A Travellerspoint blog

Iowa and Minnesota

Zipping Through Iowa

In just about every state we've travelled through, we've been pleasantly surprised by what we've found, and a lot of our preconceived notions have been busted -- that is, until we reached Iowa. It was just exactly as we had imagined -- flat farmland, ready to be planted with corn, and without too much personality. We did find a winery in southern Iowa -- ok, that was a surprise -- but basically we just drove through the state as a way to get from Missouri to Minnesota. 'Nuf said.

Into Minneapolis

I got a chuckle as we headed up towards Minneapolis. There was a sign that said "Medford 3/4 mile". Although there wasn't much there in the little town of Medford, it did put a smile on my face.

After having had such a good time in Kansas City, we were a little disappointed in Minneapolis. It didn't have nearly the personality that KC did. It was actually a little "blah". But we still ended up having a good time.

We've been amazed by the number of lakes, everywhere you look. Of course, this state is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." There's this one area of town called the Chain of Lakes, and there are some beautiful, old, huge houses all along the edge. If you had to live in Minneapolis, that would be the place to live!

Wandering thru Downtown

We went downtown to the Nicollet Mall, which is a pedestrian mall that runs the length of downtown. The downtown area is interesting in that just about every block is connected on the buildings' second levels. In other words, you can walk from block to block in just about any direction and never have to go outside. I guess you'd have to have something like that in an area that dips below zero in the winter.

In front of Macy's is a bronze statue of Mary Tyler Moore, with her throwing her hat up like she did at the beginning of the MTM show.
Minnesota_004.jpgRemember, her job in that show was in a Minneapolis TV station. I thought that was amusing.

A funny thing happened -- we were walking around in the cold, windy downtown, and of course, we had to go potty. I looked up and saw a Target, so I suggested we go in there. We went around the corner, looking for the door, then finally found it. We thought it was weird that the door wasn't more accessible. When we walked in, we thought it was a strange-looking Target, with an escalator, sculptures, etc. But we went up the escalator. When we got to the top, we looked and saw people walking everywhere, then finally a couple of security guards at a desk. I finally got it. I walked up and asked, "Is this the Target corporate headquarters or something?" He said "Yes". Since we were already there, I also asked, "Are there any public restrooms around here?" He showed us one, so we still accomplished our mission! ;-)

From there, we walked down to a Sculpture Garden next to the Walker Art Museum (contemporary art). Most of the sculptures in the garden were pretty weird, but the main centerpiece of the garden was pretty cool -- a huge cherry on an even bigger spoon.Minnesota_020.jpg

On our way walking through the park, we saw something funny. A person was lying down on a blanket taking a nap, and next to him was a little nylon carrier that undoubtedly had some food in it. A little squirrel kept walking around and around him, wanting so very much to get to the food he was smelling, but scared to approach this big human being. We stood and watched him for a long time, but then we left. I'm not sure how things ended up. We kept thinking that the squirrel was going to jump on the man, although if that were to happen, I'm not sure who would have been more surprised!

More Adventures

In the afternoon, we drove down to Minnehaha Park, and saw the Minnehaha Falls. It's about 50 feet high, and is on a creek that runs into the Mississippi. The park is very big, and very pretty.

After the falls, we headed down to Bloomington to go to the Mall of America, the largest mall in the U.S., with more than 500 stores under a 4.2 million square foot building. Of course, about 2 million square feet of that, the entire center of the Mall, consists of a big amusement park, with several roller coasters, ferris wheels, etc. It was pretty mind boggling!

While we were walking around, we saw several hair salons. Since it had been about 8 weeks since either of us had gotten a haircut, we decided to walk into one. I've used only two hairdressers over the last 16 years, so I was wondering how it would go. But when I walked in, I decided that I was tired of being shaggy, so I told the gal to cut it short -- which she did! I had looked through some hair books and found a picture of a hairdo I looked, and the gal did a good job.

By the way, my hairdresser had lived in Minnesota her entire life, so I was entertained by her accent. At one point, she even said "Yah, sure" just like I would have guessed she would. When I told her I enjoyed her accent, she was surprised she even had one. Cute.

Art Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Saturday morning, we went to the big annual Art Show down in the art district -- or at least that's what they called it. As we went through the old dilapidated buildings, Michael and I were commenting that the Minnesota building code was nothing like the Oregon or California code! Anyway, there were many artists there displaying their stuff -- some of it looked good (but was way overpriced), but most of it was just bizarre. We wondered how these people paid the rent!

We thought we'd be at the art show longer, but a couple of hours was enough, so we headed over to St. Paul. The capital building was pretty, but right across the way from there was a huge beautiful building. We found out it was the Cathedral of St. Paul, built 100 years ago. Minnesota_037.jpgWe saw that the church was open, so we decided to go in. When we entered the side door, we quickly realized there was a wedding going on. Of course, Michael thought we should leave immediately -- but I convinced him that the cathedral was large enough that no one would notice we were there. So we stayed -- and no one noticed. There were also other people wandering around. The cathedral was huge and beautiful, and rivaled anything we had seen in Rome.

Prairie Home Companion

Saturday late afternoon, we actually went to Minneapolis' State Theater to see Garrison Keilor and the Prairie Home Companion. I've listened to that radio show on National Public Radio and on the internet many times, so it was pretty exciting to actually be there during the live radio broadcast. It was a 2-hour show and very entertaining. During intermission I went up front to take a picture of Garrison. He's a strange looking guy, but it was very cool.

Off To Packer Country

Sunday morning we heading off to Green Bay, Wisconsin. There's not a lot to do there other than see Lambeau Field (the Packers) and eat some Wisconsin cheese and sausage, but we plan on taking a day off to clean the house, iron some clothes, do some grocery shopping, and just catch up.

After that, we're heading off to Traverse City, Michigan for a few days. My friend, Margie, is from there, and she tells me it's wonderful. I'll give you a full report next week.

Remember, more pictures may be seen at http://semitte.photosite.com.

