Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Traffic Jams!

We just couldn’t decide what we wanted to do today. Jerry didn’t want to take a hike that ended in a view just like he had already seen – he wanted something different so we ended up at Legion Lake Trail. It was an absolutely beautiful hike. The sign at the beginning stated it was rated as “Easy”. The newspaper, The Tatanka rated it as “Moderate to Strenuous”. Actually, I thought neither was correct. To me, “Easy” should be flat land that handicapped could access. “Moderate to Strenuous” means hard work. In this case, it was neither one but it was a fun one-mile loop. There was a little beach at the end with some people sunning and kids swimming yelling “it’s cold”! The temperature was supposed to get down to 49 last night so I guess it was cold.

We got in the car and continued our ride to the gift shop where we bought a couple of shirts, one for Jerry and one for me. Because we didn’t know what we were going to do when we left home this morning, we had not brought our usual picnic lunch so we bought a hot dog at the gift shop. It was filling. That’s all I can say!

Next, we got caught in a traffic jam – a bighorn sheep traffic jam. They were just standing in the road not paying much attention to anyone. We were only there about five minutes before someone nudged them out of the way however that was not to be our only traffic jam of the day.

We continued our ride through the park and saw some of the most amazing views, rolling hills of green growth topped by the majestic Ponderosa Pines. Kind of made me want to jump out and sing “I go to the hills” from the Sound of Music. It looked just like that final scene in the movie.

Before we knew it, we were on Iron Mountain Road and headed for Mt. Rushmore. We hadn’t intended to go there today but I’m glad we ended up there and didn’t make a special trip. Due to construction the Walk of Flags and the theater are closed leaving only the gift shop and food mart open. We walked in, took some pictures and then ate some ice cream! We took the .2-mile walk to the Sculptor’s Studio and enjoyed talks by two different rangers. Since Jerry didn’t want to make the .4-mile trip up the rest of the Presidential Trail I decided to do it alone. I went about halfway up, decided I could see all I needed to see and then went back down.

After we left we decided to go back to Wildlife Loop and somehow ended up on the Needles Highway AGAIN! Poor Jerry. When we got to the Needles Eye Tunnel we parked, got out and walked around some.

Still headed to the Wildlife Loop we continued on forward. Shortly we saw a car stopped which always indicates animals of some kind. Sure enough, there were a couple of mountain goats on the hillside. Those are the first mountain goats that we’ve seen. That added to our repertoire of animals seen on this trip: chipmunk this morning, pronghorn sheep this afternoon and of course bison.

We finally got to Wildlife Loop and slowly made our way in. We saw one pronghorn sheep and of course the donkeys. We were about to decide that we wouldn’t be seeing any more animals today when suddenly we surrounded by bison! We were definitely in a bison traffic jam. There were bison everywhere, at least a couple of hundred and boy were some of them big! They were so close to the car we could have touched them. I kept my window rolled up! Fortunately, we were going in the right direction because the other direction really had a traffic jam. There were probably a hundred cars waiting and almost certainly some of them had no idea what was causing the problem.

When we finally got through the morass of bison we wound our way through the exit of the park and the eleven miles to Custer. A quick stop at the grocery store and we were headed to the campground with grilling on our minds. Jerry cooked some delicious steaks, and with a baked potato and salad one would think we were at home – and we are, just not in North Carolina. That’s one of the nice things about taking our home with us.

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Needles Highway and More

Neither of us had a good night’s rest last night although I slept a lot more than Jerry. We decided that we would first ride to Jewel Cave to see if and when we could get reservations for a tour. Jerry was able to secure two tickets at the first available time which was 12:45 which gave us about 3 hours, not enough time to get a hike in. While Jerry was securing the tickets, I rode around the parking lot waiting for him. There is a designated area just for RV’s and wouldn’t you know it? There’s a car parked there. Honestly people, can’t you follow rules or are you just that self-centered?

While we waited we rode into Custer and walked around a bit. Some of the stores were closed but we still got a feeling for the little town. If you want to go out to eat you can find what you want in Custer as the restaurants are plentiful. Several of the restaurants seemed to focus on beef, bison and elk burgers. Elk burgers? Um… might have to try that.

We went back to the coach for lunch and a little respite during which time I finally caught up on the blog. Why do I blog? Simply put, to remind me of things we have done and places we have been. It’s so easy for me to forget the details of each day so by blogging I keep it fresh. My blog is also a good reference point when questions are asked. We have been blessed to see much of our great country and I can safely say our country is quite diverse and it’s still difficult to remember minute details of each trip and visit.

