20 States, 31 Days, 8453 Miles

I love road trips!  I mean, I really, really love them!  I just rolled in from my most recent one about 10:30 last night after being on the road for a month. and I already miss the feeling of waking up and not knowing what the day will hold for me and anticipating new and different sights, activities, weather, and foods.  I miss driving just to drive and seeing what there is to see; I miss the grandeur of US Capitol Buildings and the ordinariness of small town squares.  I miss wide open spaces, purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain, and fruited plains.  I miss hearing the robotic, yet lyrical, electronic voice of Lee, our Australian Garmin guy and I miss the laughs my sister and I shared.  And I really miss the cool weather!

For the past five years, my sister Kim and I have taken a road trip, and this year’s was one of the best.  Of course, they’ve all been great fun!  This year’s was a little bit different for me, as I tacked on a couple of other trips on the front and back end.  First, I drove my cute little red Prius, Scarlett, from my home in North Carolina through Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin on the way to Showcase in Minneapolis with Pixie Anne riding shotgun.  Along the way, we stopped off and spent the night at Pixie Carolyn’s house in Indianapolis – it was so nice of her to have us, especially since she had never even met us!!  She even went out and got some super yummy desserts for us and put up with our late arrival and early departure.  Since Anne and I had a destination in mind and a timeline, we had to drive on the interstates and not make too many random stops, but we still managed to have a few adventures, share some wonderful road food meals, and get in plenty of laughs.

After Showcase, my sister flew to Minneapolis so that we could begin our long-awaited Pacific Northwest road trip.  Every year we have a route in mind, but not really a ‘destination’.  We have places we want to see and sort of an idea how we’d like to get there, but we’re very flexible.  We also try to have some sort of theme for the trip, and this year was no different, as we decided to visit as many state Capitols as we could along the way, hence the name of this year’s trip: “It’s a Capitol Idea!”  We also wanted to make sure we got to Washington and Oregon, as those were the only two states (of the lower 48) that Kim had not visited.

To make a long story short, Kim and I headed west through Minnesota, drove across North Dakota, dipped into South Dakota, peeked at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, spent a few days in the Big Sky country of Montana, lost our hearts to the beauty of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, crossed Washington, criss-crossed Oregon, crossed the southern part of Idaho, relaxed in the Tetons and saw the rest of Wyoming, traversed Nebraska, barely touched Iowa, went north to south and west to east in Missouri, and caught a corner of Arkansas before I dropped Kim off in Memphis.  We toured Capitols in St. Paul, Bismarck, Olympia, Boise, Cheyenne, and Jefferson City; we stopped at (but didn’t get to tour) the capitols in Salem and Lincoln; and I drove through the capitol cities of Charleston (saw the dome!) Indianapolis, and Madison, and we had already toured the ones in Helena, Pierre, and Nashville.  I even got my daughter Kim to tour the Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock on our way home from Texas!

Along the way we got to visit with several CM friends and benefit from their wonderful hospitality (major shout outs to Melode, Pam, and Nancy for their incredible hospitality!!) and we met lots of wonderful people who shared their love of their towns and states with us.  We tend to avoid interstates, so we get lots of chances to see the things that most of you tend to drive right past without even knowing they are there.  We went on hikes, saw waterfalls, learned all kinds of trivia in all kinds of museums, gawked in renovated hotels,  floated down a river, hiked up a mountain, had a close encounter with a rattlesnake, petted alpacas, spotted bald eagles, saw giant animals sculpted out of junk, panned for sapphires, watched a laser light show on the face of a dam,  toured abandoned underground cities, bordellos, and prisons, walked across and over an interstate, were awed by incredible sunsets, and ate way too much delicious food.  In short, we had a BLAST!

And for me, the fun wasn’t over when I dropped Kim off in Memphis – I drove on to Little Rock and caught a flight to Houston, where I got to spend a few days with my husband at what will soon be my new home near Galveston.  After that, I flew back (with my daughter) to Little Rock and then we drove back here to North Carolina.  As I write this, the car has been unloaded but the suitcases are not unpacked, the mail hasn’t been touched, and the fridge is still empty.  But…just over 3000 digital images have been sorted, ranked, and edited in Memory Manager, and many of them have been shared on facebook.  The hardest part of the job has been done!!

ND Enchanted Highway

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Saturday, 7 August 2010  Big Sky, Montana

Call us lazy if you will, but after two long days on the road, followed by four wild days at Showcase and then five fun-filled days on the road with Kim, I was ready for a little down time!  I have to admit I wasn’t all that unhappy to see it wasn’t going to be a pretty day today.  Up on top of Big Sky, it was a bit brisk, or as my son would say, it was a ‘tid bit nipply’ and the sun was hiding.  Of course, we only noticed that after we finally roused ourselves about 9 AM.  It was great to sleep in!  Kim was very industrious, though, and went down to the fitness center to work out.  I started the laundry – hey, somebody had to do it!


We were so thankful to Jan and Ed (cousins in law) for letting us land at their fantastic condo for a few days – it was such a treat to be in a home instead of a hotel for a couple of days!!  And here we were, in the lap of luxury!  It was lunch time before we were ready to venture down the mountain, and since we hadn’t had any luck getting an internet connection, we lugged our computers down the hill with us as we went in search of food.  Jan had mentioned a place called the Blue Bird Cafe, and we have a great track record with motels and restaurants named Blue Bird, so off we went.  We were not disappointed!


