Monday, July 20, 2009

2009-07-17 Montana

Dateline Carmen, ID
Lat 45.2411
Long -113.8918

It's real obvious why they call Montana "Big Sky".

It redefines Big. It is Infinite. Stunning. Largely empty.

Except around towns like Bozeman (which Frosty calls "Boz Angeles"), the horizons just go on forever. Boz Angeles does, in fact, remind one of Los Angeles in many ways. The overdevelopment, miles of the standard US Stores, and people driving like they have to get to an audition. That's okay with us. We putt along in the slow lane at about 55 on average.

On a rare day when I had actually had a decent amount of sleep, we decided to plug on through Montana, cross the Continental Divide around Butte, then catch the I-15 south which goes all the way past Los Angeles to San Diego.

The topography started changing again as we headed south. We still had endless horizons but the hills were smoother and had more green on them.

Stopping at a rest area, we had something happen for the first time.

We were the only ones there.

Shelby took the chance to enjoy a nice roll in the grass as I plotted out our course that would take us down MT-93 into Idaho.

More photos are in the Montana Picasa Album.

The drive along 93 was exciting and stunning, taking us through the little town of Wisdom and crossing the Continental Divide again as it intersected with 43, which we took south into the Salmon River Valley, following the river the whole way.

That part of the trip is down hill. At that altitude, the outside air was fairly cool but better yet had a fresh pine scent.

I felt a huge load of anxiety leave after clearing the Divide. I had pretty much faced all the expected stress points and dealt with them one at a time.

The stress fairies started flitting about after a while of thinking too much on the realization that most of the road had no shoulders to pull out on, and for the most part there were no guard rails to keep you from taking a swim in your car.

I found myself continually scouting ahead for landing strips (a throwback to when I worked on my pilot's license all those years ago) and marking mileage of spots I might head back to if I found myself hiking.

But my trusty old Suburban laughed off the fairies and plugged on through like a horse returning to the barn. Except this was a barn we had never been to.

Our goal for the day was to make it to Frosty and Mambo's house near Salmon.

So you are not left hanging, we made it and will write about it in the next post.

2009-07-16 Wyoming

Dateline Carmen, ID
Lat 45.2411
Long -113.8918

When we last looked, I was still in the Deadwood area, contemplating my route choice for getting across and through Wyoming.

It took three Californians (two active, one former) to convince me to avoid Yellowstone.

My buddy Frosty (the former Californian) said you see three things in Jellystone:

  1. Geysers
  2. Bears
  3. 10,000 Japanese tourists

I figured if I wanted to see blow holes, I could watch Fox News.

As to bears, Shelby voted no.

And I have already seen 10,000 Japanese tourists in captivity, thank you.

The other two active Californians were Brian, a cameraman on The Ellen Show, now on Summer hiatus, and his friend Debbie, an NT Administrator. He invited me over to their cabin where we sat around the picnic table chatting for a little while. They had just come through Yellowstone on their way to Deadwood in a pickup truck with a big fat Harley on the back. Since they were headed into South Dakota from there, I gave him all my stuff I had found useful when traversing the state.

Brian said the drive through Yellowstone was painful. Loads of tourists who not only drove slowly and erratically, but were prone to stopping right in the middle of the road to get out and take pictures. [Insert stereotypical joke here]

If you look at a map, you see that not only is Yellowstone simply huge, it's also not particularly close to any major highways.

Weighing all this fresh input from these always-helpful Californians, we decided to skip Jellystone and beeline to Frosty and Mambo's place in Idaho.

As it turns out, we continued to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail as we set out across Wyoming.

Just inside the Wyoming state line was a tourist information spot and rest area, so Shelby and I checked it out.

Caving in to my curiosity, I decided to take the jog around Devil's Tower, adding only about 30 miles to the journey. The cheerful Information Lady told me that I would have to unhitch as I entered the Tower area as the parking lot at the Tower itself was small. She added they didn't allow dogs.

Undeterred, we went up far enough that we could take this and these other pictures, then scooted back over to I-90.

In a short while we started catching glimpses of the 1200-foot tall tower from a great distance. We continued on until we came to the location where the above picture was taken.

I took a bunch of photos, now posted in the Wyoming Photo Album.

Let me say this about Wyoming and Montana to get it out of the way:

If you don't have a wide angle lense, you can't really take pictures here.

The terrain and skies are endless, and made this driver get tired after only a few hundred miles, where we spotted a little campground near Buffalo.

While I run the risk of blathering on and on about the wide open spaces, the campground we chose didn't seem to read the blog.

They cleverly took a plot of land and calculated the absolute maximum number of spaces they could carve out of it. To say the rigs were close is kind of obvious from the picture, which also as it happens shows Larry, a guy who seemed to talk even if no one was around. I would like to call this local color but Larry told me he was from Pennsylvania.

