Coalhurst to Billing, MT Oct 5,2011

Our first day on our long awaited and anticipated road trip. We’ve left behind our good friend Bob and our buddy Molly.  I’m sure they will be good company for one another.

We left a bit later than I thought.  It was hard to decide where to pack things and then where to put them in the car.  I’m sure it will take a few days before we achieve any efficiencies. We ended up taking a small cooler, the big one would take up too much room.

We cleared the border by 11 a.m. then pulled over to turn on the cell phone and program the navigation system.  Love the navigation system on the Ford Edge.  Much easier to program than the Mazda but she did leave us about 1/2 mile from our destination…good thing we could see the hotel!  She also wanted to take us 4 km from our restaurant…when we were only a block away!  Thank goodness I had a visual map in my head from looking up nearby restaurants on the laptop.  I logged on here at the hotel without any problems…quit laughing…it was a first for me.  Gotta love technology…now if only I could remember how to send a text message from my cell phone!

It was a nice day for driving, partially cloudy and the odd sprinkle.  I forgot to bring the umbrella and rain slickers.  Will have to put that on the shopping list.  Brian drove the entire trip today and kindly stopped in weird places so I could snap some photos.

Being a “prairie girl” I am saddened by the loss of the prairie icon ..the “grain elevator.” Like the Canadian prairies, they aren’t used anymore, but here they have left them standing.  We saw one in total disrepair, but most communities have painted over the logos but keep them in relatively good shape. This prairie girl laments the loss of our Canadian prairie icons and hope those remaining will be saved. The photo of the elevator was taken in Stanford Montana, a delightful little village/town with a clean charming Center Avenue.

We have driven through some very picturesque countryside with rolling hills, rock outcroppings, winding streams and more trees than the first leg of the drive. We drove by the community of Moccasin, and my guess they are known for their old neglected buildings which account for roughly 75% of the buildings in the town.  I have included a photo of one.

Brian and I generally don’t talk much during our drives….that may end up a good thing, and it leaves lots of time to day dream and remember.  My grandfather was my primary caregiver in my early years.  He loved the Saskatchewan landscape and I inherited that love.  The miles and miles of harvested golden fields reminds me when I was a young child and he would take me for a ride in the country.  I’m afraid I am so old I remember seeing fields of “stooked” wheat.  He instilled a love of the change of seasons and today I was reminded of the beauty of fall.  The golden fields, the mix of green and yellow trees and the riot of colors in the landscape, mixed with the smell of fall.  It was a good first day.

Billings MT to Rapid City SD Oct 6, 2011

The weather does not look promising with an cool overcast morning.  We tried to program in our hotel but it came back as no such street.  Eventually it picked a street in Rapid City and we entered it…at least it would get us to Rapid City.  Later on we found we could program the system by putting in a telephone number and that worked like a charm…but once again she left us blocks short…but close enough so we could find the hotel on our own.  The system generally wants to take the most direct route and we are finding we are on secondary highways which suits us fine.  The traffic has been light allowing a bit of sight seeing by the driver, who for the most part was me today.

The route took us to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument so we took a right turn to see more.  The Parks department has done a very good job of making this a place to see.  The visitor’s Center and museum are well done and very interesting.  We took in a 15 minute presentation reviewing “Custer’s Last Stand.”  Following the presentation we did a part of the walking tour.  Both sides of the battle have a memorial to their brave men and the memorial to the native culture is not only beautiful, but informative. While Custer died here, his remains were moved to West Point…this stone marks where he fell.

We then took the car and drove the 5 mile road tour to various sights where other battles had occured.  It was very ponient to see the white markers sprinkled through the hills. The view from the ridge overlooking where the Indian village once stood is breath taking as you see in this photo.

The country side in this area of Montana was very was very scenic but as we moved east and south, it changed into vast areas of open untouched hills of grass and rock.  The route took us through a reservation and for 150 miles, no place to stop to refuel our bodies. Eventually we stopped in Broadus MT at a place called Cashway Cafe. It definately rates as a dive however the waitress was friendly and the food pretty good.  The celery soup was homemade and I think my bowl contained several stocks of celery.  It was seasoned well and definately filling.  The rest of the journey to Rapid City was uneventual except for the rain. We will stay here for two nights, giving us plenty of chance to see Mount Rushmore. 

For dinner tonight we stopped in next door at the Colonial House Restaurant.  I had the pot roast dinner and it was as good as mine.  The gravy was dark and rich and the potatoes, made of the real thing.  We passed on the mile high desserts and pies.

