As stated before I'm obsessed with the Rustic Roads program that is offered in Wisconsin. This collection of backroads gives me a run for my money and this road trip is no exception. I expect, no less, than one Rustic Road to lead me to the point of panic, anger, frustration, and annoyance with the state's inability to better mark these routes. They are so beautiful and give a true picture of Wisconsin that I really wish more had markers that guided the drivers from start to finish.
Because, after all, what is Wisconsin? That's right, Packers, beer, and cheese. That is what we're known for but I have to say that not much is said about the state. Hell, we're barely mentioned when a severe winter storm charges through, unless, it is breaking records in April than we're momentarily mentioned on the weather channel but even then it is from a local affiliate. It's not all bad that we're not making news, it can be said that this is a pretty, easy-going state that does its own thing. Which is even more of a reason to mark these Rustic Roads so everyone can see Wisconsin's true beauty. Hell, just ask our neighbors how beautiful our countrysides are, both Minnesota and Illinois love to block our roads every single weekend in the summer and twice as much during the holidays. But I digress.
This road trip started out on a cool morning with the first ice on the windows of the cars. A chilly 39 degrees with fog and frost on the fields and in the ditches. I left early knowing that it was going to be a long day on the road which lead to driving into the sun but also allowed me to watch the fog be lifted up off of the ground by the rising sun that was blinding me as I headed East. There were a few areas where the road and the cars before me disappeared into the thick fog only to wonder if the road still existed on the other side. Such a great way to start the day.
Then the challenges started to present themselves. The first being my fellow drivers along the highway. I've said it once and I'll keep saying it until people learn to drive properly. I do not care how fast you are driving so long as you are not slowing me down or hogging the left lane. Likewise, you should not care about how fast I'm driving or be "offended" when I come up alongside you to pass. Twice, two cars in a row, I move into the left lane to pass and just as I'm about to they decide to speed up, only to slow back down a few feet later. I do NOT play this game and floored it passed the first guy and caught up to the second one. Who, saw that I was going to pass him and also decided to speed up. Truly guys, who the hell are you trying to fool. You and I both know not only are you not going to maintain that higher speed but you don't have the balls to go a long distance AT that high speed, but I do have the balls. So, I speed up and there is a bit of a race before he realizes I'm not backing down and leave him in the dust. After that, neither of them ever came near my care again. See. I knew you didn't have it in you.
It's almost like life. There will always be someone who wants to fight you to be ahead and you have a choice to either accept defeat or move forward. I always choose to move forward, they can stay in the past and eat my dust because I have better things to do than to play your game to soothe your ego.
I later turn onto another major Highway that heads East towards Wausa and Green Bay. The traffic starts out heavy but eventually fades away to a few cars here and there. Scenery turns in to more fields, farms, rolling hills and wait, is that a ShopKo in the middle of the field? Oh, yeah, it was and apparently still operating. It was literally in the middle of nowhere because there was no sign for a town and no way to turn off the highway to access it. So even though it is within spitting distance of a major highway there is no way for commuters or visitors to easily access. I guess you need to know the secret passage to get to it because it didn't look like the roads near it were well marked. In fact, it was almost five miles past it before there was any sort of a turn off for that side of the road. Interesting. Then again, typical Wisconsin.
Moving on, I finally reach the first Rustic Road which I almost missed completely because it wasn't well-marked and I had a semi blocking the right lane. I quickly dodged over and off of the shoulder and was able to make, albeit, extremely sharp right turn without squawking any tires or causing any accidents; thank you Universe. The next Rustic Road was closed due to road construction, yeah like that is going to stop me. There is more than one way to access these roads and I'm determined to do it. So I did, a little old-school map reading later and I was on the opposite enjoying the Rustic Road drive.
Then came Rustic Road 24. The one that is the symbol of a true Rustic Road. This route ended in the middle of NOWHERE, with no way of turning around and as I continued forward the road kept getting more and more narrower and the trees were getting thicker and hung over the road lower and lower. We also had some pretty wicked storms pass over us in the last 24 hours and this area wasn't spared, twigs, branches, and parts of trees lined the road and the dirt road became a rock road. Rocks that looked sharp, dangerous and threatened to pop my tires stared back at me as I tried to go fast to get the hell out of there but not to fast to cause myself problems.
This is also the road that would be seen on Unsolved Mysteries, "she went down that road and never returned." My hands start gripping the wheel and pushing back these thoughts as I fear this road will come to an end and I'll have no way of getting back to civilization or at least a paved road. The corners are also getting sharper and on a corner or two, there is an abandoned SUV or Pickup sitting on the side of the road. I fully expect someone to jump out, hit my car and say, "I need help, stop" and then that is the end of me, thankfully, that does not happen. But I do get the joy of meeting an SUV coming in the opposite direction which gives me hope that the road does lead to somewhere. Another turn reveals a large limb of a tree blocking part of the road and a stop sign behind it. I'm able to drive around it and just before the stop sign is another sign full of bullet holes. Now if that doesn't build my confidence, I don't know what will.
Finally, I'm back on a paved road and feel like I can breathe again. Whew! Heading back to reality and to the Rustic Roads the next ones turn out to be uneventful with one of them leading to a rich and wealthy community. I haven't seen beautiful homes like these in forever and can't help but slow down to take photos and enjoy the view. Some even have a hint of Southern Plantations.
But the Rustic Roads aren't going to let me get away so easily. As I near the last three for the day, I had to re-route myself to access one because of an event that was going which blocked the original access point. The second one was horribly marked which had me missing the turn and getting about 4 miles off track before figuring out and turning back. Lastly, the directions to the final one weren't correct, thankfully was able to GPS it but it too was badly marked. Thankfully I had the route's streets marked so I didn't have any issues.
It doesn't all end bad. As I was on the last part of the Rustic Road I came across a Trailhead and pulled in. By now, Aria and I had been in the car driving for over 6 hours without a break, now it was break time. She happily jumped out of the car and we took a few minutes to stretch our legs and enjoy some quiet time off of the road. An older couple was met, who were very friendly and complimenting Aria with no end. This, of course, got her excited and barking which is not bad but it is never just one bark. We finally went our sperate ways and I took this time to take some shots of Aria along the walk, I even gave her a few minutes of off-leash time. We then leashed back up and headed back to the car, finished up the route and headed over to Green Bay.
