Are cucumbers better than LOTR?

This will be my last post from Iowa as I’ll be heading to Illinois tomorrow – my mouth is already watering at the thought of Chicago deep-dish pizza.  Side note: for those of you who have never seen Jon Stewart discuss his feelings on deep-dish pizza, please stop reading this post now, open a new tab in your browser and watch this video:

I love Jon Stewart more than anything and this clip never fails to make me laugh until I cry; nevertheless, I’m getting pizza when I get to Chicago.

Okay, back to the RV park in Davenport, IA where it’s in the 80’s and beyond humid.  The only reason I’m even at an RV park is so I can continuously run the A/C in the MoHo.  I turn it off for 2 minutes and I’m sweating and Juno is panting. Misery.

So let me catch you up on the last few days.  I mentioned I was taking last weekend off and it was wonderful.  I headed to Le Mars on Saturday morning to visit Blue Bunny, the purported “Ice Cream Capital of the World.” The town is cute and there are painted ice cream cones everywhere – the popcorn one in front of the movie theater was my favorite. I enjoyed a Bunny Tracks milkshake for lunch.

From there, I headed to Kennedy Park in Webster County.  Trails for me to run on, wonderful RV neighbors (thank you Kim for a deeper explanation about the quilt squares!) and an opportunity to catch up on some reading and knitting. I saw someone trailing a real “tiny house” and I was also introduced to the Ice Castle RV.  Apparently these RVs are used primarily for ice fishing. They sit directly on the ice and have floor “portals” that you can open up so you can cut directly into the ice and then fish from inside the RV.  I can assure you this is something I have no intention of trying…  But the best part was that there was a golf course next to the RV park and when I took Juno for a walk, I’d find lots of golf balls in the grass.  My favorite is pictured here (I put the others back in on the 17th tee box as I figured someone could use them)

Feeling refreshed, I headed out on Monday morning for the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. Dana told me about this place, along with one of the people from the RV park.  It’s really a sight to behold…  The Grotto is considered to be the world’s most complete man-made collection of minerals, fossils, shells and petrifications in one place.  Once again, the pictures just don’t do it justice.

After the Grotto, my plan was to hit the Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook.  The artist Patrick Acton creates these incredible sculptures – everything from Notre Dame to the Capitol Building. I was most excited to see his recreation of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings, as well as Hogwarts from Harry Potter.  As it turns out, the artist has  an agreement with Ripley’s and both of these pieces were at other facilities.  I was really bummed.  But things took a turn for the better when a woman at the museum offered me two cucumbers from her garden.  I gladly took them and incorporated them into my green juice this morning.  So while I can’t offer you a picture of Minas Tirith or Hogwarts, I can offer you a picture of the cucumbers.  Win win!

I spent the night in Cedar Rapids before heading to Wilton this afternoon.  The Wilton Candy Kitchen is the longest running soda fountain in the country – it opened over 150 years ago!  Kyle is the new soda jerk and he made me a delicious vanilla malt (aka lunch).

I’d like to end this post with a few pictures I took yesterday as I was heading east across central Iowa. Into a storm. Juno seemed undisturbed by what was looming ahead…

This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken on this trip so far…


Looks like it might rain again so time to get Juno out before it starts pouring…  TTFN!

IA to NE to IA

For those of you who read my last post, I alluded to the fact that I might sneak into Nebraska, considering that my route through Iowa would take me near the border…  and I ended up doing just that. But first thing’s first!  Let’s talk about wood.  More specifically, the historically accurate furniture from 1875 that Robby Pedersen builds in Jefferson, IA (  Robby spent close to an hour showing me the tools, techniques and methods that he uses.  He even cuts down the trees and drives the oxen cart!  The result? Pure awesomeness.  (Bonus points for letting me wear one of his hats.)  I seriously adored him and loved everything in his store and when I do land, I’m definitely getting the extra-wide rocking chair shown here.  And probably a trunk. And a dining room table.  FYI – he also makes nifty coffins

I also enjoyed a stop at Ledges State Park in my travels across Iowa.  Very pretty park with “baby fords” that you can cross in your car. There were some kids playing in the stream and they demanded that I go fast so they would get splashed.  I was happy to oblige. But the most striking thing is the Flood Pole showing how high the water had risen during various floods.  1993 and 2008 were NOT good years.

