traveling in New Mexico, but I was glad when I-40 lead us into Arizona.

Somewhere along the way, we had a time change and at 9:45pm we were pulling into our five-star accommodations in Flagstaff, a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Friday, August 3rd

Early departure from Wal-Mart.  I was still sleepy, so I curled up in the back and slept as Robert took us south on I-17.

At Glendale (100-degrees), I awoke to a wonderful site:  Cabelas.  Spent more money and had lunch at a nearby Cracker Barrel.

Dropped down to I-8 from Highway 85 and headed west towards home and the setting sun.

Arrived home at 5:30pm to find our most adorable little Cierra waiting for us. Good to be home. I really missed the cat.

Total Miles Traveled: 3,465

4 National Parks Visited: Rocky Mountain National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado; Badlands National Park and Wind Caves National Park in South Dakota.

3 Cabelas stores visited: Mitchell, South Dakota; Sidney, Nebraska; Glendale, Arizona.

9 states visited: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona.

Wildlife seen: Moose w/calf, elk, Golden Eagle, marmot, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, buffalo, bobcat, prairie dogs, Canadian Geese, pheasants, American Robin, Magpie, wild turkey, and various other birds.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

South Dakota and Back Again....Part 2

Thursday, July 26th

On the road by 8:30am for a very very long day of traveling.  

We headed north on I-25 into Wyoming, another state I find incredibly beautiful.  Made a quick stop in Chugwater (population 212) to sample some chili at the Chugwater Chili Corp.  It was good, but not to brag or anything, my chili is better.

Veered away from the freeway and headed east on the 313 through Hawk Springs, then north on Highway 85 through Torrington (established late 1880s, population 6,501).  We saw lots of pronghorn (Pronghorn!) along the way and at 2:45pm we crossed into South Dakota.

There is just something so beautiful about South Dakota.  Everything seems fresher, cleaner, more colorful.  Whenever we are in South Dakota, I seem more at peace, more relaxed and find it easier to breath.  It's a feeling hard to describe, but I would not be unhappy living the rest of my days in South Dakota.

We followed Highway 18 through Hot Springs, then went north through the Black Hills to Rapid City.  From there it was east on I-90 to Mitchell.  We stayed the night at the KOA and I was so tired and grumpy I don't remember much else....zzzzzzzz.

Friday, July 27th

Rise and shine and off to the Corn Palace!

The original  Corn Palace was established in 1892 as settlers displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building's exterior in order to show the fertility of South Dakota soil.  The present building was completed in 1921.

Each year the exterior decorations are removed and new murals are created.  This year's theme was "Saluting Youth Activities." While we were there, the youths were working on putting up new corn decorations.

But the real reason for going to Mitchell was Cabelas.  We love that store, but Gabriel didn't like it so much.  Of course I had to have my usual elk sandwich, while Robert had roast beef.  We got out of there in under two hours and with money still in our pockets.

At Sioux Falls we turned north and by late afternoon we were pulling into Milbank, the birthplace of American Legion Baseball.  After checking into the campground at Farley Park, we headed to La Bolt for the Feeding Frenzy.

Every year there is a theme for the Frenzy.  Last time we went in 2009, the theme was duct tape.  This year it was the Olympics.  The Frenzy kicked off with a torch run from Strandsburg to La Bolt (about 4-miles).  The kids had a blast as they got to run around the lake with the torch.  Some of them got a little too rambunctious, so by the end of the run the torch had fallen apart, but their enthusiasm got everyone into the spirit of having fun.

Olympic games were also planned for the weekend, which included a 3-legged race, wheelbarrow race, Wheel of Fortune, badminton and seed spitting.  I came in 11th overall in seed spitting.  I think a few kids spit further than me. A disappointing and embarrassing finish to say the least.

Mostly the games were for the kids, although Wheel of Fortune was a big hit with the older crowd.  I think Robert's mom, Lois, had insider information as she kept guessing the phrases!  Of course she was on the opposite team.

On the way back to Milbank, we watched the sun set over golden fields of hay and fields of corn that went on for miles.  A wonderful ending to a wonderful day.

Saturday, July 28th

We stopped by Alice's Restaurant in Stockholm (pop. 108) for breakfast on the way to La Bolt.  Alice's is owned and operated by Robert's Uncle Richard.

At Alice's all the women will sit on one side of the room, while the men gather on the other side.  In the mornings, the men will shoot dice to determine who pays for coffee.

Alice's is different in that the menu is fixed.  Alice's caters to senior citizens and is subsidized by the government.  

