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September 2012

Home Sweet Home

by Richie
Home Sweet Home

We are home safe and sound. We traveled 3621 miles in about 3 weeks, and had a wonderful time all the way.

Many thanks to our Readers who kept us company along the way!

We’ll keep this blog open, and add to it each time we go camping. But we’re going to rest for a few weeks first.

Coming Soon – You can read my weekly RV Travel column at BoomerTravelPatrol.com. The website is scheduled to debut in December, 2012.

Happy Trails!

T & R

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Wander Indiana

by Richie
Wander Indiana

Columbus, Indiana
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We cruised all the I’s today – Iowa, Illinois, Indiana. This was a big day on the road, and for the first time we couldn’t find a place to camp overnight. We made it to Indianapolis, much farther than I thought we’d have the stamina for, only to be shut out of the two campgrounds in town. Indy doesn’t have a lot of choices, and neither did we. So we had to continue moving south, which kept us on the road well after dark.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment coming from the sparsely populated western states back to the bustling Mid-West. We got used to having the wide open spaces to our self, seeing mostly RVs, motorcycles, and cowboy pickup trucks on the road. It felt like a camaraderie – yeah, we’ve all spat with the rattlesnakes and shat with the grizzlies. There’s dust on our tails from the long, long trail.
But now that we’re back in the citified world, we seem out of place. Rolling slowly along in our cumbersome coach, wearing grubby jeans and a flinty look in our eyes. We get stares instead of a nod, honks instead of a friendly wave.
We left on our Wild West excursion in late summer, and are now returning at harvest time. Farmers are busy with their giant corn picking equipment, leaving the fields shorn and stubbly.

Frequently Asked:
We’ve been asked a bunch of questions about our trip already. Here’s the most popular –
Did you have a good time?

Boy howdy!

Did you meet any interesting people?

No. Two reasons why –
1. Campers are on the move. They pull in, eat dinner, and close the curtains.
2. We’re not friendly.

How did Shadow like being on the road? 
He hardly complained.

 

Didn’t you get on each other’s nerves?
   Seldom was heard a discouraging word.

And then our favorite, from strangers in various towns…

Did you ride that scooter all the way from Kentucky? 
Nope, only halfway!

 

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Boot Scootin’

by Richie
Boot Scootin’
North Liberty, Iowa

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Got delayed leaving South Dakota because of the condensed-soup fog that draped the area until 10am. Nearby was Ellsworth Air Force Base, and we could hear the fighter plane afterburners somewhere above us, but couldn’t spot them through the mist.

We tamped down the miles today, despite the late start, skating through half of South Dakota, all of southern Minnesota, and a big diagonal across Iowa. We’re camped close to the border of Illinois.
Minnesota and Iowa are surprisingly progressive in their commitment to alternative energy. We saw enormous wind turbine farms, stretching for miles across the Plains. Remind me to buy stock in the company who makes these giant turbines – they’re making a fortune out here!
For hundreds of miles we’ve been seeing billboards for the Whoa N’ Go truck stop. For days I’ve been looking forward to stopping there, figuring it would be like another Wall Drug. Quite a disappointment when we got to Jackson, MN and found it’s just a crummy gas station, and a small one at that.

 

The high desert and prairie land are behind us, and now we see hardwood trees and corn farming. This is big agri-business at its prime. Thousands of acres meticulously groomed. The thing that’s so striking is there’s no variation in what I assume is genetically modified corn. All the plants are exactly the same size, color, and height. You’d think that once in a while a single plant might distinguish itself – a little taller, a little greener, maybe got more water or some extra raccoon poop fertilizer. But no. They’re all identical. It’s both freaky and monotonous at once.
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Bustin’ Sod

by Richie
Bustin’ Sod

Sioux Falls
South Dakota
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We’re traveling east across South Dakota today.
Just outside Badlands National Park, we stopped at Prairie Homestead which is an actual Sodbuster house and farm from the turn of the century. The government handed out land parcels for a small fee to encourage western migration into what was once Sioux Indian Territory. You needed to live on the land a few years in order to “prove it” – meaning own it permanently.
The homesteaders had a saying: “The government bet you 160 acres of land against $18 that you will starve to death before you live on the land 5 years.”
Most homestead claims were abandoned within a year. Limited water and poor grazing were the main causes, not to mention the brutal climate out here. It’s called Bad Lands for a reason.

Prairie Homestead also hosts a village of rare white prairie dogs. Recalling the sign we saw yesterday, we avoided them like the plague!