It was about two hours from mid-Iowa to the Nebraska border and I put some Built to Spill on the iPod. Yes, I know they are from Idaho but their music seemed apropos for the Iowa journey.  One thing that struck me on the drive were these “quilts” on the sides of homes and barns.  They are all different and I don’t know if it’s purely decorative or if it’s some kind of house sigil like a direwolf or the flayed man.  If someone could please weigh in and explain, I’d appreciate it!  I found the Sukup silos amusing.  And the blue thing being towed by the truck?  No clue.

Last stop was Elk Horn to see the Danish windmill. The windmill wasn’t turning so not that exciting.  But the teeny tiny Morning Star chapel on the grounds was worth the trip.  It’s even smaller than the church in Festina at 6′ x 8′ (much smaller than the MoHo) and holds only 4 people in the pews.  Seriously the cutest thing ever… they even hold weddings there!  BTW – can someone explain the difference between a church and chapel?

So I spent two nights in Nebraska – one in Omaha and one in Lincoln.  I will probably spend more time there (on the western part of the state) when I loop back around next year.


That said, here are the best things about Omaha:

  1. Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop.  I enjoyed a sweet corn chevre milkshake that was beyond delicious.  Yes, it was corn goat cheese ice cream!!
  2. The Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge where you can stand between Iowa and Nebraska

    3. The trains.  First, there’s the model railroad garden at the Lauritzen Gardens.  I could have watched the trains all day. The pix don’t do it justice.  And then as a bonus, you walk across the parking lot and up the stairs and you can see Big Boy and Centennial, two of the biggest trains ever made.  They are ENORMOUS!!

    4. Incredible street art!  This was entirely unexpected – kind of like when I found that alley in Boise, ID.  Had to stop and take a look when I found this outdoor “gallery”

    The only bummer about Omaha was that I saw the Milk Carton Kids were playing the end of the month. Sadly, I’m going to be in Illinois by the time they arrive.  Seen them live once before and loved them.

As for Lincoln, there was a little less to enjoy.  The Cornhuskers stadium was rather impressive – definitely nicer than the Coliseum back in Oakland…  The capital, the Sunken Gardens and the Quilt Museum were my top 3.  Juno especially liked the koi at the Sunken Gardens – and smelling the flowers.  The Quilt Museum was a nice visit and it was so cool to see the Mountain Mist quilt patterns with the “Jack and Jill” nursery rhyme.  These were created back in 1936!!!

That was it for Nebraska.  Back over the border to Sioux City and the home of the Palmer Candy Co, maker of the famous (?) Twin Bing.  I tried it – it was okay. Sioux City also has a lot of rules in their parks – basically if it’s snowing, you can’t have any fun.

Pretty much caught up now.  I hit 10,000 on my return trip from Nebraska to Iowa.  Technically I haven’t driven that much on this trip since I had around 1,800 miles before I left CA.  But it’s still cool.


State count:  11


Busy Bee

I normally don’t do back-to-back posts but since I saw so much yesterday, I figured why wait? But before I get into it, just a quick follow-up on my house-hunting in St. Paul.  I have been thoroughly talked-out of moving to the Twin Cities by just about everyone that knows me (except Renee and Matt).  Val, Dana, my mom, the people in Spillville… and to reiterate Clay’s comment – there’s a reason they have habitrails between all the buildings.  So Bend, OR remains the #1 contender.

Okay! I didn’t plan on seeing the Bridges of Madison County but as it turns out, Dana lives about 20 minutes away from Winterset which is the seat of Madison County.  So I figured why not?  This is what this trip is all about, right?  Heather at the Visitors Center was very helpful and put together an excellent itinerary for me, complete with assorted maps.  I’ll be honest – the bridges all look pretty much the same. I really tried to take different types of pictures at each stop but not sure I was entirely successful.  The order in which I saw them:  Hogback, Roseman, Cedar, Cutler-Donahoe, Holliwell and Imes.  While I didn’t have a favorite bridge, my favorite pic is the one of Juno looking back at the road with the dust kicked up from a passing car at Holliwell…

During the covered bridge tour, we made a quick detour into Pammel State Park, which is only a few minutes from Roseman Bridge. I did this for two reasons – to drive through Harmon Tunnel and to drive across the “ford” in the river.  Mission accomplished!

