Thursday, July 28, 2011

From Kevin - Wisconsin - Minnesota - South Dakota - Recap

Has it really been 12 days since my last post?  Sheesh.  We have been having so much fun and going so hard that I just have not had time for updating.  Not a good excuse, sorry....

When we last talked we had worked our way through Minnesota and were headed toward South Dakota.  We really did not do anything special in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, just traveled.   I do want to share our awe with the countryside.  Neither Robin nor I recollect each state being so beautiful.  Twenty-some years ago our travels through this area were in the cab of a semi-truck rather than family auto.  We were always too tired to take time to smell the roses or the livestock.

We have been blown away by the current green-ness.  There has been so much rain this year that the fields and prairies are beyond description. Sorry to all our Texas friends as they swelter and dry up :(

We feel fortunate that we are getting to see it in such a state of green.  It may happen again next year, but statistically, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it this way.

I took a few pictures.  Hopefully, they will convey some of what I am unable to adequately describe...

This is what we have been seeing all the way across from Indiana, through Illinois and across Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The farms are beautiful.  I hope the increased moisture does not make it impossible for the farmers to get their crops properly dried for harvest.

Another thing we are seeing along the byways are hundreds and hundreds of wind generators.  These are kind of pretty in their own way.  The fact that we are finally taking advantage of the winds to generate power adds to their attractiveness.

Hmmm - I wonder when this free power will translate to lower utility bills?

South Dakota - We are tourists!
We crossed Minnesota and entered South Dakota.  Again, referring to our aforementioned life, we passed through here many times many years ago.  We saw it through the windshield of our 18 wheeler.  We knew it was a great state but never explored further.

Our first stop was Sioux Falls.  What a neat city!  We were thoroughly impressed.  Pardon me if I frequently repeat that phrase.  We are finding "thoroughly impressed" fitting for so many of the places we are seeing and experiencing.  The neat thing about words is that you cannot wear them out.  OK, ok. Everyone who knows me knows that I really do try to wear some out.  I've seen your eyes glaze over.

There really are falls in the city.  Usually they are docile and serene.  With the huge amounts of rain of late they are anything but docile.  Here are some pics:

I don't know if this fella is running from me, the camera or the falls.  I did shower that morning...
A while back there was a quarry developed here for a source of stone to build a prison facility.  The prisoners were a (willing???) source of labor.  They manually extracted the stone and moved it quite a ways vertically until it cleared the quarry depths.  Then it was in position to work further to form the prison walls and buildings.  I cannot imagine that kind of back breaking work.

There was once a huge grain mill located at the falls.  With the supposedly unlimited supply of power to run the operation, the "Queen Bee Mill" was designed to process 1200 barrels of flour per day.  That was about 4 times the typical Midwestern mill output.  One problem - remember those docile and serene falls I mentioned?  Seems they ended up being so docile and serene there was not enough flow to run a mill this large.  Sooooo.  It was sold a number of times and finally abandoned.  Who knows how much was lost over the years in trying to turn a profit.

Only the rock walls of the main building remain.  They offer some interesting photographic opportunity:
We intended to stop in South Dakota and get new driver's licenses.  You may recall (you did go back and read the entire blog didn't you?) that we changed our legal residence from Texas to South Dakota.  That means new driver's licenses.  My great trip planning skills came into play and we hit SD on a Friday.  I forgot that one must show proof of having spent one night in SD before qualifying as a resident.  That means we needed to spend Friday night.  Guess what?  Those government employees have the WEEKENDS OFF!!  And, many of the driver's license offices are open only one day per week.  Readers, you do know that I am a retired State of Texas employee don't you.  I mean, yeah, I had to have my weekends off, but golly, why can't those SD folks be there at my beck and call?

Anyway, we also found out that we need our official birth certificates.  And, the party of the duo who is of the female persuasion must produce her entire marriage history.  Hmmmm.  I really messed up.  I normally run around with my entire family background and history in my pocket; just in case I run into someone in need of a long snooze, but danged if I did not go off and forget it this time.  Rats.

Anyway, needless to say, we moved on from Sioux Falls still disguised as Texan drivers.  What a great city.  We agreed it is a possible destination when (or if) we ever decide to stop traveling.  The winters can be a bit on the chilly side we hear.

We had to hit all the touristy stuff.  We went over to Wall, SD.  You know it.  You've seen all the bumper stickers announcing that travelers have been to Wall Drug.  You can get a free glass of ice water.  A cup of coffee is a nickel.  That was an advertising ploy used some 50+ years ago to lure travelers off the road.  It worked and the rest is history.  This is one HUGE tourist trap.  We walked around and looked but did not buy anything.  Heck, we could not even find the free ice water or the nickel coffee. But, you know what?  We now have been to Wall Drug.  Yay!!!  No pics.

We spent the night in the town of Wall, SD.  We wanted to visit the South Dakota badlands and Wall offers a good stepping off point.

Bad Lands - Wow!
Directly south from Wall, SD lie the Bad Lands aka. Badlands National Park.  WOW!, even all-caps does not begin to describe it.  You can get an inkling of them from the interstate but if you ever have the time you must stop and visit this national treasure.

Shortly after passing through the Pinnacles Entrance we saw the "Sage Creek Rim Road" off to the right.  We were in our Prius and were a bit leery about a dirt road.  We are certainly glad we went.  In our opinion this was the most scenic part of the park.  It is easily navigable in a "regular" car.  We saw a lot of RVs and cars.

The road winds through the prairie for a short distance.  You see rolling grasslands like those depicted in the movie "Dances With Wolves".  We parked at the first viewing pull-off and OMG! (I hate that phrase, but is most appropriate here).  We walked to the edge of a drop off and were greeted with sheer walls a few hundred feet straight down.  The expanse went for miles.  Unbelievable.