On to Jewel Cave National Monument. We were on the 12:45 tour so after a quick lunch we headed back to Jewel Cave. The cave is the third-longest cave in the world with the first being Mammoth and then one in Mexico. There are over 202 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. Jewel Cave goes down the equivalent of 23 stories with 723 steps along a half-mile loop, equivalent to 40 flights of stairs. Some were stair steps and some were slanted ramps. The cave temperature is 49 degrees Fahrenheit and boy, was I glad I had my coat. I kept thinking about putting my Patagonia coat in the RV when packing and then thinking no, I won’t need that. So glad I had my jacket that I bought in the Grand Canyon. Between that and my Badlands shirt that I had on I was a walking advertisement!

Into every day, or least some of them, a little rain must fall and today was the day. We’ve encountered rain twice on this trip but each time it was when we were traveling. Although the weather apps had been promising rain and the skies were overcast we were rain-free until after the cave tour. As we were leaving the cave it began to sprinkle and then rain more heavily so afternoon activities were out or we thought.

We climbed even higher!
As we rode along we decided to go to Bear County USA but along the way we saw a sign for Crazy Horse with an information center. Jerry stopped to check it out and discovered that it was $30 a car no matter how many people were in the car. In other words, it cost $30 to park. We could see the carving in the distance so we elected to go on to Bear Country USA. On the way we saw a sign for Needles Highway and of course, off we went. We’re flexible if nothing else. As we rode we came to Sylvan Lake and Gift Shop. We stopped, went in the gift shop and then decided to take the 1 mile “easy” trail hike. Although marked “easy” there were places where we had to climb some rocks and then climb back down. It was not difficult but hopefully no one thought they were out for an easy stroll. We thoroughly enjoyed it though and even climbed some of the large rocks.

As we walked to the car which we had parked along the side of the road Jerry noticed what we think was a mule deer standing on the other side. He was nibbling grass and though occasionally he looked at us, mainly he ignored us. It began to sprinkle lightly as we headed to the car so we decided to call it a day but … the Needles Highway was ahead. It is truly like threading a needle, curvy, narrow, winding, 5 mph speed limit and then you hit the tunnels. There was no problem going through Hood Tunnel or Iron Creek Tunnel but Needles Eye Tunnel was a different story. Cars were trying to go both ways plus many people had pulled over to get a closer look. Someone needs to be standing on both sides with a Stop/Go sign. I am surely glad Jerry was driving.

Since it was raining a little harder, we decided to call it a day and headed for the campground. A little rest, a good dinner and we were done for the day!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our First Day in Custer

Since we only had a little over 100 miles to go and we couldn’t check in until after 12:00, we took it slow this morning. Of course, we had realized that the battery was dead so we had to jump it this morning. Dead battery on the car when we arrived and dead battery on the coach when we got ready to leave. At least, we’re consistent. We pulled out a little before 10:00 and fortunately did not have to go back through the park. That had been a harrowing ride and I didn’t want to repeat. Actually, we went right by Scenic but Jerry didn’t stop this time! We did see a herd of bison finally though they were at a distance.

We left flat lands in the Badlands and suddenly we were at 5000 feet. As usual, Jerry did a good job but was glad we weren’t going very far. We got to Big Pine Campground around 12:30 and check-in was easy and quick. We had an escort to our site and that is always so nice. We can stay at this site for three days and then will have to move across the way for two nights. The owner said he didn’t have a single vacant spot for the next week so guess we were lucky to have snagged two.
As soon as we had lunch we headed out first and most importantly for gas for the car. Jerry put over 14 gallons in it. It’s a 15-gallon tank! Yikes. As we rode along, we spotted a grocery store to take advantage of later.

We ended up driving right up to Custer State Park where we paid $20 for a week pass. Driving through Custer is very different from driving through the Badlands. Our intention was to go to the Visitor’s Center but we didn’t realize that it was on the other side of the park. It was a winding, curvy road with a speed limit of 25 most of the time so it took a while to reach the center. Fortunately, the video was just starting as we arrived so we got to take that in. It was absolutely spectacular. It features the bison running and I thought they were going to run right up to me!

We talked with one of the volunteers for a while plus looked at the different displays about the bison and learned some interesting facts. First off, bison or buffalo? Both words are used interchangeably but the correct name is bison. The more commonly used name “buffalo” comes from the French word for beef, “le boeuf” which was simplified into buffalo. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour so be warned! There is no single safe distance from a bison as they can cover 100 feet in a matter of seconds. Signs that the bison are agitated are raised tail, snorting, pawing the ground or short charges toward someone. Bison live on an average of 12-20 years. Their age can be determined by their horns and like a horse, by their teeth as well.