The dinner menu on Monday, for example, will be meat loaf and other than a cheeseburger, that is all you can order.  Prices are very low so seniors with limited incomes can afford to eat and the food is always good.   The town's library is now inside Alice's and you can even access the Internet!

The rest of the day was spent visiting and eating and eating and visiting and then eating some more.  My stomach hurt I ate so much.

Robert and his mom, Lois.

Some good ol' fashion squeeze box and fiddle music.  Pat, the squeeze box player, also sang songs in Swedish.

Robert grabs some food and checks to see what games are scheduled for the day.

Robert and his grandmother, Lorretta.

Back at the campground, we watched the sun set over Lake Farley.  Beautiful.

Sunday, July 29th 

Bye Bye Milbank.

We made good time across South Dakota to Interior, where we would be staying the night at the KOA.  To get to the campground, we had to drive through a portion of Badlands National Park.

As soon as we entered the park, we saw several bighorn sheep on some rocks overlooking the road.  Of course there was no place to pullover, so the pictures I snapped through the windshield are blurry, but just seeing them perched on the rocks was neat.

We stopped briefly at the Ranch Store to feed unsalted peanuts to prairie dogs.  I think prairie dogs are cute, but they are considered a nuisance, like gophers. They are EVERYWHERE!  Although the ones at the Ranch Store were rather fat and lethargic.  Probably from eating so many peanuts.

We later heard an announcement on the radio that you shouldn't feed prairie dogs human food, because prairie dogs don't drink water and human food will mess with their digestive system and kill them.

Oops. Sorry prairie dogs.

We also learned (after feeding the prairie dogs of course) that prairie dogs  are carriers of Black Death-style bubonic plague.  Nice.

Monday, July 30th

After chowing down on some pancakes (cooked by the KOA staff, not the organic wheat crap we had before), we flashed our National Parks pass at the entrance and followed the rest of the tourists into Badlands National Park (elev. 3,080-feet).

We last traveled through the park during our honeymoon in 2007.  We definitely like the park better during the winter.  For one, it wasn't so darn HOT, plus we saw more wildlife and less people.

Nevertheless, it was still a fun day of exploring.

From the Badlands we headed to Wall, South Dakota.  All along I-90 you can see signs advertising Wall Drug.

We spent some time wandering through Wall Drug, had pizza for lunch, and bought a few souvenirs.

And then it was back on the road to visit our 3rd National Park of the trip, but to get there we had to drive through Custer State Park.

Since we were just driving through, we didn't have to pay, but that meant we couldn't stop or take the wildlife loop road.  The park was very beautiful and worth taking the time to explore the next time we are in the area.  They had some really nice looking campgrounds too.

At 2:50pm we entered into Wind Caves National Park and less than ten minutes later, we were standing on the side of the road watching a herd of buffalo wallowing in the dirt and grazing.

We were a good distance away, but could hear them snorting and grunting as they roamed.  It was very cool.

Thanks to Gabriel for seeing them as we passed, because Robert and I were looking in the opposite direction and would have missed them.  We also saw some pronghorn and deer.

We took the 1-1/2 hour Fairgrounds Tour of the Wind Caves.  It was interesting to learn the history of the caves and to wander through.  It was a nice and cool 53-degrees inside the caves.  On our way along the path to the tour meeting area, we spotted a wild turkey and several babies in the bushes.  Turkeys are kind of ugly up close, but they do taste good.

Not long after leaving the visitor center, we saw another buffalo grazing alongside the road.

Welcome to Hot Springs and hot it was - 95-degrees!  Pulled into the local KOA, hooked up the RV, and then took a swim in the pool to cool down.  After a good dinner of chicken, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes, we tucked ourselves in for the night.

Night night.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

South Dakota and Back Again....Part 1

Sunday, July 22nd

The RV was loaded, gassed, and ready.  One last security check of the house by Robert, a few last kisses for the cat by me and off into the night we drove like fugitives.  Time check: 9pm.

Let our latest adventure begin!

Monday, July 23rd 

Morning found us parked among a slew of semi trucks in the parking lot next to the Mad Greek in Baker, CA.  Although we'd only slept a few hours, the allure of the open road had us up early and eager to drive on.  By 8am we were cruising through a very HOT Las Vegas and then into beautiful Utah.

We eventually headed east on I-70, hitting rain near Richfield.  It was a nice downpour to wash away the city dirt, leaving us refreshed and ready for adventure.  Travel through Utah was uneventful, but as we neared the Colorado border we could see lightening flashing in the distance.  I am not a fan of thunder and lightening, but there was nothing I could do but hunker down and ask Robert a million times if we were safe sitting in a big metal box.