The Cutler-Donahoe Bridge is located in Winterset City Park – also home to Clark Tower, a very cool medieval-looking, Game of Thrones-type tower on top of a hill.  The road is narrow and winding and there’s a vehicle limit of 20′ long but the MoHo had no problem making it up the hill.  Nice views but no sign of Gendry.

After winding down the Bridges of Madison County tour, I zipped into Des Moines.  Despite my many trips to Des Moines in the past for work, I’d never been to the capital.  All I can say is wow – it is absolutely beautiful.  Maybe they are making up for all the cornfields?  Also some nice statues and fountains on the grounds – I definitely want a bison fountain in my next house.


From there, I was heading to the Moburg Gallery to check out Chris Vance’s artwork when I passed by this incredible sculpture park.  I immediately pulled over, put Juno on a leash and took a stroll around the grounds.  So many great artists are represented… and the best part?  They have a cell-phone guided tour! Brilliant.  These are my favorite pieces.  The name of the horse sculpture is “Juno.” And the last picture? That’s the Chris Vance painting I now own – I’m sure it will be the first of many.  His work is fantastic.

And that’s all, folks!  As much as I’ve enjoyed Dana’s hospitality, comfy bed, A/C and unlimited beverages, it’s time to hit the road.  Western Iowa beckons!  And who know? I might even sneak into Nebraska…

Corn, Clocks, Churches… and more corn

My time in Minnesota came to an end on Sunday afternoon.  Matt and I had the best time at Metallica on Saturday night and it was great getting to see the new Vikings stadium – it’s kinda weird looking from the outside but the sound is incredible. Here’s the set list for those of you who care about these kind of things…

After an influx of fresh kale from Tom, one last load of laundry and a trip to the Farmers Market, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and to the Twin Cities. Renee suggested that I stop in Red Wing on my way out of town and I’m so glad I did.  There are giant Red Wing boots that have been painted by local artists all over town – my fave was the Corner Drug boot. I ended up spending a long time at Fair Trade Books.  Rick, the proprietor, gives a book to all first-time visitors (which is awesome) and I’m looking forward to the book he gave me.  Turns out he used to live in SF and he had hitch-hiked across the US twice back in the 70’s so we had a lot in common.

I headed south for Decorah, Iowa and while it’s a very pretty drive, most of what you see is corn fields.  Apparently I was near the area where Field of Dreams was filmed…  I mean, I’ve seen lots of corn fields already but Iowa takes it to a whole new level.  I spent the night at the Decorah campground which was really lovely – plus they had the cutest Little Free Library!  I had a spot right by a creek and enjoyed a long run to Luther College.

Next stop – Spillville!  When I got to town, I stopped at the Main Street Mini Mart to get gas and ended up having a really nice chat with the owner Renee and her sister. They invited me to spend the afternoon with them – day drinking, kayaking, etc and if I didn’t already have plans that evening, I absolutely would have taken them up on their offer.

The Bily Clock Museum was the reason for my visit to Spillville and I was not disappointed. The Bily brothers designed and carved the most extraordinary collection of wooden clocks that I’ve ever seen.  Their entire collection is on display as they never sold a single clock (despite being offered a lot of money) and as they had no heirs, left everything to the city of Spillville with the express instruction that the clocks are never to leave the city.  The tour was excellent and despite the rule that no pictures are allowed to be taken, the tour guides were kind enough to make an exception for me.  These pictures are of the American Pioneers Clock and the Grand Tower Clock.

The second floor is mostly dedicated to the composer Antonin Dvorak who lived in Spillville during the summer of 1893 and composed two of his most famous works there – the New World Symphony and String Quartet in F.  Renee from the Mini Mart told me that the church in Spillville houses an organ that Dvorak played so of course I had to check it out.  The church is on a hill and surrounded by a cemetery on two sides – many of the “inhabitants” are Czech immigrants.