There are approximately 1300 bison in Custer at this time. In September a buffalo roundup – yes, they call it a buffalo roundup, not a bison roundup – is held to cull the herd. They are all vet checked, given their immunizations and then their fate is determined. Either they return to the park or are sold at auction for various purposes.

After we left the Visitor’s Center, we decided to ride Wildlife Loop Road. In a few short minutes I spotted some pronghorn sheep. Jerry didn’t see them so we turned around and went back to try to find them. There the two of them were just grazing. We took some pictures and then traveled on. Our next sighting was three more pronghorn and this time with the binoculars I looked right in the face of one. Wow!

As we rode along, we saw a lot of stopped cars and knew something was ahead. Yep, the donkeys were there waiting for someone to give them a carrot. As soon as we parked the car one of the donkeys walked up right beside the car door and wouldn’t move. Jerry got out, walked around and finally hit him on the butt to move him up. We enjoyed walking around and looking at all 11 of them.

The next time we saw a lot of stopped cars it was for a herd of bison. There were probably over 100 in the herd and three adults and one baby made their way down near the road. Hopefully, we got some good pictures of that.

We finished the Wildlife Loop and continued to ride through the park back toward Custer. It is a beautiful ride and next time we go I’ll try to drive so Jerry can see how very beautiful it is!

A trip to the grocery store ended our riding around for the day. We headed back to the coach and caught up on some computer work that we’d had to delay this week. Internet at this campground is phenomenal. In fact, I think it’s better than what we have at home. Jerry and I talked about the different hikes and sights and we mapped out a tentative plan for the next few days. Since it’s unusually cool for this time of year we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a hike! Cool weather means good sleeping!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our Last Day in the Badlands

The Door Trail
After a good, long night’s sleep we were still running behind but we left about 8:00. The skies were cloudy, the temps were temporarily lower and there was a nice breeze. We started with the Door Trail where you could scamper over the buttes following a marked trail. Venturing off the trail could have led to crumbling rock and it was a long way down. The trail leads to a break in the Badlands Wall and to an amazing view of the Badlands. As we walked and the sun began to shine through the clouds the colors became more vibrant. We walked back to the car, drank some water and then headed for the Window Trail.

At the start of every trail!
The Window Trail is a short .25 trail on a boardwalk that leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of the magnificent canyon below. It was stunning. I was so glad we had waited until today to take the Door and the Window trail. Well, I’m not sure we could have completed the Door trail as hot and exhausted as we were but even at that I don’t think we could have appreciated the grandeur of the canyon. Two short hikes but two well worth seeing.

Although we couldn’t get reservations for the tour we wanted to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The museum was fascinating and the film highlighted the events of the Cold War. I vaguely remember my parents talking about the Cold War and of hearing of fallout shelters being built for our safety should a nuclear attack become imminent. Of course if a nuclear attack had occurred it would have been instantaneous death for millions. The Minuteman was built in an area with very low population, built underground silos in the American Plains. The intensity of the times was accurately portrayed in the film helping us to recognize how very close we came to war and total devastation for the world.

We had no plans for the afternoon so we decided to ride over to White. River Visitor’s Center in the South section of the park. A short ride of 32 miles turned into nearly 100. We had about 45 miles one way and then an extra 20 for passing right by the center without realizing it! The Visitor’s Center itself was underwhelming but the ride overexposed us to a vastly different terrain. We rode through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland where we saw bales and bales of prairie grass/buffalo grass, pastures with horses, lots of green growth and Jerry thought he saw a herd to bison. We decided rather than stop we’d find them on the way back to the campground – didn’t happen! No bison for us in the Badlands.

Well, I’m cooking with gas! We have never used the gas burners in our RV preferring to use the induction burners we had purchased. We have always had trouble though with the breaker flipping but we blamed it on the toaster oven that we used for baking so we put the toaster over away. Tonight we tried to use the microwave to bake the stuffed peppers and the induction burner to boil the corn. Nope, the breaker flipped so we put the induction burners in the closet and tried out the gas burners. I have always heard that food is better cooked with gas so I guess we’ll see. At least I can cook everything concurrently now instead of having to stagger using the oven and one or two burners.

After dinner we headed out to our last hike in the Badlands, the Fossil Exhibit Trail. It’s only a .25 boardwalk but with excellent views and explanations of the development of the Badlands. There were ample places to climb to look for fossils but we elected to watch the other climb tonight.

