Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, Aug 11 - UT, AZ, NV, CA

Bryn: We started the day viewing the beautiful red rocks of Utah. We are so close to so many National Parks, and I want to go see them. However, we're so close to home, and Randy wants to go there. We'll have to do a southern Utah trip in the future with Cedar Breaks, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and more. On to Interstate 15 and out of Utah, through the northwest corner of Arizona, and into Nevada. We made a stop at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza, a place we've visited before. While the boys oogled the fireworks for sale, I liked looking at the baskets.
Next stop, fabulous Las Vegas. Randy keyed up the MP-3 player and we listened to Tommy by the Who, and repeated Pinball Wizard a couple of times. Last year we visited the best thing in Las Vegas, the Atomic Testing Museum. Randy's cousin Vanya used to work there, but she has relocated to the east coast. Anyway, we non-gamblers found another super fun thing to do in town - the Pinball Hall of Fame! We took all of our extra laundry quarters and had a great time spending them here. Bret and Reed were excited to actually win stuffed animals on the 1950s claw game. Randy showed the boys a few of his old favorites like Star Trek, and I taught them Tetris. All of the vintage games work, the Hall of Fame is a non-profit, and the money goes to charity. Definitely a good use for those quarters!
After Vegas, we drove through Baker, CA, home of the world's tallest thermometer , and got some A & W Root Beer. I guess we've finished with the nice weather, we're back to California's HOT and DRY. Although we hadn't intended on getting home today, the boys had a semi-mutiny and so we just drove home, stopping for dinner in Littlerock.

In a couple of days we hope to put up a few more photos and also give some trip statistics.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! In fact, I'd be happy to change out the clothes in the suitcases and take off again tomorrow. After a thorough car wash. I really enjoy the suspended reality associated with vacations. Coming home to the piles of bills, a dead lawn, work commitments, and the never-ending "to do" list is tough for me, so I think I'll be having a few days of post-vacation depression. And then I'll start planning the next trip!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crossing the Rocky Mountains

Reed: Today was a big driving day for us. We took a few stops for drinks and gas. The longest stop for us was at Colorado National Monument, where we could get a junior ranger badge. The ranger there was surprised that we earned so many junior ranger badges on this trip!

Bryn: Good-bye to friends Elaine and Don! We left their house and Elaine followed us a bit on her way to work. As it has been with all of our visits this trip, our time together was much too short!

We headed up and over the Rocky Mountains today. The second photo is snow near the Vail area. We criss-crossed the Colorado River many times on our way down the mountains. It was fun watching the changes in rock type and also the changes in vegetation – from pine forests to juniper and sage, with cottonwoods near the water. Utah also has stunning rock formations. Bret was surprised at how few houses and people there are around. We're staying in Cedar City, UT tonight. While Randy is pressing hard to get home, I would like a few more days! And we need more walking around breaks, we didn't have enough ground time for the amount of drive time today.

The photos with the boys are at Colorado National Monument. It looks like a small Grand Canyon, except there isn't a real river there. All of the erosion comes from flash floods.

Last photo: along the road in Utah.

Aug 9, Sunday, Cycles, Sculptures, and Potters

Bryn: We had a slow and easy morning at home. Elaine found the heron on a walk to the neighborhood lake. Then came talk of bicycles. Randy and Don taught Bret how to ride a bicycle! Then veteran Sturgis rider Don pulled out his motorcycle and gave Reed, Bret, and Bryn rides around the neighborhood. We each enjoyed our first motorcycle ride!

Elaine and Bryn headed to the Loveland Sculpture Invitational, the largest outdoor sculpture show in the world, located near the Benson Sculpture Park. We had a lot of fun looking at interesting, whimsical, realistic, small and monumental sculptures.

The boys all went out with Don for lunch and then they saw the new Harry Potter movie. Then Don showed them the new library branch. It's located in a mall and is set up like a bookstore, complete with a fireplace.