I had a delicious salad with grilled chicken, avocado, goat cheese, and a yummy raspberry vinaigrette dressing, and Kim had a chicken panini.  We had both really salivated over the ‘Mac Daddy’ mac and cheese, so we ordered a side to share.  Mmmm, was it ever good!  It was so rich we couldn’t even eat it all!  But we did find room for some blueberry vanilla lemonade, which happened to be an adult beverage and was very refreshing.  For a few minutes, we thought the sun might shine, so we left our car at the Blue Bird and walked over to the Hungry Moose, where we had heard there was wifi.  On the way we met two adorable Labradoodles named Rodeo and Montana – they were so cute!!  We got all situated outside when it decided to get chilly and windy and even rainy!


We moved indoors and had visions of catching up on this blog and being ready to keep it up to date, but we were already so behind that it was a lost cause!  While I was fine spending the afternoon inside on my computer, I think Kim was ready for a little more action.  As always, though, she was a good sport and we just passed the whole day in the Hungry Moose!  I didn’t even take any pictures of it!


By the time we had had enough (well, me anyway – I’m sure Kim had had enough hours ago!) we decided to eat supper before going back up the mountain.  Our first choice was The Lotus Pod for Thai food, but they had a 30 to 45 minute wait, so we decided pizza sounded just fine!  We walked down to the Blue Moon Bakery and shared a nice pie and had a Blue Moon, of course!

Once we made it back up the hill, we just chilled in front of the TV and finished the laundry, then packed and tried to take a couple of bags down so we wouldn’t have so much stair climbing to do the next day!  So, sorry, nothing exciting to report today, but it was good to have some down time!

Just chillin’,


Welcome to Big Sky, y’all

Friday, 6 August 2010  Red Lodge MT to Big Sky MT  ~250 miles

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We woke up feeling lucky to have found a room in Red Lodge, and even luckier to have found a room at The Pollard.  Even better, breakfast was included in the price, so it was our kind of place! We made our way down to the dining room and prepared for gastronomic delights!  We had the most delightful server who greeted us with a cheery smile and even made favorable comments about the Duke shirt I was wearing.  The breakfast choices all looked delicious and made it hard for us to choose just one.  Kim took the healthy route with the fruit plate, and I was lured in by goat cheese, as usual.  It’s a temptation I can rarely refuse, and today’s pairing was an asparagus and goat cheese omelet.  Mmmmm!!!  Everything about breakfast was perfect – darling napkin rings, cloth napkins, a civilized setting, orchids on our plates, a happy server, and scrumptious food.  If only every day could start this way!  After breakfast, we poked around the hotel for a bit.  We loved the beveled glass that we found in many of the common areas.  If you should ever find yourself in Red Lodge, we give The Pollard high marks!


Even though we were not as far along as we thought we might be by now, we decided to take the scenic route to Big Sky.  The Beartooth Pass Highway is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful roads in America.  It cuts through the majestic Rocky Mountains in a series of switchbacks and hairpin curves, each with breathtaking views.  Even better, it would put us off near an entrance to one of our favorite National Parks, Yellowstone!  But first, we had a detour to make.  One of the reasons we were in Red Lodge was because of Kim’s summer job at Timbercrest Camp, a Girl Scout camp just a few miles away, so of course we had to go check out her old stomping grounds. The ride up was on a tree-lined, little-used road, and I could almost see why my sister, who HATED camp when we were kids (I tried to spend the whole summer at camp!) had loved this place.  When we emerged from the car to look around, I could hear the rushing water of a creek just below us.  The entire camp was encircled by gorgeous mountains, and the smell of evergreens and the sound of silence is unlike anything we experience on a daily basis.  We were a bit surprised that the camp was not full of campers in early August, as it did not seem to be abandoned.  There were still cots in the cabins and chairs and tables in the dining hall, but it was all locked up.  At least we got to look around uninhibited!  Maybe girls today aren’t interested in spending a week in a relatively primitive setting, with no flush toilets, blow dryers, televisions, or cell phone service.  Their loss!


dsc_0465 After our little walk down Kim’s Memory Lane, we headed for Beartooth.  It was a wonderful drive, marred only by a good bit of road construction taking place.  That’s always a hazard of a summer trip in the northern states, since summer is the only time much work of that kind gets done.  We had one place where we had to stop for about twenty or thirty minutes to wait our turn for a one-lane ride, but even that was fun.  We were behind a pickup with the cutest dog in it, and we enjoyed listening to the tales of the many motorcyclists out that day.  While I suspect that there are always plenty of bikers out on these fantastic roads on a perfect day like this one, the fact that this was Bike Week in nearby Sturgis, South Dakota, even added to those numbers.  It would be a wonderful way to see the USA!  Just after we had finished our escorted one-lane miles we came across a small flock of mountain goats near the Wyoming border.  We were hoping we’d get to see plenty of wildlife once we got to Yellowstone, too.

