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Archive for August, 2008

Our one day in Iowa was a good one. Our campground is near an overlook of the Mississippi River. We went for a walk and enjoyed that ole river ambiance. The next morning we went to Effigy Mounds, a strange area where the mounds that ancient Indians created are maintained. In addition to round and cylindrical mounds, there are mounds shaped like bears and eagles. They are large and not that high from the surrounding area, so they are difficult to photograph. Some of the mounds have proven to be burial mounds, but some of them are very large and not all of them contain bodies. The park has emphasized the mounds from the surrounding areas by mowing the grass around the mound and letting wildflowers and plants grow on the mound. Some of them look like landscaped gardens because of all the flowers.

Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers

Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers

Little Bear Mound

Little Bear Mound

After we returned from there, we packed up and moved on into Wisconsin. Having seen Frank Lloyd Wright’s TaliesenWest in Mesa, AZ,I wanted to see the original Taliesen. Alas, it was not meant to be. We got there too late for the final tour of the house, which was full. Since we didn’t want to stay overnight, that was it for Frank. On the good side, we saved $94; the tour was $47 per person. Wow! 

We got to Baraboo and settled in. The next morning we went to the International Crane Foundation. It’s primary purpose is to save the endangered Whooping Crane. It’s a large area with various pairs of cranes from around the world that are incarcerated in fairly small areas. I assume they can’t be released into the wild for some reason. It is amazing to see how different they are close up and how different their calls are. They are going to great lengths to insure the survival of the Whooping Crane. There were so few left that there weren’t enough adults to teach the youngsters the migratory route. So various organizations have come together to raise a couple of different flocks (so that disease and inbreeding are avoided). Then one flock is going to learn to migrate, so they can teach others to migrate. This is accomplished by putting humans in crane suits to raise the young (so they don’t bond with humans) and eventually have them follow “Mama” in an ultralight aircraft to learn their route. (The movie “Fly Away Home” had this theme, though not with cranes.) I think the project is still ongoing.

Crested Crane

Crested Crane

From the sublime to the ridiculous: we then went to the Wisconsin Dells. It’s a beautiful area of the Wisconsin River that has been totally tarted up for tourists. We took a boat ride to see the weathered sandstone cliffs that constitute the Dells. We put into a little cove and walked up a narrow, dark, twisty canyon, staring at the dark, swirling water below our boardwalk. The culmination of the short walk was a concession stand and gift shop. We put into another cove to see Standing Rock, a tall, mushroom-shaped structure that had eroded from the neighboring cliff. A German Shepherd jumped the five feet to the rock and back, astounding the crowd. The walk then wound through – wait for it – a concession stand and gift shop. It began to rain on the way back, which left us along up top with a few other hardy souls. It’s not the best tour we’ve ever taken.

Witch Canyon

Witch Canyon

Boat in the Rain

Boat in the Rain

Friday and today was more driving through park-like country and lots of cornfields. We ended up in a woodsy campground outside Munising and are looking forward to seeing Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

 

 

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Driving, driving, driving. We’ve come 650 miles in three days – driving at 55 mph. The highlight of south central South Dakota is the Corn Palace in Mitchell. It is a Morrocan-style building built by the town in 1892 to celebrate the corn harvest. It has been going ever since. The highlight is that ears of corn are used to create murals on the outside of the building. We missed the new 2009 theme by one week. It’s “Travel Destinations” and includes murals of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and, of course, the Corn Palace. An artist draws the murals and indicates what colors of corn go where. Then, I guess, workers nail the corn cobs to the wall. The front of the building still had last year’s theme and it looks pretty cool.

 

The Corn Palace

The Corn Palace

 

Corn Palace Detail

Corn Palace Detail

 

 

The next day we got back on Interstate 90 and headed east. My impressions: hay fields, horses, hay fields, rest stops with stylized teepees, hay fields. Then we crossed the Missouri River into Minnesota. My impressions: corn fields, rest stops without stylized teepees, corn fields, patches of really bad road on the Interstate, corn fields. Dave didn’t want to stop, so we didn’t see the 55-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth. When we camped that night, we were surrounded by corn fields. This morning we watched a biplane flying low the spray the corn fields. One good effect of all the corn: gas is less expensive in Minnesota (at $3.50 per gallon). 

 

Cornfield

Cornfield

We finally made it to the Mississippi River and crossed over into La Crosse, Wisconsin. We drove about 50 miles south, along the big river, then crossed back west into Iowa to see the Effigy Mounds. It is very muggy here by the river. 