As we headed east, the landscape changed again from arid desert to high grassy plains. Somewhere around Mitchell the topsoil improves and we started seeing cornfields again. Just to make it official, we visited Corn Palace.
Corn Palace is an entertainment venue “Since 1892” and likes to bill itself as the largest display of folk art in the Plains. The façade is decorated with 275,000 corn cobs, cut in half, and nailed to the building. They tear it all off and make a new design every summer.
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Badlands

by Richie
Badlands

Badlands National Park
South Dakota
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Our dog, Shadow, attracts a lot of attention. Wherever we go, people want to touch him, take his picture, or ask questions about him. We call this ELS – Everybody Loves Shadow. This trip we’ve added a new phenomenon: ELC – Everybody Loves our Coach. At least once a day we’ll encounter a gent walking slow circles around our motorhome, whether it’s parked in a campground or sitting in a lot by some attraction. They eye it up and down, and typically start the conversation by asking if it’s gas or diesel. I usually let Tim handle the questions. But this morning a guy startled me as I was having coffee at our picnic table. His question was, “Where do you buy one of these?” Not being properly caffeinated yet, I mumbled something about the factory in Florida, and beat a hasty retreat inside.

Today we did the obligatory stop at Wall Drug, in Wall, SD. This self-famous attraction started out as a simple pharmacy in 1931 and quickly learned the value of billboard promotion, not unlike See Rock City. We’ve been seeing their signs since Yellowstone, so of course we had to look around.

 

 

Our Mood Pencils!

We proceeded on through Badlands National Park, where we are camped for the evening. The Badlands is leftover volcanic terrain, strange and beautiful, but most inhospitable. There’s hardly a living thing out here except rattlesnakes and prairie dogs. Upon entering the park, a large sign warns “Prairie Dogs Have Plague” !!
In 1907 railroad tracks were built through this valley and homesteaders flocked to the Badlands for what ended up being called Starvation Claims. They dotted the prairie with sod and tarpaper shacks, couldn’t make a subsistence living in this arid wasteland, and abandoned the claims shortly thereafter. Nobody lives here now.

 

 

 

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Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

by Richie
Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

North By Northwest
South Dakota
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From Behind
We toured the Black Hills today, and yes, they really are black rock. We were also followed all day by seven, count ‘em 1-2-3..7, buses filled with tourists. They crowded us, surrounded us, stop and go walked in front of us, and are in all our pictures. At one point, late in the day, I had an odd sense of calm sweep over me. “The tourists are gone,” Tim noted. Ahhhhhh. So.

 

Tim & Friends
First stop was Crazy Horse. This is a mountain carving, half finished, of Chief Crazy Horse and his pony. The project is privately run by the Ziolkowski family. Back in 1947, four Indian tribes approached Korczak Ziolkowski, assistant sculptor for Mt. Rushmore. The tribes wanted their own monument in the Black Hills to commemorate the native peoples. Korczak accepted the mission, and started work all by himself in 1948, with no outside help. He married, had 10 children, and died in 1982, doing nothing else but work on Crazy Horse monument. The family is still trying to complete the project.
When it’s finished it will be many times larger than Mt. Rushmore. Just the face of Crazy Horse is bigger than all 4 heads in Rushmore. Frankly, I think it’s going to take another 3 generations of Ziolkowski’s to complete this carving. Korczak’s vision was undoubtedly ambitious. He once said, “When dreams die, there is no more greatness.”
Crazy Horse To Date
Artist’s Model

 

Work to be done
Mt. Rushmore, on the other hand, was completed in 14 years primarily because it was federally funded. There is one sculptor still alive today, Nick Clifford, age 91. Tim met him at the gift shop autographing his book Mt. Rushmore Q&A.
Rushmore is a National Monument and entry is free, however parking will set you back $11. A stone plaza walkway with all 50 state flags leads you to a viewing deck. We had lunch at the park restaurant, hoping it would be as swanky as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint found it in the Hitchcock movie, but alas it’s just another cafeteria run by Xantera Concessions.
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Aces and Eights

by Richie
Aces and Eights

Deadwood, South Dakota
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We galloped on into Deadwood today. This town is famous for its Gold Rush days, circa 1875, and for where Wild Bill Hickok was killed in Saloon No. 10. Wild Bill was seated at a table with his back to the door, a position he was always superstitious about, when the coward Jack McCall shot him from behind. He was playing poker, holding aces and eights, which will forever be known as Dead Man’s Hand.