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Before long we came to the northeast entrance of the Park and we were  almost immediately rewarded with a spectacular sight – fields FULL of bison!  We got really tickled when one big ole bison dropped down into the dirt and started rolling around.  Dust was flying everywhere and he looked so happy – guess he just needed his back scratched! We drove through Mammoth Hot Springs, which was bustling with activity, but once we got back on the figure eight road, most of the traffic was going the opposite direction – lucky us!  A bit later we saw LOTS of cars pulled off to the side of the road and even some rangers directing traffic, so we knew it must be something good, and it was – a black bear was cavorting on the hillside!  And some people who had left their brains at home were hopping out of their cars and campers, cameras in hand, and heading straight for it.  The rangers were doing their best to remain calm and get people back to their cars, but some people were actually arguing with them!  They are probably the ones who would sue if the bear attacked them – go figure!  As we got closer to the geyser area of the park we expected to see herds of elk, and we did – so fun!  There was more road construction, and while we were stopped, one of the bikers who was behind us drove up alongside us to chat.  He had been behind us on Beartooth Pass and recognized our car.  He and his friend were from Regina, Saskatchewan, and they continued south toward Lake Yellowstone as we exited the park at West Yellowstone.  HERE is a great guide to what you may want to do/see at Yellowstone.

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Once we were on the road to Big Sky, it was a pretty straight shot, and before we knew it, we were passing Buck’s T-4 (a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our Red Lodge friends) and soon we were headed up the mountain to Jan and Ed’s place.  We were in luck for a few days as we would be staying in a fantastic condo belonging to Rex’s cousin and her husband.  It was so nice!!!  It was so hot when we got there that we put on our shorts and pulled the cushions out for the furniture on the rooftop balcony and popped a chilly one.  About the time I got comfortable and had my kindle in hand, it clouded up and got chilly!  The view was spectacular and it was really great to be in a real home and in the same place for two nights!  We were about to get hungry, so we opted for an early dinner and rode back down the mountain to Buck’s.  YUM!  One of our best meals so far!!  We started out with a couple of drinks – a gin and tonic for Kim and a huckleberry mojito for me, and then Kim had the prime rib and popover special and I had bison.  Both were served with mashed potatoes and broccolini and we shared a delicious wedge salad.  We talked to a delightful couple from Billings at the table next to us – they started salivating (but resisted) when they saw our chili chocolate pots de creme.  Oh man, was it ever GOOD!!

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Once we were back at the condo, we attempted to get online, but we had no luck.  Rats!  Oh, and did I mention that the condo was on the third floor and that the elevator decided to go on the fritz right before we got there?  At least we were getting our exercise!  We ended up just watching a little TV and chilling until bedtime. What a perfect day!

Dreaming of dark, rich, chocolate with a chili pepper kick,


Day 5 Red Lodge to Big Sky

Rockpile to Red Lodge

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Gillette, Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana ~ 325 miles


Kim was rarin’ to go this morning, as she hopped aboard Old Paint here at the Rockpile Museum in Gillette.  We grabbed a little bite to eat as we left the Hampton, then stopped for some tea at the Subway across the street, and soon we found ourselves at the Rockpile Museum, which we thought was going to be a rock museum…but not!  It was a really well-done exhibit of lots of old West and old Wyoming relics and history.  The entire wall that you can see in the photo behind Kim was full of rifles, and the entire room was full of guns of some sort.  They had license plates from every year for this county in Wyoming, and one room was full of vehicles and cowboy equipment.  As you might expect in Wyoming, rodeo is a big deal – one whole room was dedicated to local high school rodeo teams and stars.  Several local families have been rodeo winners for generations, both girls and boys.  We spent over an hour here – it was worth the stop to take in the local flavor, and it was free.  You may have noticed that $5 is about our limit for attractions unless they are really, really good, so free is gravy for us!


Our destination today was originally Big Sky, Montana, but we’re thinking we might not get quite that far.  We left Gillette with a bead on Billings, but we had stops planned in Story, WY (for lunch) and at Little Bighorn (for history), and then we were taking a side trip to Red Lodge so that Kim could skip down Memory Lane a little bit.  As we got off the interstate to make our way to Story, we thought to call the place we were planning to eat lunch.  Rats – the phone had been disconnected!  We decided to check out the town anyway, just to get off the interstate for a while.  Sure enough, we found the place we had read about in Road Food and it was indeed “Shut”.We liked the look of it and wondered how badly the economy was affecting things out this way.  Still hungry, we wound through town and found the Wagon Box Inn and Cafe, even seeing a cool statue in a creek and a fawn crossing the road on our way.  As we pulled into the parking lot, the car behind us unloaded with a couple from Memphis.  Small world, huh?  We sat outside and enjoyed sandwiches and the 75 degree sunny day.  Aaaahh! On the way out of town, we stopped at the Post Office to mail some cards to Mom.  It had a little garden planted in front of it and there was the sweetest black lab out front who really wanted to come with us.  Too bad the car was full!