Posted by semitte 18:56 Comments (3)

Beautiful Missouri

Bolivar Bound

We headed up out of the Fayetteville Arkansas area and quickly reached Missouri. This state is really very beautiful -- prettier than I imagined. More rolling, lush green hills, lots of trees, and critters everywhere! OK, here's the roadkill report: we still have armadillos, but now we also have possums and even raccoons.

Before I tell you about more critters, let me tell you about a couple of funny or interesting things. When we first got into Missouri, we drove through a town called "Jane." That was odd enough, but then I saw the "Bank of Jane". That just struck me really funny!

Also, I was surprised to see that Missouri allows year-round fireworks stores -- even "superstores".

Anyway, we drove into Bolivar, where my Dad lives. Now the town was named after the South American hero, Simon Bolivar (pronounced "boh'-lee-var"). But this town is pronounced to rhyme with "Oliver". Just an amusing bit of Americana.

Anyway, my Dad has a great place. It's about 63 acres of woods, pasture, ponds, and more critters. Dad wants to clear out the brush and rocks, and make it an actual animal habitat. He's doing everything he can to encourage all kinds of animals to show up on his property.

I saw some of the most beautiful birds there, some that I've never seen before. Here are some of the birds that we saw: goldfinch, dove, bluejay, downy woodpecker, owl, wild turkey, nut hatch, titmouse (yes, it's a bird), hummingbird, red-wing blackbird, cardinal, indigo bunting, and the infamous yellow-bellied sap-sucker (which doesn't have a yellow belly, by the way)! I'm glad my Dad knew the names of all the birds, because it made the stay more interesting.

He has a patio just right off his dining area, and every morning he throws a seed and grain mixture out on the patio. All day we watched all the various birds, as well as red and gray squirrels, come up and eat on the patio. It was just so relaxing -- and entertaining -- to watch these beautiful creatures from so convenient a spot.

One little red squirrel was particularly entertaining -- he was there to stay for a while. He stayed on the patio and ate for over an hour. And so he wouldn't tire himself out, he just layed on the patio on his belly, in the middle of the food, with his legs just sprawled out. It was so funny to watch him.

Burn, Baby, Burn!

Besides sitting around watching the animals ;-) we also played...er, I mean worked, on the burn piles. Dad had cleared out a lot of brush, so we had to keep the burn pile going. I tell you, that will bring out the pyro in anyone. Again it was just relaxing to stand near the fire, with that great wood-burning smell, and keep adding wood.

But there was another burn pile out in the pasture that needed taken care of. It started out about 9-10 feet high, but with leaves and other quick-burning material in the middle, the blaze went up really high and really hot. It was a pyro's dream! ;-)

We also had to bring some logs from the pasture to the log pile, so that required the tractor, which looks like a little minibulldozer -- and I got to drive it! I felt like a real country girl! ;-)

While we were there, there were a couple of good ol' midwestern thunderstorms, with dumping water and really loud claps of thunder. Then they went away as fast as they came. I love thunderstorms like that. Amazingly, though, they didn't make fires completely go out.

Back In The House

Mike and Dad also worked on some home projects, and I worked on some computer projects. My Dad has been interested in genealogy, but he's really worked on it. He has about 2500 names on his list, some back to the 1500's. I love that! I got his list kinda cleaned up a little bit, then I also got a copy of his database. I'm eventually going to add to it all the names I got from my mom from her side of the family, and I'll have a huge database. That was pretty cool. I also got several more copies of some old family pictures that I will add to my collection.

Along with all the pics and info, Dad also had a collection of stuff from my Grandpa Black. My Grandpa was a very interesting and talented guy. Dad had a bunch of poems and songs that my Grandpa wrote, and it was very entertaining going through those. Dad asked me to take the songs to the piano and play them so he could hear them. As I plunked my way through these Christian songs that Grandpa wrote in the 30's, it was very cool to think about what I was doing. We also looked at some of Grandpa's handiwork -- carving, metalworking, etc. Grandpa's been gone for almost 25 years, so it was fun to go through all this stuff.

The Thrill of Throwed Rolls

Finally, I have to tell you about a place we went to eat called Lambert's, in the town of Ozark. They are known for their "throwed rolls" (huh?). They make these awesome freshly baked yeast rolls, and as soon as they're done, a guy comes out and starts throwing them out from clear across the room to whomever puts their hands up (which, of course, I did! -- more than once!!). We ordered our main dish, but both before and during the meal (and after, too), guys bring around big bowls of freshly cooked fried okra, black-eyed peas, fried potatoes, and macaroni & tomatoes. You can have as much of that great southern food as you want -- and this is in addition to the huge main dish (we all had southern fried steak with mashed potatoes and green beans, served in a big skillet).
Bolivar_026.jpgDo you get the picture?? A huge, delicious, fun southern meal experience!! What could be better (ok, and more fattening) than that??!!

OK, as you can tell, I had a great time in Bolivar. My dad and I had some great talks, he shared some family stories that I hadn't heard before, and we ate some great food!

Quick Jaunt Back To Kansas

We've had a recurring little problem in our fifth wheel that we knew the manufacturer had a fix for, so we decided to just jump over to the big city of Chanute, Kansas (not far from the Missouri border), to get it fixed. As we crossed over into Kansas, we discovered Fort Scott, which was one of a line of forts spread in a north-to-south line across the midwest to separate the states from the Indian Territories. It was later used in the anti- and pro-slavery efforts.
Missouri_016.jpgIt was very interesting to see the well-preserved quarters, and to see how they lived out on the frontier. This discovery was a nice little piece of serendipity.

We also passed through a little town called "Gas." And yes, they had a "Bank of Gas". What a crack-up!

When we got to the manufacturer in Chanute, we were told that it could take probably five days before they could get to us. After having driven through Chanute very quickly, and seeing what was there (or not!), we were not looking forward to that possibility! Michael thought that was not a good answer, so he asked to speak to the president of the company. They had a nice chat (!), and next thing we knew, he was asking us to get the rig over there as soon as possible. They had it fixed in three hours instead of five days! Well, what do you know??!! That was a huge relief, and we were able to get back on the road.

Goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come...