Anyhow, we didn't unhook. I grabbed a shower, caught up on my Internet stuff, fed Shelby and racked out for a good night's sleep.

Next morning, we were up early and headed for the border...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2009-07-12 Spearfish and Deadwood

Dateline Spearfish, SD
Lat 44.5172
Long -103.8637

Departing The Badlands, we set course to Spearfish and the Black Hills National Forest, home of Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument.

It was the same day that the Greenpeace people decided to make a statement by unveiling a 2300 square foot banner on Mt. Rushmore.

To say that the Park Service was caught flat footed is an understatement, as 13 people penetrated their security, clamberered all the way up to the top before unveiling their banner adjacent to Lincoln.

It is not without irony that the image of President Obama was juxtaposed right up there against Honest Abe, along with the message "People follow leaders, not politicians. Stop Global Warming Now!".

A sampling of the local radio and TV frequencies revealed a unanimous position of outrage among the locals, who cheerfully offered alternatives to the judicial system ranging from tar and feathers to being strung up. Yep, this is still the good old wild west out here.

The locals refer to Mt. Rushmore only as "The Shrine of Democracy". Only outsiders call it by its formal name. You can practically hear the capital letters.

I'm not sure how the Greenpeacece demonstration will affect policy in Washington, but I think it's fair to say that some Junior Park Ranger will enjoy his or her new posting in Abe's left ear. Maybe they could install a nose cam.

The Spearfish Scenic Bypass is a 23-mile loop through the scenic Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood.

This campground is hands-down the best I have encountered so far, offering not only the fastest WiFi I have enjoyed on the whole trip, but also cute young ladies who cheerfully deliver cheeseburgers right to the boat.

It also enjoys a large ratio of bikers, and it's easy to see why. The Black Hills are amazingly beautiful, the roads are wide and open, there is no helmet law, and the Harley is to the area what the horse was to the Wild West.

Deadwood is pretty much what one would expect it to be, a wild west street of saloons and bars, only paved.

We didn't stop, other than to take pictures.

Spearfish is just stone's throw from Sturgis, the mecca for bikers, with the big rally coming up in several weeks. We'll be in Oregon by then.

Pictures of Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon are posted on my Picasa page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2009-07-07 Good Dog, Badlands

Dateline Badlands National Park,
Interior, SD
Lat 43.6946
Long -102.5553

After two weeks in the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area in Yankton, Shelby and I decamped to the Badlands National Park yesterday, about 300 miles to the west.

Halfway through the flat and uneventful trip, we passed through Chamberlain and in crossing the river a curious thing happened. The topography changed and the humidity went away. The land changed from impossibly infinite open plains and farmland into gently rolling green hills.

I was reminded of the passage from one of my favorite Robert Heinlein novels, The Green Hills of Earth:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth,
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies,
And the cool green hills of Earth!"

The real reason I remember that passage is that it has long been my happy place I go to on extremely turbulent flights, so it is well drilled into my brain.

But there was no turbulence during our short flight. Just a lot of rest stops to fight off the soporific effect of long, straight highways. We sat under a shady tree in one rest area for a while, loving the fact that in any direction you looked, you could see forever. I have missed horizons during my stay back east, which is almost entirely covered by trees. We are rich in horizons today.

After docking Serenity in a KOA campground just outside Interior, SD, we chilled for the evening to rest up for today's exploration of the Badlands National Park.

It was spectacular, and surprisingly busy with tourists and rented RV's. Yet with all that open space, even a large crowd gets swallowed up.

A series of photos are now posted on my Badlands Album on Picasa.

We're pulling out in the morning to head up to Spearfish, SD, just outside the Black Hills and Deadwood. Options are open at that point. We may see Mt. Rushmore or possibly scoot over to Devil's Tower.

Lest any of our players from home wonder why we spent two weeks in Yankton, I will share a bit of local information that may be useful in making plans to visit South Dakota Parks, especially around holidays like the 4th of July.

Premium spots in SD State Parks run about $18 per day. The rest are $16. This is in addition to a state sticker for each vehicle that costs $20 per year. The maximum stay in one site is 14 days. So, what the locals do is book the premium sites well in advance for a 14 day stay ending on the holiday. They bring out their units, or at the very least a pup tent, and set up on their reservation date. Then they go home.

This creates a kind of eerie effect during the week for us full-timers. The park is fully booked, but everyone's home. Their campers, RV's and pup tents sit empty during the week, enjoying the best views people could hope for if they were actually using their spot.

So as I was checking ahead, I found everywhere I looked was fully booked for the holiday, so we stayed put until the locals cleared out. Our next port of call is already booked.