I'm a Choice Hotels gal, mainly, because they have more chains that are pet-friendly and their prices are reasonable. This stay is no exception and I had enough points for a free night stay; can't beat that! Even though it is under construction I am SO not impressed. Although I think every hotel along this road is under construction, but whatever. The lobby is small and cramped, parking lot is the same with limited parking spaces, however, they do have plenty of grassy areas to walk Aria. The water was luke-warm at best and I had to stand in ankle-deep water because the drain couldn't keep up with the water. But the rooms are clean and by 8p the halls are quiet. The locks are secure, in fact, so secure that even I had a hard time opening the door to unlock it. Plus after about 10-20 minutes the front desk called to see how my room was. Now I have NEVER had a Choice Hotels property ever do that, so they get a bit of a reprieve for that.
Tomorrow brings day two of my Green Bay Rustic Roads adventure and it'll also be the longest. Thank the Universe for caffeine. It won't be so bad once I'm heading back towards home because I'll be able to sit back, set the cruise and speed along. However, tomorrow does bring me to Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin Coast and a ferry ride over to Washington Island. It'll be Aria's first time on a boat, hope she likes it!!!
Here it is, day two of the Green Bay Rustic Roads road trip. It became obvious about halfway through the night that I have been way too focused on these Rustic Roads. How do I know? Because each and every dream I had revolved around the Rustic Roads, the routes to be taken and the views along the way. I finally gave up on sleep at 430a and began getting ready for the day's drive.
This was going to be a long day, obviously, getting longer since I'm up an hour before the alarm goes off. I do a quick check of everything and begin to plan the day. The part I'm dreading the most is the drive back to my hometown because it is going to be 5.5 hours long and I'll be driving at least that through the Rustic Roads and up to Northport. Deep breathes, I can do this but it is going to be a very long day.
Aria and I get ready and by 630a we're heading East, into the rising sun, for the first Rustic Road. I was blind 3/4 of the way to the beginning point of the route, which had me driving slower than usual to avoid hitting anyone or anything that should choose to jump out onto the road. Thankfully, I made it there without issue but the sun continued to blind be throughout the route which made taking photos frustrating and annoying. But I digress, made it through and was thankful that the route was well-marked. Point for me!
But I didn't give enough thanks to the Universe because the next few routes had me missing turns, and backtracking a couple of miles here and there to re-hook up with the correct route. Not a huge loss but adding them up was starting to put me behind schedule. My plan was to be at Northport by 1030a to catch the 11a Ferry over to Washington Island but as these little misses started adding up it was looking like that plan might not happen. Thankfully, my phone's GPS got enough of a signal to guide me through the last two routes and I was able to get back on time and make it to the Ferry on time. Blessed be!!
I arrived at the Pier right at 1030a and pulled up to the area for the autos taking the ferry. I paid the fee, used the facilities and headed back to the car where the ferry was pulling in. I took Aria out to let her see what was going on and even got a few pictures of her looking at the ferry that was backing into the pier to let the vehicles off. She was not impressed at all and was extremely happy to be back in the car. Once on the ferry and parked, she curled up on the floor in the back and let the light rocking of the boat put her at ease and eventually asleep for the 30-minute ride over to the Island.
I took this time to take photos of the lake and the mainland and then stood next to the car with my arms and head on the railing, letting the cool lake breeze push back my hair and blow away any remaining stress or worry about the day. It was a gorgeous day to be one the water and it relaxed me to the point of total peace all the way over. But as we pulled in the clock in my head started clicking. I was hoping to do the drive in time to make the 12p ferry back but there was no way that was going to happen and when I drove off there were a line of cars waiting to get on which could make even the 1p ferry hard to get on.
New goal, be back to the pier by 1230p to, hopefully, guarantee a spot on the 1p ferry because, according to the schedule, it leaves every hour on the hour and it is a first come, first serve basis. Thank the stars above this route is marked THE ENTIRE WAY!! Blessed be! Maps go away and I'm able to enjoy the entire Rustic Road route and even found a deserted beach for Aria and I to enjoy for a few minutes.
She was able to take a few minutes to enjoy the warm sand and cool Lake water against her paws while I took pictures of the shoreline and Rock Island in the distance. But the Islanders have a weird sense of humor. As I'm taking my photos something on a large boulder catches my eye, I turn and see it is a snake. I lean in a bit closer to see that the snake is blue. Uh, what? Why?
Not even going to ask any more than that, Aria and I have a schedule to keep and more of the Rustic Road to see. It's amazing how this small amount of downtime can really change your time frame but I don't care it was worth it but time is quickly ticking by and I have no idea where on the Island I am in reference to the Pier. Because even though the Rustic Road Route is marked the actual road is not. Finally, after a few more miles and turns, I see a sign that I remember from the map and know that I am close to the end. Almost there and I'm pushing 1215p, then I see the road ahead of me that'll take me back to the ferry.
I come around the last corner at 1228p and see the pier and TWO ferries. One that has the tail open and the other that appears to be backing in. I glance over at the ticket booth and the gal inside sticks her arm out and waves me on once, stops, looks to the boat, and waves it again a few more times. I quickly pull through, hand the guy my ticket and get onto the ferry. A few minutes later, 1235p to be exact, they are closing the gate and pulling out.
Wait, what? I thought you said you left every hour, on the hour, until 5p. Interesting but I'm not going to argue or complain this puts me 30 minutes ahead of schedule and I will gladly take it. I also realize that I haven't had anything to eat since 530p last night and know there aren't any immediate quick places to eat in the area.
Oh well, there are gas stations all over, eventually, I'll find something. The ferry pulls into the mainland, and I'll admit, it went a hell of a lot faster than the one over to the Island. Is this your last trip boys? Again, not going to complain. I get off of the ferry, make my way through Newport and head back over to Highway 42 to weave through the many, small towns that line the Lake Michigan Coastline which all seem to be having some sort of an Autumn Fest because the streets are lined with cars and pedestrians. Or maybe they're celebrating Pumpkin season because every other home or field was filled with pumpkins.
Once I made my way through them and got through Sturgeon Bay traffic backed off and speeds became faster and more consistent but still no food. I admit I was looking for a Kwik Trip which is gas station chain that is popular throughout Wisconsin and are quite heavy along this route, or so I thought. Apparently, when you're looking for something it can't be found.