We both wanted to check out Kansas City, but weren't sure exactly what was there. Frankly, I was expecting an old, industrial, past-its-prime city on flat land. I couldn't have been more wrong! I absolutely LOVE Kansas City! It is an incredible, dynamic, beautiful city with a ton of things to do! There are unique shopping and museum areas, a dynamic downtown, professional baseball and football, and fountains everywhere! They say that the only city with more fountains is Rome, and I believe it. There are some gorgeous fountains that rival anything I ever saw in Rome.

There's also some great food. Monday was our 26th anniversary (!), and I wanted to try some authentic Kansas City barbeque. We went to "Jack Stack's" and the food was incredible! We had the best ribs I've ever had (other than Michael's, of course).

Here's just a random observation -- we saw about 10-12 guys (maybe in their early 20's) in the park on their bikes. They were riding on the grass, and playing frisbee while on the bikes! There were teams, and they were trying to toss it to each other and make it to the "end zone." When they dropped the frisbee, they would ride by and lean over and pick it up. I was so amazed at what they were doing!

More Serendipity

While we were at my Dad's, his wife Lanna was out in California with her parents, so we didn't get to see her. I knew that Dad was picking her up at the Kansas City airport on Tuesday, but we had to be in Chanute on Monday, and we were supposed to be there for a few days, so I figured we wouldn't get to see her. But since we ended up in Kansas City Monday evening, I called Dad to let him know. After he picked up Lanna, we met them for lunch (at the Cheesecake Factory -- yum!!). We then toured around Kansas City, since they had never really seen it either. We spent a few hours together, and had a good time.

Money, Money, Money

Wednesday morning we drove downtown to take a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank (yep, we know how to have a good time on vacation!!). Actually, it was extremely interesting. We saw how they run through all of the checks that are processed in the rather large Kansas City district. This huge machine runs through 60,000 checks in an hour. We also saw them process cash that runs through the banks. There was a room with 3 ladies in it. They were processing just this one big bin of $20's -- and the bin totalled $2.8 million! And that was just part of their work. We had to be careful where we went and what we touched (or not), and we always had to be in sight of the many cameras. When we left, we got to take a souvenir bag of shredded cash which represented $165. I thought about getting out the tape, but nah....

When You Care Enough To Send The Very Best

After the money tour, we went and toured the Visitor Center at the large Hallmark facility (this is their headquarters). They had displays about their history and all the stuff they produce (cards, ornaments, TV shows, etc). They also had a bow-making machine that you got to see operate (amazing!), and you got to take the little souvenir bow with you (actually I made two). One of the interesting parts was that they had a section set up where we could see them running some actual cards through the part of the process that stamps on the gold foil print. We stood there a long time and talked to the guy. Michael is always interested in machinery, so they spent a long time talking about how their process works. It was very interesting. We really hit it off with this guy, so before we left, he went back and got a big basket of bows and let me choose however many and whatever colors I wanted. Bonus!!

An Amazing President

In the afternoon, we headed out to Independence to the Truman Presidential Library. Wow, it was quite impressive! Of course, he took over the presidency when Roosevelt died in 1945, then was elected in 1948 and served through 1952. I certainly knew the various events that happened during that time, but when you look at it all together in this library, it's stunning what he had dumped in his lap! After being in office for 4 months, he made the decision to drop the bomb. And over the next few years, he had to deal with the Korean conflict, sweeping things up in Europe and Asia, the establishment of the State of Israel, rampant economic turmoil at home, McCarthyism, civil rights and lots of other "tough stuff." When he left office, he only had a 30% approval rating. But history has shown that he actually had to make some huge decisions, and did a good job in doing so, even though they weren't necessarily popular at the time. I think this is one Democrat that I could have voted for!
Missouri_085.jpg (By the way, that's Truman on the left).


There are a lot more pics of these things on my photosite, which may be found at http://semitte.photosite.com. Just a hint, if you don't want to look through the entire album again each time, just hit the "previous" button. The pics will be in reverse order, but it should still be ok.

Well, we're heading up through Iowa and on up to Minneapolis. I look forward to seeing what that large city has to offer. I'll be sure to give you an update next time!

Posted by semitte 17:40 Comments (1)

Oklahoma and Arkansas

Time with the Family

This first section will probably be interesting only to certain people as I recall the various times with my family, so bear with me! ;-)

I hadn't seen my family in Oklahoma for right at four years, so it was nice to be able to see them again. The first day I was there, I was able to go observe my sister, Brenda, teach class. She's involved in teaching five teenagers in a home school setting, and it was fun getting to know the girls. Brenda was teaching English and math, and she and I both especially enjoyed the diagramming portion of the English lesson (yes, I know, we're BOTH weird!).

From there, I was able to go over to spend the afternoon with my mom (and see the house I bought her three years ago!). And then we went and had dinner with my brother Robert, his wife Jennifer, and their daughter Hallie. It was an enjoyable day!

The next day, we headed over to my niece, Rachel's house, and to meet her little boy, Zachary, who is 17 months (about 6 weeks older than Avery). My brother Rick (Rachel's dad) also came over. That was very enjoyable since I hadn't seen Rick in almost 16 years! (I know, it's a long story...). He also brought over his fiance Lani, and her young son. Brenda also came over, and we all went out to P.F. Changs for dinner. It was a fun evening.

I have to talk about Zachary -- he's one of the brightest little guys I've ever met! He's quiet and well-mannered, and is very analytical. He just watches you, and you can see his brain going a mile a minute. And when we went out to eat, he just sat there and ate, with the best manners! We were there for quite a while, and he was well-behaved throughout the entire evening. But the most impressive thing about Zach was his golf swing. His golfer daddy had gotten him a small set of (plastic) golf clubs, and that's his favorite thing to play with. But the amazing thing is that he would step up to the ball, and hit it every stinkin' time -- and with a great swing, I might add. Have you ever seen that footage of Tiger Woods when he was about 2 years old, hitting the ball with a perfect swing? Well, that's Zach. You remember the name, Zachary Rutherford!

Brenda and I had both brought our laptops over to share our pics. We dubbed it "The Battle of the Gramma's"! Everyone was just rolling their eyes. ;-) Brenda also had some old pics that she had scanned in of my grandparents and great-grandparents. I was very happy to get those.