I am finding the sitting is not doing my knee any good.  This hotel does not have a gym so I went for a walk after dinner to the Walgreens about 5 blocks away.  I was able to buy rain slickers and an umbrella…as we have a 40% chance of rain tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Mount Rushmore SD & surrounding area Oct 7, 2011

Hang onto your hats folks, this is going to be a long one.  It’s been a fun sight seeing filled day. I took a total of 49 photos of which I can share a few. The morning was very windy with wind warnings in effect.  The temp was 9C.  I brought my parka and gloves, with me thinking I would need them when coming home the end of Nov. Well here it is, day 3 and I wore the parka and gloves!

We head to Mount Rushmore around 9 a.m.  The walk from the parking lot to the visitor gallery was blooming cold and Brian gave up before he made it.  The center is again very well done, informative and easy to view. I’m not a museum girl but the information and demonstrations were excellent. 

We left Mount Rushmore to have “the other” monumental experience, the still under construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial.  The size and proportion of this enterprise is mammoth and it not be finished in my lifetime….if ever. For more information go to www.crazyhorsememorial.org  The cost for Mount Rushmore was $11 per car and good for a week.  When you get to the gate at Crazyhorse, you find out is $10 per person and if you decide to forego it, you have to back up and get out of line…not a problem today with few tourists, but would be impossible during high tourist season. A great deal of money has gone into the display buildings ( huge) and everything has a cost.  The project refused an offer of ten million dollars from the federal government to help speed the projec,t and therefore everything is done with revenue generated by visitors. For my two cents…it’s a pass…you can see enough from the highway.

We drove south to Custer for lunch. We stopped at Sage Creek Grille for a light lunch.  We had the soup of the day “Southwestern Chicken Stew.” It was served with sourdough bread and butter which filled the bill nicely.  Brian had a lemonade and the waitress gave him his free refill to go.  How nice.  All this for under $14.

It was now after 1 pm and the wind was easing up and the sun showing up on occcasion. We head south about 30 miles, travelling through rolling hills and ponderosa pines.  We turned east at Minnekahta Junction for  12 miles, then north again to Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. We paid our $15 state park fee and toured the Wildlife Loop. ( The park fee is good until the end of the year and good for all state parks.) I was sceptical of the name but was not disappointed.  I’m not going to post the usual photos of deer, antelope and buffalo which we did encounter.  We encountered several burros on the road.  They are descendants from the herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak.  While they may be ferrel, they are not wild.  This little devil walked up to the window and tried to poke his nose in.  We saw several people leaning out of cars, petting them!  Further down the road we found Monday’s dinner…wild turkeys!  Totally had not expected those.

Once we left the park we drove a same distance to travel the “Needles” highway. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe this road.  Breath taking, inspiring,overwhelming just don’t cut it.  The road is named after the rock formations christened “Needles.” The original concept for Mount Rushmore was to carve the statues on the Needles, but the rock consistency wasn’t suitable.  Perhaps some things are best left untouched.

With every turn and twist in the road(of which there were many), the vistas change and I found myself agog with another out of this world scene.  I had heard of this road, but no description of it, would ever do it justice.  I kept reveling in the scenery and will tell everyone to come here and see this for themselves. I would also recommend coming at this time of the year.  The golden grass, the gold shimmering quaking aspens and virtually no traffic, allows you to stop and gawk all you want.  The road is narrow without shoulders.  It wouldn’t be fun to drive in the summer with all the tourists. We’re off to Sioux Falls tomorrow. A straight pass through the state.

 

Rapid City SD to Sioux Falls SD Oct 8,2011

The sun disappeared today and the day remained cold and cloudy. This was going to be a driving day and we didn’t expect any sight seeing.  The landscape is very similiar to our prairies with a whole lot of emptiness between towns.  Shortly after leaving Rapd City we started seeing painted wooden signs encouraging folks to stop at Wall Drug at Wall South Dakota.  The signs were frequent and by the time we read them all, and understood this was no small town drug store and we had to stop to see what it was all about. 

 The main street was full of cars and I can only imagine what it must be like during the summer with visitors and tour buses.  The place is very large with multiple stores and a cafe seating 500 people. The idea of putting up the signs on the road (during the 30s) and giving away free ice water is very interesting and can be found on their website: walldrug.com   If you are in the area, it’s a great place to stop.  As per this photo, Brian found some fun!