But there has to be one in Green Bay, right? Right! But it is at the exit AFTER my turn off and I'm not about to play go around in this city. Two hours later, in the middle of nowhere, I not only find a Kwik Trip but it is a truck stop Kwik Trip. Thank the Universe. I've also had to use the facilities this whole time which was priority number one when I pulled in. After that, I looked at the food selection and was not impressed or hungry for any of it. But I forced myself to grab a cheeseburger to ward off a possible hunger headache. An added bonus was I had accrued enough points to make that one a FREE one. Oh, yeah! Thank you, Universe!! I haven't forgotten about Aria, this stop is also surrounded by grassy areas so Aria and I step out so she can do her business before we continue.
Now comes the miles until E game. Normally, this would have me sweating bullets but I also remember, from the drive up, that there are a lot of gas stations or truck stops along this route. The thing is I don't want to fill up too soon and use most of it to get home and have to fill up again in a day or two. If I can hold off as long as possible I'll have nearly a full tank by the time I get back home, leaving me to have gas for the rest of the week. I know it's fucked up the way I think but it's what I do. I'm also calculating the miles left in the tank to the miles on the GPS to the next major turn off which is near a major town. It can be done but it is going to be extremely close. Finally, I see the sign that says Cenex Truck Stop 33 miles which will put me right at the miles left to E spot I want to be. Done and done!!
But if you think my car isn't sarcastic you are sorely mistaken. After I see this sign and do a quick calculation in my head the miles to E begin to drop at a steady and quick pace. I literally curl my lip at it and say, "don't care, we're not stopping until exit 91." Which is where this truck stop is located. I make it with miles to spare, pull in, gas up, use the facilities, grab a sandwich and chips from Subway and hit the road again. Ten minutes later I'm turning on Highway 53, the last section of Highway that'll allow me to drive a high speed; legally.
I'm not on this route, which is only 32 miles long, for a mile and it starts to feel like I've been on it for 10. Groan, this route feels like the longest route in the world and I swear the miles on the GPS were clicking down slower than usual. I groan, want to cry and get the hell off of this road but there's nothing I can do but grip the wheel and take it. I roll down the windows and turn on the a/c. The cool air revives me and helps me get through these miles until my next turn off.
Finally, I'm in the last 20 mile stretch of my journey and halfway through those miles, I'm once again driving straight into the Sun, this time setting. Do I have the timing or what? At least I know this route and the turns but it was still a pain in the ass to drive. Plus I live in the country and this is the time of day the deer are out, lining the road or jumping up out of the ditches. Thankfully, once again, I made it home without issue.
In the end, this was an amazing trip and no matter what happens along the way I so love taking these road trips. I learn a lot about the areas and myself each and every time and wouldn't trade the experiences for the world.
Tomorrow begins another road trip with Aria. This one keeps me in my home state of Wisconsin but will lead me to the Eastern border of the state that will also give me a glance at Lake Michigan. This lake is not new to me, in fact, while I was working in Milwaukee I had the greatest privilege of renting a cabin-style home on the shores of Lake Michigan with private beach and lake access.
I shared the home with a college friend of mine and I can still remember walking down there at night. There was a natural rock dock that went a few feet into the water and we went down there, watched the sunset with my then dog, Mitzy. The night sky was clear and full of stars. We talked about work, customers we dealt with, memories of college, future plans and strange lights in the sky. It was one of my favorite places that I have ever lived in.
But this weekend is just an overnight trip to the Green Bay, WI area. I haven't been there since High School went I spent a few weeks at the campus for band camp. Love the college and area, the camp, well, it was alright. Volleyball camp was a lot more fun and better but that was ages ago. Now I'm returning to a city that has, without a doubt, grown a lot in the years, also home to our state's football team, I can only imagine the logos that will be displayed everywhere.
The trip involves seeing a few more Rustic Roads and marking them off of my "need to still see" list, give me a few more blogs to write and then head over to Door County, up the "thumb" of the state and sail over to Washington Island for the final Rustic Road of the area. When I say "thumb" of the state, take a look at the state of Wisconsin. There is a portion of the state that jets out into Lake Michigan and when that is attached to the main state it looks like a mitten. Hence the word "thumb" of the state. O.k. truly that is just my saying, I'm not even sure anyone else in the state uses that phrase but I like it so I'm going to continue to use it. Then if you look at the Western Border along Minnesota it is actually the face of a Native American. I often joke that my county is located in the Native American's "bugger". Which pretty much sums up "tiny town living".
But I still love the state and the hometown could always be worse, being a traveler I have seen worse so I can't complain I just like to give it a hard time now and then. Tomorrow is going to be an early and long day with an even longer day on Sunday; close to 12 hours on the road when it is all said and done. Then I get to go to work the next day. What was I thinking?!?
I'll tell you what I was thinking. The days are getting shorter, my goal is not complete and this is going on year two of the Rustic Roads, I have points for a free night stay, the weather is going to be good and fuck it I LOVE ROAD TRIPS!! I love driving, getting lost in my own thoughts, listening to music and radio stories all while seeing new places from the comfort of my reliable and beautiful car. I'm alive and free every single time I hit the road and I'm missing it terribly so that is what I was thinking.
I'll write more as the weekend goes on and I can't wait to share my Rustic Road experiences with you. Because no matter how much I plan and prepare for these trips there will always be, at least, one that gives me a run for my money and puts a whole lot of tension on my nerves. I never expect anything less, but if it was all smooth driving then these blogs would be BORING. Take care and enjoy the day!!
The time is 4a and the alarm is singing on my phone as well as a brown eyed, wet nose pup who even in the dark is able to show them to me with a pouty look. Its a bit cool in the hotel rooms, the a/c barely stopped during the night which should have clued me in to what I was about to walk out to but I'm always in denial when it comes to the heat. When we, Aria and I step, out we're not only greeted by a full parking lot but a large gust of warm, dry wind and the air is filled with humidity.
We walk around the building to the walking area and more wind blows our hair around and the dust and sand are also being kicked up. There is no sign of the sun and at this time of the day I'm alway cautious of walking Aria, especially here. The parking lot is well-lit and so is the walking area but on the way to it there are enough shadows that make it difficult to see if anyone is standing there, but a few steps reveal I'm the only one in the hotel who is up and about.
After the walk, Aria is fed and the last minute packing preparations are underway. I have stayed at this hotel many times and when we pulled in yesterday, Aria had a little bit of spring in her step. Not only did she remember the place, but I think she also remember that this place means last night in a hotel.