Friday evening Brenda and I were able to go with my mom to a Mother/Daughter Banquet at mom's church. That was a rare, serendipitous opportunity! I'm glad mom could have both her daughters there for once! It was also enjoyable to see some old friends and relatives at the church that I was brought up in.

Saturday, Michael and I went over to the home of my cousin David and his wife Robin. Also there was David's mom Janie, and his brother Dale (who I hadn't seen for probably 30 years!). I also got to see all three of his (grown) kids, who were all there briefly. We had the best time, just gabbing and laughing all evening long!

Finally, Sunday morning, I went to church with mom. I had been asked to both sing a solo and sing in an ensemble. Singing in this ensemble was pretty cool because in it was Nolen and Redonda, John and Georgia, and Don and Carolyn -- the same people I was singing with 35 years ago when I went to OU. I also got to see several other friends and relatives that morning. I'm glad I got to go.

I've put pics of all the family members on my photosite.

The entire time I was in Oklahoma City, it was cloudy, extremely windy and muggy, just like April/May usually is. I kept wondering whether or not a tornado would be coming through. I usually enjoy tornado season, but it was a little different this time since everything we are travelling with is in a relatively lightweight fifth wheel! Instead, there was a deadly tornado that ripped through Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma. Travelling through these parts is pretty risky this time of year!

Time to Head East

We left Oklahoma City and headed east. I hadn't been out that way since I was 8 years old, so I had forgotten just how pretty the rolling green hills were. The one thing that stands out, though, is the roadkill (yes, we've already previously established that I'm weird!). Actually, all through Oklahoma, and then into Arkansas (more on that later), I saw dead armadillo after dead armadillo! I guess they're too slow to get out of the way. The only other thing I saw was one dead monkey (ok, Mike says it probably wasn't a monkey since they're not usually indiginous to this area, but it sure looked like a monkey!). Anyway, I hadn't seen an armadillo since I left Texas about 22 years ago, so I thought that was pretty cool.

We also passed through several Indian nations -- the Potawatomi, the Fox, the Creek (actual native name Muskogee), and others. And we also passed through a lot of towns with Indian names -- Sallisaw, Okamah, Okfuskee, Shawnee. So I was used to seeing this when we came up near a big lake, and there was an exit there named "Lotawatah Drive". I had to do a double take to realize that that wasn't an Indian name at all, and I busted up laughing! Someone had a sense of humor on that one! :-)

There was another notable sight as we drove through Checotah OK, since that's the home of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. There was a huge green metallic highway sign with "Home of..." on it, then another mile down the road, a huge billboard with her picture on it. They are certainly proud of their native daughter!

Over Into Arkansas

As pretty as eastern Oklahoma was, it paled in comparison to Arkansas. There was almost an immediate difference as soon as we crossed the border. Arkansas is incredibly green and lush, and very hilly (with the Ozarks being right there). We headed north out of Fort Smith and headed toward Fayetteville. We had to pass through the Boston Mountains -- remember, they call them mountains, but the highest peak is around 2500 ft. They were beautiful nonetheless.

The RV Park we chose ended up being out in the woods, outside of Rogers. I knew I was in Arkansas once we met the manager of the RV Park. This is out of context, but at one point he said, "I dun throwed that thang ovah they-er." Let me translate: "I threw that thing over there." Good thing I'm bilingual, huh??!! ;-)

Beautiful Eureka Springs

Michael's mom and dad were from Eureka Springs, and his older brother and sister were born there, so we wanted to go check it out. I had no idea how beautiful it was there! We climbed through rolling hills until we came upon a charming historic town built in the late 1800's. In fact, it's the only city in the US whose entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Arkansas_003.jpg

Eureka Springs is also well-known for its Passion Play. We didn't get to see it because it doesn't show until 8:30 at night, but we went through the grounds. It looks like quite a big production. Also on the grounds is a 67 ft statue of Jesus overlooking the valley. It's called the "Christ of the Ozarks" and it's really something! Arkansas_010.jpg

Just outside Eureka Springs is a building called the Thorncrown Chapel. It has won numerous architectural awards over the years, and is truly a sight to behold. It is 48 ft tall, and contains 425 windows and over 6000 sq ft of glass. We walked in and it was quiet, except for some beautiful relaxing Christian music over the speakers. It was truly a spiritual experience just being there -- the beauty was overwhelming. Arkansas_021.jpg
I have a picture here, and another one on my photosite, but of course, the pictures don't do it justice. If you want to see an entire slideshow, or find out more about the chapel, you can go to www.thorncrown.com.

Finally, we drove out to Beaver Lake. It was a beautiful, HUGE lake! There were hundreds of squirrels everywhere, and the woods consist of thousands of small diameter trees. Very pretty.

Arkansas Razorbacks

We drove into Fayetteville to see the University of Arkansas campus. Very impressive. It's much prettier and more spread out than the University of Nebraska campus. But most impressive of all is, you come around a particular corner, and all of the sudden you see the famous Razorback Stadium. That thing is HUGE -- It seats 71,000 people. Arkansas_026.jpg
It's fun to see all these famous stadiums -- Nebraska and Arkansas, and of course, I've been to the Oklahoma and Texas stadiums. So when we see these big college football games on TV, I can say "I've been there."

There was one thing on campus that made me laugh. As you may know, Tyson Chicken is really big around here, and there's one big building, the John W. Tyson Building, called the "Center of Excellence for Poultry Science". I'm just trying to imagine all the things they do and talk about in that building! Funny, huh??

The Battle of Pea Ridge

Outside of Rogers, there is a "National Military Park" commemorating the Battle of Pea Ridge, a significant battle within the Civil War. I didn't even realize the war came over this far, but I guess this was a significant battle that determined the control of Missouri. We watched a re-enactment movie, then drove around the battlefield with a written guide. Arkansas_038.jpg
It was very interesting, although that kind of stuff usually makes me sad. I hate war, and especially that one with Americans killing Americans. But it was impactful to actually be out in the battlefield and imagine the blood spilt there. As we travel, I want to see all the significant Civil War battlefields, but it will be difficult for me, I'm sure.