We got back on the interstate long enough to get to Montana, then we hopped off again to visit this museum, which shared land and signage with a Conoco gas station in Garryowen, Montana (gotta love that name!).  You never know where your next history lesson will find you!  We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum, but it was worth the stop.  Lots of original photographs of native Americans and Army personnel were housed here, and there was an interesting movie full of even more conflicting information about the Battle of Little Bighorn.  As we drove through the hills and valleys of the high plains, we could just imagine the prairie being full of grazing bison, teepees dotting the landscape, and we wondered how things got so out of hand as Americans moved west.


At the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, there were memorials to the US Army personnel who lost their lives in June, 1876, and there were also memorials to the horses who perished and to the Indians whose lives were lost.  Although the Indians won this battle, the public outcry over the loss led to the ultimate demise of the native Americans of the west.  Being in the area makes me realize that in many ways, the battle continues.  Kim and I have talked a lot on this trip, as we always do, especially when we are out west, about early settlers and the obstacles they faced.  Geography, up close and personal, really helps history come alive.


From the Little Bighorn, we sped up to Billings and managed to find the Rex Hotel.  How could we resist?  We weren’t ready for a meal, so we just enjoyed a bit of liquid refreshment on the patio.  It was fun people-watching – the Rex is downtown, just across the street from the Depot.  As we left Billings, we passed a Muffler Man – this one was holding a rifle!  We just had to stop for this photo op! By now, we were fairly certain we would not be making it all the way to Big Sky, so we decided to find a place to stay in Red Lodge.  Not only that, we had a dinner recommendation!


The neon at the Red Lodge Cafe was great, but the food was lacking. And if you can tell us exactly WHAT a halibut loin is, you’re smarter than we are.  We ate it anyway!  We had noticed that the Rotarians were in town (“Welcome, Rotarians!”) and motorcycles were in abundance, so we thought we should find a place to stay.  That proved to be not so easy, but we finally found a room at the Pollard.  Nice place!  Once we’d secured our room, we hit the streets (well, the street), hitting the Montana Candy Emporium and then stopping for dessert at a local restaurant, Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen and Wine Bar.  Too bad we hadn’t eaten dinner here, too.


Totally worth it!  Not only was this peach blueberry cobbler delicious, we met some very friendly people who gave us a ton of restaurant suggestions for us to try out in Seattle.  Names, addresses, and phone numbers – we may have to stay there for a week to eat our way through the town!  It’s been a wonderful day!

Visions of good meals dancing in my head!


Day 4 Gilette to Red Lodge

Three States, Snake, Center, and Tower

Wednesday, 4 August  2010

Medora ND to Gillette WY  ~390 miles


While I worked on the computer this morning, Kim went for a walk around the old West town of Medora.  While out, she spotted a good place for breakfast, which was right behind our hotel.  The Cowboy Cafe is known for its sour cream raisin pie, which is evidently a local favorite.  We haven’t tried it yet, and today would not be the day, either, as they hadn’t made the pie yet.  But we were here for a substantial breakfast, and we got one!  We each had eggs and meat and shared a fruit bowl, then we sat on the terrace of the newly restored Rough Rider Hotel and Conference Center and wrote some postcards to Mom, since we were right next door to the post office.  And then we were off to explore nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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This park is the northern reaches of the Badlands, which stretch all the way to southwestern South Dakota.  The park was dedicated in 1949, and it is a real monument to Teddy Roosevelt and his love of the Badlands of the west.  We found it prettier than the Badlands in South Dakota, probably because there was more vegetation here. It is very close to the interstate, and there is a 36 mile loop (two way, thankfully!) that you can drive, stopping for photos, hikes, or whatever.  Just after we began there was a huge prairie dog town, so we stopped for a minute or two to listen to the chattering animals and watch them peeking up out of their burrows.  We got some good photos from several of the scenic pull-off areas, and then we decided to take a short little ‘nature’ hike.  Little did we know what an exciting National Geographic moment awaited us…We were just ending a delightful, not too hard Ridgeline Nature Trail walk – on the steps on the way down to the parking area, when right next to my right foot (clad in open sided Keens, not hiking boots!) I heard the unmistakable rattle of a you know what.  So what if I’d never heard it before or that I couldn’t see anything – I skeedaddled!  Behind me, Kim (wearing sensible hiking boots and socks) actually SAW the source of the noise and stopped.  And backed up!  So now we were separated by a snake!  Just as Kim finished telling me it was a small one, it decided to cross the path.  Suffice it to say that any snake that is as long as the path is wide does not fit my definition of small… Kim changed her mind, too, both about ‘small’ and about crossing the path anytime soon.  I, of course, took the opportunity to get some really great photos!  Once the snake decided to stay put (it actually acted like it might cross again, and at one point Kim reported it was in ‘strike position’) Kim got brave and scampered down the path.  We quickly alerted the family with three young kids coming up the path to the danger, and they opted for another fun activity.  The dad tried to get some pix, but the snake was no longer cooperating.  So down we all went to the parking area, where I was able to at least share the pictures on my camera.  We finished the rest of the loop without incident (and without getting out of the car!) and then went to Painted Canyon, another part of the park several miles east of the main entrance.  We had been told not to miss it, but we were underwhelmed.