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Friday morning was cool and showery, which made driving from Custer to the Badlands quite pleasant. We settled in and at sunset, went to a nearby lookout point to photograph. The light was subtle, but quite beautiful on the white, beige and gray rocks and mudhills. Dave stayed in to watch the Olympics. I went to the campfire circle that had no campfire. The talk was about astronomy which can be a fantastic experience in the Badlands. The  ranger was a mixture of interesting knowledge (The Earth has a second moon, a three-mile rock that orbits it) and hokeyness (What about the 50 stars on the flag, how do we feel about them?). What’s really interesting is his statement that the star, Betelgeuse, is going to go supernova within the next year, and for 30-90 days, it will be so bright it will look like a second sun to us. That will be cool! He ended his presentation with everyone singing “Happy Trails to You”, the old Roy Rogers-Dale Evans song. He had a telescope, but there were too many clouds to see any stars, and the moon is almost full anyway. 

 

Moon rising over the Wall, Badlands

Moon rising over the Wall, Badlands

We missed the sunrise today by a few minutes, but toured through a fair section of the Badlands before the light got crummy for photography. Everything is very green here; they have had about 20 inches of rain so far this year, which is a lot for this area.  Some of the hills look like they’re covered with mint green syrup. We got back around 9:30 and are spending the rest of day napping, reading, eating and watching Olympics. (Go USA!) Tomorrow it’s back on the road for a long day of driving through South Dakota.

 

Green Badlands

Green Badlands

 

 

 

 

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We did our drive around Custer State Park yesterday. It was beautiful out and we saw lots of critters, including antelope, a heron, a large herd of bison, a doe and fawn, and a marmot or a beaver (we went by too quickly to tell for sure). We ate lunch at the Cathedral Spires area where granite needles soar up from the trees, and parents keep warning their children to stay away from the deep drop-offs. (“Don’t go past this point!” “You’re driving your mother crazy!” “But I want to go where Dad goes!”) We reached Sylvan Lake, a lovely little lake with spectacular rock formations. There were scads of people swimming, boating and gamboling about.

We then went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was hard to see a big difference from two years ago, but apparently the horses head is more “blocked out”, meaning more extraneous rock has been removed. We took a bus trip to look at it a little more closely; it is totally amazing how large it is. It is the largest piece of art in the world.We then went back to the RV, had dinner, and returned for the evening laser show. It features “three of the largest lasers in the laser-show industry”. Unfortunately, it also features a very hoky story line. My night pictures of Crazy Horse didn’t turn out too well because the teenager standing next to us never stopped kicking the ledge I had my camera on.

 

Crazy Horse - scale model and mountain art

Crazy Horse - scale model and mountain art

Today we took the Sunday Gulch hike, described as a “strenuous, 2.8 mile hike that passes over large boulders”. After about 20 feet, we began descending into the gulch, clinging to handrails, sliding down mossy, slippery boulders, clunking down huge concrete steps, past a small attractive stream. After about 20 minutes of creeping downward, the path turned into an attractive, duff-strewn trail for about 10 minutes. Then I got to cross a 10-foot wide section of the stream across some small, slippery birch trunks.  Dave did it 3 times to encourage me, and I finally inched my way across, using a four legged method of bending in half, holding onto a trunk with my hands and making my way across an inch at a time. Dave was not impressed, but I’m pretty sure I would have been in the drink if I had to depend on my feet for balance. After that, more extreme downhill using handrails and then a long, long slog back up the hill. Then it started to rain. Luckily, we had brought our rain gear. We were very happy to go home and shower.

 

Dave deep in Sunday Gulch

Dave deep in Sunday Gulch

This afternoon we went to Mt. Rushmore. The weather was overcast, but we still had a good time. As great an accomplishment as Mt. Rushmore is, I feel more strongly about Crazy Horse. But the ice cream at Rushmore is very, very good.

 

 

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We’ve had some eventful days. We made our escape from the Tetons, passed up the opportunity to ride the humongous Jackalope in Dubois, WY (that’s pronounced Du-Boyce, not Du-bwa), and eventually found the rest stop cum Historical Landmark Independence Rock. The rock is a very large one at which many people on the Oregon Trail camped. Like many other outcrops, they carved their names into the rock. The significance is that one group arrived here on July 4, 1850 and carved their names on Independence Day. There are hundreds of names all over. Of course, many are carved much later in time than the 1850’s. I liked one woman, who not only carved her name, but the fact she was a telegraph operator.  We were able to stay overnight at the rest stop, got up early on Monday, and went back to the rock to photograph some more. We also discovered that our two-year old water pump, that we’ve actually used about 4 months, had given up the ghost.