The Original Wal-Mart

We drove (not too far) over to Bentonville -- what a cute little town! They have a Town Square that totally reminds me of the town square in "Back to the Future". It has the park area in the middle, the big county courthouse on one side (although without the big clock face), then surrounded by little shops. Very cute -- total Americana!

On one side of the square is Walton's 5 and 10 Store -- Sam Walton's original store. They've made it into a little visitor's center, as well as a "shrine" to Sam. Arkansas_040.jpg
I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart (not for any reason other than they're too big and crowded), but I must say that seeing how Sam built his empire from one little store was very inspiring! Of course, Bentonville is the world headquarters. They employ over 9000 people in Bentonville alone! It's an amazing American success story.

Up to Missouri

Well, tomorrow we're heading up into Missouri to see my dad in Bolivar, then on up to Kansas City and beyond. I'll be curious to see what develops in the "beyond" part since they're having tornadoes, floods, and all kinds of stuff up in those parts. We'll see how it goes after we leave Dad's.

Posted by semitte 19:38 Comments (1)

Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas

Driving across Montana

After a couple of days at Yellowstone, we left to head east. We were heading toward South Dakota's Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore, but we decided (ok, I decided) to drive straight east and then down, instead of kitty-corner down to South Dakota. The reason for that is that I wanted to cross over the southwest corner of North Dakota. One of my goals after this trip is done is that I have been in all 50 states, except Alaska (that's another trip altogether). If I didn't hit that southwest corner of North Dakota, I would never again get a chance to be in that state. So we added the extra 100 or so miles to the trip, and I can now check North Dakota off the list!

Anyway, back to Montana. As we were driving through Rosebud County (don't you just love that name?), I was struck by the fact that all of the sudden, we were leaving the high mountains and entering the plains. We were at 2525 ft elevation and it was a balmy 60 degrees. There were a lot of green rolling hills, and the Yellowstone River followed us almost all across the state. The hills were full of Black Angus cattle (mmm... steak anyone?), along with lots of little calves (ok, forget the steak comment).

I noticed, too, that we didn't see any highway patrolmen almost the entire way. In the western part of the state, we finally saw one and he had pulled someone over. I figure with the 75 mph speed limit, you really have to be driving crazy to be pulled over.

I saw lots of rail cars, full of coal, as well as several natural gas wells. I guess all those dinosaur bones in the ground provides all kinds of fossil fuel.

We also passed by Little Big Horn, and saw the Lewis & Clark trail. We didn't stop at those since it was getting dark, but it was cool to see where all that happened.

There was mile after mile of tilled wheat fields. Very pretty. Then it started raining ahead of us (we never did drive into it). But there was a very brightly colored rainbow. Thought I'd share that with you.

The other thing that made that drive great was that the entire time, we had the ol' XM Radio on 60's music. Then I got really inspired when I heard "Get your motor runnin', head out on the highway, lookin' for adventure, and whatever comes my way.... BORN TO BE WI-I-I-I-L-D!" (OK, you have your fantasy, let me have mine). ;-)

My Little Corner of North Dakota

We stopped and got fuel in Marmarth, North Dakota (I think that adds legitimacy to my brief ND visit, don't you?). It was located near the highest point in North Dakota (3500 feet). Anyway, there was just a tiny little sad desolate town there, on a bad road, and I kept asking myself, why do these few people choose to live here? There was no grocery store or town of any kind for many, many miles. This has actually been a recurring comment throughout the trip, that is, wondering why people choose to live in these tiny little towns out in the middle of nowhere. I wish I could walk through the neighborhood and interview them. Oh well.

One thing that Michael noticed at this gas station was that you could fill up before walking in and paying for it (the entrance was on the other corner of the station). It's pretty sad, I guess, that we're so used to having to pay first, that we're surprised when we come across a place that actually trusts people to do the right thing.

The Very Cool State of South Dakota

We spent the night in the town of Spearfish, South Dakota, then drove on in the next morning to the Black Hills area. It was surprisingly beautiful. It was very hilly and full of pine trees. It reminded us of driving up to South Lake Tahoe (of course, that will mean something to only those of you who've been there). We stayed at this secluded little campground near South Dakota's highest peak (7200 feet). At various times, there were deer all over the campground, and they were tame enough that they weren't too scared when I wanted to take their picture.

The first place in the area we drove to was Deadwood. South_Dakota_006.jpg That's the old western town where Wild Bill Hickok was killed while holding aces and 8's (FYI, that's why it's called the "dead man's hand"). However, I was a little disappointed. It was a very well-preserved town, and I thought it would be full of cute little shops. However, they've turned it into a total gambling town. Something I didn't know was that in South Dakota gambling is legal throughout the state (not just on the reservations). Isn't that odd? We also drove over to its "twin city" Lead (pronounced like "led"), where there's still a working gold mine. It was also well-preserved.

After that, we drove through the hills and came across a little winery called "Prairie Berry Winery". The name was intriguing. Come to find out, they have won all kinds of awards for producing wine from the fruits that grow in SD, like chokeberries and cranberries, as well as some grapes in the eastern part of the state. Whoda thunk? -- an award-winning winery in SD! We also went to this house next door to the winery that was a year-round Christmas shop. I ended up buying a little pheasant ornament (the SD state bird), and decided that I'm going to try to pick up an ornament in the various states -- I had also picked up one in Montana).

We drove on down to Custer SD where we visited the Flintstones Park! South_Dakota_007.jpg It was a crack-up. It used to be a "camp ground and amusement park", but now it's closed and run down. It was still hilarious to see (from in front of the fence) all the stuff they had there. I've put some pics on my photosite (for your reference again, it's at http://semitte.photosite.com).

On Down the Road

From Custer we drove on to the Wind Caves National Park. There are all kinds of caves in this area, and this one has been preserved as a national park. They give tours of the main cave, but it's started every two hours, and we had just missed (by 15 minutes) the most recent tour. So we decided that we wouldn't stay for that tour. By the way, they had several different tour packages available during the summer season. One of them was a 4-hour crawling tour. In other words, it was 4 hours spent in all the spaces so tight that you had to crawl through them. Hmm, I think I'll pass on that (!)