Leaving the Badlands behind, we retraced our route toward Dickinson, ND, and turned south towards the geographic center of the United States.  In 1959, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, SD, as the Geographic Center of the Nation.  While we drove right past the actual point, we stopped in Belle Fourche (pronounced ‘Bell Foosh’) to see a newly built monument.  It was the map of the US mounted atop a compass and surrounded by flags of all of the states, and it was made of South Dakota granite.  It was in the back yard of the Tri-State Museum, so of course we checked it out, too.  The ride down here was the most boring so far.  Kim kindly drove and I unkindly slept!  But it was my turn back at the wheel, as we were off on another detour.


We should have known better, but we were lured by the promise of a fun, funky, fifties roadside attraction called Boondocks, just south of nearby Deadwood, SD.  Since we skipped both Deadwood and Sturgis when we were out here three years ago (www.roadsidegiants07.blogspot.com) we decided to give it a try.  And why should we have known better?  Because we know that the first Saturday in August is Bikers’ Week in STURGIS, SD!!!  And this was on the first Wednesday of August…we may as well have been invisible, arriving as we did in our Prius, which makes NO NOISE.  All told, we could have done without Deadwood (now officially designated as the Sassy Sisters’ Gatlinburg of the Badlands) and we had to drive through it TWICE, and we sat in a diner at Boondocks for easily ten minutes without being acknowledged (or finding anyone who cared) and yes, it was open.  But, we got some pix and we can say we have been there, done that and we never need to wonder if we have missed something good!  Onward we went to Devil’s Tower, which we did miss the last time we were near.  However, due to our time wasted in Deadwood, we decided not to actually go into the park, as we figured we had seen what we came for!  We were so hungry by now (breakfast being a LONG time ago now!) that we even ate at the KOA Kampground.  Not worth wasting words on, but at least we were no longer hungry and they served beer.


The sky had been gorgeous all day, but it was clouding up.  While that meant we might get a beautiful sunset (and we did), it also meant we likely would not get to see the Northern Lights (we didn’t) on the last night possible.  It also meant there was a big storm coming, which we really wanted to avoid.  We had heard at the Tri-State Museum that they had had six INCHES of HAIL the day before.  If you follow along with us regularly, you know that we attract hail like some attract lightning.  I think my insurance company would get suspicious if I asked for a third hail repair…So without further ado, we made a beeline for Gillette, WY, and shelter from the night at a Hampton Inn.  We got there just before the sky opened up!

Tomorrow will be another fun one!


Day 3 Medora ND to Gillette WY

Buffalo, Bismarck, Big Bugs, and Bears

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Jamestown ND to Medora ND ~365 miles


After a fantastic night’s sleep at the Jamestown Quality Inn (which was packed – where did all of these people come from??) we repacked our bug-spattered car (ick!) and headed out in search of breakfast.  We tried a place across the street which didn’t open until eleven, but some of the women working there pointed us in the direction of the Depot Cafe downtown.  After a bit of searching we found it, in the “mall”.  It was a happening place, although we were the youngest patrons in there by about 20 years.  But they knew how to make a good breakfast!  The place was full of railroad memorabilia and all of the menu items had train names.  Kim and I both had “The Fireman”, a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and toast.  Good way to start the day!

Breakfast at The Depot Cafe

After a short ride through downtown, we arrived at Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum – what a great time we had! Frontier Village was great – an old West street lined with museum quality shops and services – a newspaper office, post office, saloon, blacksmith, dentist’s office, barber shop, church, school, law office, bank, general store, etc.  Writer Louis L’Amour grew up in Jamestown, so there is a Writer’s Shack that honors him and his books. There was a stagecoach, so we paid our $5 fee and hopped aboard.  What a ride! We were practically hysterical!  It was fun for ten minutes, but we determined that we would have been whiny pioneers!  We rode out of the village and past a few buffalo grazing, then returned back to the stagecoach station.  From there we walked down to see the World’s Biggest Buffalo, which is one of Hampton Inn’s Landmarks.  We first discovered these mostly restored pieces of Americana on Route 66, and now we are on the lookout for them.  It was a big buffalo, all right – 60 tons!!  We walked through and looked at most of the exhibits, then drove down to the buffalo museum to try to see White Cloud, an the only female albino buffalo in North America.  It was a hot day (for North Dakota) so she was down in the shade of the trees, pretty far away, but we got a few photos of her.  It was almost noon and we had not gotten on the road, so we opted to skip the museum and get going.

World's Largest Buffalo, Jamestown ND

Our goal today was to get to Medora, in extreme western North Dakota.  We had been duly warned about the boringness of North Dakota, so we had searched high and low for places of interest so that the drive wouldn’t just be interstate all the way.  Our first detour took us south of Jamestown to pick up a section of “A Very Long Straight Road” which goes from Hickson to Streeter, North Dakota.  They were not exaggerating!  What we didn’t expect along this straight road through the prairie was lots of water!  And it came right up to the road, in lots of places!  It appeared that some of the water had appeared unexpectedly and had flooded out areas.  There were even seagulls!  What was really odd was that it wasn’t clear from where the water came – no rivers, just seemingly random ponds and lakes.  We enjoyed the drive out in the country and on our own. Shortly after the town of Gackle (spelled out in red, white, and blue tires) we turned back north and rejoined the interstate, headed for Bismarck and another state capitol.  Best things about the interstates out here – no traffic (NONE!) and 75 mph speed limits!

