Backroads Across America: Surprise! Here’s Yellowstone!

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“It has to be one of the best RV parks ever! We have been staying there every summer for years.”

My ears were tuned in as I sipped a glass of wine a couple of days ago at our RV home near Little Bighorn Battlefield in southwestern Montana. I overheard a full-time RVer tell a neighbor about a five-star resort near Yellowstone National Park.

So, after a little investigative work, here we are, at the Yellowstone’s Edge, our trailer  perched next to the fast-moving Yellowstone River. It is one of the best places we have stayed on our journey, now in its ninth week. And, like many of the best parts of this adventure, it was unplanned.

We just finished a fabulous day in Yellowstone. There were bison, bear, elk, pronghorn. Brilliant skies, temperatures in the 70s, and the scenery wasn’t bad either.

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We started at Mammoth Hot Springs, near the north entrance to the park and about 30 miles south of our campground.

Lamar Valley, considered the place to go for wildlife viewing, was next. On the way, we hiked to a waterfall and saw another next to a pullout. By that time, a tailgate lunch was on the day’s menu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe later ordered bear and bison, and there they were!

On our return drive, the leader of a bison herd carefully stopped traffic, including the UPS truck, so the moms and calves could cross the road. None of us tested his resolve.

Bear paparazzi? Yep, they were camped out, watching several bear who were enjoying the afternoon high up a tree. Park rangers struggled to keep traffic moving and direct curious pedestrians off the highway.

Later, it was time for one more bear. A stop for coffee, then back to our wee trailer.

After a brief rain shower and refreshing showers in our home, the sun is out again as we sip our happy hour wine. What’s next? I am listening!

 

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Backroads Across America: Big Sky Country

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Today we wound our way out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, snuck through a corner of Wyoming and arrived in Montana – Big Sky Country.  The gently rolling hills of Montana’s eastern plains seem to stretch on forever…and so does the sky above them.

It seems like spring has been late arriving in the northern part on the United States.  Although landscapes have been green and lush, trees have continually been bare of leaves. That just made it all the more exciting to stumble upon these wildflowers blooming on the hillside behind our campground.

Montana is a new state for both of us, and we are eager to discover what adventures lie beneath this “Big Sky.”  Plenty of time for that tomorrow!

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Backroads Across America: Black Hills Give It Up

 

The drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial gives visitors several frames for one of the world’s most spectacular engineering achievements. When you steer along Iron Mountain Road, go counterclockwise if you want the four presidents in your windshield.

A quick detour: Can you name the four presidents? (Answer below)

The 17-mile road was designed to connect three one-lane tunnels blasted in the rock. It features 314 curves, 14 switchbacks and three pigtails.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s presidents measure 250 feet across and each head is 60 feet tall. Why were these four chosen? George Washington, for leading the struggle for independence. Thomas Jefferson, the idea of government by the people. Abraham Lincoln, ideas on equality and the permanent union of the states. Theodore Roosevelt, the emerging role of the U.S. in world affairs.

On our way to see the four stone heads, we explored the 71,000-acre Custer State Park. This place alone would be worth a visit to South Dakota’s Black Hills. We walked around Legion Lake, one of several lakes in the park, then picnicked next to a creek.

We began our day by hiking to Cathedral Spires, one of the park’s many treks that vary in length and degree of difficulty. They share a location as beautiful as any we have seen on our journey, which is nearing 8,000 miles.

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Backroads Across America: Hunting Buffalo

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Custer State Park in South Dakota is home to a herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. These magnificent animals can be seen roaming freely throughout the grasslands.  The best way to view them is from the safety of your vehicle while driving the 18 mile Wildlife Loop Road…which is what we did today.

Park grasslands can only support about 1,450 buffalo, so the herd is carefully managed. Every fall the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place, allowing the park to brand and vaccinate the calves, inventory the grasslands and to determine how many buffalo will be sold at auction.  The event is open to the public, and this year the roundup is scheduled for September 29…so you still have time to make your plans!

We saw a few other critters out today.  A pronghorn was oblivious to my photo attempt. A herd of wild burros begged snacks from a fellow motorist and we waited as wranglers led trail horses across the road to fresh grass.  All in all, I’d say we had a successful hunt!

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Wall-to-Wall Wildlife

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From prairie dogs to a rattlesnake, the wildlife was out today during our roadside stops in Badlands National Park as we drove toward the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Then, a brief visit to Wall Drugs brought Sue up close to another kind of wild guy.

The town of Wall, South Dakota, on I-90, was named after the spectacular 50-mile mountain wall, or ridge, in the national park. Wall Drugs is a series of gift stores and eateries that attracts two million tourists a year. Its claim to fame began with billboard ads offering free ice water. The signs were originally modeled after the infamous Burma shave roadside ads. Today’s signs along the interstate are much larger and are posted for many miles.

Perhaps the wildlife at nearby Badlands National Park need a similar campaign. They see just one million visitors annually.

 

 

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Backroads Across America: Good Times in the Badlands

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Badlands National Park appears rather suddenly among the grasslands of South Dakota.  These seemingly harsh lands are the result of millions of years of earth’s ever-changing climate.  This is a landscape of extremes.