He assured me we would remain alive and that we were on rubber tires that would save us, but he soon grew tired of answering my questions about weather patterns and the probability of our deaths.  After awhile he simply stopped listening, but I continued chattering on, pondering our fates.  And this was only the first of many lightening storms we would encounter.

As our first full day on the road came to an end, we had already put over 920-miles between us and home.  Just outside of Glenwood Springs, we found a nice RV park - Glenwood Canyon Resort - and set up camp, which required only a few minutes for Robert to hook up the electricity and water and for me to pop out the slide and slap some sheets on the bed.  For dinner I cooked up some sausage rigatoni and made strawberry shortcake for dessert.  With a full tummy, sleep came quick.

Tuesday, July 24th

We awoke to the screeching wheels of a train rumbling past, but it wasn't an unpleasant sound as we both like trains.  I peeked out the window to find the campground surrounded by high red cliffs, but it was getting hot fast and there was no time to wander aimlessly in the heat as we wanted to get to Rocky Mountain National Park.

By 8:40am we were back on I-70 heading eastward.  At Wolcott we turned north on Highway 131.  It was nice to finally get off the freeways and we were rewarded with a glimpse of a Golden Eagle nesting on one of the power poles along the road.  Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture as we zipped past rather quickly.

At State Bridge we crossed over the Colorado River, turned east, north, and then east again.  At 11:30am we entered Rocky Mountain National Park (the first of four National Parks we would visit).

Robert had never been to the park and I haven't been in over 10 years, so we were both excited to be exploring something new to both of us.

We camped at Timber Creek Campground (elevation 8,900-feet).  It was the first campground we came to, because we wanted to be able to take our time driving through the park and not have to worry about where we would stay the night. Stopping at the campground proved to be a great decision!

I noticed quite a few cars stopped on the road and people gathering in mass, so I figured there was wildlife of some kind.  I thought it might be some elk, so Robert and I headed across the campground to see what the fuss was all about.

As we neared, a moose and her calf crossed the road right in front of us!  I had never seen a moose before.  It was amazing.

Mama moose and her calf wandered through the campground disappearing into the bushes near the river. They weren't afraid of people at all.

After the moose and her calf disappeared, Robert and I hiked to nearby Holzwarth Historic Site.  We saw an elk along the way and were able to track her in the mud. 

As we hiked, it started raining.  Not the annoying pitter-patter to spot my glasses, but a full on downpour!  Robert was drenched as he wasn't wearing a raincoat and I was trying hard to protect my camera.  A couple of park rangers heading to the cabins came by in a golf cart and gave us a ride.  

Holzwarth Historic District is a series of cabins built by the Holzwarth family in 1917 that were eventually purchased by the Nature Conservancy and transferred to the National Park Service in 1975.  We were able to tour "Mamma's" cabin, but the others closed at 4:30pm and we were too late.

For dinner I made pancakes.  They were horrible, but it wasn't my fault. Robert had seen some pancake mix at the grocery store that squirted out of a bottle similar to whip cream.

He suggested I buy that because it would be easier than making our own mix.  What he didn't know and what I failed to see when I grabbed it off the shelf, was that it was organic wheat pancake batter.  It sucked.

Not only did it suck, but the batter was expired!  Not surprising.

Wednesday, July 25th

Rise and shine to a wet and cold morning.  We skipped breakfast and exited the campground about 7:50am.  Not far from the campground we saw more elk grazing along the road seemingly indifferent to the cars pulling alongside them and people snapping their picture.  We were no exception.

We got lost in the clouds as we gained elevation and drove along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.  It was very cool!

We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center for souvenirs, coffee and hot cocoa.  The Alpine Visitor Center sits at 11,796-feet in elevation and is the highest visitor center in elevation in all of the National Park System.

While we sipped our drinks, we watched a bunch of marmots on the hillside and in the meadow far below us was a large herd of elk.

We were sad to exit the park, but excited to get to Denver to pick up Robert's son, Gabriel.  He would be joining us for the trip to the Feeding Frenzy in South Dakota.  Gabriel had flown into Denver and  was at Robert's sister's house.

It was good to see Carrie, Jeremy, and their three boys.  We hadn't yet met their youngest son, Caleb, so it was nice to spend some time visiting.

But then it was back to Denver Meadows RV Park in Aurora where we would be resting up for the next part of our adventure.