During the Bily Clock Museum tour, I also learned about America’s Smallest Church, located in Festina, Iowa (the Bily brothers carved a model of it).  Since Festina was only 15 minutes away from Spillville, I decided to drive over there.  The church can hold 8 people are measures 20′ x 14′.  To put that into context, my MoHo is 20′ x 6′ 8″.

From Festina, it was a 3+ hour drive to Adel (near Des Moines), where my friend/former colleague Dana lives. Juno got to see more cows (and the cows got to see Juno), I finally got to see Kum & Go for myself and I even got to jump on I-80 West for a few miles. FYI – if I had stayed on I-80 West, I would have been back in SF in 26 hours.

Catching up with Dana and her daughter Abby last night was wonderful.  I had been craving Mexican food and to my delight, Dana made enchiladas.  We took a long walk around the neighborhood (which is surrounded by more cornfields) The sign on the door of the bedroom where I slept was hilarious (made my Dana’s grandson) and the Mrs. Butterworth’s decor was just the best.

Alright, time to get on with my day… I’m gonna wrap up this post with another round of “Find the Snug”


State count: 10

Say Cheese!

Since it’s raining (again), I figured this would be a good time to do a quick post and update everyone on my activities over the last few days. First off, I found a house here in St. Paul that I’m mildly obsessed with – there’s an open house today at noon so I’ll be strolling over there as soon as I finish this post to take a look.  I’ve really been enjoying my time here in the Twin Cities (with the exception of an unfortunate lunch at White Castle) and definitely think St. Paul could also be a contender on the “Where is Jill going to live” list.

Renee and I left for Green Bay Thursday morning – we made sure we left plenty of time to stop and sample cheese curds/squeakers along the way.  About an hour after crossing the border to Wisconsin, we hit Marieke Gouda.    They have a huge visitors center and we had a blast – even Juno had fun!

We arrived at Lambeau around 5:30pm and the place was insane.  We had just enough time to enjoy a couple of adult beverages and take Juno for a stroll before the 7pm start time. And even though this was a pre-season game, the game was sold out. I mean, I realize this is Green Bay and there isn’t much else going on, but it’s impressive nonetheless. I still cheered for the Raiders though – calling out first-downs and cheering loudly when we scored.  Sadly there were no Raiders fans near by that joined me…  The game itself was pretty meh and the Raiders lost.  But spending the evening at Lambeau was awesome.  And the pretzel bite nachos were a fun snack.  Renee and I got a little selfie crazy – the picture in the lower right hand corner is our favorite.

After the game, we drove up north to Door County, WI.  I had heard this was an area that should be explored and we ended up parking/sleeping in the parking lot of the Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay.  We didn’t actually go to the museum but instead continued north through Egg Harbor en route to Fish Creek.  Cute town with adorable shops, good restaurants and fudge.  Yep – pretty much checked all the boxes. We wandered down to Sunset Beach and determined the body of water was Green Bay.  Afterwards we took a drive through Peninsula State Park.  The lighthouse was the only thing of note and since we had a five-hour drive back, we moseyed on out.  Stopped at Renards for more cheese curds and Machine Shed for a bowl of soup and arrived back in St. Paul around 10pm.

Matt and I are planning to see Metallica in concert tonight at the new Vikings stadium and I am pumped!  This is my last night in Minnesota – tomorrow I’ll do a little Prince-related sight-seeing before I head on down to Iowa.  Hope you are having a great weekend!

State count: 9

I broke my butt

I’m sitting here in the RV in St Paul, Minnesota.  I’ve got the A/C going full blast and it’s pouring rain outside.  Seriously pouring. Like torrential.  Thunder and lightning too – it’s crazy.  I’m waiting for my friends Renee and Matt to get home – I’ll be spending the next couple of days posted up here before Renee and I head to Green Bay on Thursday.  And while I’d love to stay in their amazing home, they have four cats.  And I have Juno.  And a horrible allergy to cats.  So I will happily sleep in the MoHo and use their bathroom and laundry facilities!

