Every time Andy and I leave for a trip we procrastinate packing until the last possible minute and, in keeping with tradition, we were finally able to start driving at eight thirty at night. Andy drove for about five hours dodging deer until we decided to pull over near Burns and sleep in the car.
Our second day was pretty uneventful, driving across Idaho where we hit higher speed limits and drank extreme amounts of diet Pepsi until we reached the Teton Scenic Byway near the border of Wyoming. We pulled into a deserted campground called Pine Creek, found a little patch of snow to cool our beers and we set up camp.
We woke up early, broke camp, turned the radio to The Range where they play ‘just plain good western music’, and started working our way up over Teton Pass to Jackson Hole, WY. We went out for a great breakfast in Jackson and started driving north by the Teton Range towards Yellowstone Park where there were literally tumble weeds blowing by the side of the road.
Andy had never been to Yellowstone before and this was different experience for me as well. I had been to the park before in the summer time but now in third week of May there was still snow on the ground and some of the roads were
closed, not to mention that there weren’t too many people in the park which was a plus for Andy and I. We started off by going to Old Faithful and walking around the many other geysers and pools along the surrounding trails. We were lucky enough to be passing by Riverside Geyser when it erupted and it was amazing to see the huge bison just minding its own business eating grass nearby. Another spot that we enjoyed was called Artist’s Paint Pots where the different pools were different colors and one was so thick it looked like bubbling plaster. We saw so many bison throughout the park and there were a lot of little baby bison with their lighter color fur. We also saw elk but sadly no bears or moose. It was too early in the season for any but one of the campgrounds to be open and it was full, so we drove out of the north entrance into Montana and slept in the car after cooking dinner in a picnic area.
We drove back into Yellowstone through the north entrance and spent the
morning around Mammoth looking at some really neat trees in the middle of a calcite pool and the Petrified Tree. In the early afternoon we exited the park through the northeast entrance, after getting through a bison traffic jam, where we drove along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway over Dead Indian Pass into Cody, WY. Once in Cody we passed by Buffalo Bill’s daughter
Irma’s Hotel where Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, and Ulysses S. Grant all stayed back in the days of the Wild West. More exciting to Andy and I was the Sierra Trading Post that was having a huge sale! I left with a Gore-Tex Pac Lite rain jacket for only a hundred dollars and Andy scored a Windstopper jacket to replace the one that was stolen with our car a while back. We slowly made our way closer to the border, trying to coax our sweet turquoise Escort wagon over the Bighorn Mountains without overheating. When we got to the top of the pass we were able to look down upon rolling hills and the far off horizon line. We drove into the night and ended up sleeping outside the Blackhills National Forest.
We crossed the border into South Dakota making a quick stop in Sturgis for coffee. It was funny to drive through Sturgis and see bars called ‘Sidehack Saloon’, and the ‘Knuckle Saloon’. The ‘Ye Olde Worlde Bookery and Café’ seemed a little out of place. Sadly we saw no bikers (the closest we got was a lady on a scooter) so we drove on to Deadwood. It’s a cute tourist trap with streets lined by Old West style buildings and casinos with signs marking where Wild Bill Hicock was shot and killed and where his assassin was captured.
We drove onward to the Crazy Horse Memorial. When the sculpture is finally finished it will be the largest in the world, but right now the only fully completed part is his face; the rest of the years of work seem to have been dedicated to blocking out the general shape from the mountain side. The most amazing thing about the Crazy Horse Memorial is that it will be a complete 360-degree sculpture; you will be able to look at one side of Crazy Horse’s face on one side of the mountain and the other side of his face on the other side of the mountain. After enjoying a buffalo burger and free coffee we traveled the short distance to the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
Mount Rushmore made a more striking first impression on Andy
and I than Crazy Horse did because you can really get up close to the faces. We also liked how the faces blended into the mountainside more. I’ve seen photos of Mount Rushmore before but never realized until I saw it in person that it is an unfinished work. When WWII broke out the funds for Rushmore dried up and it was just left as is. That’s also one of the main reasons why Korczak, the sculptor of Crazy Horse, decided to fund his project solely on donations, a tradition which his family carries on to this day. When it started to sprinkle on us we decided to head to the car and start driving across South Dakota.
We took a slight detour off the freeway to drive through Badlands National Park. It is so beautiful that we were sad to not have more time and really hope to make it back again some day. We saw a lot of prairie dogs and a lot of signs telling us to avoid the prairie dogs because of the plaque they carry. We pulled over at a picnic area in the park and made some chicken and rice on our camp stove to carry out to a bench at an amazing viewpoint. We sat there and watched the red stripes hills change color with the sunset to a plain whitish gray color that matched the sky perfectly with the clouds rolling in. After the sunset we started driving again and tried unsuccessfully twice to find a spot to sleep. Finally we pulled over at the first rest stop in Minnesota and slept in the car.
We woke up to find out that the rest area we slept in was a very nice one with an informational center and friendly staff. There were even fresh lilacs in the women’s bathroom! Five days without a shower was started to get to me and I decided that I needed to wash my hair in the sink. The need for clean hair outweighed what the mid-western road trippers might think of me and I left the ladies room a new woman.
We drove north to Minneapolis to the Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States. This place is so big that it has an indoor amusement park! Andy’s not much of a mall person but when we went by the Lego Store and he saw the life size sculptures made out of Legos of huge dinosaurs, space shuttles, an earth complete with accurate continents, and a moon complete with accurate craters he started acting like an excited ten year old. After Andy finally got his fill of building things at the Lego Store we stopped in a tropical themed restaurant and got a few beers before walking around getting lost among the stores for a while. Next we drove through farmland until we reached the Mississippi River, stopping only to eat some deep fried cheese curds and admire the many lilacs along the way. We slept along the Apple Blossom Scenic Drive just this side of Wisconsin.