But my favorite part on the Wind Caves grounds was the wildlife. They had buffalo, deer and rabbits. But best of all, they had hundreds of prairie dogs! South_Dakota_013.jpgThere were miles of hills, and when you look across them, you see dozens of "pocks" where the prairie dog holes were. We saw a lot of them outside their holes, both running around and standing up on their little hind legs. They are skittish little guys too. I decided that I wanted to try to get a closer picture of them, so we stopped the truck. I opened the door and tried to get out as slowly and quietly as I could. All the prairie dogs but one immediately ran into their holes. I figured out that he was the sentinel. As I was slowly walking toward him, he was squeeking and pounding his tail about once every couple of seconds. And as I got closer, it was about once a second. It wasn't too long before there was no more squeeking and pounding, and he also dove into his hole as well. They certainly were cute little guys!

We drove on down to Hot Springs where we went to the coolest thing ever -- an active paleontological dig! (OK, I'm a science nerd). There's a place called The Mammoth Site where they have actually found 55 Columbian Mammoths to date. These aren't the 9 ft wooly mammoths, but these were the biggest mammoths in history at 13 ft tall. South_Dakota_019.jpgWhat happened was that in the late 70's a builder had bought this property in Hot Springs to develop some new houses. There was a hill in the middle of the property, so he brought in the bulldozer. In no time, they started digging up big bones, so they stopped. They brought in an expert, who did a core sample about 65 ft down, and found bones all the way. The community got together and formed a non-profit organization to protect the site, then brought in trained paleontologists to do the very slow and painstaking digging. They built a 100' x 175' building around the site to protect it from the elements and to support the dig. They've been digging all these years, but are only about half way down. It's so slow because they can only dig, by hand, about 1/4" at a time. What they figured out was that many, many years ago, there was an underground cave that collapsed and formed a sinkhole. It filled with water from the local hot springs, and some of the mammoths fell in and couldn't get out. They just died there in the hole. And here we are, many years later, seeing their bones. The whole experience there was awesome!

Hail to the Chiefs

We finally made our way to Mt. Rushmore. We came in the back way, so we're winding through the hills, and all of the sudden we look up, and there were the presidents! South_Dakota_015.jpgWe walked into the amphitheater area in front of them, then also down on the walking trail underneath them. It is such an amazing thing to see how huge these guys are, and to imagine that someone actually carved them! (How does one get the proper perspective dealing with that kind of scale??). While we were there, we came to realize that a movie was being filmed there. You know there was a new Nicolas Cage movie this last year called (I think) "National Treasure"? Well, they were filming the sequel to it. As we walked into the park, there was a sign there that said something to the effect that if you walk in, you are consenting to be in the film. But darn it, we won't be in the film. They were kinda wrapping up when we walked in. It will be cool, though, to see that film in a year or two, and realize that we were there on the same day (ok, so it doesn't take much to excite me). ;-)

On to Nebraska

We headed south out of the Black Hills, and the landscape changed quickly. There were lots of green, rolling hills, and no people -- just cows! Over the next several hundred miles, I've never seen so many cows! Well, I guess all that beef and milk have to come from somewhere, huh?

We were told that we should go down the western side of Nebraska since it was prettier than the rest. And yes, I guess it was with its rolling hills. We even drove through the Nebraska National Forest (huh?). There were some hills and some pine trees. It was pretty, but I certainly wouldn't consider it a national forest.

Once we got down to the interstate, we started heading east. Besides all the cows, I was very impressed with all the rail cars either full of coal, or coming back empty after delivering coal. These trains each had between 100 and 150 cars, with a couple of engines on the front and one on the back. I guess I've never been aware before of all the coal movement around these parts.

An Oasis in the Sandhills

We drove through some sandhills, then there was a sign, "Welcome to Alliance, an Oasis in the Sandhills." It was just this junky little town, but I had to laugh at their self-confidence! But the best part about Alliance was that it was the sight of "Carhenge" -- that's like Stonehenge, but with cars! We drove into town, then out into the country about 3 miles, and lo and behold, there was Carhenge! Nebraska_010.jpgSomeone (who obviously had wa-a-a-y too much times on their hands) had created a Stonehenge-like circle out of old cars. The trunks of the cars had been buried as a base, then they were all painted gray. It just made me laugh so much! I laughed because I couldn't believe someone actually decided to do this, and then pay for a billboard on the freeway, and I also laughed because it was so whimsical and ridiculous! They didn't even charge to look. It was kinda behind their house, and you just walked back there. They did ask for donations, though -- and I donated so they could pay for the billboard so someone else could go get a laugh too! There are more pictures on my photosite.

Continuing eastward down the interstate, there was feedlot after feedlot, with hundreds of cows each. It got to be pretty funny, because you'd see one up ahead and knew that you had to hold your breath for a while. We got pretty creative with that one -- but it was definitely necessary!

We also passed mile after mile of either winter wheat or fields read for planting corn. So any time going forward that I eat wheat or corn or beef products, I'll think fondly of Nebraska.

We stopped at little Gothenburg because they had the country's first Pony Express Station. It was just a little log house that they had built a park around, but it was cool to see this little station built in 18?? that was used to deliver mail to the rest of the country. I put the picture on the photosite.

Lincoln and Omaha

We were planning on driving as far as York, then turning south to head straight down to Oklahoma City. However, as we were looking at the map, we realized that Lincoln was only about 45 minutes away, then Omaha, another 45 minutes. So we decided we wanted to see those two cities while we were this close.

Lincoln is both the state capital and the home of the University of Nebraska. We saw both the capital building and the UN campus. It was cool to see UN's Memorial Stadium, which holds about 100,000 people for their famous football games. The campus was well-maintained and pretty traditional-looking. The rest of the city was a little blah -- no personality, surprisingly.

We then drove over to Omaha, and it was very impressive. Very dynamic, growing and pretty. We went downtown where they have an old town shopping area and a park down on the Missouri River. The national corporation ConAgra has their world headquarters right down next to the River, and it's a beautiful campus with a lake, fountain, etc. If I lived in Omaha, I would definitely like to work in such a beautiful working environment.