We headed out looking for the perfect place to see a beautiful sunset. We finally settled on Homestead Overlook. As we waited for the sunset we were able to see a big herd of bison although they were only visible to me when using the binoculars. We also saw 11 bighorn sheet scampering over the buttes. We chatted with a couple from upstate New York who had just finished visiting some of the places we will be going and they gave us a lot of helpful hints. The temperature dropped considerably to 75 and with the breeze it was actually a little cool but still enjoyable.

We topped the night off by visiting the gas station for the second time in one day! Our Jeep only holds 15 gallons so we refuel frequently but not usually twice in the same day.

Herd of Bison
Home Away From Home, South Dakota

The Notch Trail

Despite our intentions to get out early it was a bit after 8:00 when we left the campground. Our first stop was the gift shop to buy me some socks to wear with my hiking boots. Before we left home we tried to go through the coach and get rid of anything that was not necessary. When I opened my sock drawer it was full of socks and I foolishly thought I wouldn’t need any on this trip. I would have golf socks and that would be enough – except I forgot that I needed socks for my hiking boots so now I have a pretty pair of Badlands socks!

Our next stop was the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. In addition to a small gift shop, they have displays giving the history of the Badlands. We watched a very good video that explained the formations. They also have several rangers on duty so we got some suggestions on where to go and what to do. I knew that I wanted to hike the Notch Trail so I asked about that. Since I had seen several warnings about rattlesnakes I asked about the possibility of running into one. She assured me that it was only a slight risk. In the last 20 years they have only had four people bitten and they were apparently in places they shouldn’t have been. Plus, she said the rattlers here are much smaller than the rattlers in NC. Wow, that made me feel better – not!

We headed on down to Notch Trail. I had my backpack with the water bladder but foolishly did not wear a hat. We realized immediately that it was going to be a hot hike even though we had started a little after 10:00. Hot doesn’t even begin to describe it! I was a wet mess! Climbing the notched ladder was, um, interesting. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to the distance between the ladder steps which was even more obvious on the way down when my foot was dangling searching to find the next step.

When we reached the end of the trail the vista was amazing. Such a dichotomy. Rough, dry, crumbling rock and immediately beside it green growth. The Badlands are eroding an inch a year and the erosion is obvious. Some of the places are very unstable. At the end of the trail we sat down and ended up chatting with a couple from Tennessee who are just starting their RV adventures. We enjoyed exchanging information with them and the view was amazing, well worth the moderate to strenuous hike. So many of the hikes we have been on have been erroneously labeled as “easy”, “moderate” or “strenuous” when in effect they did not fit the category assigned. This time the description was right on the money. It was a little bit of moderate with a whole lot of strenuous!

A long way down!
The trip back down the trail and back down the ladder was exhausting. When we finally reached the car without any discussion we headed to the campground. We had already talked about returning for lunch but I don’t think lunch was on our minds. Just some cool air and cold water was all I needed plus a shower! When we got back we were both too tired to even think about lunch. In fact, I never ate. Jerry fixed him something while I took a shower. He decided to take a nap so I got on the sofa to read. Because of my sensitivity to caffeine, I rarely drink anything with caffeine after 4:00 in the afternoon. Today I drank a Frappuccino and immediately to an hour and a half nap. So much for that logic.

We toyed around with what to do next and decided to do the Window and Door hikes. Along the route we stopped at the Cliff Shelf hike. We had walked about five minutes when Jerry exclaimed that he didn’t really want to do it. It was hot and the view wasn’t going to be that different so we turned around and headed to the car. We rode down to the Minuteman Missile museum but it was already closed for the evening. Heading back to the coach we took a detour and decided to ride the loop road.

That was a fun drive and we got to see a few wildlife. No bison, buts plentiful of prairie dogs. We even saw a couple of moms with their babies. We also saw several bighorn sheep and got some good pictures. When we started the loop drive, although differing in shape the buttes looked pretty much the same color but as we returned with the setting sun the colors became more vibrant, more distinctive. Hopefully, we can plan better and get back tomorrow night for the setting sun.

When we finally got back to the campground it was nearly 8:00 so instead of cooking dinner we grabbed a burger at the Food Shack at the KOA and then two exhausted travelers called it a day!

A mama and her babies
Home Away From Home, South Dakota

On to the Badlands

Our plans for an early departure were thwarted when we were awakened early to pouring rain, thunder, lightning and wind. What to do? We really didn’t want to spend the day at Porter Sculpture but the wind was blowing and the road out was groveled and rutted in places. About 9:00 Jerry went over to talk with Wayne, the owner, and he assured Jerry that RV’s came in every day with no problem. We hastily buttoned up everything, prayed and off we went. The road was not good but could have been a lot worse. There were portions of muddy, water standing in places and then everything would be fine and then more standing water, plus the ruts. I held my breath until we made it to the highway.

