Saturday, September 12, 2009

Westward Ho

Westward Ho

09/11/09 Eight years later – all the flags are half-staff It doesn’t seem that long ago.

Did everyone see the weather map that showed the big storm - the one with all the thunder and lightening that came across South Dakota? We heard it early this morning but by the time we were up and ready to hit the trail, it had slowed to a drizzle. Once out on I90 it was behind us. In front of us was the long winding ribbon of road that has lead us all the way from Indiana and across South Dakota. The landscape has changed again. In central SD, the green in the fields were sunflowers with their pendulous heads waiting for the sun to track across the vast sky. Farmers have cut and baled the grasses by the sides of the roads and the hay fields were also full of large round bales, some stacked one on top of the other, resembling big pole barns set up on the horizon. In western SD, everything is miles and miles of miles and miles of waving grassland!

Coming thru Minnesota we passed several windmill farms, which were not going around very fast, if moving at all. South Dakota should install windmills to use up some of the winds that were blowing across the open plains! Gas mileage is also down on the minivan. Was it the wind, or the speeds we were traveling, or the gas?

Murdo was another stop on our way across SD. We had camped there on one of our bike trips so we HAD to see what has changed. Another exit was to follow the loop road thru the Badlands. Amazing place! When the sun is behind the clouds the colors range from light gray to charcoal. When the sun is out, the stripes in the crags and peaks and what looks like enormous piles of sand turn on their colors of burgundy, pink, white and yellow. Down in the deep valleys where the moisture settles the color is rich green. We saw no animals other than a pocked field of prairie dog holes, each with a chattering, barking little varmint at the entrance.

The end of that loop took us right to Wall and the notorious Wall Drug. The billboards toting the “free ice water” or “ 5c coffee” started back in Minnesota! There really was free ice water and we did have a 5c cup of coffee but everything else was pricey – as all tourist traps are. But the unusual shopping and the extra “stuff” there was fun to see. The “Backyard” has things to do and several photo ops.

Farther along I90 we exited once more at Sturgis and found our way into the Black Hills to “historic downtown” Deadwood, a restored western town that is now lined from one end to the other with casinos. Not the huge, neon lit castles but all the old vintage storefronts, old hotels and even gas stations turned into mini casinos.

Our days journey ended as we completed that “loop” as it drew us into the Spearfish Canyon which followed the babbling creek on it’s way down the side of the “Hills”, past barefaced cliffs standing proudly above the towering dark green pines. In the town of Spearfish, our resting place is an old but clean Inn by the namesake of Spearfish Creek Inn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Westward Ho

Remember to enlarge a picture just double click on the picture

Westward Ho

Westward Ho

Thursday, September 10th and we’re back on the road, heading west again. The original plan was to stay on I90 all the way west but we decided to take a “dotted line” road across another bridge in downtown La Crosse and go thru the Richard J Dower State Forest on Rt 16 and then pick up I90 at the other end. The fog had rolled in over the Mississippi River and it continued thru the 1st portion of the scenic state forest hills and valleys. Minnesota’s answer to the Smokey Mountains!! When the wispy white mist lifted for the final time, we saw the hillsides were blessed with niches of well tended but old homesteads, nestled like clusters of like painted chess pieces. The fields were full of the usual beans, corn and black and white dairy cows. Small farm towns with “historic downtown” designations filled in the “in between spaces” on the 2 lane winding road.

Back on I90, we went MUCH faster but it did get tiresome with all the road construction and all the millions of bugs that committed suicide on the windshield of the van. We had ridden this road a long time ago on the bike when we were MUCH younger and it was MUCH hotter that time but we didn’t encounter all the bugs!! We did see lots of big bikes pulling trailers but all were going east. The farmlands spread out and the fields seemed as one that stretched from horizon to horizon. We stopped in Blue Earth for gas and learned that the Indians named the area because the earth actually was bluish in one spot. And we learned that the town was the home factory for the Jolly Green Giant and all his veggies!

Our 3rd state for the day was South Dakota and after a picnic lunch at the visitor center we easily found the Falls Park on the Big Sioux River in downtown Sioux Falls. Red granite rocks/boulders filled the river and the muddy waters raced over them where a mill had once stood. Now there are strategically placed observation places, plus an Overlook Café and an observation tower complete with gift shop. I have just enough space on my jacket for one more small patch and this red and white one will fill it nicely!

We HAD to stop in Mitchell to see if the Corn Palace had changed any since we were there last. The design had but the building itself had not. We got our picture and got back in the van. And while the Palace had not changed – we sure noticed that the town sure had!! Neither of us remembered it as being that big or busy!

The van is parked this evening in Chamberlain SD, which is right on the banks of the Missouri River. The Best Western Motel, ½ block from the river, was the best deal and obviously we have wifi!! In the morning, H will have a waffle! .

Tomorrow we’ll be Westward Ho again!

Westward Ho

Westward Ho

09-09-09 !! And at 9:09 in the morning, we were on Central Ave (Rt 20), almost to Angola Indiana and heading to a lot of points west! Rt 20 from Toledo to Elkhart Indiana is mostly agricultural and the soybean fields are turning yellow and the tassels on the tops of the corn are turning brown. The sumac and maple trees are already turning red. It is our Fall West trip?

$10 in tolls on the Indiana and Illinois turnpike - I 90, got us thru Gary Indiana (right along side the electric train tracks that took us to downtown Chicago last year!), traffic choked skyscraper lined Chicago and then west to Rockford and then due north to the Wisconsin border. The landscape went from the flat farms of Indiana and Illinois to the rugged and rolling hills of Wisconsin dairy farms, past the very commercialized Wisconsin Dells and on to the river town of La Crosse, right on the east bank of the Mississippi River. So far, the gas mileage in the Chrysler minivan is 26 miles per gallon- much better than when pulling the trailer! Supper tonight was KFC and our home for the evening is HO JO’s – both with money saving coupons!

La Crosse is a well preserved, cute OLD Mississippi river town and the banks along side the downtown area are lined with several pretty little parks complete with bike paths and plenty of inviting benches along the river. One of the parks that we stopped at included a peaceful, well tended Riverside International Garden that had a small babbling brook, winding paths thru the colorful flower beds and a gazebo, right on the bank of a small stream. All thru the town are 7 ft tall ornately decorated fiberglass herons, similar to the huge painted frogs that once graced the streets of Toledo. The river is full of islands and some of the larger islands are lined with houseboats and boathouses – cottages that looked more like small garages on floating platforms, anchored by long poles into the river and secured to the shore by gangways. Each “house” was a different color and most had some kind of boat tethered between it and the next floating dwelling.

Thursday we head across the Mighty Mississippi which right now looks like a sleepy Mark Twain river and on thru a State Forest before rejoining up with Rt 90.