A Long, Straight Road

On the way to Bismarck, we passed the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in the town of Steele.  It was behind the Lone Steer Motel/Cafe/Lounge and there was a pretty little memorial garden there.  It was a nice little diversion…

World's Largest Sandhill Crane

The North Dakota state capitol in Bismarck is one of only four capitol buildings in the US that are skyscrapers (you may remember the Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge from last year’s trip, and Florida and Nebraska are the other ones).  We didn’t think the building was very pretty from the outside, but we loved the art deco interior.  Again, symbolism abounded inside.  We had a wonderful tour guide, Taryn, who shared some of the fun facts about the capitol.  Here are a few things we learned: The sculptures in the huge Memorial Hall represent farming and mining, the two largest industries in ND; the chandeliers represent heads of wheat, weigh 1000 pounds each, and contain 109 light bulbs each; the lighting in the House chamber represents the stars and moon at night, while that in the Senate chamber represents sunrise and sunset; the bronze doors of the elevators depict the pioneer experience; and there’s a really cool room that serves no particular purpose (it’s a back entrance to the Secretary of State’s office) that is lined in “monkey wood” – you can see the faces of different animals in it.  We enjoyed the views from the 18th floor, especially of the mall with “North Dakota” spelled out in flowers.  Across the way from the capitol was the state historical museum and a statue with Sacajawea and her papoose.

North Dakota State Capitol

From Bismarck, we went south to see Fort Abraham Lincoln, but when we got there, we learned that the park had just closed (at five PM), so we turned around and visited the ND Veterans’ Cemetery next door, then continued west, bound for the Enchanted Highway.  But first, we saw the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, “Salem Sue”, a statue of a cow so big (38 feet high and 50 feet long!) that we could easily see her from the interstate.  We just took pictures from the road and chose not to stop for this one.  Erected in 1974, Sue honors and advertises the dairymen of the area, their superior herds, and the production of high quality milk.

Salem Sue, World's Largest Holstein Cow

The Enchanted Highway runs from Regent, ND, to the interstate due north, and it is lined with some of the World’s Largest (are you spotting a theme here?) Metal Sculptures.  It was easy to see where to get off the highway, as “Geese in Flight” holds the Guinness World Record as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world.  It was erected in 2001 and is built of used oil well pipe and oil tanks.  Other sculptures along the way were The Deer Family (2002), “Grasshoppers in the Field” (1999), “Fisherman’s Dream” (2006), “Pheasants on the Prairie” (1996), “Teddy Rides Again” (1993), and “Tin Family” (1991).  Which one is your favorite?

"Geese in Flight" World's Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture

On the Enchanted Highway, we saw lots of pheasants by the road.  They hang out right along the sides of the road (something we had noticed on our Roadside Giant Tour in 2007) and this year I even got some good photos of them!  We also saw beautiful fields full of sunflowers in full bloom (second largest cash crop in ND) and we enjoyed the rolling green hills dotted with big rolled bales of hay.  By the time we got to Dickenson, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at the first place we found, El Sombrero, and wolfed down some pretty good Mexican food.  It was dark by the time we pulled into Medora, so we found our hotel and lugged in our stuff.  We loved having our own little Teddy bear to greet us!


Thinking North Dakota was a lot more fun to cross than Kansas,


Day 2 Jamestown to Medora ND

Far to Go, Getting to Fargo

This year, I’m not adding as many photos to the blog, but clicking on each photo will either lead you to a hyperlink about the topic or to an album of related images on facebook.  Enjoy!

Monday, 2 August 2010


After enjoying one of the best and most memorable Creative Memories Showcases of my 16 year career, it was hard to say goodbye to some of my dearest “old” CM friends and also to my new Pixie friends, but it was time for the next adventure to begin.  Kim flew into MSP from Tennessee and she, Anne, and I shared a room out near the airport on Sunday night.  None of us slept all that great, so we were up EARLY (read before 7 AM!!).  More goodbyes, and Anne headed off to the airport while Kim and I caught up on emails, briefly planned our day’s itinerary, and got ready to go.  You would think that we could have gotten away in a reasonable amount of time, but if you know us, you know that wasn’t happening…

Packed Prius!

Eventually, the car was packed (I am not using the term loosely!) and Kim and I left the comfort of our Hampton Inn with breakfast at Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul on our minds.  However, we put “Mickey’s Diner” in the Garmin, and so we ended up being not where I thought we were going… but, all things happen for a reason!  We were right in front of a US Post Office, and I had t-shirts to mail to Australia, so in we went.  Wow, what an amazing experience it was for both of us.  First, there was not a line – only one person there ahead of us – and then, without us saying a word, a postal employee started asking us questions and HELPING us!!  Before we left, he knew all about the Sassy Sisters and our trip, and we knew about his teenaged daughter’s driving lessons.  But back to breakfast!  We opted to just hang at this Mickey’s (I’d eaten at the other one before) and we were not disappointed.