The last couple of days have been fairly quiet.  I had to work extra hard to get the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign.  As it turned out, while I was running errands in Fargo, I unwittingly crossed the border.  So when I got on I-94, I was already coming up on Exit 1B. Not okay.  I exited the freeway, got back on I-94 heading west, drove a few miles, got off the freeway, and then got back on I-94 heading east.  Sigh.  But I got the picture so it was worth it.

I cruised up to Bemidji for the weekend.  Bemidji itself can be seen in about 30 minutes.  There’s the lake, the Paul Bunyan statue and a killer ice cream shop called Big River Scoop ice cream where I got a “Kitty Kitty Bang Bang” milkshake.  Cheesecake, oreo, raspberry ripple – enough said.  I’ve come to realize this trip is all about drinking milkshakes from local ice cream shops.  And also eating homemade fudge.  I just need more squeakers (cheese curds) and my diet will be complete.

After some internal debate, I decided to visit Voyageurs National Park.  Because why not?  Voyageurs is one of the few parks that is best seen by boat so I booked a 2 1/2 hour Grand Tour of Rainy Lake. We visited Little America Island which had an old gold mining operation (complete with old mining shafts and mining equipment) and spent the rest of the time just enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife.  Saw loons, bald eagles, one frog and a beaver lodge.  The wide angle shot of the lake – the land on the far side of the lake would be Ontario, Canada.  I’d definitely like to go back and spend more time there – but I’d want to do it on a houseboat like the one in the lower right hand corner.  It’s got a slide??!?!?!!!?

Most of yesterday was spent in Park Rapids – Juno had a grooming appointment (he looks so handsome) and I booked a massage.  While this trip has exceeding my expectations in so many ways, the one downside has been how all the driving has impacted my body.  The massage therapist spent the entire hour doing deep tissue work on my glutes (at my request) and it was  one of the most painful experiences ever.  I wish I had had a wooden spoon or a leather strap to bite down on.  I got off the table and was woozy for a good two hours afterward.  I’m still in some pain and am trying to figure out how long distance truckers are able to do this.  Clearly I’m going to need to book more regular massages…  the upside was I had a hotel booked last night (only the second time in six weeks!) so I was able to sit in the tub.  And cry.  No, I didn’t really cry.

Pretty much caught up now.  Got to St. Paul earlier today and discovered the capital building is under renovation.  Bummer.  But Juno and I still took a lengthy stroll around the grounds and enjoyed the various monuments.  From there, I met up with an old friend/former colleague Tom and we ate lunch, took a walk, saw that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is for sale (, I had another milkshake and then ended up getting Gin ‘n Tonics at a local St Paul establishment.  We forgot to take a picture but maybe I’ll see him again….  The rain started about five minutes after I departed.

Looking forward to catching up with more friends over the next couple of days.  And then it’s off to Green Bay on Thursday for the Raiders/Packers game.  Next post will have me representing the 510 in my silver and black.  Until then…

State count:  8



Fresh Meat

I’m coming to you live from Fargo, North Dakota this morning.  First things first – gotta give mad props to both Teri from San Jose, CA and Kelli from Lemmon, SD for explaining the round hay bales to me.  The short answer (for those that didn’t know) is the farmers are preparing now for the upcoming winter.  And the reason I’m not seeing any animals eating the hay now is because they have plenty of fresh grass to eat in the fields. So there you have it!

Moving right along, my time in Mandan was short and sweet.  I took the Trolley to Fort Lincoln State Park and met Cristina, a new friend from AZ.  We ended up walking around the grounds together before taking the return trip out of the park.

From there, I drove to Bismarck which is literally across the river.  After spending the evening posted up across from Lions Park, it was time to check out the sights. The grounds of the capitol are really nice with a huge expanse of lawn and trees.  Juno had a blast running around on the grass.  There are also several memorials on the grounds, including the Gratitude Train from France – given to ND after WWI. From there, I visited the ND Heritage Center (which is free!!)  They have a dinosaur on display that still has its skin intact and some interesting reenactments of various animals in attack poses.  And the gift shop had various bags of animal “poo” for sale.   I took a pass…

But the best part of my visit to the Heritage Center was my conversation with Bob.  He’s one of the docents and he implored that I ask him a question.  So I did.  Actually several questions:

