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Published: July 23rd 2012
BEFORE I START
I just added a bunch of new names to be notified when a blog is published. I hope that is okay with y'all. This is the second blog for this trip, so you might want to go back and read the first.
Not everyone knows our plan for this trip, so I will write that. Our prime goal for the whole trip is the Canadian Rockies -Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise - before the snow flies, so we left New Hampshire at the end of June (we travel slowly...) Next will be Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Washington, Oregon, and California. We plan to store the RV and car in CA while we fly home in mid to late October for the holidays, then return to them sometime in January. After "wintering" in CA, we'll head home via Colorado and some other central states we haven't traveled through yet.
Save, save, save!!! I wrote a whole blog last evening, typing along through a fierce thunderstorm which featured hail as well, and the blog disappeared. Sob, sob.
July 14 to July 21, 2012. After a day of Linda visiting with her cousin and John meandering around Chicago, we headed north to Madison, WI. Next through Iowa in two days on Route 20. Spent a day in Sioux City, then out through Nebraska and up into South Dakota, where we are now spending three days at a campground near Mt. Rushmore. It was generally hot, hot, hot!
It was fun visiting with another cousin, trading anecdotes about people who are no longer around to confirm or deny them, gazing at old photos, etc. I enjoyed seeing Chesterton, which is a neat location: bustling town square and restaurants, Relay for Life etc., near a wide sandy beach on Lake Michigan and a large park. John was delighted to take the train into Chicago, about 60 miles for a little over $6.00, hot and crowded that Saturday because of Taste of Chicago enthusiasts. He saw Millenium Park, the Chicago Bean, Board of Trade, but mostly just enjoyed being in the city - and the train rides.
The heat (hovering around 100) influenced our next choice of destination, northward a bit to Madison WI. That is a really cool city, just not a cool temperature at that time. The lakes which border the downtown and university area are a very special feature. We had a tour of the State House, which is very ornate, spacious, full of marble. I rubbed the nose of the bronze badger outside the governor's chambers for luck. (The nickname "badger" comes from the lead miners in early WI history, who burrowed into the hillsides.) John thinks he saw the not-recently-recalled governor in a meeting room; I, a strong believer in the good that unions can do, am just as glad I did not see him.
This being a Monday, most of the museums were closed, so we just walked around, had ice cream cones - no, dishes, of course; cones would not have lasted a minute in that heat! - on the patio of the student union building, and watched the numerous sailboats on the lake. Back to our campground, and when it got cooler, we sat by the pool in our wet bathing suits. One memory I will always treasure: a young boy saying, "This is the most fun I've had in my whole life" as he and his father splashed each other.
Our fondness for Madison diminished a bit the next morning when it took us over an hour in rush hour traffic to get out of the city. But then we were able to enjoy the lovely rolling hills and farms of western Wisconsin. We veered off the highway for a few minutes to visit Mt. Horeb, a small Norwegian-themed town memorable for us because we went through five, yes five, traffic circles in about a half mile going into town.
We crossed the Mississippi River at Dubuque, which seemed like a jarringly industrialized area after all the rural terrain we had come through, but of course you should expect industry next to a huge river. My overall impression of Iowa was: Mississippi R., rolling hills, flat, rolling hills, Missouri R.
As we drove along route 20, I spotted a sign for Field of Dreams and John acquiesced in driving me there. It was way out in the country, just like in the lovely movie. It was not over-commercialized; I only bought one souvenir, for grandson Brendan. A dad was playing baseball on the field with his kids. I posed for a photo coming out of the cornfield, but the camera battery chose that moment to die. So I have to keep that picture in my mind's eye only. The corn there was the tallest we have seen anywhere on the trip, seven or eight feet. It felt like a magic place to me, just like in the movie.
Driving further along, we looked for a McDonald's so we could use our laptops. Hah! Only fields bordered the highway, no small towns or anything. We had to leave the highway and drive several miles to find a town. So there are some. In fact, many indicate that they are partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to revitalize their downtown areas. (Worth considering, Durham?)
The fields were in pretty good shape, not horridly dry. Corn and soybeans, and many mowed in lovely patterns that the Fenway faithful would approve. We didn't see a lot of free-range cattle; John said they are in feedlots.
We stayed Tuesday night in a county park that felt like New Hampshire with its shaded woods.
Wednesday, we "finished" Iowa and camped for two nights just north of Sioux City, actually in South Dakota. Did laundry, but not much else. The overwhelming heat has us hibernating in our RV. (yes, I know, hibernating is in the winter, but what is its summertime counterpart?) The next morning, we left early to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is an excellent presentation about the voyage. Again, I delight at the spirit of our country that would lead a president to buy a huge hunk of land and then send a bunch of men off to explore it and bring back samples of rocks, plants, and animals. Only one man died in that whole two years and it happened in the Sioux City area, so there is a monument to him, etc. We also visited a new city museum which had a huge amount of information about the city's up and down past. Either they build excellent museums in this country, or my woeful ignorance, especially about the Midwest, is constantly being fascinated.
On Friday morning, we woke to the hideous news of the theatre massacre in Aurora, Colorado.
As we left the campground, we drove through little parts of South Dakota and Iowa and into Nebraska, all within about five minutes. A woman at the campground had recommended the Ashfall Archaeological Site, and it was indeed fascinating. We watched as students painstakingly uncovered whole skeletons just where the animals died when the ash from a huge volcano fell. Most of the skeletons are left in place. The ones we saw were mostly big ones, like barrel-chested rhinoceroses, but they have dug down and found different, smaller animals at several lower strata.
Next we drove to a small, and as it turned out, "tired" Nebraska town, Spencer, where my mother's parents were married at a Sunday evening church service in July 1907. It means a lot to me, just seeing these places my ancestors were. It is amazing how important railroads were, back in their day, connecting all the small towns. What a shame that most of them are gone.
Nebraska seemed to have a lot more "tired" towns, sadly. Someday I want to visit Lincoln and Omaha and see its better areas. It seems as if the double whammies of a stalled economy and extreme weather are taking a toll, but I fear that is too glib a generalization. I will say that every one of the few folks we interacted with was nice and friendly. In Nebraska, there were a lot more cattle on the open ranges, fewer corn and soybean fields, and more of those fields had sprinklers operating, trying to save their crops.
The Nebraska place where we stayed on Friday night could not be more different from the KOA where we are now. A difference between 110 degrees and the low 90's has turned out to be substantial - who knew that the low 90's could be a relief?! The less said about the former campground, the better. This is a huge place, with restaurants, pools, hundreds of campsites, license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada, many restrooms. Kids are playing all over the place. Families are gathered here for big reunions. And this all suddenly materializes after you have driven windy, twisty, up and down roads, with no other development, past Mt. Rushmore. We certainly are finding the Black Hills to be a prime vacationing area. Next week, I'll write more about our explorations here. Our next destination is Casper, Wyoming, where John worked for a couple of years. Beyond that, Calgary, and we're not sure yet what route will connect those two for us. We do feel so fortunate to be able to be spontaneous.
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