Wednesday, June 16: We drive U.S. Highway 24 West, seeing lots of flooding from all the recent rains. Then we head north in Illinois on Interstate 39, staying overnight south of Rockford.
Thursday, June 17: On I-90 close to St. Charles, MN, we stop at a gas station that includes the Amish Ovens Restaurant, Bakery and Gift Shop, a scaled down version of Das Essenhaus in Middlebury, IN. There is a threatening wind, and we are informed that a fierce storm with six tornadoes touched down in Albert Lea 70 miles west of here (the direction we’re going) and heading this way. Even though it’s still early in the evening, we decide to stay here for the night. At 9:30 p.m. the owner of the business knocks on our camper door (and all the semi’s that are waiting out the storm), saying the tornado siren is sounding at St. Charles (where we’re at), and invites us back into the restaurant which is in the lower level and partially underground. The store had closed at 8 p.m. but reopened to accommodate us and the other travelers who are seeking refuge. While the storm rages outside, we visit with the others and hope our camper stays intact. We learn that ten people were killed in the Albert Lea tornadoes.
Friday, June 18: In Mitchell, S.D., we go to “The World’s Only Corn Palace,” a Moorish-style building established in 1892. Every year over a half million ears of corn are sawed in half and nailed to the outside, following patterns created by a local artist. Inside are huge murals of folk art, also made with ears of corn.
Saturday, June 19: Close to Chamberlain, S.D., we cross the majestic Missouri River and go to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, depicting the explorers’ journey through the state. The weather is friendly and we hike the bluffs overlooking the river. One hundred and fifty miles on west we come to the famous Wall Drug complex. Started in 1931, the business lagged until the owner put free-ice-water signs along the road, which drew in the folks from the hot dusty prairie. Today it is a 76,000 square foot wonderland of gift shops, 1400 historical photographs, a Frontier Town, restaurant, splash park and lots of attractions for kids. It’s a fun place but really crowded.
South of Wall, S.D., is the 250,000 acre Badlands National Park, home of the world’s richest mammal fossil beds. We drive the 60 mile Loop Road, stopping to hike and photograph the moonscape terrain of towering spires, jagged peaks and rugged cliffs. We see a mother mule deer and her frolicking youngster, fearless rabbits and sentinel-like prairie dogs. We spend the night along I-90. Coming from somewhere outside we hear melancholy Indian music, and since we had just come from the Badlands (former Indian territory) and another storm is raging outside, the music is eerie and haunting.
Sunday, June 20: We spend most of the day at Mount Rushmore. These 60 feet high heads of four presidents (the noses are 20 feet) were sculpted by Gutzon Borglum and 400 men. The work was started in 1927 and completed in 1941. Borglum, alone, was the one who made the decision of whom to sculpt. Washington was chosen because he led the revolutionary army and became our first president; Jefferson, because he wrote the Declaration of Independence and doubled th country’s size with the Louisiana Purchase; Roosevelt, because he implemented the Panama Canal and the conservation of the country’s natural resources; and Lincoln, considered the greatest president for preserving the country during the Civil War. Because Borglum was adamant about safety, not one life was lost during those fourteen years.
Monday, June 21: A few miles west of Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Mountain, a memorial to the North American Indian. Started in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculpture will be 563 feet tall when finished, dwarfing the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Since Ziolkowski’s death in 1982, the project is continued by his wife and seven of his ten children. No federal funds are involved; only donations keep the work going.
We drive to the Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming. This natural wonder looms more than 1,200 feet high with the flat top larger than a football field. The area surrounding the base is littered with giant boulders fallen from the tower, though none have fallen since 1906 when it was declared a national monument. Dick and I hike the 1.3 mile trail around this unworldly structure and since it involves a lot of climbing, these two oldsters take advantage of the benches along the way. Devils Tower is considered sacred by the Indians and while hiking around it, it’s easy to understand their reverence.
Tuesday, June 22: Seeing a lot of antelopes today, and a lot of casinos throughout the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. In Billings. MT we see the devastation wrought by Sunday’s tornadoes, including the Rimrock Auto Arena. It’s interesting how the tornado totally demolishes one building while ignoring another just a short distance away. Montana is sparsley populated but with rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains, it’s incredibly beautiful.
Wednesday, June 23: A hail storm shatters the sky-light dome in the camper so we go to an RV business in Boseman, MT, for a fix. Then hours of driving. We stop for a break at a rest area along I-90 at the western edge of Montana. There is a colony of hundreds of friendly ground squirrels here who stand on their hind legs begging for handouts. Several of these cuties climb up my legs; their little claws tickle. I wish I could take them home!
Thursday, June 24: We drive through the beautiful Cascade mountains and then the city of Bellevue, WA. With the multiple layers of bridges, going in many directions, crowded with thousands of vehicles, it reminds me of a big busy ant colony.
Friday, June 25: We board the ferry Columbia at Bellingham, WA, to sail through the Inside Passage for the four-day 950 mile trip to Skagway, Alaska. With the camper and car on board, we get a break from driving (and co-piloting!). The Columbia is 418 feet long and 85 feet wide; carries 500 passengers and 66 crew members, as well as 140 vehicles including semi’s. A drug and explosive-sniffing dog checks out each one of these vehicles before boarding.
(continued next week)