Greetings, family and friends! So sorry for my sporadic updates. I guess my excuse is that it’s been a tad busy, but you will see shortly…
It has been a busy year so far, with a lot of traveling back and forth… We continue to find retirement interesting and fun–and the freedom to travel and visit with family and friends is so stupendously wonderful it makes all those years of hard work worthwhile!! We hope to see more of the good old USA–what a wonderful country! We have met so many very nice people in our travels, both Americans and travelers from around the world. It seems the more you get into this gypsy life the more you crave it! This summer we are expanding our explorations to Canada as well. We are in Canada now, but I will get to that once I catch up on our earlier adventuring.
After our warm winter interludes in Florida several times this past winter/spring to thaw out our frozen toes and try to avoid the worst of a terribly cold and messy winter, we then made our long trek north with stops in Georgia to visit family. It was time to bring Baby back to Virginia to ready her for our next Grand Tour. Bur first we had some very important items on our ‘To Do’ list.
The first one, as you can see below, is getting Baby into the driveway. Sometimes she is a little naughty and prefers to chew up our across-the-street neighbor’s mailbox, plants, and neatly arranged mulch surrounding the mailbox. When you are 42 feet long and weigh 42,000 plus pounds, you pretty much own the neighborhood! So we have to beg and plead with her to be a nice girl so that we can safely tuck her into the driveway. Once that task is finally accomplished (and we smooth down the neighbor’s mulch), we download the edibles and other sundry items and complete any tours requested from the neighborhood kids. We then take her back to her Virginia nest until ready to pack up and roll out again. But until then she rules!
While tucked into our driveway, many neighbors walking their dogs stop to inquire on where we are headed next, where we’ve been, and how much they want to take off and do the very same thing. I completely understand this longing to hit the road from my pre-retirement life–on those most stressed out days after a tough day at work I would come home and read Motorhome magazine from cover to cover. Pure escapism! Didn’t matter if the article was about changing oil, cruising the Tetons, the latest model tow bar, or going to a rally in Perry, Georgia–I soaked it all up. So I can understand the fascination, the yearning (even) to get away on the open road and travel to your heart’s content! It must be the old Pioneer travel lust passed down to me (except we have Baby instead of a Conestoga wagon and a team of oxen). And Sweet Baby, or as one of our RV park neighbors said to Bob, our STUNNING Baby (I could see a little smile on Baby’s face when he said that!), makes it all possible in our home on wheels. Do you see that little sly smile on her face below? She’s a devilish one–she’s glad to be home but she’s not about to admit it!
Along with birthday celebrations and that very special Cat in the Hat performance, I also attended Ewan’s field day and Grandparents Day at his school. Field Day was beautiful and sunny with a nice locally catered picnic once all the games were over. On Grandparent’s Day, the children put on a musical performance for the grandparents that is always amazing. What talented youngsters! You may want to call this my Grandma Brag Book, but all our grandchildren are so special I love to spend as much time with them as possible!
But all good things eventually do get overtaken by To DO lists, itineraries, and Baby’s impatience to get on the road again! But even as we roll across the country weeks later, I still hear the refrain from the Cat in the Hat Seussical–“oh the things you can do, oh the things you can see….” repeating in my head. Thanks, Ewan!
Well, Baby was ready to roll so we loaded up again and headed West. This time we were headed to South Dakota as quickly as possible, since we had a relatively tight schedule for the summer. We stopped first in Buckeye Lake, Ohio and then followed a quick succession of campgrounds in Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, and then South Dakota. Somehow we just HAPPENED to camp near Vera Bradley outlets in campsites in Indiana and Illinois. I (of course) felt compelled to check them out with a virtual Ashley exploring the wares via cell phone and Internet. This VB compulsion (Ashley got me started on this one, but I take the blame for the Homegoods psychosis) is never ending. So many patterns, so little time!
As we entered South Dakota we drove through endless variations of prairie land and slightly undulating fields, with barely a few cattle to be seen for miles and miles. We did break the monotony by stopping at the infamous—if you’ve ever driven west on I-90 and read the 5000 billboards advertising this establishment—Wall Drug. The whole town is consumed by Wall Drug which sells almost anything you can think of (not just drugs). I did get sucked in at the book store which had a wonderful selection of Wild West authors – and since (of course) my other weakness is books–especially those focusing on the area I’m traveling in at the moment–I walked out with another BIG bag of books!