Last night's rest was interrupted several times by the neighbors, as in, after midnight. Not sure if they had just arrived or what the deal was but woke up once to a slamming of a door which startled both Aria and I out of our sleep. Several more door shuts, not quite as loud, and a car alarm finally had the night back to quietness. Its times like these, I wish I knew who the people were so I could walk by there room, make a loud sound, wake them up and then go about my day. Or at the very least, sign my brights into their room for a few minutes. But I digress.
It is about a nine hour drive back to Wisconsin, without stops, and since it is the weekend before 4th of July I want to be in the cities as soon as possible. Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid traffic. The bags are packed in the car and the phone app reveals the temperature only dropped to approximately 75 during the night. Yuck! It is going to be a hot and humid day. I take Aria for one final walk and as the time pushes 5a, some lights in the rooms also begin to glow. Time for everyone else to start waking up too.
We hop into the car and as I back out it becomes clear there was one thing I forgot to do yesterday and that was, wash the windshield. Ever since I left Rapid City, the bugs have decided to aim for my windshield and make it a huge mess and make it difficult to see out of. I hate being at gas stations or truck strops, even in my own town, when it is still dark out. Stories on Unsolved Mysteries flow through my head so when I have to, I stay close to the car. But the Pilot Truck Stop doesn't have buckets of cleaning fluid at every pump. So I have to walk away from the car in order to get it.
There is only one other car at the pumps and he is several feet away but I still move quickly so I can get back into a locked and running car. May seem paranoid but when it comes to my and Aria's safety I will gladly take it. Window cleaned I pull back out onto the road and onto a deserted Interstate. Even in the oncoming lanes there are no cars. It is ominous as I drive into the darkness and away from the small town. In the far distance, behind me, there are two dots which means I'm not completely alone and the further East I travel I run into a few more vehicles, mostly trucks. I also run into something else several more times; bugs.
The clean windshield is no more and some of them are big and aiming right into my line of view. By the time the sun starts coming up I can barely see out of the windshield and the wipers are no help. Off to the North I can see dark and heavy clouds that appear to be raining. Its the one time I wish it would veer South towards me and help me clean off these bugs but no such luck and I push forward to Mitchell, SD. Here, I'm able to pull into a gas station and thoroughly clean the windows, again. At this rate, I'm going to have to stop every hour or two to clean it which is going to be a major slow down in my travel time.
I use the facilities and pull over to the side to walk Aria again, the rest of the drive is going to be a hard push and only stopping for gas which will be several hours from now, that is, if the bugs don't stop me. The wind has also picked up and large, grey clouds are forming around us. Definitely a storm on the horizon probably the same front I saw at Glacier a few days ago and is now making its way East. It could get intersting, depending, on how far South it drops.
Back on the road and heading into Minnesota and it is nothing but wind fighting the entire way. Gusts are pushing me back and forth along the Interstate and at times I driving into which makes me feel like I'm going no where fast. A glance down at the tank shows it too is dropping quickly, grrr, but it is what is and I keep going. The one benefit of the wind is, it is keeping the bugs away and I still have a clean windshield.
There is a pull over at a gas station in a small town along Minnesota 169. The wind is getting stronger and the humidity is rising. A glance at the dashboard shows 90 and we're not even to the cities yet. I get back in the car and the few minutes it was off to gas up and use the facilities makes it feel like the car hasn't been running in hours. Once on, I kick on the a/c and switch it to the floor so Aria stays cool, she is not a fan of heat and humidity, can't blame her. We were both in our glory when visiting Glacier and the wind was cool with temps in the high 60s, low 70s and waking up to 50 degree temps. Heaven! Now we're back in the heat and humidity which means we're both growling at each other until the car cools.
From here to the cities it is nothing but road construction. Thankfully we keep a steady pace through the next ten miles or so but at time we do slow down to a crawl which means the cold air turns to cool, Aria starts panting and pacing and we're both miserable until we get going again and the a/c turns back to cold. The joys of idiling. We're back up to speed and through the construction and away I go. Peddle to the floor, everyone move over.
It is a few minutes before 1130 when I arrive just outside of Bloomington and on to 494, traffic before the turn off had been slowly getting thicker but a turn onto 494 reveals we are at a stop. Ugh! I can never win with this route. There is always traffic, but will today be a stop and crawl traffic or slow and steady moving. A few lane changes, thanks to breaks in the cars, reveals we're at a slow and steady pace. Thank the Universe! It's still a bit of a nail biter but at least we're moving. Once past the airport turnoffs, the speed increases and I'm moving along but not until I pick up lunch at a local store and the call for the day is Sushi. Love it!
I pull in and get a spot next to the door and quickly run in, thankfully, there is self-checkout and the specific item I'm looking for is in the display case but it doesn't stop a few people from slowly blocking me. I think to myself, "come on, come on, I have a car outside that isn't getting any cooler and a pup who isn't going to be happy". Finally, through the checkout and quickly walking back to the car which is starting to get warm and Aria a bit upset. I quickly turn on the car and the cool air blasts us both, calm and relief flow over us and I set up my lunch so I can eat and drive.
I'm back on 494, heading North, and the turn off I usually take which would be 494 to 94 is backed up a few miles, time to detour pass it, stay on 694 and head over to Stillwater. Again we're slow and steady and the turn off to Stillwater comes quickly. I merge on to it only to be encountered with more traffic. Clearly everyone was able to leave before noon today and I'm in the middle of chaos and stupidity. Everyone, regardless of speed, is in the left lane and staying there. I've had to do a few changes of the lanes but make it through without issue and see the new bridge before. Almost to Wisconsin, which means we'll be at a faster speed and everyone will be spreading out.
Over the bridge and within a mile later it is clear sailing the rest of the way home. Even though, due to traffic, I had to take one more detour Aria still knows when we're pulling into our driveway. Her head peaks out between the front seats and she lets out excited whimpers as if to say, "we're home! we're home!" Yes, indeed we are home.
I let her out of the car and she rejoices in being off the leash and having a lot of grass to walk in. An amazing road trip that I'm so happy I was able to enjoy with good weather and a safe journey. I look forward to heading back out to the area and visiting Yellowstone. Another place I visited as a kid but would like to go back and drive through it again.
Today is the first day back to Wisconsin and it starts out early, as in a 4a get-up to walk Aria early. The sun is barely showing signs of waking up itself over the high mountains that line the city. We go down the stairs to the side door and upon arrival is jumping up and down, someone drank too much water last night and really has to go. Thankfully, the grass isn't far away.
