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Friday, January 25, 2013

24 States in 27 Days - Day 6:

Oct. 15th, 2012, Monday: It was a cold morning with drops of ice on the tailgate. Soon after we emerged from our warm cocoon, two campground maintenance workers zipped up in their electric cart and we had a great visit with them, finding out one has a dad living in Newport Oregon.

The campground.

After breakfast and a shower we drove to the other side of the park to an old quarry site where we hiked in, thinking we’d finally see the blue mounds. The only blue we saw was the sky above, along with some cool, towering, pink rock cliffs. 

We drove through Luverne, shooting a quick sign photo (one of many on this trip!) then took off on I-90 east. Minnesota seemed to have a lot of farms with really nice looking older homes, barns and silos, but dry, dry, dry from the drought.  

We were cruising along on I-90, with Brad driving 72 in a 70 mph zone and vehicles flying by us in the passing lane, when suddenly we saw a cop going the opposite direction turn, drive thru the median strip, then catch up with Brad and pause next to him in the left lane. Brad’s going below 70 at this point and the cop drove past us, then slowed back down, glanced in at us again, then he turned and drove back through the median and took off west again! Good grief! Another warning I guess, but from then on Brad kept it right at 70! I told him it was lucky he’d shaved today! After the next rest area, I took over driving while Brad sliced apples, swiss cheese and crackers - our favorite on-the-road meal. Around 3ish we drove across the MIssissippi river into La Crosse Wisconsin, exiting and zig zagging our way through the city on a detour route aiming for hwy. 14/61. Although the population is around 51,000, I thought it seemed much larger, as I had to keep extra vigilant to not miss the directional signs. On one turn I went straight, since there hadn’t been any 14/61 sign saying otherwise, which ended up being the wrong way. I quickly turned into a parking lot, hoping it’d be an easy way to return to the main route, but instead it was one of those complicated mall parking lots, with very few exits! 

Brad offered to drive after that, and I was happy to let him, content to be on drive-by photo duty. We were off the freeway again, so the photo options were more than just grassland or big box stores! Wisconsin was beautiful with barns, silos, farms and hillsides covered in amber deciduous trees. Barely a conifer to be seen! The ground was lush green, a major contrast compared to all the dry land we’d driven through previously. Even Oregon was dry when we left, experiencing it’s longest period without rain that I could remember. 

We drove through small towns like Coon Valley and Westby on 14/61 until we hit Readstown where 61 continued south and we kept going east on 14 towards Madison Wisconsin. Some roads had grass growing right up to the pavement - no shoulder and no blackberries! It was dark when we arrived in Madison. We headed towards the university area thinking we’d find a local bar or cafe to hang out in, not knowing anything about the city. We saw chain restaurants, big box stores, nothing appealing. Brad then turned off the main university road and we were stuck on a curving neighborhood street instead! Eventually we ended up at a Whole Foods store where we bought dinner then settled in their wifi friendly seating area - perfect for travelers! It was a good opportunity to catch up on email and hunt for nearby campgrounds. We left a bit before closing, and I directed Brad to Capitol Springs state park, just minutes away, and easy to find. There were spots available so we took an end site, then settled in for the night, with the usual yoga moves to get maneuvered into bed. Last one in had to pull up the tailgate and close the back hatch without falling out or kicking the other person. That night we fell asleep to the sound of geese flying overhead. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

24 States in 27 Days - Day 5:

Oct. 14th, 2012, Sunday: Waking to the glow of sunshine on the Devil’s Tower, we walked down to the river for more photo ops. It was a beautiful morning! 

We left without breakfast or coffee, sharing a granola bar while stopping for more photos along the Belle Fourche river. 

Back on I-90 we pulled off in Spearfish where Brad spotted a bright pink coffee kiosk. Hoping to drive to Mt. Rushmore and take a tour of the NW corner of South Dakota, he stepped outside of the truck to look at a map with the coffee barista. Not remembering he’d taken off his glasses, he sat back down in the truck right on top of them! Luckily he didn’t break them but he did bend them pretty badly… That along with the realization we needed to start making tracks if we were to arrive in Michigan before my Aunt and Uncle moved, made for a bit of a rough morning. Leaving the Black Hills behind we hopped back onto I-90, thinking we’d have time to drive through the Badlands instead. A short while later, Brad passed a cop, going 79 mph in a 75 zone. No worries, right? Wrong… Pulled over, on I-90, a young police officer had me roll down the passenger window, collected all our info, then asked Brad to come back with him to his car! How was I supposed to give any input that way?! After some tense moments, Brad returned with just a warning. Phew! Welcome to South Dakota! I joked with Brad, it must be time to shave his days old scruffy beard! 

