Waterfall Yellowstone National Park
Dear Friends and Family,
Experience tells me that vacations like relationships are not necessarily made in heaven, but Terry and I both agreed that we would do everything possible on our end to make every moment of this trip fulfilling if not restful [it was not restful] for each one of us, Terry, Tom and me. We knew the country we were covering by van would have vistas worth stopping to take in. We also know our vacation may not pique the interest of friends and family. Remember the days of slide show gatherings when someone shared every single slide of their fabulous vacation. Well, I do. Enough said. I have tried to select a few photos as I write this letter that capture some of our travels. But it is a letter and you are free to put it down at any time.
Our western adventure began on June 1, 2019. My plans to have the van fully packed and the crew ready to go by 8 am had to be adjusted due to last minute packing details. How on earth did the early pioneers get their whole household into a covered wagon? I am not naming names but some of us in our little band do not understand the concept of minimalism or even sufficient when it comes to packing for a week. Nor do any of us really believe they have stores in Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska where they sell pretty much the same stuff we can get in Kentucky. Folks we were loaded for bear, well, actually not, since they don’t carry that at the local Big Lots or Rural King. Suffice it to say, the van was full.
The first stop of our trip heading west came in St. Louis. Tom had never been to the Gateway Arch, so we exited I-64—it was the wrong exit, but hey! We still had a visual of the Arch. After traveling many back streets in downtown St. Louis, we arrived and Terry found a great parking space, which was really a surprise.
We walked up to and inside the lower entry hall to the Arch, visited the facilities—something we do at every stop whether we need to or not—after which Tom declined trying out the elevator car they had set up in the lobby. He decided his size and the interior of the elevator were not compatible. We took a few pictures and then with careful attention to our WAZE app managed to get onto I-70 West.
Traveling west on I-70 challenged our defensive driving skills. Obviously, I-70 provides a major route west for trucking, there were a few moments of near freak-out—Me, both when Terry was driving and when I was driving. Then turning north onto I-29 we discovered that much of that interstate was closed due to flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. We traveled bunches of back roads both that evening as we approached our first night stop in Council Bluff, Iowa and the next morning as we headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Our hotel in Council Bluff had a very friendly even funny staff when we checked in late Saturday evening. So, with that in mind I give it ONE star. It had no elevator. They gave us rooms on the second floor. A bunch of college students who were there to party, trust me on that, offered to help Tom and I carry our bags up the stairway. Terry was parking the van.
Pride—ugly beast that it is—got the best of me and I refused. By the time I reached the second-floor landing, I was having visions of toppling over backwards or even more frightening, Tom toppling over backwards hitting me and both of us plummeting to the bottom of the staircase, where Terry would discover us dead in a heap. The rooms were clean enough, but the hallway carpet was filthy, and this is from a not so hot housekeeper’s perspective.
WE Survived. The pioneer spirit in my family died after my great grandparents traveled by covered wagon from Iowa to Southwest Oklahoma to homestead in 1901. The Americinn qualifies as wilderness as far as I am concerned. The pictures of hotels on Expedia do not depict the actual property or they did not in this case.
Reaching Sioux Falls, we intersected with I-90 which took us on our adventure into South Dakota, where among other things we encountered our first real glimpse of miles and miles of Wind Farms. Terry drove while I researched a bit. These babies are huge:
“How big is a wind turbine?
Industrial wind turbines are big
The widely used GE 1.5-megawatt model, for example, consists of 116-ft blades atop a 212-ft tower for a total height of 328 feet. The blades sweep a vertical airspace of just under an acre.”
Our first outing in South Dakota turned up at Mitchell just off I-90. We had decided before we left Kentucky that we would be on the look out for interesting places to explore that were not specifically on our itinerary. The Corn Palace in Mitchell was the first stop like this. It is a monument to CORN, but so much more
Annually, a committee s
elects a theme and the sides of the palace become murals with using every part of an ear of corn to create the art work. The 2018-2019 theme honors the Armed Service Branches, with some special attention for the two ships christened the USS South Dakota.
So, if you are traveling on I-90 through South Dakota, you might want to take in the Corn Palace in Mitchell.
Our trip took on some extra concerns on our second day. Our son Scott called to let us know that our daughter-in-law Martha had had another and this time more damaging stroke. We stopped where we were and prayed with him, asked him if we should abandon our trip plans and drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He said not to do that. They were still waiting to hear back from the neurosurgeon as to a plan of action. So, we continued on, but our hearts were heavier. Terry and I had decided together before we even began our westward journey to pause often, take in the new and wonderful sites we were seeing and no matter what to accept the blessing of being able to travel together. Tom was at times like a kid looking forward to experiencing places he had only seen in pictures.