We hung out in Saloon No. 10 and watched a reenactment of the scene. Then I played some cards there, just so I could brag about it later.

Deadwood is a lot like Bardstown, only with steep mountains and gambling in every possible building; restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and motels, wherever they can stick a slot machine.

Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried next to each other way up on Boot Hill, in Moriah Cemetery, where the wind howls just like the song:

“Moriah makes the mountains sound
Like folks were up there dying”

 

We are camped at Whistler Gulch, the site of a former gold mine. The campground is situated on a hilly slope, and at the top are the slag heaps of ore tailings and the old mine entrance. We rummaged around in the piles for gold findings that may have been overlooked, but I think all we got were just rocks.

Gold Mine Tunnel

 

1903 Mining Compressor

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Devils Tower

by Richie
Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument
Wyoming
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Devils Tower

We heard horror stories about RV’s traveling through the Big Horn Mountains, so we chose the longer southern route, and indeed it was a gentle passage. One guy described it as the difference between a ramp and a ladder. The peak was 9666 ft. elevation – cruising altitude! The steepest slope (7% grade) was under construction. They had torn out the road, right down to a gravel and dirt base, and we were led through single file by a guide car.

Big Horn Mountains

 

Switchback
Pull-Out

 

Under Construction

Past Buffalo, Wyoming we picked up the interstate, and all was smooth sailing again. We turned to Devils Tower, checked into a campground 10 yards from the park entrance, and scootered up to the visitor center.

The afternoon couldn’t have been more splendid; 70 degrees, sunny, with a pine-scented breeze wafting gently. A perfect day to walk the loop at the base of Devils Tower. We ambled through Ponderosa pines, white oaks, and a litter of boulders.
There are porcupines in this forest, and we saw evidence of their gnawings on the tree bark. A large prairie dog village was at the entrance, and the little fellows chirped and barked at us delightfully.
Prairie Dog
Porcupine Marks
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Wagons Ho!

by Richie
Wagons Ho!

Ten Sleep, Wyoming
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We saddled up and headed out of Yellowstone via the East Gate. This route took us through –aieeee! – the Sylvan Pass, which is a mountainous – watch out! – winding road, with the slimmest of guard rails – Laura Mercy!  – and hairpin turns and switchbacks – whoa! – and a canyon far, far – don’t look down! – below.

On this wild, black diamond slope of a road, a dag-blamed son-of-a-buck RV towing a trailer passed us on a blind curve. My fingerprints are still in the dash.

We passed into the Shoshone National Forest and foothills, and came out panting at Cody, Wyoming.

 

Everything in this town is named after Buffalo Bill Cody; the reservoir, the dam, the high school football team. But in Cody the best Buffalo Bill of all is the Historical Museum. A sprawling center, with five separate wings: The Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians, Yellowstone, Firearms, and Western Art. Each wing boasts an extensive collection, unequaled to anything I’ve seen yet.

Bear Claw Necklace

Wild Bill Hickok’s pistols

Past Cody the landscape changes from lush valley to high desert, and then into a region where nothing at all grows.

We are resting for the night in Ten Sleep (population 260) before tackling the Big Horn Mountains tomorrow. We’ve chosen Route 16, because the billboards promised it’s the “Fast, Easy, and Safe” way to cross. We’ll see.

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Geysers & Geezers

by Richie
Geysers & Geezers

Yesterday
Yellowstone National Park

Today we took an all-day bus tour called Circle Of Fire. There were 12 of us on the bus, and Tim & I were by far the youngest passengers. We toured the southern loop of the park, about 106 miles, and stopped at all the prime features of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a wild place, fraught with danger and peril. Rangers and tour guides are fond of telling stories of hapless tourists, most who fall victim to their own foolishness. The guy who chased a pair of grizzly cubs – mauled by Mama Grizzly. The gent that tried to shove a buffalo over to get a better photo – gored. The woman that let her dog trot into a hot spring – boiled.

Then there’s the overly cautious folks, like the elderly couple that wanted to buy a $50 can of Bear Spray just to drive through the park. The ranger told them, “They ain’t gonna come in the car with ya!”
We were quite safe viewing the highlights of the park from a sidewalk or windshield.

 

Kepler Falls
Old Faithful Inn
Old Faitthful
Fountain Paint Pot
Red Spouter
Spasm Geyser
Upper Falls
Artist Point
Artist Canyon
Hayden Valley
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