We arrived yesterday to clear blue skies and warm temperatures, the first we’ve had in two and a half weeks.  Pulling into the first parking lot we came to, we set off on two short walks, eager to get a taste of such a foreign landscape.  Surprisingly, trail markers led us off the path to freely walk among the peaks and gullies.  We later learned that Badlands is a sort of “open range” park.  Visitors are allowed to walk anywhere as long as the environment is respected.

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Day two found us on the Castle Trail, a 10 or 12 mile (depending on which map or trail marker you believe) round trip that led us through some of the spectacular park formations and out onto the open grasslands.  We had hoped to see some of the wildlife that call the park home and were a little disappointed to only see a few deer  in the distance.  But, it was a gorgeous day and we were outside in an eerily beautiful national park…not a bad place to be!

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Backroads Across America: Yeah, South Dakota!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo be honest, Tuesday’s drive, 320 miles across the fairly flat farmlands of northern Iowa, was uneventful. We were not tempted to pull off and explore. The two Misses rivers on either side of Iowa were beautiful, though.

As we left North Sioux City in southeastern South Dakota this morning, the landscape quickly became more engaging. A walk along the Missouri River led to a meeting with a fisherman who had bagged a 29-pound big head carp, aka Asian carp.

Then we saw a bridge across the river. It led to Nebraska. So we drove across and found the Gavins Point Dam (above) built by the Army Corps of Engineers. We drove across the dam, back to South Dakota, to explore more backroads leading to our campground in Kennebec.

The rolling hills of southeastern South Dakota (top photo) are cattle country. We passed many trucks with cattle carriers heading for market. Lots of livestock, many with calves, roamed the rolling hills.

As Sue prepares our pasta and salad dinner, the skies are turning mostly blue, just in time for our visit to the Badlands and Black Hills.

After nearly two weeks of cool, wet weather, warm and dry have returned!

 

 

 

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Backroads Across America: More Than Bad Weather Brewing For Us


We opted for a second night at our Dubuque, Iowa hotel as we waited for wind and snow flurries to blow through the western part of the state.  To fill our rainy day, we decided to follow the scenic Mississippi River drive outlined in our guidebook.  It seemed simple enough, but wouldn’t you know it…another wrong turn led us 30 miles off course.  At least there were no toll roads!

As I studied the atlas in an effort to get us back on course, I realized we were close to the National Brewery Museum in Potosi, Wisconsin.  Reg thought I was kidding.  

Curious, we decided to see if it was for real.  

We learned beer was first brewed in Potosi in 1852.  The Potosi Brewing Company was founded in 1906, ceasing operation in 1972.  The Potosi Brewery was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

In 2004, the American Breweriana Association chose the site as the home for its National Museum of Beer Advertising Memorabilia.  In 2008, after a $7.5 million renovation, the museum and brew pub opened. The 2015 addition of their $5 million brewery allowed Petosi to finally bring all its beer back home again.





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Backroads Across America: Stuff It, Chicago!

FullSizeRenderIMG_0469Finally, we are warm and dry, after a wild, wet, windy ride through the Chicago area. Illinois became the second state (the other was Mississippi) that we drove through without spending the night. We started the day in northwestern Indiana, in the eastern time zone. We soon gained an hour; Indiana’s northwest corner is in the central zone.

Our drive around Chicago took its toll, in more ways than one. Six times we had to pull off the road to pay a $3.60 toll. As an armchair quarterback, I hereby proclaim, “Take these quarters and stuff them!” to Chicago. It will be a lifetime before I return to this place. Our son Chris warned us too.

I know, I know, it is such a great city. Well, you can have it!

By early evening, we arrived in Dubuque, Iowa, a much more welcoming progressive bastion on the Mississippi River, a stone’s throw from Wisconsin and Illinois.

After a hair-raising, 300-mile drive, I had Canadian Club in a bar. Sue enjoyed a glass of wine. Tasty Greek salads followed.

Then we took a short walk to our hotel room. Yep, we decided not to battle the 40s, rain and wind, to set up the trailer. I have to admit, the full-water-pressure shower was great. The king bed is not bad either.

Tomorrow? We will return to the backroads and our beloved wee trailer!

 

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Backroads Across America: RV Capital of the World

 

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Our wrong-turn destination has yielded another welcome surprise: Elkhart, Indiana is the recreational vehicle capital of the world. More than 80 percent of global RV production is based in this area, we have read.

Plus, it is home to the RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame Museum. That’s where we headed today, after a morning visit to a huge RV show next door.

Many of the features in modern RVs have been around for many decades, we could see. They were heavier and lacked the wide-screen TVs, but had the warmth and charm of yesteryear.

Above are a few of the treasures we found during our most enjoyable afternoon tour. The 1931 Model AA Tennessee Traveler has yellow pine floors and oak and yellow poplar cabinetry.  See the 1946 Teardrop? It was pulled by a 1930 Model A. Can you find the motor home built atop a Cadillac?

I am standing in the first Fleetwood trailer, a 1950 Sporter. The interior shot with tourquoise seats is a 1937 Hayes motor home, which featured a steel body and roof. Can you say heavy?

The weather may have threatened all day here today. But, we were warmed by the thought that yesterday’s craftmanship and charm are being preserved, right here in Indiana!

 

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