One night we were chatting with our campground host and we remarked on how we had not seen anything or anyone for miles throughout the day. He told us to never fear–there are plenty of wildlife out there in the emptiness. He specifically mentioned giant bullsnakes and (ye gads!) RATTLESNAKES. His campground was in one of those vast, seemingly empty wilderness areas with one exception–just across the street was a recreated Frontier town which had (also) been vigorously advertised on giant billboards for the past 200 miles. We headed over there after dinner–and that proved to be an adventure. The first thing the elderly gent who sold us our tickets told me was to watch for RATTLESNAKES. He said he had almost stepped on one on several occasions as he was locking up all the buildings that were part of the town. Well that was a little worrisome–believe me I kept my eyes to the ground after that!
Moving on the next day, after what seemed like a looo–oong time driving through empty (supposedly) prairie land, we finally made it to our destination–Rapid City, South Dakota. We very efficiently hit all the high spots–Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park–each of them a story in themselves. We also enjoyed our VERY NICE campground at Hart’s Ranch. It was hard to leave!
If you can believe it, we hit all the parks below in just a few days:
Mt. Rushmore National Park: Our main objective was to see Mount Rushmore, also known as the Presidents Mountain. You may not know this but the monument was the brainchild of Doane Robinson, known as the “Father of Mount Rushmore.” His goal was to create an attraction that would draw people from all over the country to his state. As we were traveling through endless South Dakota wilderness, we realized we really didn’t know too much about Mt. Rushmore–except it was big, made from rock, and had some Presidents carved on it. Since Bob and I both failed the test re: Mt. Rushmore (you have to do something while traveling for hundreds of miles every week!), you may be interested in a few key facts in case someone starts quizzing you:
- The four presidents carved in the mountain are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
- Thomas Jefferson was originally started on George Washington’s right. However, after 18 months they realized that it was not working. Jefferson’s face was dynamited off and carved on the other side.
- It took 14 years to complete Mount Rushmore.
- No one died while building Mount Rushmore.
- The sculpture cost $989,992.32 to build.
- There is a cave behind the carving called the “Hall of Records.” It was intended to house the story of Mount Rushmore but was never completed due to lack of funding.
- George Washington’s face is 60 feet long.
- 90% of the heads were carved with dynamite
If you visit Mt. Rushmore, be prepared to spend some time in the museum–it is quite fascinating. I was intrigued with blowing up dynamite. Actual footage of a part of the sculpture being dynamited is synchronized with your hand on the throttle triggering the explosion! I (along with all the little boys lined up) must have hit that thing ten times. Something very satisfying about that!
Crazy Horse Memorial: The story of the building of the Crazy Horse Memorial is quite memorable. Although South Dakota is famously home to Mount Rushmore, just down the road it’s also been making room for a second colossal mountain carving that, when finished, will dwarf the four presidents. The sculpture in progress is of the Lakota warrior Chief Crazy Horse astride a stallion with his arm and pointed hand stretched out over the horse’s mane. It’s taking awhile. The Crazy Horse Memorial–taller than the Washington Monument and well over two football fields wide — has been 64 years in the making. And problems in the underlying rock are now forcing the sculptors to deviate from the original model.
Custer State Park: Driving into this park, we had no concept what was in store for us. This is no ordinary state park. It’s very BIG (71,000 acres), is a wildlife preserve home to many wild animals of which we saw quite a few, including 1500 free roaming bison, elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions and feral burros. The park is famous for its scenery, scenic drives, such as Needles Highway (that will take your breath away) and of course the wildlife loop, with views of the bison herd and prairie dog towns. We missed the annual buffalo roundup in September, when the bison in the park (more than 1,000) are rounded up, with several hundred sold at auction so that the remaining number of animals will be compatible with the rangeland forage. A little sad but I guess it must be done–got to keep the bison burgers coming… However, the Begging Burros seem to be the most famous stars of the park. That’s what they call donkeys in Custer State Park. For many years, these donkeys have earned this nickname as they approach various passing cars through the park begging for food. After earning this reputation, the burros have become famous and get a lot of attention from most travelers through the park inside and outside of cars. Many people bring food to the park specifically for the purpose of feeding these animals. The Begging Burros inhabit one area of the park upon a hill where approximately 50 of them try to obtain any food they can.