We return to the room where the day slowly but consistently begins with, of course, her breakfast and more water. I plan on leaving earlier than usual as today is going to be a full nine hour driving day and that doesn't include any stops that I make along the way. Plus I will be back in Central time zone when I arrive at the hotel so I'm going to loose an hour. The earlier I get going, the earlier I will get to the hotel and relax.
The temperature in Bozeman is 60 degrees this morning and has a bit of cool breeze, off in the East the sky, once again, is showing hints of pink. But a glance over to the West shows the moon is still out and a light pink almost purple surrounds it with light clouds passing by. It is almost a full moon and it is an amazing site to see first thing in the morning. If only the camera could capture its beauty.
Another benefit to this hotel is the literature that is located at the entrance to the lobby. There are several state magazines that talk about things to see and do in different regions of the state as well as homes and decorating plus the usual pamphlets that talk about popular tourist attractions. Needless to say, before leaving, I grabbed several of them. Before leaving I grabbed my phone and see that rain is coming and will start around 7a. Definitely time to go.
I hook up Aria and when we head back down to the car, once again, she is jumping up and down at the door. One more walk before we hit the road. The parking lot is full of cars and by the look of some of them this place caters to construction workers. Some of them are up and getting ready to leave at the same time I do, which is a little after 530a.
The beginning of the route over to South Dakota, which is where I'll be staying tonight, is on I90. Fast speeds and minimal traffic make it a smooth drive through the mountains and the construction zones. It occurs to be about an hour in to the drive that I have never returned to Wisconsin on the same route I came out to Montana on; specifically Highway 212 which goes through the countryside.
I'm either coming up through Wyoming which has me entering just East of Rapid City or I stay on I90 and spend a few more miles in Wyoming before crossing over in to South Dakota. I have to say the route seemed to be longer and more boring heading back than it did heading out. Not sure why but there were times I struggled to keep my eyes open. Thankfully, about that time a town would pop up or just before Broadus a complete stop because construction has brought the road down to one lane.
We sit for nearly ten minutes and the heat and humidity can be felt through the car and the air can't keep it cool enough. The stop also has Aria getting anxious and her panting has started to increase. Even though the air is cool it isn't as cold as it is when we're moving. I clearly arrived just as the first group was going through and now we're going to have to wait.
Finally, I see the pilot car and we're off. The road is all dirt and all pot holes. Semis and trailers are in the lead and they are rocking back and forth even at the crawling speeds were at. Aria is up and pacing but her panting has slowed, she is confused by what is going on but eventually settles down and allows the cool air to calm and relax her. Now, we're through the one-lane portion and have another mile of dirt road to get through before we're back on solid ground and the road barely allows two vehicles through let alone two semis. Plus the potholes only get deeper and more frequent, as if that were even possible, but it does. A steep and short incline with a final bumps pushes us onto paved road and out of the construction zone. We slowly begin to speed up and just around the corner in front of us is a lead vehicle with the sign "Wide Load" and a wide load it was.
I feel sorry for the driver and the construction workers who are going to have to deal with this large piece of equipment that is being hauled and it hangs over the sides. I'm so happy I won't be anywhere near the area when it goes through. Continuing forward also reveals I only have about 70 miles left in the gas tank. Maybe I should have filled up in Ashland but my gut tells me there are service stations in Broadus and, to my surprise, there was!
A quick fill up, a snack and another walk for Aria and we are back on the road heading towards South Dakota. The closer we get to the state, the flatter the area becomes which mean the duller the drive becomes. At least the other way I can see the mountains growing in the distance now they are disappearing all together. The route dips into Wyoming for a few miles before pulling me into South Dakota and back onto I90.
Here speeds pick up even more and it is smooth sailing until I get through Rapid City. Heading East from Rapid City for the next 100-200 miles is not just long and boring but a gas mileage killer. The area is super flat, with low rolling hills, somewhere in the distance are the Badlands but today I can't see them. A haze is covering the land and a heavy wind is blowing. It never fails, every single time I'm on this route my gas mileage sinks because of the strong wind that blows through here. Either it pushes me from side to side or I go head to head with it. Never has it been a tail wind to help push me along. I growl and groan every time I'm on this route and watch the tank's needle to a steady drop. Curse you South Dakota!!
I've chosen to stay in a small, rural town just off of I90. It is cute, quaint and quiet and at one time only had two hotels to choose from but seems to be renovating old buildings and making them into small Inns which is nice to see. Other than the Pilot Travel Center, that is all there is to say about the town. A place to sleep, gas up, and for fast food it is Subway which upon arrival was busy as well as the gas pumps. You'd think it was a holiday weekend coming up; oh wait.
This also has me thinking that tomorrow morning will be another early departure, even though the return trip will be about eight hours everyone in the cities is going to be leaving early. So the sooner I get up there and through the Twin Cities the better I'll be. Last night in a hotel has Aria doing a bit of a happy dance. Temperatures are nearing 90 and with the humidity it feels like 100 which makes being in a car all day not the funnest way to spend her time.
Enjoy your day!!
Cool mountain air, over three hundred photos taken at Glacier, too many stops throughout the park to count, walking around to get the shots all add up to one tired photographer and blogger. It has been a really long time since I have slept that deep for that long. I barely remember turning the TV off. Aria was tired too from and enjoyed being sprawled out on the 2nd queen bed in the room.
Morning comes quickly and a little after 5a a brown eyed, wet nose pup is sounding her alarm to let me know it is time for our morning walk. Upon return, she curls back up on my queen bed where it is still warm and goes back to sleep. I wish I could do that but now that I'm up the mind is racing about things I need to do today and calculating the time. One thing that is a must is an oil change and seeing as how I will be going to a Jiffy Lube that place can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour. I really wish there were more Valvoline Lube stations in Montana, they are always good at keeping the cars moving and making the wait minimal.
Anyways, the morning walk revealed it is a cool 50 degrees out and a look to the East and the mountains shows a hint of red sky. Possibly more storms on the way. A couple of hours later Aria and I are doing a final walk before hopping into the car to head back to Bozeman. Since I'm taking another unknown route back, I have decided to fill up here in Kalispell. After the fill-up I am now heading South towards Bigfork before jumping onto 83S and heading into the Flathead National Forest. This route has plenty of gas stations throughout the Forest as well as before and after you go through it, so no worries about that. However, the gas prices do go up once inside the National Forest.