I am seldom without words but I was actually dumbstruck when we walked up the edge and looked over. I could not say much of anything for a few moments. I will not even try to describe it. My pictures do not begin to do justice.

A Scary Moment - The sheer drop off is not obvious from the road.  While we were standing there a youngster of about 3 years came running at full speed.  He ran right up next to our spot and then SLIPPPED!  Had Robin's nursely, no, motherly, no, grandmotherly, no, great-grandmotherly, oh whatever, instincts not triggered and she grabbed him, he could have gone right over.  The parents were not concerned when we relayed the incident.  Please, please, please do not let kids run ahead into unknown territory.  Save that for more metaphoric situations.

The bottom lands were brilliant green from all the moisture.  The rock walls and formations were mostly white.  Spectacular barely scratches the surface.  It was breathtaking.  I'll post a few pics but believe me, they don't even begin to do justice.

Approaching the edge:

Looking over the edge:
Now these are Bad Lands:

Talk About A Small World - We stopped at the  main visitor center, gift shop, cafe, way station etc., after a long drive around the perimeter of the park.  We had ordered our food and Robin had stepped away for a few moments.  I saw a woman walk through the cafe who looked familiar.  I did a second-take and was certain we knew her.  I stalked her to the gift shop to get a better look.  I was sure it was someone we knew from Texas.

Robin returned and I asked if she had seen anyone familiar looking.  Nope.

I walked out to the front desk and caught her attention.  Sure enough, it was Barbara from Austin.  I said "Hi!" and we both were surprised at the coincidence of meeting out here of all places.

She and her husband, Jersey, are "Work Campers" and had worked a stint at the RV park in Austin, where we lived.  Jersey is a great cook.  He did a terrific job in the RV park cafe and is now the head chef at the cafe in the Badlands.  Barbara worked the front desk doing reservations and customer service in Austin.  She is doing the same in the Badlands.

Barbara came to our table for a brief visit.  Unfortunately, Jersey was off that day and unavailable for a visit.  Sure would have been fun to see him. Who knows, maybe we'll run into them somewhere else.  What a small world!

I tried the stalking thing with a cute 20 something but she just scowled when I got to the "don't I know you" part.  Man, was her boyfriend BIG!
Mitchell, SD - What A Corny Place:
After leaving the Bad Lands we headed west toward Mitchell, SD.  Home of the world famous Corn Palace.  We've heard of it for a long time.  We've even seen it a number of times on television travel shows, but we had never seen it live and in person.  We had to see it.

It is a venue for all sorts of entertainment.  It's claim to fame is that the facade is decorated with corn and other agricultural products.  Kind of neat and a bit corny...
Another shot giving a little bit better detail of the corn fed facade:

Speaking of corny:

It was so blasted hot that we did not tarry.  Our visit was as short as this entry describing it.  Fun to see but now "been there, done that."   Clark Griswold would have been proud!

Mt. Rushmore - Incredible but...
We got over to the Black Hills area near Rapid City, South Dakota.  We wanted to see Mt. Rushmore.  A long time ago we had gone to see it while we were laying-over on a truck load.  This was around 1987.  We got to the parking lot with our semi-tractor but the fog was so thick we could not see the monument.  We vowed to come back.  This was our opportunity to pull an Arnold and fulfill our commitment to "be bock".

Things are a bit different now.  This is a national monument that had been stressed to us a couple times by visitor centers as being "free" BUT, the parking is $11.  We ain't paying to park to see a "free" monument.  Sheesh.

We drove up to the monument entrance.  The cars were lined up 5 or 6 wide and 5 or so deep.  It was really hot.  We could see the monument over the entrance.  People were milling about and it was REALLY HOT!

We wondered what was the point of paying $11 to mill about among a few thousand of our new BFFs in this REALLY HOT heat.  Sooooo.  We pulled up to the booth and told the girl we had changed our mind and wanted to turn around.  Apparently, this is not an uncommon thing.  She was very nice as she explained how we could find the turnaround spot and exit the park.  We did that and bid farewell to all our new and very close friends.  It was so HOT!

We had seen all we needed to.  We headed down the road when low and behold, a turnout appeared offering an interesting profile shot:

I'm not sure that I don't like this better than the others showing the standard full face shot of all of 'em.  It would be kind of neat to try to get some other angles and views.  Maybe some time when it is not so dang HOT!

We left Mt. Rushmore and headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Again we were met with a great view at the entrance and a hand asking for $27 to get in.  No thanks, the pics on the internet are free.  We've seen enough.  Did not even take a picture.

We later read about speculation that Chief Crazy Horse may have not appreciated the manipulation of a grand mountain for the development of a likeness of himself.  He may have rather had the area preserved in its natural state.  Who knows.  It is a overwhelming project.  Perhaps too grand.  I don't see how the family that is now working on it will ever finish.  It is a HUGE project.  Nearly as huge as the HOT temps while we were there.

We finished up South Dakota with an overnight stay in Sturgis, home of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  There are a few weeks left until the rally so we only saw preparations.  It is amazing to think that about 100,000 motorcyclists will converge into this little community for a few weeks of craziness.  Looks like it could be fun, but not our kind of thing.

That evening we drove over to Deadwood and Lead.  We wanted to check out the Mickelson Bike Trail.  A 109 mile Rails to Trails route through South Dakota.  We were daunted by the 17% grade between Deadwood and Lead.  A great challenge and we hope to return and conquer it some day, just not now.  We ain't ready for 17%, nope, not now - did I mention it was HOT there?

We moved on toward Wyoming.  Can't wait to get there for another life's episode as we are Chasin' Our Dreams...