We all met up again at home before heading out for Italian food. In the evening, Elaine treated us to some of her fine piano playing. We had a brilliant sunset over the Rocky Mountains from their backyard. Tomorrow we'll be crossing that range.

Bret: She should have charged us money for her solo piano concert. I liked it!

Aug 8, Saturday - Fort Collins, CO

Bryn: We drove through Wyoming, flat range land with occasional windmills. We arrived at Elaine and Don's house in Fort Collins, CO, in the late morning. They treated us to lunch at a local landmark, Johnson's Corner Truck Stop, where we shared a famous, huge cinnamon roll (except Randy, he tried to ignore it). Elaine has been following the blog, so they wanted to give us some regional fare. We passed on the offer of Rocky Mountain oysters!

Elaine gave us a driving tour of the area, with a lovely stop at Horsetooth Reservoir. Bret's stitches prevent him from any water activities, so plans for using the jet skis were dropped. We went into Old Town Fort Collins, the city in which Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. is patterned after. Expert shopper Elaine took us to the perfect stores - Nature's Own, filled with fossils, stuffed animals, and things made of rocks; the Old Firehouse Bookstore, featuring new and used books; Ten Thousand Villages, with baskets and ethnographic art; and a Science Toy Shop. She really knows our tastes! Rain drops started just as we got to the car. Hail stones started just before we got home. Don met us at the garage door with umbrellas, and we all watched in wonder as the hail storm escalated. Wow, what a meteorological event! When it subsided, we all went to dinner at a great Mexican restaurant.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mammoths, Fossils, Wagons - SD to Nebraska

Bryn: We packed up and rolled out of camp about 9 a.m. First stop, the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, SD. When grading for a subdivision, a bulldozer operator found some odd bones. They were mammoths, so this structure was built over the site. There are 6 weeks of digging and 46 weeks of materials processing every year. The tour guide told us their main rival is the La Brea Tar Pits.

Reed: This was a really cool place because they are still digging at this site.

Bret: There have been 58 mammoths found so far and I wanted to see them.

Bryn: Then we went into Nebraska and enjoyed visiting the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. It includes the James Cook collection of Native American art. Cook owned the Agate Springs Ranch, he brought in specialists to excavate the fossils, he was a good friend to Red Cloud, and Cook's phenomenal collection of Lakota art is housed here.

Bret: They found bone beds and lots of different Miocene animals. We got Junior Ranger badges. I drew the snowy year when they had to wear snowshoes from the Winter Count for my ranger book.

Reed: They have a Winter Count here that is the history of the area and the history of the park. I also liked learning about fossil corkscrews called Daemonelix. It turns out they are trace fossils of the dens of paleocastors, ancient land beavers.

Bryn: Our third stop was Scott's Bluff National Memorial. This includes a portion of the Oregon Trail, and discusses westward movement.

Bret: I liked going out to the covered wagons. We got to taste hardtack, biscuits, and jerky like they ate on the trail. And there was a buffalo chip in the wagon.

Bryn: We did more than expected today and didn't cover enough miles, so we had to get a hotel in Torrington, WY. Huge thunder and lightning storm this evening. We'll get to our friends in Fort Collins, CO in the morning.

Randy: Before all of the wonderful places the others described, we drove through the area of Wind Cave National Park. We had a full day planned so we didn't visit the cave. However as we drove through the park boundaries, we saw a herd of buffalo that I estimated at 500-700 and Bret says was 646 in number. We also saw pronghorn antelopes and prairie dogs. The prairie dogs were very vocal when Bryn stepped out of the van to take pictures. I think they felt she was invading their territory.

Mount Rushmore, Thursday Aug 6

Randy: We started off by taking the long, scenic route into Mt Rushmore through Custer State Park. It took us an hour extra time to travel there, but we saw lots of animals including, unusual for us on this trip, 7 pronghorn antelopes and later 17 wild burros on the side of the road. We had many scenic vistas of Mt Rushmore, including views through one-lane tunnels. Mt Rushmore was overrun with bikers, but we managed to find a good parking spot. The boys each achieved a Junoir Ranger badge, we got great views of the monument, and we got to see a few films and go on a walk to the cultural area. A good time was had by all. Bret's sore leg hardly bothered him at all.

