Well, we’re heading back home and back in the West..home of good beer!
From Washington, DC we had a couple of long driving days heading to Mankato, Mn to visit my brother, Howard, and his family. The first night was spent in a little town in Ohio at the delightful (ha ha) La Siesta Hotel for the bargain price of $46/night! It was a very basic but clean with a very nice owner and really, for that price who can complain?! We also had a great dinner at the local Mexican restaurant with great margaritas and some good tex-mex.
Next night was in Chicago, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. We had talked about staying outside of town but Jim had never been there so we decided to stay downtown. We did have a great location at the Best Western North River (and we have learned a valuable lesson along the way. I called the hotel and was given a rate of $189. We walked in the door and were given the room for $139..big savings and not the first time it happened in the course of this trip). We did have a good walk down to the Sears tower but didn’t go to the top as they wanted $39 pp!! Outrageous. So, we wandered a bit but just headed back to the hotel for some Olympics and pizza delivery. It was quite disheartening to be in big city USA and have all those people rushing down the streets, no one smiling, no one making eye contact, no one looking happy or even pleasant. It has been very obvious throughout this trip how different we are in the US from everywhere else we’ve traveled in the world, where people are much more “involved” with the street scene and their community than here.. I’m not liking our way of doing it so much as we’re all so disconnected from everyone else around us. The only place we’ve been that has not been like that is in the South..basically from Memphis to South Carolina people are much more laid back and interested in actually relating to those around them.
Anyway, we got to Howard and his wife Kathy’s house (along with their kids Nathan, Eric & Chelsea, dog Sebastian and 15 cats (15 is NOT a mistype!). We haven’t see Kathy and the kids in 5 years and Howard in 3yrs and both of those times was due to our mom’s illness so it was really great to see them just because. We mainly hung out, enjoyed their great fire pit , and visited some of Mankato’s historical sites and the local brewery. All good fun but then back on the road again!
We drove a long , pretty boring day through southwest Minnesota and all of South Dakota to get to the Black Hills, near Mt Rushmore. On the way we did stop in Luverne, Mn…where I spent most of my childhood so Jim could see our old house and town. The house has changed a bit but, interestingly enough, in over 25years the downtown street looks almost exactly the same. Next stop was the Corn Palace in South Dakota…a stop everyone makes but not too exciting. Basically it’s a building that they do artwork made of corn on each year. Then, Wall drug..another cheesy stop that everyone makes…partially because you’ve seen billboards for it since Minnesota advertising $.05 coffee and ice water. We actually opted for a chocolate shake and skipped buying any of the souvenirs!
In the Black Hills we stayed at the KOA Mt Rushmore/ Hill City. We had reserved a tent site but upon arrival realized that all of their tent sites basically sucked…very few trees, on a hill with gravel and no grass. So, we opted for one of the cabins and had a late dinner. The next day was a very busy day touring the Motorcycle Museum in Sturgis, going through Deadwood (which has lost most historical value and is basically all cheesy shops and gambling halls), the amazing Crazy Horse Monument which was started in 1948 and is not even close to being done. It’s the largest monument in the world and the devotion of the original sculptur and how his family is amazing.
Next stop was the Custer State park where we saw quite a few bison and pronghorn sheep. We were going to explore one of the caves but were just too tired at that point so headed back to camp and ate dinner. At 8pm we headed up to Mt Rushmore for the lighting ceremony which proved to be very moving. There was a short film highlighting the 4 presidents and then they lit up the sight and had all the military people in the audience go on stage and help with the lowering of the flag. It was definately worthwhile.
From the Black Hills we drove to Cody, Wy…another pretty boring drive as anyone knows who’s ever been in Wyoming! Cody itself was good. We stayed at the Irma Hotel..built in 1909 by Buffalo Bill himself for his youngest daughter. We toured his museum which was well done, watched the “shootout” in front of the hotel, and had a good burger & beer at the historic Silver Dollar Saloon, which is now a biker bar. Overall, a very good afternoon.
It was a fairly short drive from Cody into Yellowstone park. We entered the park from the East entrance and stopped for some sightseeing, to get a fishing license for Jim, and to see Old Faithful blow before heading out through the West entrance on our way to our KOA. It was another very nice KOA and they had really nice tent sites so we got all set up right near the camp kitchen and bathrooms..lovely! We had a great dinner of chicken pasta with peanut sauce, met some other travelers as we cooked and had a camp fire under a ceiling of stars. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We set the alarm for 5:30am the next morning because we were heading out for Jim to flyfish. However, it had been a VERY cold night (around 39 degrees) so we stayed snuggled in our sleeping bags until 6:30am! It was still pretty cold but we did get going and were in the park fishing on the Madison River by 7:30am. I hung out, read, and watched Jim fish and he had a great 3 hours or so of fly fishing. It was a beautiful site..lovely, meandering river through meadows with the mountains in the background. Right out of “A River Runs Through It”. We didn’t have any fishing luck but did then enjoy a great (albeit hot) hike to Mystic Falls and the overlook above it. We spent the rest of the day exploring a whole bunch of the other geysers in the park and watching for wildlife. We never did see a beer but we saw loads of elk, bison, pronghorn sheep, mule deer and one really cool moose.
Today, 26August, we celebrated our 1yr anniversary from the day we left on this incredible journey that has been our life for the last year. Time sure does fly by but we wouldn’t trade the last year for anything.
We had a gorgeous drive today, up through West Yellowstone, through Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula (a wonderful little college town) up to Kalispell with views of the Rocky Mountains all along the way..just beautiful. Tomorrow we head up into Canada on the way to Mike & Malisa’s house for Labor Day weekend…keep tuned for our next adventures! Hope everyone is well and we’ll see you all at home soon. Love, J&R