The rain continued as we traveled toward Mitchell for a stop at the Corn Palace. The weather cleared as we neared Mitchell fortunately because we had to go around our thumbs to get to our elbows. Of course, there was construction and a detour. We finally located an RV parking lot a block behind and a block over from the Corn Palace. In fact, it looked like an RV Park as there were several RV’s there. The bonus of driving in the rain is a very clean windshield. The negative is a dirty RV and an even dirtier car! When I got out of the RV at the parking lot I was astounded at how filthy my car was. We definitely will need to go to a car wash.

The Corn Palace was interesting. Built to encourage a flagging economy with an aim to becoming the state capital it attracted many fans during those early days. We watched a video on the history. Afterward, a guide took us in the gift shop and explained the corn murals on the wall. The left side of the shop paid tribute to the white settlers and the right side paid tribute to the native Americans. In the very center two hands were depicted indicating the union of the two.

Our next stop was the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center on I-90 accessible from both the east and the west. We went inside and were treated to a history of the expedition and several dioramas depicting various stages of the journey. Outside was the magnificent statue of Dignity of Earth and Sky. It is an astounding 50-foot statue honoring the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. I can only imagine how magnificent it must be in the evening when the light is shining on it. After a couple of photo ops we retreated to the coach and had some BLT’s for lunch.

As we traveled along I-90 we saw bales and bales of what appeared to be hay. We later learned that the counties sell the rights to people to harvest and collect the grass, etc growing on the side of the road. That’s a lot more useful than the mowing that goes on in North Carolina. Of course, it may not be grass but a combination of something else. As we looked out the coach windows we saw miles and miles, as far as we could see, of land. For the most part, nothing else could be seen and we wondered what as beyond our view.

I had to eat my words today. I had earlier declared that I would not be stopping at another Pilot station for gas but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. We had about a half a tank which is when we like to start looking for a station. The only thing ahead was a Pilot. We decided to pull in a and assess it. If we could get in and out easily, we’d stop there but if it looked like the station we had gone to earlier when we blocked traffic the answer was no. Guess our surprise when not only did we realize we could get in easily but they had two dedicated RV lanes. Easy peasy. A few minutes later we had a full tank and were on the road again.

To get to the town of Interior you have to go right through Badlands National Park. The road was curvy, winding, bumpy and oh my gosh, what next! We were able to use our American the Beautiful pass for entry. At first glimpse, the Badlands were awesome, majestic, otherworldly, mind-blowing.

After we drove through the park we drove into Interior – did we miss it, population 94 – to get to the Badlands/White River KOA. Check-in was accomplished quickly and then we were led to our campsite. That always makes it so much easier than having to ride around trying to locate a site. As soon as we got parked, I went out to do my part of getting the car detached. Yep, the battery was dead. It hadn’t been started in 48 hours so dead it was. This is not the first time it has happened. Jerry thinks something may be wrong with the electrical system and plans to get it checked out when we return home. Meanwhile, we won’t go that long without starting it.

One of the neighbors came over and jumped the car and we left it running while we continued to set up. It was terribly hot and we were both dripping wet with sweat when we got everything done.

Jerry wanted to go for a ride to recharge the batteries and I had wanted to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get the lay of the land for tomorrow plus we needed some basic groceries so off we went. Since we both needed to go into the Visitor’s Center we skipped that. We couldn’t leave the car running in the parking lot with no one in it and both of us needed to go into the center. We rode on to Wall, SD.

Like everyone, I had heard so much about Wall Drug and I accepted that it was a kitschy, tourist trap so was not surprised when we finally got there. By the way, it didn’t take long. The speed limit on I-90 is 80, quite a bit faster than we were going in the RV and quite a difference from NC. Wall Drug seems to be several stores all connected with most anything you might need or want. We wandered around briefly but didn’t spend much time there as our serious stop was the grocery store. We actually found a small store in Wall and were able to get everything we needed. It always makes me feel proud when I go in a store and see a jar of Mt. Olive pickles made in Mt. Olive, NC which is not far from our home. It’s a little bit of home while we are so far away and I always look for them in the store.

While we were on the way to Wall, I had my computer, my iPhone and my iPad. I needed to pay some bills and like we were told yesterday there is no Internet at the campground and no cell service so I took care of that while Jerry zoomed down the highway.