By early afternoon Sunday June 2nd we arrived at the turnoff for Badlands National Park. The sun had disappeared so I am unsure how this odd stark country with its myriad of rock layers and colors would have looked in the sunlight. The gathering storms around us created another worldly atmosphere almost like being on another planet—if that planet had earthlings, automobiles, tour buses, scenic turnouts and rattlesnakes, all of which the Badlands boasts.
We drove the loop that led us out of the park at Wall, SD where the iconic Wall Drug Store resides. The establishment dates back to the 1930’s when a Nebraska pharmacist and his wife Dorothy purchased it. They were looking for a town with a Catholic Church in which to start a business. Business in Wall with 231 persons in residence was slow at first until Dorothy thought of advertising free ice water to folks traveling through to the brand-new Mt. Rushmore monument some 60 miles away. Parched travelers welcome the rest stop and soon business picked up and. If the crowds we encountered there are any indication, it has not slowed down. Billboards all along I-90 from east to west advertise the store. YeS! They still offer free ice water.
We settled in Rapid City for the night. Word from Our son suggested that surgery the next day would scope the cranial artery that was blocked and put in a stent. Unfortunately, the next day we learned the artery was nearly completely closed and a stent would be impossible. Throughout the remainder of our trip west we were on alert, calling in all the prayers we could for our sweet Martha. And as of today, she has been moved to Rehab in Stillwater, Ok, their home town. Left side remains paralyzed, but she has not had another stroke. So, given all the horrible outcomes we had been given, we are thankful she is still with us and fighting. She also has retained her quick wit and personality.
While in the Rapid City area we visited Mt. Rushmore which truly represents the talents of its designer and the skilled labor that chiseled those distinguished faces into the side of a mountain. When we entered the park, we received a ticket that clearly told us to retain it so we could pay prior to exiting. Terry had the ticket. Climbing the steps to the gates, he remembered he needed another lens for his camera and returned to the car. I never have this problem because I only use my iPhone. We explored the area, took pictures and descended multiple steps to reach the artist’s studio—all of us—Terry, Tom, and I made it to ground level for the monument exhibit. In the process, Tom became turned around a bit and thought we were on the parking lot level rather than 5 floors down. After Tom begrudged me the fact that we were not just a few steps from the parking lot, we consulted a Ranger who offered to let us go get our vehicle and drive it down an access road to pick Tom up.
NOOO! Tom said. So, we started the laborious ascent on uneven rock stairs. Fortunately, about 2 levels up there was a walking trail with a smoother paved although elevated path with rest areas along the way. So, we took the path less traveled by and after some time made the top. Take my word not one of us considered highland hiking as a new hobby.
At the top I asked Terry for the ticket. He looked at me, his face a portrait of confusion. My stomach sank at least two of the levels we had just climbed. “yes, remember I gave it to you when we got out of the van. We pay here to get another ticket to exit.” He lifted one eyebrow, clearly questioning whether I had really given him the ticket or was just joking around. We searched. Alas. After thoroughly exhausting every pigeon hole we could have stuffed a slip of paper into, we agreed. Neither of us had the ticket. A visit to the Visitor’s Center confessing that the ticket that had bold print on it admonishing us to HOLD ON TO THIS TICKET had been lost. She barely made eye contact sending us to the payment kiosk.
At the kiosk I met a charming Japanese young lady with a bright smile, who evidently had heard ‘lost ticket’ many times before, helped us generate a new ticket and pay to exit Mt. Rushmore. I thanked her and then jokingly said, “I bet we are the first people to ever lose their ticket.” Her smile grew even brighter as she affirmed my suspicion that either her English was limited, or we were indeed the very first people to ever lose their parking ticket at Mt. Rushmore on her watch. The voltage of her smile amped up as she vigorously nodded her head and said, “YES! Have good day!”
At the van, Terry leaned over before opening his door and picked up our LOST ticket. He had apparently dropped it when he returned to get his lens.
We ate lunch at Peggy’s in Keystone, SD Where Peggy greeted us and our waiter directed us to Graffiti Mural Alley in Rapid City. Entertaining and the. Food was good.
That afternoon we explored downtown Rapid City and the murals/graffeti
Coming to this portion of the walls gave me pause. I do not know if you can see but faces of survivors are in every square.
And because I am tired, and I bet some of you are too. I am going to leave you with that message HOPE…you can live several days with food and shelter. You can live 4 days without water. You can live a few minutes without air. But you cannot live a single second without hope. No matter how slender the thread is, hold on.
I will write another letter soon with the second half and conclusion of our Western Adventure. I suspect you are all waiting with bated breath.
Grace and Peace,
Carolyn, Terry and Tom