Since we were down near the river, we decided to drive across the bridge into Council Bluffs, Iowa. Wow, what a crappy little town! The only thing decent they had in that town was a nice welcome sign, then a section where Harrah's and a few other casinos were located. I'm not sure if gambling is legal in all of Iowa, or just along the river, but there were several casinos there. We left the town quickly.

Just another funny thing. After we got back to the trailer that evening, we fixed dinner and decided to eat out on the nearby picnic table. We had already sat down our full plates and glasses, and Michael had sat down. When I went to sit down, we didn't realize that the table was on uneven ground, and the table just about flipped over. Amazingly, both of us were able to grab our plates in midair, and I was also able to grab my glass. Only one glass hit the ground, as well as our forks (don't worry, the "glasses" are acrylic for such situations). It was quite a surprise, and we learned a lesson. Check out the picnic table before you sit down!

On the Road Again

We headed out of Lincoln, and on down into Kansas. Most of the way was more of the same -- fields of winter wheat and fields ready for corn. Kansas is a little prettier than Nebraska -- a little more lush and green. We've passed the hugest grainery we've ever seen, which speaks to the amount of grain produced around here. Just out of Salina, we also surprisingly passed a huge natural gas refinery, with lots of gas wells just interspersed throughout the crops (huh?).

We'll be getting into Oklahoma City tonight, where we'll see many of my family members. We'll probably be here for a few days, so I'll catch you up later.

Thanks for making it to the end of this blog! Now that we're going into the eastern part of the country, I shouldn't have to go so long without electricity and/or internet and can keep this up more frequently!

Posted by semitte 15:27 Comments (3)

Moab and beyond

Before I continue about our journey, I wanted to let you know about a related website. I was a little frustrated that I'm only able to upload about 25 photos a month under this website, but I have so many more to show you. So, I set up another website, in which I have the ability to post tons more pictures. Its website name is http://semitte.photosite.com. I'll post related pictures, along with captions, on a regular basis. I'll also refer to various pictures in my blog from time to time. You can also view the pics as a slide show if you want. OK, on with the show.

Our Journey to Moab

We reached Moab Friday evening -- big surprise! We found out after we got there that Moab is a MAJOR playground for ATV's, motorcycles, etc. When we went to the grocery store, we must have seen at least a hundred twenty-something guys, each with beer and snacks. We were lucky we got a spot for our RV as just about everyone in town was booked for the weekend. But since we weren't out playing in the dirt, everything turned out ok and we didn't get in each other's way.

Arches___C..nds_029.jpgFirst we went to Arches National Park. This was exactly the picture of Utah that Michael and I had in our heads, with the arches, the mounds of sandstone, etc. We drove through the entire park, and all of it was amazing. We also hiked around and through a couple of the big arches. While we were up there, we met a couple, about 30-ish, from Nelson, British Columbia, named Aaron and Jen. Aaron is a cartographer (map maker -- hey Ken, he also has the map gene!). We had a good time talking to them. Jen was the one who took this picture of the two of us.

Arches___C..nds_041.jpgAfter Arches, we drove over to Canyonland National Park. It's kinda like a small Grand Canyon -- very beautiful. Some of you may know, I've always said I'm not afraid of anything. Well, I found out what I'm afraid of -- high ledges with no fences! There were several places throughout the park, including the one in this picture, that were like that (that's a road down at the bottom!). I freaked out whenever anyone (especially Michael) got too close to the edge. I knew for sure that the dirt and gravel would give way, or that that would be the day that the big rock would give way and fall to the bottom! Scary! But it was very beautiful there and we enjoyed it.

Arches___C..nds_065.jpgAfter we left Canyonlands, we took a little detour to see some petroglyphs (rock writing from hundreds of years ago). There were various writings all over the sides of the big rocks. Also all over the sides of the big rocks were several groups of rock climbers. After we looked at the petroglyphs, we walked down to the first group of 3 people. They were Shane and John from Colorado, and Sally from Florida. They weren't climbing all the way to the top, but were doing shorter practiced runs. Sally was climbing when we walked up. She's only been climbing for about 2 months. I was also amused to find out that she's afraid of heights! When I asked the obvious question, she said that this was a way for her to conquer her fears. Admirable! Anyway, both John and especially Shane were showing us all the equipment, how it worked, how the rope is tied off at the top, etc. I'm really glad we got to talk to them! After Sally made it up, and then back down (yeah, Sally!), John went up. Being the more experienced of the two, he zipped right up and down. Here's a picture of John.

Leaving Southern Utah

The next morning, we left Moab to head toward Salt Lake City. When we left, it was 68 degrees. But by the time we got to the middle of the state, it was 36 degrees and snowing. Around that point in time, I saw a beautiful river, the Price. Then right along the stream, I saw a coal burning plant. That was a bit surprising, and even a little sad, that all that nasty cool was burning in the middle of this beautiful valley. I had never seen a coal burning plant before.

One thing that struck me all along the way through Utah was the number of Mormon churches, and they all have white steeples. Every little community we drove through, we just looked across the landscape, and there it was. It didn't matter that it was just a junky little town, there was the beautiful, well-maintained Mormon church.

As we drove into Salt Lake City, I also knew we were in Mormon country by even the billboards. There was one billboard for a menswear store (I've included it on my photosite) that showed a guy in a suit, with a little dog after him, that said "Missionary tested". There was another one for a shoe store that said "8 kids. All girls. 120 pairs of shoes." Funny, huh??

SLC___Yellowstone_017.jpgThe next morning, I went down myself to the Temple Square (Mike had some other things to do). It was all very beautiful and well-maintained. I went to the Tabernacle and heard an organ recital. It was what you would expect a Bach organ recital to be, but I enjoyed seeing and hearing that huge pipe organ. I also went through the Visitor Center where they have an 11-ft statue of Jesus, with the stars and planets in blue as a background. It was very striking. I've posted a lot of these pics on my photosite.