Today the trees were thick, lush and green. There are a few lakes along the way as well as streams and rivers. This is also a logging community so mind the large trucks. The route is also full of twists and turns with the local wildlife popping out all of a sudden to check your reflexes and brakes. Speed limits vary from 45-70 the entire way and even in the 70 mph zone there are still vehicles that are going 5-10 miles slower. Areas to pass are frequent but also have a lot of blind corners so be sure to use caution. Once your pass those drivers it is an easy and quick drive through the forest.
Once through it, the view opens up and the trees push back to a few more small towns as well as the large mountains that are surrounding the area. Some are sprinkled with snow near the tops while others still show several inches and very little grass on the top. After 83S comes the real roller coaster part of the trip and that is Highway 200. Large hills up and can't see the remainder of the road until you go over the top, only to see a few yards away is a sharp turn with indicators to go slow. Several more follow, along with camper trailers and again, extra slow drivers.
I dealt with this the entire way back to Bozeman, there were very few spots I could set the cruise and just enjoy the drive. Maybe it was the Universe's way of keeping me awake the entire way back, or maybe I was just having the luck of being behind every slow driver that was out on the road today. But I digress and once on Highway 141 the passing lanes started to present themselves. So I gave up with the passing and waited until the passing lanes arrived to move past them.
There was also a debate between myself and the GPS when we came to Highway 200. It wanted me to head towards Missoula which is in the opposite direction of Bozeman. I can only assume it was trying to get me onto I90 and take that into Bozeman but I do know enough about the state to know that is in the opposite direction. I can also read the sign that says Missoula is almost 50 miles aways from this point. But if I head East I go to Helena, in the direction of Bozeman, and it is only 30 miles. So I headed East and the GPS freaked out.
It took a few miles for it to finally realize I'm not turning around. I just drove this route yesterday, so I know how to get from Helena to the Interstate that will take me back to Bozeman so calm down GPS and wait, did I see that when recalculated this way was going to not only save me 20 plus miles but also get me back over 30 minutes earlier?!?
Hmmm, I guess you didn't have the "fastest route" calculated, did you. Point for me! The bonus of this route was I got to drive through the city of Helena and it is still a cute and easily navigable town. There are some older buildings throughout, but the city is clean and buildings are spaced out with ability to see beyond them and to the mountains. Final stretch to Bozeman is ahead and when I pull out onto the Interstate I feel like I'm going home.
Not to another hotel but home. Perhaps this is just a taste of what I will be feeling someday, that the Bozeman area will soon be home. If so, I look forward to it. I pull into the Jiffy Lube and see there are no other cars there and see I'm it's only guest. Hallelujiah!! I'm directed in and Aria and I get out and head into the waiting area, about 10-15 minutes later the car is ready to go and so are we. Glad I came when I did because while we waited four more cars showed up and the wait was already pushing to 30-40 minutes. It pays to know the route. :)
Afterwards I head over to my favorite hotel in the entire city. The main reason for loving it is because of the ambiance the whole lodge feels like log cabin, the staff is nice, the location is great, the rooms are big and clean, there is an amazing mountain view as well as plenty of lush green grounds for walking Aria. As I pull in she knows immediately where we are and can't wait to get out and walk the grounds.
I go in to see if the room might be clean, we're about three hours early, and thankfully they do have a room available. However, the online booking didn't make note of my having a dog so there was going to be a change of type of room. Which is fine as long as it didn't change the price as their two queen beds are more expensive than the king size I had booked. He checks on the rooms, adds the pet fee, I fill out the paperwork only to have him say he is changing it back. Even though he said earlier dogs are only allowed in certain king rooms. So I'm not sure there was a lot of back and forth and I'm thinking he thought the wait on the King would be longer so that is why he changed it but then saw it was available and put me back??
Whatever. I prefer Kings over Queens when staying in hotels but as long as it is comfortable, dog-friendly, clean, safe and secure I'm a happy customer. However, today Aria is not in her usual hotel mood. Not sure if she is still tired from yesterday's trip or if she is just a bit off. Twice while walking through the hotel she has let out several barks, one to the front desk staff and the other to the housekeepers carts and garbage bags in the hall. Even though they were there when we left a few minutes ago. Needless to say we had a talk that unless she wanted us to get kicked out and have to sleep in the car, it be best if she put a lid on it.
For now, we're making it work. Tomorrow will be another long day on the road, so I'm happy to be done with this day early. Enjoy your day!!
It's June, 2018 and the original plan for today was to just drive up to Kalispell, spend the night, and then tour Glacier National Park the next day. But then I saw the drive up there was only going to be a little over four and a half hours, if I left early enough I could get up there, tour the Park and then be done by the time I can check in. Have the rest of the day to chill and then the next day I only have to worry about making my way back to Bozeman. Plus it was Aria's birthday so why should she have to spend it in a hotel room, lets do this!
So I reviewed the Google Maps and I knew my GPS would not take me the route I wanted to and put me through a drive with limited views and extremely high speeds. All in the name of saving time. I am in no rush to get up there but I am in a rush to see some good scenery. So the route I had chosen was one that took me on to Montana Highway 287 and pass through Helena before jumping onto I15. This part of the route is nothing to brag about, your typical Montana Highway with fields on either side, a small town here and there and a few twists and turns with the mountains in the far distance. Next comes Helena.
Now I admit I didn't see what East Helena looks like but Helena itself was not that big which took me by surprise. I was expecting tall buildings, busy streets, obstructed mountain views but there wasn't. The town was quaint, easy to get around and mountains everywhere you look. It was also town that had a ton of commercial shops so anything you needed you could find easily without leaving the comforts of the city. Very cool town to drive through.
I hopped onto I15N and it wasn't long before I hopped off of it again to rejoin Highway 287N. Now this is where it gets interesting and a very nice drive. There are hills, fields, solitude, no traffic, no phone signal and no service station. The next major town along this route, which also when you start seeing signs for Glacier National Park, is Augusta. If you don't have a full tank of gas Augusta is your last chance to get gas until you reach the town of Browning and there is only one gas station in that town. So the price of gas is pretty high but the town itself is cute with a touch of history to the buildings.
A block past the gas station and you are back out in the country of Montana. This road reminded me of Highway 12 off of Interstate 94, very few cars and nothing but farms, fields, livestock and mountains as far as the eye can see. It is by far and away not a boring drive, there are a lot of hills, sharp turns, very few passing lanes, lots of campers and little indication that you need to slow down for the very sharp turn that is coming up. So be cautious of the road and of the wildlife who like to jump out in the 70 MPH zone.