Badlands National Park: The Badlands were not on my top priority list of things to see in the South Dakota area we were visiting–just the name seemed forbidding!–but I’m sure glad we did make the circuit! An easy drive, the Park’s most traveled scenic drive is a study of contrasts–rugged rock formations, velvety green grasslands intermingled with desert moonscapes, and a surprise at every turn. The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world and I understand why.
The striking geologic deposits found in the Badlands contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today. In the Visitor’s Center, archeologists work on actual finds while you watch them go through the painstaking process of reconstructing and preserving a variety of ancient animals.
Visitors are encouraged to learn the archeological process by participating in classes and field trips. In fact, a 12 year-old boy identified one of the most important finds the center lays claim to while hiking in the desert with his family. Since he had taken the classes, he was able to correctly flag the area so that the archeologist could properly excavate it.
Grasslands National Park: While visiting the Badlands we also drove through the Grasslands National Park, which is amazing in the abundance of thick waving grass that can survive and thrive in what some would consider a vast wasteland. Interspersed at times with the Badlands area, the Grasslands offers a cool contrast to the harshness of the Badlands. But don’t get too comfortable picnicking in the lush grasses–we saw several signs warning folks that RATTLESNAKES also adore the waving grasses and make them their home. Lots of mice and other small mammals living in the grasses make a tasty dinner….
The Grasslands is comprised of 155,000 acres and is characterized by rolling hills, river breaks and some badland-type areas, dominated by mixed grass prairie. The Grand River Grassland is also rich in cultural heritage. In the past it served as a hunting ground for the nomadic Plains Indian tribes. Tipi rings and remnants of campfires are scattered across the prairie. These remnanats of Indian life also make interesting finds for budding archeologists.
Devil’s Tower: Leaving Rapid City behind, we bee-lined for Devil’s Tower. It was pretty neat since we were able to camp at the foot of this amazing formation. And even though this Hollywood backdrop (remember “Encounters of the Close Kind “) is the first National Monument ever designated, I could only envision the humongous spaceship that used the formation as a spaceport in the movie. We could also barely take our eyes off the tiny figures scaling the walls during our visit–I realized I was holding my breath as the 2 tiny people finally clambered over the top ledge. They had to be thinking “What have I done–now I have to get down somehow!” Well I was thinking that anyway–and they were so far up we had to watch their progress through a telescope!
Devil’s Tower was a mystical experience, especially after you hear about the Indian legends associated with the Monument (the vertical striations in the surface are attributed to a giant bear trying to climb the mountain to retrieve a couple of Indian boys he apparently wanted for dinner). Since the mountain did not allow the bear to reach them, Devil’s Tower became a prominently sacred spot in the local Indians’ folklore. This was all very interesting but what fascinated us even more was the very active prairie dog village at the foot of Devil’s Tower. We could have spent hours trying to get the “perfect ” picture of those little dickens! (I think we did–the sun was setting by the time we left them to head back to the RV.)
Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area: After leaving Devil’s Tower, we were deadheading toward Utah, but we stopped in Rock Springs to recoup from the strong winds buffeting us once we entered Wyoming. Bob was ready for a rest but once I spotted the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area on the map I decided it needed an inspection so off I went to check it out. Just an hour’s drive away from the campsite but what a very pleasant surprise as I drove along the Green River with its amazing views of river, gorge and prairie land! For thousands of years the Green River carved its course through the colorful rock formations of the area to form the deep canyons that now serve as a geographic marvel to all visitors. With the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in the early 1960’s, a recreational setting was established which has become one of the most visited sites in the continental United States. I was spellbound by the beauty of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, with its 91 mile long lake, the Green River and its deep canyons. The park rangers told me that visitors come from all over the world to enjoy a huge variety of world class outdoor recreation including trophy fishing and hunting – all in a majestic landscape. This spectacular area serves as home to abundant wildlife, including moose, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and wild horses. Yes–wild horses! I didn’t see them but the ranger told me that when she’s driving along the gorge the horses sometimes just appear racing down the road at full gallop. Hopefully, they know that the prairie ends abruptly at the cliffs’ edge, which drops precipitously into the very steep gorge.
After several days of exploring South Dakota, we headed to Utah to visit our West Coast grandbabies. I will pick up there once I can get back to my blogging! I’m a little slow catching up since it seems everywhere we have been staying has no Internet, poor connections, or whatever…. So hang on! Happy trails, family and friends–until next time!