We entered Wisconsin through the town of La Crosse where a large statue of Native Americans playing lacrosse greeted
us. We stopped only long enough to see the ‘world’s largest six pack’ (which is actually six of the City Brewery’s water towers painted to look like beer cans) and to drink coffee at a park overlooking the Mississippi. We continued on to Madison, the state’s capitol, where we walked around a convention center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and saw the state’s capitol building which was designed to be similar to the capitol building in Washington D.C.
We spent the night an hour outside of Chicago in a town called Rockford in Andy’s grandparent’s luxurious fifth wheel. Andy had called Bill and Sallie the day before to check in and surprisingly they were staying close to where we were going. We knew they were somewhere in between South Carolina and Oregon, but to be so close to where we were was an amazing coincidence. They treated us to a comfortable pull out sofa bed, taco salad, and warm brownies, those two sure know how to travel in style!
We woke up, said goodbye to Bill and Sallie and drove on the toll way straight into Chicago where we made a quick stop at Wrigley Field to score tickets for later that night. Our hotel was nice enough to give us an early check in, so after unloading our car full of stuff we spent the entire day walking around town. We walked the ‘Magnificent Mile’ full of retail stores, saw the old fire tower that survived the great Chicago fire, ate hotdogs covered in chilies, mustard, dill pickle, and bright neon green sweet relish, and explored Millennium Park with its awesome sculptures until it started to rain so hard we were forced to duck into a Caribou Coffee shop.
When the rain let up we got on the red line El train to Wrigley
field where we were happy to find that our obstructed view seats weren’t even really obstructed at all. In honor of Memorial Day, while the last few bars of the national anthem were being sung a trained bald eagle soared in from the outfield, circled the field a few times and landed on his trainer’s arm. After the eagle was walked off the field Mr. T entered in all his American flag parachute panted glory to throw the first pitch. As if that wasn’t enough during the seventh inning stretch he lead the crowd in singing ‘take me out to the ball game’. We had a great time at the ball game eating deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and beer and watching the Cubs fans throwing back onto the field any ball caught from the opposing team’s home runs. The stadium had a nice small feel to it and the surrounding buildings had put bleachers onto their roofs to accommodate more seating, which they sold tickets to through various websites.
After the game we packed into the El train and worked our way back to our hotel near Grant Park.
Each day in Chicago a different museum has a free day and since Tuesday is the day for free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art we went straight there after our morning cup of coffee. The main exhibit was about Buckminster Fuller and the various architectural and engineering feats he accomplished throughout his lifetime. It was interesting and Andy especially enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the smaller exhibit by Olafur Eliasson called ‘Take Your Time’. In one piece we walked into a room filled with yellow light and after a few moments we realized that everything that we saw was in black and yellow. The monochromatic bulbs he used have such a narrow frequency that they affect how a person sees color. Another piece that was incredible was one where a spotlight shone through a fine mist and wherever we stood we could see different colors in the mist.
We worked up quite an appetite walking around the museum and the only
thing we could think about was going to Frontera Grill. Back at home one of our favorite cooking shows to watch is hosted by Rick Bayless on PBS and so many times after we’d drooled over the delicious Mexican food he’d cooked or after he’d taught us how tequila was made Andy and I would look at each other and talk about how cool it would be to go to his restaurant and eat his food. I never thought that we’d actually go to Chicago and eat at his restaurant, but it did not disappoint. He has two locations next to each other and we decided to go to the less formal one called Frontera Grill. Andy and I each ordered margaritas, mine with tamarind in it. Andy also ordered the tacos al carbon, which came with two different salsa while I got the chicken enchilada special smothered in a perfectly balanced tangy sauce and topped with a jicama cucumber salad. To try and work off our Mexican lunch we walked along the Chicago River to Lake Michigan until the rain started up again and we were forced to pack up the car and leave Chicago.
We drove straight through Indiana and into Ohio where we saw some intense lightning storms on either side of the turnpike and slept in the car at a rest area.
We drove into Cleveland where we spent five hours in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame looking at Madonna’s bustier, John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper suit, Michael Jackson’s glove, and other famous memorabilia. Then we drove across Pennsylvania and entered New York on a small highway passing through quaint towns and by little vineyards and wineries until we reached northeastern New York. We cooked dinner at a picnic area next to the Niagara River and slept in a casino parking lot.
As soon as we woke up we drove straight to Niagara Falls. All three falls were
incredible and the sheer volume of moving water was quite a sight to see. We had always heard that the view is best from the Canadian side so we left the car in the state park parking lot and walked through the turnstiles into Canada. We stayed only long enough to take in the view and decided to head back to the States since neither of us had our passports with us. When we came back through U.S. customs the border patrol lady rolled her eyes at us and told us that we non-compliant without a passport or birth certificate. Thankfully the following Monday was when the newer stricter border rules were going into effect and we were let back into the States after a short grilling about our lives to make sure that we weren’t attempting to become illegal aliens. We spent a few hours gazing at the falls and decided it was time to move closer to our new home.
We drove through rolling hills of hard woods on our way east and stopped in Elmira to see Mark Twains grave. Eventually we made it into New Paltz where we ate a Chinese food dinner and slept on the side of a deserted highway.
We woke up, got coffee, and drove to our new home- a dorm room at Mohonk Mountain House.
3865 miles driven
102 gallons of gas used
$250 spent on gas
38 miles per gallon in our 1994 Ford Escort Wagon