Bret: I liked looking at the presidents and watching the videos and learning about the presidents and the wildlife.

Reed: In the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota Cultural Area, I liked learning about the buffalo hide. There were two rangers, one of them was Native American, and they were stretching the buffalo hide by using pieces of another buffalo hide. The pieces were wet, and as they would dry they would tighten and stretch the hide. They were going to make a Winter Count on it, a type of calendar. The topic of the Winter Count Buffalo Robe is going to be the history of Mount Rushmore.

Bryn: We got back to campground just before another thunderstorm. I got all of the dry laundry off of the clothesline, the boys put down our tent, and Randy fired up the stove and cooked our beef stew. We had an enjoyable dinner inside the van using the portable table, enjoying the lightning and crashing thunder. The rain stopped, and by 7 pm the boys were out making a fire while I caught up on writing the blog. We'll have to wait to add photos and post it.

more Crazy Horse pics from Aug 5

These are views of the Crazy Horse Memorial. We're all holding rocks that were blasted off of the mountain - our free souvenirs!

Crazy Horse, Cosmos, Dinosaurs, Stitches - Wed Aug 5

Bryn: Our first stop of the day was at the Crazy Horse Memorial. It's over 50 years old but is still under construction, and it will probably take another 100 years to finish. Even in it's present state, it is amazing to behold. This mountain in the Black Hills is being sculpted to depict Crazy Horse, a famous Oglala Lakota leader, on his horse. It is truly huge - the 4 president heads at Mt Rushmore will fit into the area of his hair. The buildings around the memorial contain the artist's home and studio, a museum of Native American Art, and a cultural center that was filled with Native artists selling their wares. A great morning for all of us, but especially me!

Bret: I wanted to stop at Cosmos Mystery area because it sounded really interesting, and it was really interesting. We saw lots of odd stuff happen. Reed was as tall as I was, and I was as tall as he was. We saw water go uphill. We saw someone stand sideways on the wall. We had a picnic here.

Bryn: Our third stop of the day was the Black Hills Institute of Geology in Hill City. This is the organization responsible for finding and excavating Sue, the famous T-Rex. She now lives in Chicago (off to the highest bidder), but she was prepared here. Now Stan, a 70% complete T-Rex, lives here.

Randy: This has probably the finest collection of fossils that I've ever seen in one place. They have great examples of fossils from many orders and classes, they are presented clearly, and I would recommend this museum highly for anybody interestd in paleontology. However, for interested people without a strong background in paleontology, the exhibits do not present a very clear narrative structure. There are two or three narrative threads, but it's difficult to connect the pieces that are in different display cases.

Bryn: Back to the campground for a spaghetti dinner. We had hoped for an easy, relaxing evening and had the van all set for bedtime.

Bret: When we were swordfighting after dinner, I slipped and cut my leg badly on a rock or a stick. We had to go to a hospital to get stitches. It was the shortest time ever that it took for me to get stitches. I got 9 stitches in my leg, and I'm going to have a scar. Yeah! Now I will have a badge of infamy forever from this trip!

Bryn: Bret's cut didn't bleed much, but it was deep and about 2” long. We tried 4 butterfly bandages but they didn't hold the wound tightly. We envisioned having to drive 30 miles to Rapid City, but Randy used the GPS and found out a hospital with a 24 hr emergency room was only 3 miles away. Reed was a huge help putting the roof down, quickly packing up, and keeping Bret occupied with fun stories of their day at Mall of America. It was an hour from when we pulled out of the campsite until we returned again, a record for us. This was Bret's 4th time for getting stitches, the former record for quickest time was 3 ½ hours minus travel time. Hats off to Dr G and the staff at Custer Regional Hospital! Dr G's brother lives in Voorheesville NY, so he and Bret chatted about Saratoga, Ft Stanwix, and the Revolutionary War to keep his mind off of what was happening to his leg .

