Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 11: Salina, KS to St. Louis, MO

Ike boyhood home

Today was the last day of our vacation. We stopped in Abilene, KS to see the Eisenhower Presidential Library. It was really interesting, much more so than I thought.

Eisenhower Wedding Cake

After the library, we headed toward Missouri, stopped to visit my family in Columbia for dinner and finally made it home around midnight. The doodles were really excited to have us home and all had to come out and play so it was about 2 am when we finally went to bed.

Day 10: Denver, CO to Salina, KS

Today we made a stop in Denver at the Hammond's Candy Factory where we got to watch sugar sticks and lolly pops being made (almost entirely by hand in the same manner they were made when the company opened in 1920. We got to sample several candies and then stocked up on handmade candy in their gift shop as well.

People making lolly pops (notice the mirrors toward the top of the photo,
you can see what they are working on in them)

I wanted to visit the United States Mint in Denver, but as luck would have it, the mint is closed to public tours for construction during the month of September. I've since learned that this is a family curse on my husband's side, as any time anyone in their family was in Denver the mint has been closed to tours for one reason or another.

We headed east down highway 70 from Denver and into Kansas. We stopped at a place called "Prairie Dog Town" which I thought would be similar to the prairie dog place in South Dakota...boy was I wrong. The place had all kinds of animals - rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, buffalo, coyotes, fox, chickens, goats, sheep, cows, pigs - but the animals were living in despicable conditions. The goats had some sort of respiratory infection as they were all coughing - and children were being encouraged to pet these poor sick animals. The coyotes were in a cage enclosure that was probably 10 x 10 feet in diameter and were walking around it in circles. Worst of all was a "pond" at the back of the property full of ducks and geese which was mostly just a mud hole with garbage in it. It smelled awful and I could see an old tire and plastic bag in the water. It was also probably a breeding ground for misquotes as the water was just sitting there and green with algae. I plan to write the Kansas congressmen to alert them of the conditions of this place even though there will probably be nothing done to help these poor animals.

The last stop of the day was the Cathedral of the Plains which was the largest catholic church built west of the Mississippi river at the time of its construction (1909). It's located right off hwy 70 in Victoria, KS.

Cathedral of the Plains

Day 9: Rock Springs, WY to Denver, CO

Our vacation is wearing down - I can tell by the fact that I only took 4 photos today (and 2 were the same shot)!

We mostly just drove today, east across Wyoming. There's nothing along hwy 80 in Wyoming. Once we got to Colorado we had a bit more fun. First stop was the visitor center in Fort Collins where we picked up our free Colorado t-shirts. Yes, they were free. Colorado is running an internet promotion this year where you request your shirt on their website and then when you actually arrive in Colorado you can pick up your shirt from a visitor center. I chose the "I'd rather be in a gallery" and Tom got the "tight loops and tight lines" shirt. They are really good quality shirts too!

After the visitor center we took a tour of the New Belgium brewery, also located in Fort Collins. The tour was really quite impressive - even from a non-beer drinker like myself. They even gave free beer samples (you got to choose 4 of their 10 beers to sample). Tom and I chose different beers and while I tasted all 8 we had samples of, Tom finished them. Needless to say, I did the driving from Fort Collins to Denver.

Tom posing by the New Belgium Brewery Sign

Once in Denver we met my cousin Allison and her boyfriend RJ for dinner. We had a good time catching up and hanging out.

We checked into a Super 8 in Westminster, CO (just outside of Denver) around 11 pm. We asked for a no smoking room, went upstairs to our room and upon opening the door were hit with a stench of cigarette smoke. Upon further inspection, the carpet even had cigarette burns in it even though they had tacked a "no smoking" sign to the door, they had not made any changes to the formerly smoking room (it had probably smoking for many years). Tom went back to the front desk and asked for a different room. They gave him one, which smelled much better......until Tom folded back the bed blankets. There was hair in the bed. Not just one hair, but several hairs. We went back to the front desk and told them we could not stay in their hotel and proceeded to go across the street to the Fairfield Inn where we had a restful night sleep.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day 8: Yellowstone to Rock Springs, WY

Today we headed out of the South Yellowstone entrance and into Grand Tetons National Park. We had some rain and wintery mix while entering the park. The park had a very different landscape from Yellowstone, and would have been really pretty had the sky not been filled with gray clouds.

Jackson Lake at Grand Tetons National Park

We got to see Jenny Lake which I was pretty excited about (obviously). It was pretty as the clouds started to clear up. They do a boat ride across it that we'll have to do next time we're in the area, too cold and cloudy this time!