The guy that jumped our car told us that there was another camper from NC so when we returned we put wings out to thaw and walked around the campground looking for an NC license plate. We found it but no one was there. We were told two things about the campground. One, no cell service and the other, mosquitoes were abundant! Our walk was cut short as the mosquitoes and bugs were flying around like jet planes. We returned to the coach, had our dinner and settled our plans for the next day. Hopefully, we will be up early and out hiking before it gets too hot.

Home Away From Home, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota

South Dakota – Finally!

Though we hadn’t talked about it we ended up leaving the earliest we’ve left the entire trip. By 8:10 we were on the road headed to our next Harvest Host site. We enjoyed seeing the acres of green farmland dotted with plentiful wind turbines and no billboards cluttering our view. We saw no litter and of the states we have been through thus far, Iowa has the very best highways. There were acres and acres of corn at various stages of growth. We were told yesterday that a lot of it is field corn used in making ethanol. We were on a four-lane highway so lightly traveled that I could have driven although it would have been much slower!

We stopped around 9:30 for gas at a Flying J, possibly our last Flying J for a while as there don’t seem to be many on the roads ahead.

Of course, our two GPS’s deviated and Jerry decided to go with his. In retrospect I’m not sure that was a good idea. As we entered Minnesota, we ran into road construction and a detour. Forty minutes later we had seen a lot of Minnesota that we had not planned to see and the roads were one-lane and very nerve-wracking. We had skirted the rain clouds most of the morning but by noon we were in steady rain although we could see blue skies ahead.

We stopped once more at a Love’s in Sioux Falls for gas and then by 4:00 were at our Harvest host site for the night. The road leading into the park is dirt and at one point we had to go over a cattle guard. That is fun in an RV with a tow!

Look hard! I’m there.
Porter Sculpture Park is located in Montrose, SD and is rated as a Top Roadside Attraction in America. There are more than 50 larger than life sculptures scattered around the acreage. Most of them are quite large and a couple are enormous. In fact, I was looking at the picture of the horse that Jerry took and didn’t even realize that I was in the picture. It’s a big horse! As we walked around, we saw numerous “thirteen striped squirrels” and some flippertails – not sure what they are. I quickly went inside to replace my sandals with some closed-toe shoes!

As soon as we arrived, we took the walking tour of the park and then due to the heat spent the rest of the evening inside. One other RV arrived and we ended up chatting with them for a few minutes. It’s kind of good to know that we are not the only people out here as it’s a little desolate.

It’s still taking us a while to get use to the late arrival of the night as it’s dark by 8:30 at home whereas here it’s still quite light. Jerry had mentioned this morning that it was light at 6:15 so there must not be a very long night.

Home Away From Home, Iowa

Harvest Host Extraordinaire

A very late start this morning but taking care of repairs on the road can slow you down. Our dash AC stopped working on Friday and although we could run the generator while traveling to keep the house AC on, we didn’t want to do that unless necessary. The house AC needs a break! We have been at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Campground since Friday and while it has been just what we wanted there are NO trees and we have been in direct sunlight the entire time and it’s been HOT!

I made numerous calls Friday trying to find a mobile RV Tech and it’s not easy to find someone. We finally found someone on Saturday but guess what he was doing? Camping a couple hundred miles away. There really was no one to call on a weekend so we planned to try again Monday morning and fortunately we were able to reach the tech we had talked with on Saturday. They arrived around 8:30 and discovered that we needed a vacuum hose so off they went to get one. Time was ticking and I really wanted to get to our Harvest Host site in Hudson, Iowa as soon as possible. They have kangaroos!

As we are traveling, I often start humming a song with no conscious thought of what I am singing. Today it was “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go”. Interesting. Where is the Lord leading us today? I prayed this morning for our safety and then as we were leaving we prayed. What a reassurance to know that we are in God’s loving hands.

Today was possibly the most uneventful travel day we have had. Other than a little hiccup when we missed the exit everything went well. We had no major cities to traverse and the traffic wasn’t too heavy. We stopped around noon in Iowa for gas at a Flying J. With our discount the gas was $2.54 a gallon – love it! I prayed that we could get gas with no drama and thank you Lord, we got in, got gas and got out quickly. No drama! We stopped about an hour later at a rest station in Iowa for a quick lunch and then back on the road. As we rode along, I noticed a lot of flat land, road signs quite a distance from the highway and an occasional whiff of cattle although we saw no cattle.