  1. Why is North Dakota’s capitol building a “regular” building and not a dome?  A dome wasn’t practical.  We needed a building that could house all the government offices in one space.  (He also told me that there are only four state capitols that don’t have domes – North Dakota, Nebraska, Florida and Louisiana.  Not sure that this is true?)
  2.  Is there a big rivalry between North Dakota and South Dakota? With the exception of sports rivalries, no, there’s no rivalry.
  3. Why were the Dakotas broken up into two states in the first place?  This had to do with voting.  Better representation with two states versus one.
  4. What’s the deal with recycling?  I see bins for cans and plastic but no glass or paper?  The entire population of North Dakota is 725,000 (this is less than just San Francisco). The amount of work and resources it takes to get one bottle from a small town (of which there are many in ND) to a processing facility is enormous.  It boils down to economies of scale.  But it is something they are continuing to work on.

The drive from Bismarck to Fargo was 2 1/2 hours and uneventful with the exception of one thing – the “long load” trucks I saw.  One truck had 22 wheels and I saw two FedEx trucks with 30 wheels each.  Yeesh.

First stop in Fargo was the visitors center. I’m generally not a fan of visitors centers but I had to make an exception in this case.  Why?  Because they have the woodchipper!!!  Of course I had to pop Juno in it and get a few pix.  The one out front was the stunt-double but the one inside is the real deal! It’s even signed by the Coen brothers.  Gotta love that they have a foot sticking out of the top.  I must admit – it was much smaller than I imagined.  The “Wood Chip Marge” statue was a bonus – I saw that when I went to the Fargo Theater last night to see a movie.

Fargo is a super cute town and I’m looking forward to getting out and enjoying the farmers market and the downtown area later this morning.  But the thing that has struck me the most is the sheer number of “No Parking” signs that you see around town.  I’m talking thousands.  And so many varieties!  It was a little stressful trying to find a place to park last night but it all worked out.

Alrightythen… time to wrap it up.  In case you’re wondering why this post is entitled “Fresh Meat” – that would be me. The mosquitoes here in North Dakota are having a field day.  I have been bitten on my legs, my arms, my back, my stomach, my chest and my face.  But the one in the palm of my left hand is by far the worst.  I have basically become a walking buffet.

Next post will be coming to you from Minnesotaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…..

When Life Gives you Lemmon(s)

When I went to Lemmon, it was only to visit the Petrified Wood Park and Museum and I figured I’d be there for just a few minutes.   But while I was there, I met Bill & Yvonne and Julie & Dave.  They were all hanging out having coffee in front of the museum and invited me to join them. I ended spending over an hour in Lemmon and they were all a wealth of information!  Here’s a little recap of how the conversation went:

Them: “Are you going to Medora?”

Me: “Yes!  I’m heading there now.”

Them: “And you’re going to the musical while you’re there?”

Me: “There’s a musical in Medora?”

Them: “Be sure to get there early for the pitchfork steak fondue.”

Me: “They have fondue?!?!”

Them: “And of course you’ll take the Enchanted Highway to get to Medora…”

Me: “The what highway?”

And so on and so forth.  Yep, these folks were a wealth of information on all sorts of things related to North and South Dakota. They suggested I check out the cowboy sculpture down the street by John Lopez who uses all sorts of recycled materials for his work – the detail is unbelievable.  Apparently I walked right by John and said hello but didn’t realize he was the artist!  There’s also an incredible mural painted in town.  And you gotta love the sign on the police station… And as it turns out, Lemmon is literally on the border between ND and SD – right at the railroad tracks.  So Julie and Dave met me and took a picture of me sitting across state lines – my left foot is in ND, my right in SD.  (15 minutes after I left Lemmon, I got the “proper” North Dakota sign.”  Bottom line – Lemmon ROCKS!

So I did end up taking the Enchanted Highway en route to Medora. If you exit Hwy 12 at the city of Regent and drive through town, that’s the start of the highway. It’s 32 miles with various enormous sculptures along the way and ends at Gladstone and I-94. I’m just including my favorite sculptures, including A Fisherman’s Dream, Tin Family and Birds in Flight.  Such a great way to brighten up an otherwise ordinary stretch of road…

I finally rolled into Medora mid-afternoon and the place is completely adorable and charming.  The reason I was going there was because of Teddy Roosevelt Nat’l Park. Had no idea there would be so much going on in the town itself.  The part itself is wonderful – kind of a Badlands “light.”  While it might not be as striking as Badlands, there are plenty of hikes you can do (I did a few yesterday and plan to do one more today) and tons of wildlife.  Bison and prairie dogs are abundant and I even saw some wild horses from a distance.