We soon stopped at a rest area where we had a nice breakfast in the sunshine - trying not to blow away in the powerful winds. Of course, everyone needs to experience Wall Drug, so we made a stop on our way to the Badlands National Park entrance. I drove while Brad practiced his drive-by photography. 

Truly another natural phenomenon worth checking out. 

Coming out on the east end of the park Brad took over driving and I photographed the amber prairie and wonderful puffy clouds.

Time to beeline east. We scooted along on I-90, slipping into Minnesota after dark, around 7:45 central time. Spying a state park on our road atlas we took the Luverne exit, drove through town, then north where we found signs and easy directions to the campground, which we were happy to see was open. It was cold out, temperature in Luverne was 50º but it felt even colder when we stopped to pick up a campground map at the closed office. We pulled into a vacant spot - not many campers this evening, so there were lots to choose from. We were at Blue Mounds State park where it seemed like we were camping real close to nearby farms. The aroma of cows or maybe bison was part of our evening enjoyment, and once we were in bed we heard weird bird warbling sounds not far away. Maybe turkeys? A truck with a tent camper arrived, drove past, then soon returned and stopped at our site. A woman ran out of the truck and grabbed a dog outside which was possibly what set off the birds. Evening entertainment for us as we peered into the darkness through our canopy windows. Even though we didn’t have any close camping neighbors, we decided to put up our curtains to block any further ruckus! Later that night we were awakened by coyotes yipping off in the distance. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

24 States in 27 Days - Day 4:

Oct. 13th, 2012, Saturday - At 7:30 we climbed out of our canopy, curious to see where we were now that it was light. It was a lovely campsite with Leigh Creek just beyond our picnic table. Brad started water for coffee then went to explore. 

I turned off the stove, poured the boiling water into our French press coffee pot then went on a photo shoot down by the creek. For fun, I collected rocks and made a cairn while Brad washed up nearby, then we had breakfast, reorganized bags and packed everything up. 

We took off a bit before 10:00, climbing up above the creek with cottonwoods shimmering yellow in the canyon.

Brad drove while I took drive-by pics, until we ran into road construction. I rolled down my window to ask how long and the fella said 15 minutes so we turned off the truck and got out. Brad took the camera and shot pics while I stretched, then we chat with the weathered, road construction guy while waiting. He’d moved to Wyoming in the 70’s when he was 12, and hearing about our road trip, talked about hitch-hiking all 48 states every summer with friends while in high school - not something he’d recommend doing these days. Quite the character! Once the pilot truck showed up, we climbed back in ours, said “bye!” with a wave, and continued on towards Buffalo, up and over a 9,666 ft. pass. 

In Buffalo Brad drove downtown where we parked, ready to find a coffee shop & wifi. Mmm, downtown smelled like bacon! Standing outside an organic BBQ joint reading the menu, we heard through the screen door - “come on in!” so we stepped inside. The bartender handed us menus and gave us the run down on the place. Brad asked if they had wifi and he said sure, sometimes. Brad needed to buy a font to finish business cards for a client. It seemed like a good enough place to settle - they were happy to accommodate us, so we sat and ordered lunch. While Brad worked, I uploaded photos. When finished with lunch and work, we took off to explore the downtown area. Leaving town, I took over driving so Brad could finish the biz cards and we hopped on I-90 until the exit to Devil’s Tower National Monument. It had been mostly cloudy all day, 63º in Buffalo, yet even though it was prettier now, we saw a possible rain storm in the distance. The Devil’s Tower finally appeared, way up ahead, impressing Brad like I had been the first time I’d seen it in 2005. 

We arrived around 4:30,  and soon came upon a prairie dog habitat we had to stop and check out. 

It was 5ish before we started hiking the trail around the tower so we went fast, pausing for photos, of course. 

Brad really enjoyed it - he hiked to the base of the Tower, over fallen rocks while I shot pics of prayer tokens. 