We arrived at Hansen Dairy Farm, our Harvest Host home for the evening around 4:00 and immediately joined a tour of the farm. It was absolutely fascinating. The dairy farm is family owned and has been for 150 years. The four sons and their families all work with their mom and dad. What a work ethic the grandchildren are learning. We got to milk a cow plus we got a private visit with their four kangaroos. Their fur is so soft. We fed them some bread but I think they had been treated earlier today so weren’t as hungry. I just loved sitting on the ground rubbing them.

Despite his grumpy looking face the butter was delicious.

When we arrived, the tour was at the barn where the babies were and kids were feeding them milk from bottles. There were three sets of twin calves and then across the way were a set of triplets. It’s the only set of triplets born on the farm in the 150-year history. Apparently, it’s so rare that they made the local and national news. At the end of the tour we were able to sample the delicious milk, white or chocolate (and I usually don’t like milk), made some butter that was just as good and then ate some luscious ice cream.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to spend the night. We’re settled right next to a lovely pond where we could fish – if we fished! After dinner, I sat out by the pond and enjoyed the serenity and the quiet while watching the beautiful sunset. Ah….

Home Away From Home, Illinois, Missouri

A Spur of the Moment Trip to St. Louis

Yesterday we decided that we had about “Lincolned” out and wanted something a bit different for today. While talking with one of the members of the brass band yesterday he mentioned having gone to St. Louis the night before. That remark got me to thinking about the Gateway Arch so I asked Jerry about going to St. Louis for the day. He readily agreed so off we went. I always do a lot of research before we visit somewhere but on this day we were shooting in the dark. Knowing nothing about the arch, the park, the museum, the lake we decided to wing it.

We left about 8:30 for the 100 mile trip. It was an easy drive, a lot easier in a car! I did some research as we were traveling and found a parking deck that seemed to be near to where we wanted to be so we headed there. Turns out we were quite close to the Arch.

As we were walking to the Arch we chatted with a couple who lived in St. Louis. They gave us some ideas of what to do and emphasized that we should ride the tram up the Arch. That was definitely on my list of things to do.

We got to the main building, bought our tickets for the movie and the tram. The river cruise was not opened because the river was flooded. We only had a few minutes before the movie stated so we headed that way via entrance in the museum. Of course, we had to go through a security check and all of the men had to take off their belts. I was hoping Jerry’s pants didn’t fall down!

Soon it was time to see the movie which explained the building process with original video and pictures. It is truly amazing to watch the process and also to realize that no lives were lost as they forged those tremendous heights and dangers.

The original intent of the Gateway Arch National Park was to bring something to St. Louis to fight a flagging economy that had been changed due to railroad use rather than shipping. The idea was presented by lawyer, Luther Ely Smith. He thought St. Louis needed a big national memorial on the old riverfront. Smith won over Mayor Bernard Dickmann and in 1934 they formed the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association (JNEMA) to develop the riverfront. Dickmann found political support in Washington and the local project turned into a national one. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created Jefferson National Enterprise Memorial by presidential proclamation in 1935.

Sometime later a contest was held to determine a winning design for the monument. Eero Saarinen, an immigrant from Finland was the winter and received $40,00 for his efforts. He went on to become a noted and respected architect for his designs. Prior to the contest he was most noted for his furniture design, particularly the tulip chair which is on exhibition in the museum.

Construction on the Arch started in 1962 and a mere two and a half years later, in 1965, it was completed. It rose to 630 feet, the tallest structure in the United States. Not only is it 630 feet tall but it is also 630 feet wide.

A view from the top, a Cardinals game
The trip to the top via the tram takes four minutes rising at a rate of 340 feet per minute. I had my ticket and was planning to ride but admittedly I am claustrophobic. I thought I could handle it though until I saw the capsule – and that’s being generous – that only five people could fit in. Just as I was about to bend over to step in, I realized that I just couldn’t be closed up in that small space even for four minutes. I quickly apologized and backed out. What a disappointment. Jerry went on to enjoy the ride up, take a few pictures, one of the Cardinals paying a game and then the three-minute ride down. Meanwhile I sat waiting for him feeling sorry for myself. He was quickly down and reminded me of the horseback ride he backed out of at the last minute when we were in Amararillo. That made me feel just a midgen better.

The top of the Old Courthouse
We walked over to the domed Courthouse next and spent a few minutes there. Simply put, it is stunning. A series of kites depicting Lewis and Clark were hung along the balcony of the second floor.

By this time we were pretty tired so we headed back to the car and Springfield. Our GPS got a little confused so we circled the block a couple of times before we got on the right highway. We arrived back in Springfield just in time to go see the Old State Capital Historic Site. It was interesting to note how Lincoln’s political stance emerged throughout his tenure as president. I had questioned who his vice president was and who took over upon his death. Amazingly, a couple of people I asked seemed to have no idea and were surprised at the question. It was Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, a southerner who Lincoln hoped would help balance his ticket for re-election.