Minnesota to South Dakota, Tues Aug 4

Bryn: We had a 12 hour drive today. The green cornfields and scattered dairies of southern Minnesota changed slowly to fields in eastern South Dakota, then rangeland, cattle, and the edge of the Badlands. We had a stop at the Akta Lakota Indian Museum at St Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, SD. It was filled with incredible quillwork, tools, parfleches etc., as well as contemporary quilts and beadwork. Fantastic Plains Indian book selection. Well worth the stop!

Reed: One stop was at Wall Drug in Wall, SD. I wanted to stop there because I saw lots of signs that didn't really say anything about it. They give free ice water to people. It reminded me of Charlie Brown's Farms in Little Rock, CA, except it was a lot bigger.

I liked the huge jackalope they had in the back. They had good food too.

Randy: We got into the campground later than we wanted to. It was getting dark earlier than we've been used to, and a thunder storm was rolling in. We got in and were barely settled before the thunderstorm came and dumped buckets of rain on us. But we had a successful night. We're staying in Custer's Gulch Campground on the edge of Custer State Park. Named after George Armstrong Custer, who camped in this area during his campaign. This is Reed in part of the upstairs bed, the other half isn't in place yet.

Bryn: Bikers everywhere! The 69th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is this week. Although we're staying nearly 70 mi from Sturgis, the campground is about half filled with bikers. But since we're so far away, we mostly have middle-aged folks with big motor homes. They park here to camp, and they've brought their Harleys on trailers and just go day tripping. For the next few days, we will be seeing literally thousands of motorcycles everywhere. Lots of leather, tattoos, and grey ponytails too. The Sturgis Rally gets about half a million bikers every year!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mall of America

Reed: Today was my day at the Mall of America, it was really fun. I went on all of the rides that weren't toddler rides except for one. For lunch, we ate at A & W Root Beer with Mom's friend. We had a lot of fun today. At the Lego Store, I got three Lego kits that got shipped home. The favorite ride that I went on was the Pepsi Orange Streak, it was a roller coaster that went around the whole amusement park, and on the side part of the time.

Bryn: The ride Reed skipped was a big hammer-type swinging ride. He wanted to go right after we ate dinner, so I vetoed that.

Bret: My favorite ride was called something like the Ghost Ride and it was like a roller coaster, it was purple, it went all the way up to the fourth floor and it went around, and you could wave at people.

Bryn: My favorite part of the day was seeing Sarah, Rachel, and Joshua. They met us for some Lego playtime and lunch. It was also cool seeing all of the huge Lego creations that hung from the ceiling - space craft, airplanes, etc.

Reed: I got a U.S. quarter that has Guam on it. I also got a Canadian quarter.

Bryn: The mall was built on the site of the old Metropolitan Baseball Stadium. The plaque where the boys are standing is old home plate, from 1956 - 1981 until the Metrodome was built.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Across Wisconsin

Bryn: We started out late today and headed to Appleton. We were confounded by the Wisconsin Dept of Transportation - many, many road closures with no detours provided! We didn't have a map and the GPS wasn't helpful. So instead of seeing the exhibit on Harry Houdini at the museum where Nancy's mom is a volunteer, and her uncle's voice is heard in one of the exhibits, we spent over half an hour driving around town until we had to move on. Major disappointment!
Second disappointment - apparently cheese shops aren't open on Sundays. We missed three of them. The cows were there in their big white barns, but the shops were closed. Finally, we were able to buy local cheese at a gas station shop - it was delicious!
Wisconsin was beautiful. As Michigan had lots of forested areas and big, wide, highways (lots of roads so everyone can support the local car industry), Wisconsin had thousands of cows and thousands of dairy farms.
At the end of the day we crossed the Mississippi River and entered the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. We drove by the Mall of America and are prepped for tomorrow - this is Reed's second choice of a place to visit on our summer tour.