Jenny Lake at Grand Tetons National Park

See more pictures by clicking here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Day 7: Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs

On our third day in Yellowstone we began at Mammoth Hot Springs, which weren't very exciting because they were dry. They looked a lot like ice or cave formations.

Mommy Buffalo and Baby Buffalo

We saw a lot of animals today, including deer, lots and lots of buffalo (crossing the road), a coyote and a brown bear. The bear we saw in Lamar Valley through the scope of a bear watcher. He was laying down on a gravel bar in a stream (too far away for pictures though).

We saw Tower Falls and then the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. The canyon was gorgeous. It would have been neat to hike down to the brink of the lower falls, but the guide book said not to attempt if you have "heart, lung or other health problems" and since Tom and I both have Asthma we decided to pass on that one.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lower Falls

See more pictures from today by clicking here.

Day 6: Yellowstone

Today we went back to the Old Faithful area first and took a tour of the original Old Faithful Inn. The tour was really quite fascinating – for example, the building was constructed to be the same height as the surrounding trees, and the front is asymmetrical because nature isn’t symmetrical. There are 2 extra windows on the left side of the front (when you are looking towards it) that are nothing but windows – no rooms behind them. They built the entire inn in only 1 year because they wanted to get tourists in it as fast as they could – and they built it all from materials found in the park – stone and wood.

Next we explored the Black Sand Basin, the Biscuit Basin, and the Midway Geyser Basin. Then we drove Firehole Canyon Drive and saw the Firehole Falls. We also saw Gibbon Falls and walked a trail at the Artists Paintpots and decided to call it a day with the walking as our feet were both telling us it was time to sit down.

I got to see a bear today though! We were driving along in the forest and suddenly came upon a bunch of vehicles stopped in the middle of the road, not knowing why we eventually worked our way around them and I saw they were watching a bear chew on a stick not far from the side of the road. We weren’t able to take a picture, but hopefully we’ll see another bear before we leave the park.

See more pictures by clicking here.

Day 5: Yellowstone

Wow, Yellowstone is amazing – like nothing I’ve ever seen before! I cannot really describe it in words but I managed to capture some amazing photos.

We entered Yellowstone through the East entrance. We had a bit of rain on the drive into the park, and some grey skies, but by the end of the day the sky was a brilliant blue. One of the first curves we went around there was a car stopped on the side of the road and there was a buffalo looking in the windows! We stopped behind them and watched the buffalo cross the road in front of us.

Buffalo crossing the road in front of us

We walked around the Grand Thumb Geyser Basin, where we got our first glimpse of geysers, and also some Elk. After checking into our room for the night (lodge at Grant Village) we headed up to the Old Faithful area, (stopping at Kepler Falls along the way) where we walked around some of the Upper Geyser Basin and watched Old Faithful erupt.

a geyser in the West Thumb Geyser Basin

Old Faithful

Our room at the lodge was shared with a furry friend whom I named “Wally.” We had a squirrel spend the night inside one of the walls! He scratched and chewed on the drywall for much of the night and finally made his way back out the roof vent. We were probably the only people in the park used to hearing the noise of an animal pulling off strips of drywall (thanks to Fipsy and friends). We called the office and they sent a maintenance man out to our room who basically told us the squirrel would find his way out eventually.

For more pictures click here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Day 4: Rapid City, SD to Cody, WY

And I thought that yesterday was a long day.....we didn't get into Cody, WY and our Super 8 motel until almost midnight. (hense the fact that I'm posting this in the morning instead of last night!)

We checked out Presidents Park in the Black Hills. This is a really neat park if you get a chance to see it. It's really off the beaten path, and it took a lot longer to get to than I thought it would. The park features sculpted busts of all 42 presidents of the United States, standing among the trees, 20 feet tall each. My favorite part was the differences in dress from the beginning to modern day. The early presidents were depicted wearing bow ties and then later regular ties. All the ties had some sort of texture to them, it would have been interesting to see where the inspiration for the ties came from. George W. Bush's tie had a republican elephant pattern on it.

Tom and Lincoln, Jenny and FDR at the President's Park

Next we drove for a bit and visited Devils Tower National Monument. We sat through a ranger presentation on climbing the tower which was pretty interesting in itself. The fastest someone ever climbed the tower was in 18 minutes! We took to the trail around the monument (which turned out to be a lot longer than we thought it was) and got to see some climbers up on the tower.