Finally, there’s the Medora Musical.  Of course I bought a ticket!  Of course I went to the buffet – though I opted against the steak fondue as steak fondue has nothing to do with pots of melting cheese but is simply a way of cooking the meat.  The backdrop for the amphitheater is the park itself.  Reminds me a little of going to the opera on Sydney Harbor – both are quite spectacular. And the musical is about as wholesome as you can get. The main cowboy is married to the main cowgirl, which is adorable.  But the best part is all the guys are wearing bedazzled Wrangler jeans.  Not kidding.  Just sorry I couldn’t get a picture of it!

Alright – time to pack it up and move it out.  Heading to Bismarck today and to Fargo tomorrow.  Having a fab time in North Dakota – it truly is legendary.  Oh!  Almost forgot – I learned last night from Ron (who I met at the buffet/musical) that Pierre in SD isn’t pronounced “pee-air” like I thought but “peer.” Learn something new everyday.  BTW – they did serve lemonade at the buffet

State count: 7


Badlands is badass

Before I get started, I’d just like to give a quick shout-out to Clay for answering the question about the difference between National Monuments and National Parks. I didn’t know the difference myself until a couple of days ago when I was reading an article about touring the National Parks.  And it came up again during my tour of Wind Cave.  So now you all know!

And now – back to the action!

The first thing you see upon leaving Rapid City heading east on I-90 is a series of advertisements for a place called Wall Drug, located in Wall, SD.  When I mean series, I mean you see billboards every 45 seconds, sometimes more frequently. The billboards advertise everything from buffalo burgers to camping equipment to 5 cent coffee to free donuts and coffee to honeymooners.  My favorite sign was the “free ice water.”  Anyway, I felt it was worth a stop and lo and behold, everyone else felt the same.  The first pic of this series is rolling into Wall – looks pretty empty.  But then boom – it’s utter insanity (increased 10X by Sturgis).  Wall Drug is basically a mini-mall with a pharmacy and cafe, as well as shops for shoes, clothes, books, jewelry, souvenirs.  They even have a chapel!  But clearly their claim to fame is the free ice water since it’s on their logo – note the little box that my fudge came in.  (And the fudge is quite good)

From Wall to Badlands was literally one exit and within minutes, I was entering my next national park.  I didn’t have any idea what I was in for – all the descriptions were of a moonscape and that nothing can grow there.  Well… Glacier was beautiful but Badlands is truly out of this world.  There’s a long scenic drive taking you through the park and there are lots of places to pull out to take pictures and even a few spots for hiking.  I hate repeating myself but the pictures simply don’t do it justice – click on the thumbnails to see more detail. The big-horn sheep was an added bonus – he was just hanging out on this rock and wasn’t bothered at all by the throngs of people taking pictures of him. Badlands is badass…

Side note: for anyone thinking about doing a similar trip, be sure to purchase a NPS pass. It costs $80 and is good for one year and will get you into all the National Parks.  I finally clued into this after whining to Dave about the high cost of visiting these parks – he showed me his NPS card and I got mine upon entering Badlands.  Just a bummer that I didn’t have my receipts from Glacier, Crater Lake etc.  The big parks (glacier, yellowstone, yosemite, etc are $30 each so you can see how this would add up).

From Badlands, I continued on to Pierre, South Dakota’s state capitol. While it’s not my intention to see every capitol (I missed Salem and Olympia), I do like to check them out if it’s on the way.  Pierre did not disappoint.  I pulled into town and found this big park right along the Missouri River.  I found the first school there, along with a massive frisbee golf course.  The guy in the picture is posing with all his frisbee golf discs. But the best part was I ended up parking right alongside the river that night in an area normally reserved for trucks with boat trailers.  No parking restrictions, totally flat and an AWESOME view.  A+ accommodations in Pierre!

