Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chasing Cars: Wk. 1- The Rainy Days

After a 13-month global adventure I can't very well stay put on familiar ground.  I'm heading west!

Not only did I want to keep the adventure going, I also needed to see my home country.

A tour guide in Chile didn't think I would be impressed by the Valley of the Moon if I'd been to the Grand Canyon.  Luckily at that time I hadn't, nor had I really seen any National Park, but that was going to change!

Why not drive across the country? 

Plus, Eddie (now Edmund) Gibson, who I swam with in High School, shared the driving (okay, maybe it wasn't exactly an even split as I was designated navigator and tour guide) and singing (Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" became the trip song).

Day 1
Philadelphia to Cleveland
458 Miles

There really wasn't much excitement on Day 1, just a lot of construction in Pennsylvania that prevented us from visiting the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.  Maybe next time I'll get there, but given this was the first time it might be a while.

We arrived in Cleveland at the end of the work day, but you really wouldn't know it based on the action downtown- it was a ghost town! (I blame LeBron!) There were entire buildings empty and almost no cars or people on the streets.  At least they have an Oldenburg statue.

Luckily Hotwire hooked us up at the historic Hyatt Regency housed in The Arcade, one of the first indoor shopping centers in America (May 1890).  It was also near East 4th Street, home of Cleveland's top restaurants.  We randomly picked The Greenhouse Tavern and I was delighted to discover they have a Food & Wine Best New Chef.  Yummy!

Day 2
Cleveland to Chicago
349+ Miles

Before heading to Chicago we walked to the 50,000 square foot Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the blustery, freezing cold.  OMG, it was SO cold!  What happened to my year of summer?

The Hall of Fame was pretty cool, especially Wacko Jacko's "Thriller" jacket and Beatles stuff.  There were lots of guitars and memorabilia which is probably awesome if you are a big music fan, but I still enjoyed it.

Unfortunately I got off the highway a bit early in Chicago and was frustrated, but proud to report that I found a fairly direct route to the Hotel Indigo (thanks Chicago skyline, even if that John Hancock building looks a lot like the Sears Tower from afar).

Liz and Leroy treated us to lost of laughs and super scrumptious, authentic Mexican at The Donkey. Always love seeing those guys since good times are guaranteed!

Day 3
Chicago to Minneapolis
424 Miles

Battling traffic leaving Chicago, we finally made it to Madison, Wisconsin for an abridged Farmer's Market (nothing like the real one around the State House) and some true Wisconsin grub at State Street Brats and The Chocolate Shoppe.  Plus, we said hi for Greg!

Meandering out of Madison, it was off to Apple Valley, Minnesota to visit the lovely Linda who I met while trekking to Everest Base Camp.  No surprise, Linda is the most fantastic, generous hostess, totally spoiling us with home cooked meals and delightful company.  I'm so grateful to have made such great new friends.

Day 4
Minneapolis to Rapid City, South Dakota
647.2 Miles

The killer day of driving-- not only was it long, it was boring, flat farmlands.  I believe this was the day of my laughing fit while driving (not so safe!) over the comment "every one's an asshole now that you're driving!" ;-)

In 319 Miles we arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the famous 1892 Corn Palace, a Byzantine building designed with murals made from 275,000 ears of corn that change each summer.  After a healthy Butter Burger it was time to take in the majesty of corn art.  Truly bazaar, but pretty impressive that murals can be made from different shades of corn. 

This also marked the day we officially crossed into the western half of the country, over the mighty Missouri River which was not flooding at the time.

We needed something redeeming, so drove the north loop of the Badlands in the rain.  Perhaps the strange rock formations looked more mysterious in the rain and fog, after all they have been described as "Hell with the fires burned out".

The landscape is quite unusual, almost creepy, carved from water and wind over the last half million years.  Dinosaurs once roamed this land as evidenced by the fossils found by the hundreds.

In addition to the pinnacles, turrets, ridges and other strange rock formations, we caught our first glimpse of buffalo (Harry was right- awesome the first time, less so a few days later.)