We spotted several groups of climbers, tiny, like ants way up high - just barely visible with their white helmets or red jackets. Their voices carried though - we could hear them before seeing them. Towards the end of our hike we experienced some slight rain sprinkles, but they didn’t last. 

Once back at the truck, I drove down quickly, wanting to catch the light and a campground spot. The campground was almost full - a Sat. night, with just 2-3 open sites. We took one then I hurried Brad down to the Belle Fourche River so we could see it before dark, happy he had our little camera w/him. 

We hiked to the far corner of the campground, then back to make a delicious dinner with greens and tomatoes from our garden, a hard boiled egg, smoked gouda, blue cheese, potato chips and homemade clam dip. In the dark, we crunched chips and watched a tiny light on the Devil’s Tower. Brad thought they were climbers, still up there! We went to wash bowls, forks, knife & cutting board in the bathroom, but a sign said to wash dishes at the sink washing area between bathrooms. This turned out to be a closet sized room with an odd square basin, about knee high with a metal collar protecting the porcelain edge and a faucet about chest high. The large bowl could be flushed like toilet. Quite the washing system! It was warm in the canopy that night - too warm, so I opened the window behind our heads, between the canopy and the cab. That let in a nice breeze which felt like a silk scarf fluttering over our faces. Cool but not cold. Unfortunately, I tossed and turned, until I finally flipped off the second duvet (which meant Brad now had three layers!) otherwise, it was quiet with just the wind rattling dry leaves in the cottonwood trees, sounding like falling rain.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

24 States in 27 Days - Day 3:

Oct. 12th, 2012 - Friday. The roar of garbage trucks nudged me fully awake, after spending a lot of the night counting trains (11), and we emerged from our warm cozy nest before the sun was fully up. The big “park” we thought we were next to was actually a cemetery - not a bad spot to sleep we discovered. Curious about the soda spring park and a sign to a geyser we’d seen the night before, we drove back to those two different locations. Octagon Spring bubbles up from the ground with effervescent gas creating naturally carbonated water. Of course we had to try it. It tasted just like drinking pure iron, very metallic!!

The Soda Spring geyser was the next site to explore. It appeared during a drilling project in 1937 and now this man-made geyser is regulated, capped and released every hour on the hour. Lucky for us we only had to wait about 15-20 minutes to see this Old Faithful rival.

We moseyed our way towards Wyoming, stopped for coffee in Montpelier Idaho, turned onto hwy. 89, then driove north to Afton Wyoming, then on to Jackson Wyoming.

Brad loved Jackson, and we spent a few hours wandering the streets visiting galleries and shops, while Brad took photos of signs. It was another beautiful, sunny day. 

A corner of Jackson town square.

Just north of Jackson Wyoming.

The Tetons

From Jackson we continued north, thinking we’d connect back up to hwy. 20/14/16, just east of Yellowstone, but discovered we had to pay National Park fees to continue that way. Since we weren’t planning to spend any time at the park, we decided to turn east on hwy. 26/287 through Dubous to Riverton. 

In Shoshoni, we kept going north to Thermopolis - drawn by the words “Worlds Largest Mineral Hot Springs”. Unfortunately Thermopolis ended up being another resort pool, not the natural springs we’d hoped to find, and the state park didn’t offer camping, so we decided to keep going.

The next town we came to was Worland, and since we were both tired we decided to drive around and look for a cozy spot to stealth camp. I had my window open as we drove past the industrial part of town when suddenly a rottweiler came lunging straight towards us! I put my window up as fast as I could and said let’s go! Not finding any spot we wanted to settle for the night we kept going. On the map there were a lot of campgrounds up hwy. 16 - so we took off on what we thought was the right road. Immediately we were curving our way thru construction cones, without any signs to show we were on hwy. 16 for over 25 miles! Not even a sign pointing the way to Buffalo or Ten Sleep. No lights, inky black forests, nothing to direct us, until finally we drove through the tiny town of Ten Sleep which made me feel a bit better. We then started peering into the darkness for a campground sign - driving and driving… still not seeing anything… Eventually we saw a sign to a fish hatchery so Brad turned and soon there was sign to Leigh Creek campground just a mile further. All sites were taken except one, so we pulled in and parked. It was right by the creek. By then it was after 10:00, so we quickly tucked things away, climbed into our bed and soon fell asleep in total darkness with the soothing and relaxing sound of the creek rushing by.