Minnesota State Capitol

Once fortified, our first stop of the day was to visit the state capitol of Minnesota.  In the 14 summers that I’ve found myself in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, I’ve never once been to the capitol, so it was time!  The capitol building is beautiful!  Although there was a good bit of scaffolding up, it was still a treat to see a HUGE gold structure high above the entrance to the building.  The Minnesota State Capitol was built starting in 1896 and it opened in 1905, and was designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the Woolworth Building and the US Customs House in NYC, the US Supreme Court, and several other state capitol buildings.  The building is a traditional dome, and the paintings and detail work found on the ceilings was incredible!  One of the things I find so interesting about capitol buildings is all of the symbolism and thought that went into their design and construction.  Minnesota’s ceilings had a lot of blue, and the letter ‘M” was prominently featured throughout, as well as ‘l’etoile du nord’ (the North Star). The legislative chambers were gorgeous – one chamber had the preamble to the Declaration of Independence in an arch over figures representing early settlers of the state, and famous explorers were represented in each corner of the ceiling.  The Supreme Court room was not as elaborate, but it was still full of symbolism.  The highlight of the tour was getting to go up a spiral staircase that led to a sort of balcony that surrounded the dome.  The door opened out onto lots of scaffolding and a party of three workmen on break, but we were able to get close-up views of the fabulous gold statue called the “Quadriga”, which was designed by Daniel Chester French, who designed the Lincoln Memorial.  The statue is really covered in 23 carat gold!  From here, we had spectacular views of the mall, the cathedral, and Summit Avenue, which has the largest collection of original Victorian architecture in the US.

Cathedral of Saint Paul

Our next stop sort of had to involve a drive down Summit Avenue and a tour of the Cathedral of Saint Paul.  The cathedral was amazing!  Very reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome, although much smaller, it had stunning stained glass windows and a couple of small chapels in addition to the main altar.  The biggest surprise, though, was a copy of Michelangelo’s “La Pieta” that was one of four made from a cast of the original sculpture.  It was magnificent! I didn’t realize that it was the only one of his works that was signed, so I had to stay long enough to find and photograph his name.


From Summit, we went down the hill into downtown St. Paul in search of my favorite store, Candyland, and one of my favorite treats, chocolate covered potato chips!!  On the way there, we passed Mickey’s Dining Car, so Kim knew I wasn’t making it up!  She loved Candyland, too, but she has been on a major exercise/weight loss kick since May (and she looks great!!!) so she exercised great restraint and only got two turtles. But just being surrounded by all that yummy candy and popcorn was enough!  And of course, we loved the statues of Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and Woodstock that were outside the door.  St. Paul is Charles Schultz’s hometown, and for several summers Anne and I had fun finding the brightly painted statues of Peanuts characters that were all over town.  It was after noon by the time we left St. Paul, bound for Fargo, North Dakota, and points between and beyond!

Flats at CM World Headquarters

Once I realized that our route would take us through St. Cloud, Minnesota, home of Creative Memories, I knew we would have to stop and let the “Flats” say hello.  In case you are clueless about the “Flats”, I’ll try to explain.  I work with a group of twelve other Creative Memories Consultants on a website called pixels2pages.net, and they are from all over the world – Australia, Canada, and the US – and the ones that were not able to attend our Showcase sent a flat version of themselves for photo opportunities.  Since I had them with me, it seemed only fitting to get their photos at World Headquarters!  Since I’d just seen my Home Office friends in Minneapolis, we didn’t stay and bug them – just took a quick look around the lobby and continued on our way west.

World's Largest Otter, Fergus Falls, MN

It had not taken long for us to tire of the interstate, so after St. Cloud, we looked for alternate routes to get us to North Dakota.  We enjoyed riding through small towns like Ashby and Fergus Falls.  We even made a brief stop in Fergus Falls to let Peppy see the World’s Largest Otter (Fergus Falls is in Otter Tail county) in a small little park that had a pretty lake full of ducks and other pretty birds.  Back on the road, I can’t tell you much, because I let Kim drive and I promptly fell asleep until we were about to cross into North Dakota.

The Pixie Flats Visit Fargo!

I’m not sure what I expected of Fargo, but in the summertime, it didn’t seem like a bad place to be!  It seemed pretty spread out with lots of malls and big box stores – a version of suburbia on the Plains.  We found our way to the tourist information center, which looked like a grain elevator.  We met a nice lady there (Fran) who gave us loads of maps and brochures – enough for not only ND, but also South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana!  She also gave us dinner recommendations, which was good, because we were starting to get hungry!  While here, we got some shots of the Fargo Walk of Fame and the painted buffalo out on the lawn.  We are so easily amused!


Dinner was next – Santa Lucia Greek restaurant was the place that Fran had suggested, and she didn’t steer us wrong!  From the cold, sweet Peach Bellinis to Kim’s gyro platter and my European style seared pork tenderloin, it was the perfect road food for us!  Breakfast was starting to seem a long time ago!  After dinner, we went just across the street to the mall to see the Roger Maris Museum.  For those of you who didn’t know us when, Kim and I were HUGE baseball fans, especially St. Louis Cardinal fans.  You probably know that Roger Maris played for the Yankees and in 1961 he hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s single season record, but you may not know that he played his last two years of baseball (67 and 68) in St. Louis. leading them to win the World Series against Boston in 1967 and taking Detroit to seven games in 1968.  Kim and I sat, enthralled, in seats from Yankee Stadium, and watched a video about Roger’s career.  We were heartened to learn that he loved his time in St. Louis!  They had lots of great memorabilia, including real crowns for the Sultan of Swat – who knew?