Devils Tower National Monument

After the Devils Tower we headed toward Cody, WY - slowly but surely. We ran into a rain storm while going over the rocky mountains. It also happened to be at dusk which made for a bad combination - darkness, rain and wildlife. It was kind of funny - after we got through the mountains we stopped at a McDonalds and were pouring over the WY map when two other couples came in also inspecting their maps.

After a stressful final hour and a half of driving (and wildlife crossing the road - deer, raccoon, lots and lots of bunnies and even a few mice) we made it to Cody, WY.

You can view more pictures by clicking here.

We visit Yellowstone today!!! We may not have internet access while we are in Yellowstone so it may be a few days before I post again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day 3: The Black Hills

We started the day at Mount Rushmore National Monument. I really enjoyed seeing this landmark in person - very cool. We walked the presidential trail from which you can see the sculpture from different angles, and checked out the visitor center.

Mount Rushmore

The next stop was the Crazy Horse memorial. I had no idea that they had been working on it for 50 years already! The monument is HUGE, in fact it's not a carving in a mountain like Mount Rushmore, it's a mountain being carved into a figure in the round - meaning it will be carved on all sides. The 4 faces of Mount Rushmore fit into the HEAD of Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse Monument
(scale model in foreground, mountain in background)

The third stop was Custer State Park. The park features an abundance of all sorts of wildlife and we saw deer, pronghorn, turkey, buffalo, prairie dogs, and burro.

Buffalo at Custer State Park

We returned to Mount Rushmore for their evening lighting ceremony at the end of the day.

Mount Rushmore lit up at night

Check out more pictures by clicking here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Day 2: Sioux Falls, SD to Rapid City, SD

Today we headed west on highway 90 across South Dakota. The first stop was the Porter Sculpture Park. This park is just in the middle of some farm fields. When we arrived we were greeted by the artist and what I think was his father. The artist gave us a quick overview of his work and sent us on our way. The park highlight is a huge bull head. Apparently his next project is going to be a huge horse. The work is bizarre and somewhat disturbing, but interesting none the less. He's even got hand painted signs describing the work.

Bull head sculpture at Porter Sculpture Park

Next we visited the Mitchell, SD Corn Palace. There wasn't much to see, as they had already started taking down the 2007 display and constructing the 2008 one. It's an interesting concept I guess - putting corn on a building - but I don't really get it.

Corn Palace

The third stop today was a rest area along hwy 90 that overlooks the Missouri river. This was the 4th time that we crossed the river since we left home yesterday morning.

Next we got to feed (wild) prairie dogs at this little tourist stop just outside the Badlands National Park. You paid the guy who owns the land $.50 and got a small bag of peanuts to feed the prairie dogs. They weren't too interested but I did get one little guy to take 2 peanuts out of my hand. The place also features a huge concrete prairie dog....

Feeding the Prairie Dog

Badlands National Park was next. We went to the Painted Desert two years ago so the landscape here was familiar. There was a neat sunset that we got to watch, but overall nothing too special, just more of the same. However we did get to see a bunch of wild prairie dogs running around a field. We also saw rabbits and deer in the park.

Badlands National Park

After the Badlands we checked out Wall Drug. I knew after 300 miles of bad billboards that they place would stink, and of course it did. Really not much point to stop here except to say that you did - but Tom got a free bumper sticker so he was happy.

We ended the day in Rapid City, SD. We'll be checking out Mount Rushmore tomorrow!

See more pictures from today by clicking here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Day 1: St. Louis to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

We left around 10 am this morning on our road trip, stopping briefly in CoMo to drop stuff off with family, then off across the rest of Missouri, up north through St. Joseph and into Iowa.

Believe it or not, there is a state worse than Illinois to travel through - Iowa. I should have known when we entered the state and were greeted by orange construction cones...

The state is boring as heck and when we tried to take a break at the Louis and Clark monument but somehow passed it without knowing it. We were watching for signs - but apparently Iowa isn't as sign obsessed as Missouri and didn't bother to mark it even though it was on their road map. Their rest areas claimed to offer wireless internet, but I couldn't get past their tourist page when I tried to log on.

We did stop and visit Trinity Heights in Sioux City, IA. I'm glad we saw something in this dumb state! Trinity Heights was actually really cool. It's a park (for lack of a better word) featuring a 30 foot statue of Mary and one of Jesus. The statues are very well done and impressive as you can imagine. Inside the visitor center is a life-size wood carving of the last supper. (Photo: Me standing beside the 30 foot statue of Mary)

Finally we made it to South Dakota and are spending the night at a Best Western in Sioux Falls. We have lots of cool things on the agenda for tomorrow...stay tuned!

You can see more pictures from today by clicking here.