Wednesday, we had the luck of replacing the water pump in one hour in Caspar, WY. We then sped down to Guernsey, WY to see more pioneer sights. Register Cliff is another location where pioneers carved their initials into a big rock. My favorite is “Tex Serpa, Wagonmaster, 1889”. Short and concise. I hope it’s legitimate. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that people tend to put the correct date next to their graffiti. After that, we checked out Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts Historical Sight. So many wagons went over the same location that the stone ruts are sometimes 4-5 feet deep. It is strange to think about as we walk up a short, paved trail after leaving our air-conditioned vehicles. We returned back to Guernsey State Park to watch a beautiful sunset over the reservoir. However, we forgot that the night of August 11 was the best night for watching the Perseid Meteor shower. 

Wagonmaster

Wagonmaster

Today we made it to Custer, SD and tomorrow we’ll revisit the Crazy Horse Memorial. The sky looks clear, so perhaps we’ll see some meteors tonight.

 

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We drove across the Continental Divide on Friday and what a beautiful drive it was. We passed miles of green and gold hay fields, ascended up to 8,400 feet, got our glimpse of Jackson Hole, and descended about 3,000 towards it. Luckily, we had done all our chores in Idaho Falls (buy groceries and wine, gas and propane) so we cruised slowly through crowded Jackson, mourned the fact it was too early to get Mountain High Pizza, watched the tourists watch the elk antler arch over the local park, and headed for the Tetons.

 We pulled into the Grand Teton Park RV Resort, about 5 miles east of the national park, and found that the only grand thing about it was the price of $54 per night. No TV reception so we didn’t get to see the opening night of the Olympics. We had a fairly small thunderstorm which knocked out the Wifi and it’s still not back today. The grounds are nothing fancy, although there is a view of the Tetons. The management here is unresponsive to the guests. We talked to some other people here, also in a blue Lazy Daze like ours, only older. They said they made reservations a year ago for a family reunion, which management lost. They had requested the use of a firepit, which management said they weren’t sure they could use, although nobody else was using it. Management also wanted to charge them an additional $7.50 per person because they had more than 2 people. I know the campgrounds in the Tetons get crowded on summer weekends, but avoid this place if you can!

Fog on the Snake River

Fog on the Snake River

We got up early today and went to the Tetons to take a hike. The morning fog was beautiful on the Snake River. We began a gradual ascent up to Paintbrush Canyon, a hike we haven’t done before. The trails are so great here; you start out in the trees, rise until you get some views of the lakes below, then rise some more until you see the mountains and glaciers. When you get high enough, there is usually a rushing creek, and you enter a canyon between two incredible mountains. This is the first time we’ve hiked here during the summer, and there are scads of wildflowers. We went about 7.5 miles, which tired us out, but Haagen Daz chocolate ice cream bars revived us enough to make it home. Right now, the sky is a dim, gray-yellow color that resembles the bruise on my arm. I think we may have another thunderstorm this afternoon.

Thistle and the Snake

Thistle and the Snake

 

 

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City of Rocks

City of Rocks

On Wednesday, we drove through pretty farm and ranch land to Almo, ID. Almo, in the middle of nowhere, is near the City of Rocks, an area where the pioneers headed to Oregon filtered through. Apparently, it was a nice place to camp, and the boulders popping out all over, looked like a “city of rocks”. Like many people, they recorded their presence there by neatly writing their names in axel grease on a large rock. The name that interested me was “Ida Fullinwider”, but the young ranger I asked about it didn’t know if it was a joke or what. When I “googled” the name, I got some hits, so I guess Fullinwider is a real name. We photographed the names on the rocks, marveled at how the pioneers tolerated the heat, and drove back to our air-conditioned RV, where we sipped drinks and ate dinner overlooking a wide valley, and watched the stars appear.

This morning we got up early and went for a short hike to enjoy the quiet desert environment. Luckily we turned back early, because it was already very hot at 9 a.m. The hike tired us out so we only drove 170 miles today, and are relaxing in Idaho Falls, ID. We went for an after-dinner walk along the Snake River and got caught in a rain shower. Tomorrow we head across the Snake River Range to Jackson Hole, WY and the Grand Tetons. 

 

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