We took a short cruise through downtown Fargo – lots of great neon and a real “step back in time” feel – and then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset as we headed west for Jamestown.  We really wanted to stop and see the ‘world’s largest collection of empty oilcans” in  Casselton, but it was too dark…

We still had a FAR way to GO!!


Day 1 St. Paul to Jamestown

And they’re off…really badly off!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

OK, I’ll take all the blame for our late start today!!  I know, it’s not like I haven’t known for weeks that I would be leaving this morning, but it’s sort of like knowing when Christmas is and still not being ready.  And I have had just a little bit on my plate lately!  But Anne and I spent a good part of the evening printing transfers, ironing transfers, washing t-shirts, buying t-shirts, printing Flats, laminating Flats, cutting out Flats, making a cute suitcase for the Flats, shopping for some last minute necessities, and enjoying a fantastic dinner at Margaret’s.  By the time we got all those preparations done, I still had a bit of packing to do…

Suffice it to say that even getting up before seven didn’t get us out the door before 10:30.  And I think Anne thought we would be ON THE ROAD by ten.  Oops.  But we did get going, and shortly after we were on our way it started pouring down rain.  We need the rain so badly that we couldn’t be upset about it!  And it only rained for a few minutes, anyway.  When we realized we would be going through Mt. Airy, NC, at noon, we decided we would have to stop at Snappy Lunch for a Pork Chop Sandwich.  You may remember that Kim and I stopped in Mt. Airy (aka Mayberry) on our 2008 Sassy Sisters Trip, “Ye Olde Curiosity Tour”; however, we had breakfast there, as we had gotten an earlier start!

We parked right on Main Street and strolled down past a big crowd at Floyd’s Barber Shop and turned into a very crowded Snappy Lunch.  Right up front was a woman whose only job was cooking pork chops, and boy, did they look good.  We never even saw a menu, which was fine.  We just ordered our pork chop sandwiches “all the way”, like the locals eat them.  Talk about YUMMY!!  A HUGE boneless, breaded, fried pork chop (twice as wide as the big bun it was served on) dressed with mustard, slaw, tomatoes, and chili – what a mess!  And have you ever noticed that the places that serve the messiest food usually have those little napkins like we had in the “Hav-a-Nap” dispensers in the grade school cafeterias?  The ones that cover about six square inches of your lap?  Seriously.  We attracted a bit of attention when I started pulling the Flats out of their cute suitcase and lining them up on the table, but it was so worth it!  I didn’t see anything even close to resembling this food in Australia!

After lunch, we were lured into Opie’s Candy Store by the smells and the colorful variety of candies inside.  Mmmmm, mmmm, as Andy would say.  Mighty fine candy!  We only bought a little, and the Flats loved it.  Did I mention it had poured down rain the whole time we were at Snappy?  And that the line at the barbershop was for the tour bus load of people who had to board the bus in the pouring rain? It was the happening place to be, but we were running so late that we didn’t even go to the old jail!  We zoomed right past the Blue Ridge Parkway and traveled up I-77 through Virginia on our way to Charleston, WV.  From there, we thought we were going to Huntington, Ashland, Lexington, Louisville, and Indianapolis, but Lee, our wonderful Australian Garmin guy had another plan…..

We sort of missed a little exit on the interstate, so we just did what Lee said on his ‘recalculation’, and the next thing we knew, we were headed for Ohio!!  So instead of crossing Kentucky, we crossed Ohio from Chillicothe to Dayton!  We were running so late!!  But, in the good news category, there was NO traffic, five o’clock or otherwise, and the scenery was lovely – gently rolling hills reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch country.  So we just sat back and enjoyed the ride, and felt bad that our time with Carolyn would be less than planned!  In fact, we took it so easy that we almost ran out of gas, and Priuses are not forgiving when they are not fed.  When the tank is empty, they just stop.  No sputtering.  Not that I’ve ever had that happen to me….So, around Dayton, we took another unintended detour in search of a little pusholine.  You know you cut it a little too close when you put 9.44 gallons in your ten gallon tank!

Crisis averted, contact made with Carolyn, and plans in place, we stopped for a quick drive through at the Steak and Shake (Anne’s VERY FAVORITE thing) in somewhere, Ohio.  Soon, it commenced to being dark thirty, and we skedaddled on around Indy and soon pulled in the driveway of Carolyn’s beautiful home.  We had a quick tour of the house (it was FANTASTIC!!) and met her two sons.  Daughter Ann was fast asleep already, but Jack and Sam were hanging out in the basement watching TV.  They had graciously given up their rooms to Anne and me – what troopers!  Then it was sharing time – Anne shared jewelry, I shared the Flats, and Carolyn shared DESSERT!  My, oh my, did we enjoy that!  Key lime pie with macadamia nut crust, a humongous piece of carrot cake, and shark’s fin pie (chocolate and peanuts and vanilla ice cream).  YUM.  Soon it was bedtime – Anne couldn’t get there fast enough!!  Of course, I found things to do online for a while.  What a great day!

Sweet dreams!