Of course, in addition to other odd roadside oddities like the skeleton man walking the skeleton dinosaur, we saw the 62 Wall Drug billboards along I-90.  Seems wrong not to stop at the 1931 shop. Yay Swimming!

Chilled and damp all day, it was nice to get a tasty, hearty Italian meal at Botticelli Ristorante on Rapid City's Main Street.  I am not saying I would want to live in Rapid City, but it was kinda cute for a quick pit stop.

Day 5
Rapid City to Hulett, Wyoming
180.4 Miles

Delighted by the make-your-own waffles at the Rapid City Ho Jo's, this day was off to a great start with maybe some decent weather for The Black Hills.

First stop was the still unfinished Mt. Rushmore, a site Harry felt strongly was totally skipable. I have to say, you can see what you want from the road (where clearly we stopped).  This monument in the middle of sacred Sioux land is also pretty offensive, so we opted to not pay the admission fee.

Despite the 1868 treaty between the Sioux and U.S. government granting the Sioux eternal rights to this sacred land, gold was confirmed in The Black Hills in 1874 by an expedition led by General Custer. As you know, this led to an appalling period in our nation's history.

It is beautiful country!

We did support the Crazy Horse Memorial, a work in progress started by Korczak Ziolkowski.  His family is still working to complete this project, which is MUCH more ambitious than Mt. Rushmore (10 times the size), based solely on donations.  This is the progress that has been made since 1949-- obviously there is a ways to go and won't be finished for decades.

We drove through the Wild West (touristy/gambling) town of Deadwood on our way to Sturgis, host of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which draws 500,000 Harley-Davidson enthusiasts in August.  THANK GOD we missed that fiasco and got to experience the tranquility of Bear Butte State Park.

Bear Butte is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious ceremonies leaving behind colorful material and small bundles of tobacco hanging from the trees.  The Summit Trail hike was very enjoyable--- it was so nice to have good weather and an opportunity to stretch my legs after days cooped up in the car.

We literally had the place to ourselves (minus the super cute marmots) and the park rangers could not have been nicer giving us advice about where to go next on our route west.
It was still early, so we drove into Wyoming for the night.  It is amazing how you cross state lines and can see a difference- Wyoming is really, really pretty!

Passing a town with a population of 50, we settled in the slightly larger town of Hulett, pop. 419 (yes, these people also have 2 Senators--- how is that equal representation?).  It was actually pretty quaint, in a generic old west way- no Chase or Citibank, just "Bank".

Day 6
Hulett to Cody, Wyoming
416.6 Miles

Hulett's selling point was it's proximity to Devils Tower National Park (from Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame), a stop added after talking to a Park Ranger at the Badlands.

It is really odd and cool--- this rock formation, the tallest of its kind in the U.S.,  juts up in the middle of the plains, visible from 100 miles away. 

The plan was to hike around the base, but the rain was unfortunately back :-(

Thankfully we didn't spend our time hiking since we had a 91 mile diversion through Montana ahead of us.

We stopped for a break in the authentic cowboy town of Sheridan, Wyoming, passing one of the best preserved Main Streets and the Inn from 1893, formerly owned by Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody and once considered the finest hotel between Chicago and San Francisco.

While grabbing lunch at Sackett's Market the lovely owners cautioned us not to attempt Rt. 14 due to the snow pack and storm that was dumping more snow.  Again, what happened to my year of summer???  We doubted our Mazda was up to the challenge so sadly looped around through the Crow Indian Reservation and Billings, Montana to Cody, Wyoming.  It was a pretty drive, but I was trilled to get to our log cabin at Cody Cowboy Village (it was as cute as it sounds).

I'd heard rave reviews of Cody, the "Rodeo Capital of the World," but sadly we were too early in the season for the Nite Rodeo and faux gunfight at the Irma Hotel and too late in the day to visit the Buffalo Bill Museum.  I am so going back, I have to see these things!

Good so far and the really cool stuff is still to come!