As we neared Sioux Falls we kept seeing signs for the corn castle.  We had been passing miles and miles of corn, so figured it would be a place to see.

The outside is decorated with various pieces of corn and the shucks.  The decor is changed every year….keeps the local employed I presume.  The actual palace is really a basketball court which is also used for stage productions and conventions.  There is some information about the use of the corn produced in the area.  The price was free…which was good.  If you want more info you can check out www.cornpalace.com. You can make up your own mind if it’s of interest.

One thing I have noticed at all the tourist places we have been and that is the age of the tourists.  It seems seniors wait till fall.  I’m not sure where my comfort level is in all of this, but I think it’s telling! However I’m still not too old for a little fun.

Sioux Falls SD to St Joseph MO Oct 9,2011

Sioux Falls didn’t get the forecast rain and the temp was 16 when we left.  We are heading straight south today to St Joseph, a community just north of Kansas city.  It was a driving and eating kind of day.  As we drove south the landscape was more cultivation than open range with well kept farms and fields of corn…waiting to be harvested.  The corn is totally dried out and we did make a stop to check it out.  The husk is open and dry and the kernels are hard as popping corn. We never saw anyone harvesting the corn…maybe we are in Bible belt country and they don’t work on Sunday.

As we continued travelling south towards Council Bluffs, we noticed fields upon fields of water and baron fields.  We could only speculate this was water from the spring flooding but it seemed odd, considering this was now fall.  We turned into Council Bluffs for lunch at the Village Inn.  We asked our waitress Loretta about the water and indeed it is the spring flood water that has yet to dry up.  We did notice several exits that were closed and it’s because the roads are either still under water and/or need to be repaired  Loretta told us how badly people in the area were hit by the flooding.  She also told us she had moved back to the area from Louisiana….after Katrina.  She told us while choking back tears, of the devastation she has seen with both floods and couldn’t talk more.  She said the water was a result of heavy snow falls all winter, rains in spring, a delay in letting water through the dam system and a rainy wet summer.

When we picked our spot for lunch we just drove around until we found something.  As it turns out, the Village Inn boasts the “Best Pies in America” and last year won 34 ribbons in the national pie contest to prove it. Both Brian and I chose the option of 1/2 salad, 1/2 sandwich and a whole piece of pie. Brian had Banana Creme and I opted for the Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme.  The whipped cream tasted real and the pie great, however they could have left out the chocolate layer.  Did I just say that?

As we continued south we continued to see flood debris at the side of the road and it was obvious the main highway ( Route 29 )had to have been underwater for miles.  We could see water lines 4 feet up on the farm buildings in some cases.  Mile after mile of unplanted fields and fields of water must be hurting these farmers badly…in an already depressed economy.  

When we arrived in St Joseph MO. the temp was 28 and windy.  Time for shorts and pack up the parka.  The hotel has a gym so I did the bike and treadmill…the first since leaving home.  Somehow I guess that entitled me to a good dinner.  Kansas City which is just a few miles down the road, boasts to be the BBQ capital so we lit out to find such a place.  We stopped in at “Famous Dave’s”….the winner of over 300 BBQ awards…and had the trophies to prove it.  I opted for the brisket with sides of garlic mashed potatoes and cole slaw.  The brisket was fork tender and fell apart.  The cole slaw was very good. Brian had a combo plate and while it was tasty he found the rib tips chewy.  We had a variety of sauces to chose from and Brian’s pick was the Texas dip.  They had a hot one which we passed on.  Both meals came with a yummy corn bread muffin and a 1/2 cob of corn which was wrinkled  and dried out…so neither of us touched our corn….and still left a fair amount of food on our plate.  The portion size is way too big.

I spent two hours this afternoon trying to figure our where to go tomorrow.  We had thought about St Louis but in trying to book a city tour…I just couldn’t make it work.  The web site was a pain to use and although Grayline advertises the  tour…their website doesn’t even list St Louis.  We opted instead to head further south to West Plains.  When leaving there we will be close to the Missouri Ozark mountains and will head east getting to Kentucky/Tennessee shortly.  I want to drive the Smokey Mountains. We’ll be able to slow down the number of miles per day as we aren’t due in Gibsonville NC until Friday.

Here is a bit of a late entry.  I thought it might be nice to post the web sites for the two eateries as described above…well both are franchised operations and you can find both all over the U.S…..and here I thought I stumbled onto something special!