The further North I went, the gustier the wind became which meant temperatures were also starting to drop. It was pushing the car so hard that it felt like I was fishtailing on ice but the roads were bone dry. This would continue all the way to East Glacier and never letting up once. There was a section that opened up with a sign that said, "Heavy Gust Area". That was an understatement as I swear the butt end of my car did more than a fish tail when I drove through. A tighter grip on the wheel and a clenched, "settle down wind" had me regaining control of the car and continuing forward.
This sign, would be the first of many signs that I will say I didn't need to be told that but I will gladly share them with you. N287 eventually comes to an end I turn onto 89N as I turn there is a yellow triangle sign with a flag on it that is blowing straight out on the sign it says, "Gusty Winds". Thank you, I wasn't sure if I was dealing with a gusty wind or a straight line wind. By the way, where were you thirty miles back when this wind started. But I chuckle, shake my head and move on.
About ten to fifteen years ago I had visited Glacier National Park and at that time I came in through the West entrance. I'm fuzzy about a lot of things but I do remember the entrance being pretty obvious with lots of signs. So naturally I would assume the same thing for the East entrance. Wrong! The signs tell you where East Glacier is located but once inside all information about accessing the park from this location does not exist. Should have visited the website? Yeah, the NPS websites are as easy to navigate as walking through a maze. There is no clear indication about where the East side entrance is located.
So I continue forward through the campgrounds and rv parks and see a sign up ahead that says Two Medicine and Highway 89/St Mary. St. Mary. I know and remember that St. Mary has a visitor center inside the park so that has to be where the entrance is, right? At this point I have no clue and no signal and I'm too stubborn to turn around. The whole point of coming in on the East side is to drive through the park, come out on the West side and only be a few minutes away from Kalispell where my hotel is located. Simple enough, right?
Not when you have no signal and GPS that keeps saying to turn around and go another three hours and few hundred miles to get where I want to go. Head down GPS you need a break and onto Highway 89 I go.
This route was amazing to drive. There was a climb up that offered pull overs and views of Glacier National Park. One pullover had a couple telling me that the small path would lead to an amazing view. I let Aria out and together we walked it and they were right. Opened view of the mountains and stream below as well as a few candid shots of Aria. We hiked back up to the car and headed back out. A few more stops and a road that was badly damaged by the winter we finally came around a bend where we came to a complete stop. Road Construction. One lane only too, which meant we were waiting for the lead car to arrive.
About 10-15 minutes later they showed up and so begins the bumpy, twisty, muddy and dusty drive to the area that isn't under construction. It was only about five miles long but took us over twenty minutes to get through it. Finally we did but then there are more twists and turns as well as bunched up cars which made the rest of the drive slow and long and the whole time I kept thinking, "If the entrance isn't here than I have to come back through all of this to go over to West Glacier.... Of course there is Canada which is only a few more miles North..."
A sharp turn and brake lights snap me out of my thoughts and have me focused on the road before me. Finally I see the buildings of the town of St. Mary and the very first sign I see points to the left saying "Glacier National Park", I turn and there is the entrance! Yahoo! The majestic mountains that stood behind the gated entrance were breathtaking and made me feel giddy inside. I pulled up, paid the fee and made a stop at the visitor center and gift shop. Ten minutes later and few dollars less in my pocket Aria and I are on our way to drive through the National Park.
We're barely on the drive when all traffic has come to a stop and few people are hanging out their windows. What in the what? A small black bear has chosen this spot to cross back over into the woods after getting a drink of water from the stream. I was a couple of cars back and couldn't see how big it was but I did see bits of it and it was a beauty. Probably female and about the size of a german shephard. A few more twists and turns lead to the first of many pull offs Aria and I would take.
It is here that I let her out for the first time and grab a few candid shots of her next to St. Mary Lake and inside Glacier National Park. She is clearly more interested in the scenery around her than at me holding the camera. Someone pulled in behind us and that gave me the look I was waiting for, I turned and when they saw her the usual 'oohs' and 'awws' began followed by the 'can we pet her?' Like I'm going to turn them down, correction, Aria wasn't going to let me turn them down. The word 'sure' barely left my lips before she began dragging me towards them and knocked them down with kisses. There were laughs and exchanges of stories before we all went our own way.
The wind continued the whole drive through East Glacier and dark clouds were beginning to form around the tips which made temperatures drop even more. There are still plenty of snow patches along the mountains and as far down as the roads, they are slowly melting which is obvious from the large amounts of water that were falling down the sides. A not so cool sign said, "Snow Bridge, Not Stable Don't Stand On It." Oh really? On that note I'm just going to choose another place to pull off to and maybe pick up my pace a little bit.
Here's another sign you'll see in the park, "Congested Area Ahead". Seriously, I could see it was congested five miles back, didn't need you tell me that this was a popular place for people to pull over at, but again, thanks for letting me know. There aren't words big enough to describe the beauty and aw that this park has to offer.
Every twist, turn, climb, descent and pull over offer a whole new perspective on the scenery around you. I can't even remember seeing half of the stuff I saw today.
The wind didn't begin to back off until I was heading downward toward the Lake McDonald area it is also the area, which is at a lower elevation, had the sun out more and the temperature rise from 60 degrees to near 70 and with little wind it became hot. The two main routes in the park, which merge together, are the Going-To The Sun Route and Logan's Pass. Going to The Sun is the highest part of the drive and is over on the East side/St. Mary, Logan's Pass is the lower part of the drive next to Lake McDonald/West side.
Along the way you will see Gorges, Waterfalls, Unstable Snow Bridges, Tunnels, Hiking Trails, Wildlife, Streams, No Guardrail, Falling Rocks, and my personal favorite a straight, unobstructed drop a few hundred feet to the bottom. I should mention I'm not a huge fan of heights and there were a few pull offs I either stayed in the car and took the picture or held on to it while I leaned out to take a photo. Cars whipping in to get the same photo didn't help the matter at all. I did it and the shots turned out great but the hands were shaking and the heart was racing. The things I do for that one "great" shot.
The entire route from East side to West side is only about 60 miles long but can take almost two hours to do because of the turns, people pulling off and on and the speed limit which doesn't go above 45 mph but is at an average of 25 mph. But with all of my stops and talks with people it took closer to four hours to complete, time that flew by but nearing the end I was happy to be leaving. At this point I had been driving for over eight hours and about an hour or two of that was white knuckled through blind turns, close calls and hugging corners to avoid hitting others. It was time to leave and relax.