I also got to do something else that I had wanted to do for a long time -- that is, go to the genealogical center. For quite a while, I've had a fascination with searching my ancestors, although obviously not for the same reasons the Mormons do. Just on the one floor I was on, there were thousands and thousands of catalogued microfilm spools, each with thousands of bits of information on them. These spools were in hundreds of drawers that were cross-catalogued with the computer research that I had to do first. My dad has a lot of names from his side of the family, so I wanted to do research on my mom's side. I got to go back pretty far on my mom's mom's side, but had a more difficult time researching my mom's dad. He's a mystery man. The one cool thing I did find (and get a copy of) is my grandma and grandpa's wedding license from 1912. Very cool!

By the way, another interesting piece of info I got there was from a poster on the wall, where they had done a brief geneology on a man last-named Howland who came over on the Mayflower. From this one man and his children came President Ford, President Nixon, both Presidents Bush, President F. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill (as well as a couple of other supposedly-famous people I didn't know). Pretty cool, huh?

Spending all that time looking through the parts of Temple Square were very interesting. It was a cultural and educational experience for me. But I was also kinda sad when I saw all the money and effort spent for various things that were so far off the mark.

Salt Lake City was full of various companies and industries, and it seemed there was a lot going on there. But as I said to Michael, it seemed that there was a lot going on, but nothing going on. So other than Temple Square, they really didn't have an area that was worth spending time on. So we decided to go ahead and leave late that afternoon.

Up to Idaho

As we were entering Idaho, I couldn't help but realize that that border was at the same latitude as Oregon's, and that Pocatello was just about the same latitude as Medford. It was interesting, too, that when we first drove into Idaho, we were up in the mountains. Then, pretty soon we caught a view of a big valley, and started driving down the mountains into it. As we were driving down, we saw lots of homes nestled on the hill to the west, then we drove into Pocatello. For those of you from Medford, you'll understand it when I say that it felt just the same as driving into Oregon, seeing the Rogue Valley come into view, seeing the homes on the western hill in Ashland, then driving into Medford. It was an interesting deja vu experience.

Pocatello was a nice town, around 50,000. We drove on up to Idaho Falls. It was about the same size, but it wasn't pretty at all. I'm not sure what happened in those few miles between them. It was already starting to get dark, but Michael felt like driving on, so we continued on toward Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We actually ended up just pulling over and sleeping in Alpine, Wyoming (just inside the border) and rolled on into Jackson the next morning.

We had a great breakfast there, then headed for the Teton National Park. We were surprised to find out when we got there that it was too early in the year, and only the first 3 miles of the park were open. They don't completely open until May 1 (a week away). It was a little frustrating because we could see the roads, and they were fine. Just some snow along the side. Oh well. We went ahead and drove in those 3 miles, and I got a great view of the Tetons. Beautiful!SLC___Yellowstone_037.jpg

The other thing we found out there at the Tetons Ranger Station was that the south entrance of Yellowstone was also still closed. We had come that way planning to drive right on up out of the Tetons and right into the south entrance. Only the west and north entrances were open, so we had to drive back the way we came! UGH! We drove back to Jackson, then decided to take a different route out -- up and over a mountain that we had driven around the night before. This mountain was incredible, but there was a 10% grade! And we still had the fifth wheel on the back!! Neither I nor Michael had ever been on a 10% grade before. That pickup certainly got a workout, both up and down that mountain!

After we got off the mountain, we decided to take a back road toward the west entrance, and I'm glad we did. All along that 30-mile stretch of highway were potato fields, as far as the eye could see. It was either ready to plant, or had just been planted -- I'm not sure. But it had been "tractored" -- all the dirt had been processed and had the "lines" in it. We couldn't comprehend how so many hundreds and hundreds of acres could have been tractor-processed on a timely basis like that. It was very interesting, and I'm glad I saw where the Idaho potatoes come from.

We arrived at Yellowstone

We finally made it to the west entrance of Yellowstone. We also found out that more than half of the park was still closed until May 1 (or later). Only the western and northern areas were opened. We were bummed, but at least we enjoyed the parts we saw. I was amazed, though, at how much devastation was still left over from the huge fire in 1988. Even though it was 19 years ago, you can still see it all over. Everywhere you look you see all these 30-40 ft barren tree trunks hovering over new growth that's about 6-8 feet tall. Some hills have never really recovered. It's really sad how a fire like that can have an affect for years.

SLC___Yellowstone_078.jpgWe first went south down to Ol' Faithful. I had seen that as a teenager, but it was certainly fun to see it again. I was thinking it spewed every 15-20 minutes or so, so I wasn't worried about when we would get there. But I found out that it spews about every 90 minutes, and it had just gone off when we got there. So we went back to the fifth wheel and had lunch and relaxed first before going back. That thing is amazing!

We also saw all along the way down to Ol' Faithful all the various areas of thermal activity. There was pool after pool of boiling water, minerals, mud -- it looked like we were on a different planet, and certainly not in the middle of a beautiful national park. I've included several pictures on my photosite, but of course, the pics don't do it justice.

We also saw several different wild animals -- elk, muledeer, bears, wolves, moose, and lots of bison. I took pics of all those animals, although the wolf one didn't turn out (he ducked behind the tree right when the camera snapped). Again, I have those pics on the photosite. The situation around those bison pics was pretty cool. We were driving down the road, and up ahead were 5 bison just walking down the road. One was kinda in the middle of our lane. We slowed down, and I rolled my camera down. I was just about 3-4 feet from them. I kept taking pictures, but then the head bison started getting a little annoyed, I think. As I was snapping the camera, I was thinking about what I would do if that bison just turned and decided to ram me and/or the pickup. We decided to speed on before that happened! We saw lots of other bison along the way, but that definitely was a close encounter!

We're resting this afternoon and are heading out tomorrow on the first leg of a long journey of boredom! We're stopping first in South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore, but then we're driving down through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to go see my family. That's a lot of miles of nothing but flat land, empty fields, and tired backsides! Oh well, I think this will be the worst part of the trip, then it will be over with!

I'll catch up with you down the road!!

Posted by semitte 19:00 Comments (1)

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