A quick run to the grocery store and we were done! It was time to start thinking about leaving in the morning headed for the next leg of the journey to South Dakota. Plans are to spend tomorrow night in Hudson, Iowa.

Home Away From Home, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln Museum

Three days of hard driving can be exhausting so last night and this morning have been a time of rest. A good night’s sleep always helps too. We had planned to get an early start but Jerry slept in and I knew he must be so very tired so I didn’t bother him. As it turned out we were still out and about by 9:30, pretty good for us!

We decided to go to the Abraham Lincoln Museum first hoping it wouldn’t be as crowded in the morning. As we rode down the street and started to turn into a parking deck a gentleman stopped us and explained that street parking was free on the week-ends so rather than spend $20 to enter the deck we found a place right there on the street. What a welcome to Springfield!

As we approached the museum we saw a couple of guys dressed in period costume and they explained that they were part of a brass band that would be playing songs popular during the Civil War at 10:30. We enjoyed chatting with them for a few minutes and then entered the museum with plans to come back out for the concert.

After buying the tickets – oh, that was fun. The ticket agent said to Jerry, “one senior and one…” at which point we just laughed and told her two seniors. Wonder which one was the senior?

After we passed through the entry to the actual museum we stopped by a grouping of Lincoln and his family. They are amazingly real looking. We were greeted by a lady volunteering to take pictures but also dispensing a lot of information about the Lincoln family. The stories she told were fascinating and as with the rest of the museum presented a picture of Abraham and Mary Lincoln that one doesn’t read in the history books.

Our first visit was a replica of the cabin where young Lincoln lived and then further displays and information about his life before the presidency. At one point, Lincoln was a store owner and one of the displays showed Lincoln and a lady looking at a book. I tried to see what book it was and I think possibly it was an English book because I saw a couple of references to “nouns”. I couldn’t get close enough to really read anything though. The figures were so very real looking, almost spooky. Their hands looked so real and his arms actually had hair on them. Eeek!<a

Since it was almost 10:30 we ventured outside to hear the brass band. They played a number of songs, one a medley of patriotic songs including the Star Spangled Banner. The speaker said that people did not have to stand for that but some, including us, did. A refreshing sight.

Knowing my dad faithfully and willingly served our country during World War II, the D Day exhibit was especially touching to me. It very explicitly and sometimes graphically showed the pulse of our country plus the devastation that occurred during that time. It was a time when our country came together for a united purpose. Those at home, men, women and children came together to provide in any way they could whether it was working in a factory or conserving. Patriotism was at an all-time high. What a compelling exhibit.

The next stop was a video about the Lincoln that people don’t know. The narrator was an artist and explained that one could tell a lot about a person from their eyes. “The eyes are the windows to the soul”. He explained that Lincoln’s gray eyes showed a great deal of sorrow and sadness.

After the movie, we ventured into the White House years and as with any president, Lincoln had his opponents. Several walls were filled with caricatures of him and interestingly enough the doors and some of the frames were slanted either left or right. Umm…

After another short video we decided to call it a day. I had read that the museum could be seen in three hours but it took us nearly four and we could have spent more. We walked over to Union Station and then headed back to the coach for lunch.

After lunch we went to the Lincoln home. After a picture with “Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln” we headed to the house. Some of the items in the house are authentic, about 50 I think the park ranger said and of course most are reproductions. There was one large room that could be divided into two rooms, one for Lincoln’s study and one for Mrs. Lincoln’s entertaining. If the rooms were not being used for those purposes they were closed off. Children were not allowed in those rooms.

From what we heard the Lincolns were very lax parents and let their kids run wild wherever they were be it in Lincoln’s law office or at home. It seemed the older Lincolns were unaware of their children’s antics. Sadly, two of their children died at a young age, one while the Lincolns were in the White House. The water at the White House came from the river and unbeknownst to them the water was toxic due to the dead bodies of the soldiers lying on the banks. Apparently, this is what caused the young boy’s illness and subsequent death.

After the house tour we wandered around the area for a while looking at the various houses which are now used as offices. By this time, it was getting so hot that we decided to call it a day and return to the coach.

A messy law office!

After dinner we decided to walk over to the arena where we had heard there was a horse show. We missed the show but were able to see a couple of reining horses working out in the ring.

It was a busy day and we learned a lot about President Lincoln, his wife and his children. We got to see the personal side of a president as well as his political side.

Lincoln as a young boy