Yesterday morning was Monday morning errands, including a stop at the laundromat.  While waiting for my clothes to dry, Juno and I took a quick stroll and I found the best gas station sign(s) ever!

Casino! Live Bait!  Beer Cave!  Food Mart!  But the “Minnows 99-cent a Scoop” sign was the best.

The drive north to Mobridge (where I spent last night) was a-ok, except for the continuing crazy wind.  I passed field after field of crops but my favorite were the sunflower fields. Just incredible.


I’d like to end this post with an open-ended question on hay bales.  Being a California girl, I’ve only ever seen hay come in square bales.  But out here, you see round bales.  And they are everywhere – scattered across fields, alongside roads, stacked in pyramids and even “jellyroll” style.  I’ve seen them transported on huge “oversize load” semis.  After a conversation with a former bison rancher, I understand the rationale for why you’d choose round over square – but what I can’t figure out is who the hay is for?  I’ve never seen any animals eating it.  Anyone who can help me figure out this conundrum will earn my everlasting gratitude.

I’ll be heading into North Dakota later day.  I know I only spent 5 days here, but there’s a chance I might zip back across the border to Sioux Falls when I’m in MN.  BTW – Anyone been to Voyageurs National Park in MN?  Trying to decide if it’s worth the drive…


Timing is everything…

When I left you last, I was bored in Billings.   I would like to amend my previous post.  First off, when I first arrived in Billings, I got out of the MoHo and immediately ran into someone wearing a Raiders cap.  So the place can’t be all bad.  I also completed my Big Dipper ice cream trifecta and bought a t-shirt.  The huckleberry milkshakes are amazing and I should know since I had one in Missoula and Helena too!  So anyway the next morning, Juno ended up stepping on something (bee?  burr?  who knows) while we were playing in the park and he was limping around, favoring his leg, licking his paw and acting miserable. I would like to commend the staff at Billings Animal Hospital.  They were able to see me immediately so we zipped over and they took great care of The Snug.

My first stop after leaving Billings was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  They have hourly ranger talks, you can do a self-guided tour and even drive your own car between the two battlegrounds.  These pictures show the burial sites of many Americans including Custer), a special marker for the horses, the markers for the Indians and just a view of what the battlefield looked like (you can see the white markers scattered throughout):

From Little Bighorn, it was a 3+ drive to Medicine Rocks State Park, about 14 miles north of Ekalaka. I read about this in my trusty Off The Beaten Path book.  Teddy Roosevelt said it was one of the most beautiful places he had seen and even carved his initials in one of the rocks.

Led Zeppelin and Queen kept me company while driving across eastern Montana.  The views were incredible but one thing I’ve become cognizant of is gas stations, or lack thereof. I took one highway 70 miles and didn’t see a single gas station.  The picture on the right is where I filled up in Ekalaka.  Literally a pump and a place to swipe your cc.  No sign, no people around, nothing.

The journey continued the following morning when I departed Montana after a glorious 10 days and crossed into South Dakota!  After a quick stop for lunch, a stroll and groceries, I immediately headed to Mt Rushmore.  I must say – it really is amazing to see in person.

But the crazy thing going on this weekend is Sturgis, the annual motorcycle rally.  There are bikes everywhere!  Here are a couple of pix from when I was driving through Keystone and it doesn’t do it justice at all.

Yesterday was cave day – Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. They are about 40 minutes from one another but so completely different!  Wind Cave is a national park and is known for its box-work and popcorn.

Jewel Cave is a national monument and is known for flow stone and “drapery” which are stalactites that have grown horizontally from the walls.  Looked like jellyfish to me!  There was also an excellent representation of “cave bacon” which you can see in the lower right corner.

But the best part of the last few days was meeting up with my friend and former neighbor Dave.  He’s on a cross-country motorcycle trip heading west and it was just perfect timing that we were both here in South Dakota at the same time.  We had dinner in Rockerville last night and he’s now off to Devil’s Tower in WY.


That’s it for now. I had a little too much gin last night at dinner so moving slowly this morning. I’m heading to the Badlands shortly and then on to Pierre. Hope you are all having a great weekend!

State count: 6