I headed out to Kalispell and along the way found the hotel I had stayed at over ten years ago. The exterior still looked the same but they have expanded to include cabins and tipis; interesting. I chose to stay loyal to my hotel chain and stay at another Choice Hotels. This one is connected to a casino and has a larger sign than the hotel. Both entrances are next to each other and again, the casino's sign is bigger but it is a small establishment and is quiet. The lobby is huge and the room is spacious. Some of the rooms, not mine, have walkout decks or patios with a seating area, they also have a pool and fitness center. Rooms are extremely clean, quiet and appear to have been renovated. Always makes my day! Plus they have fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and hot popcorn for an evening treat.
Now that I can't pass up. The only downside was I had to wait for my room. I arrived a little after 4p and they were still in there cleaning it which meant I had to wait an extra ten minutes for them to finish. A minor inconvenience because I had a seafood sub waiting for me in a slowly, growing hot car. But Aria and I took advantage of the time and went for a walk around the property which showed to be well-lit, quiet and clean.
The wind had also returned and Aria enjoyed feeling it, once again, flow through her long coat. We were finally able to get into my room where we both enjoyed supper and relaxing for the rest of the night. Pet walking areas are doable but have to be looked for in order to find but for once Aria isn't being picky so I neither will I.
If there is one thing my body doesn't do on these road trips it is adjust to the new time. I'm currently on Mountain time instead of my usual Central time which means everything is an hour earlier. I never change the car clock or my computer's clock which may play a little bit of the factor but come 4a my mind and Aria are up and urging me to get moving. It takes a lot of effort and begging to convince both of them it is too early and that I need to rest. A half hour later the brown eyes and cold nose have returned, this time with a whimper to let me know she isn't fooling around.
With reluctance I get up and we go out for our morning walk and in the horizon not only is it still dark there is a hint of red to it. Which always makes me think of the old saying, "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning." I'm happy I won't be staying in the area to see if it is true or not but according to my weather app the area is under flood warnings and possible storms throughout the day.
It is a leisurely morning since the drive won't be very long over to Wetsern Montana but as the body begins to wake up so does the list of things that need to be done today. There is a huge benefit and sense of accomplishment working self-employement work but there is always the fitting it in when I'm on the road. There is also the book that still needs to get picked up which means more submissions also need to be done. A quick calculation of what I need to do and how long it will take has me quickening my pace, especially, when I see that the drive is actually a little bit longer than I originally thought.
I start up the packing and Aria quickly finds a corner that allows her to stay out of the way but still able to see all that I'm doing and let me know if I have forgotten anything important, like her food. I quickly pack the car, return to grab her and the final items, one more walk and we are on our way to Montana. Oh wait, I still have to gas up the car. Over to the next door gas station I go to fill up and pick up a lottery ticket. You can't win if you don't play and I love to play the lottery.
Back in the car, we hit the road and head West. It isn't long outside of Rapid City that I turn off of the Interstate and take the local Highway 212 that skims through Wyoming before heading into Montana and bringing us out about an hour East of Billings. I absolutely love this part of the drive. The road is pretty quiet with a lot of trucks, the further into Montana I go the more rolling hills and twists and turns occur along the way. The road is lined with large fields full of cattle, horses, sheep and gazelles, most of them have their young ones close by making the area littered with animal.
Ranchers and farmers are also common along this route as well as a sprinkle of a large town here and a small one there. Most of these towns have at least one gas station if not several depending on the size so no need to worry about gas just the price, smaller the town, the higher the price. This day was even greeted by ranchers and their workers riding their horses alongside the road checking the fencing. I felt, for the moment, like we had stepped back in time.
There was a small area of construction, which was under construction, when I came through here back in April. Not sure if they have done much improvement since then but rain and snow have caused large, muddy holes along the way and areas go down to one lane. At the beginning of the construction is a light letting us know when we can go and it is here that I was taken aback by the site to my left. For the last year or so this ara offered a beautiful, old, rundown home that I loved photographing and sadly today it was destroyed. I didn't have time to get out and see if it was the weather or they were taking it down deliberately. Such a bummer.
Through construction and on our way West. About 10 miles East of the Little Bighorn National Monument there are a group of Native Americans, on horses, carrying flags, some hand made, gathered in the driveway of a home. The other side is lined with vehicles and trailer all of which have the same flag attached to them. A protest? When I first saw this I wasn't quite sure where I was along the route and was surprised to see it that I wasn't putting two and two together.
Another mile or so later an officer with his lights on was sitting at the end where a few more trailers and horses were gathered. I continued on and kept running the sight through my head and then I remembered where I was and what was up ahead. The Little Bighorn National Monument so was today about a protest or was it rememberance.
A few more turns showed a group of observerers high on a hill overlooking what used to be the battle field and trailers and trucks filled the field. Another turn and between the hills a group of Native Americans, 15-20, were riding in a pack on bare back horses through the high hills. It was an awesome sight to see that still gives me chills. A glance over at the park showed a line of cars on the driveway. A reinactment? I pulled over at the gas station, finally had a phone signal, and quickly googled it. Today, June 25, marked the first day of the Battle of Little Bighorn one of the last stands the Native Americans took over 140 years ago. Amazing and so cool that they remember and are able to reinact it on the very land it occurred on.
More reading also showed that this wasn't put on by The National Park Service, who own the Monument, it is put on by a private company that owns the surrounding land where most of the battle took place. There is an even a number on the NPS website you can call for more information about the event. I would definitely like to see that, blessed be Native Americans.
Back to the road trip and onto I90 West towards Billings, MT. The temperatures are creeping towards 90 but thankfully it is only heat and no humidity. The day is beautiful but one click off of the a/c has the car heated up like a sauna. One stop in Billings to fill up before we continue the last few miles to our final destination.
But not before heading through Livingston, Montana. Aw, Livingston the same stretch of road that is still under construction. I'm telling you right here, right now, I'm going to continue driving these same routes until the construction is done because I need to know that they know what the heck they are doing and to see if the long wait for completion was worth it.
A pass through Livingston than Bozeman and finally we reach our destination. This time I've chosen to stay at Choice Hotels property a few miles outside of Bozeman that will be a little closer to Glacier and less of a drive up there. But I have to say, I miss my usual hotel. There isn't anything wrong with it except if feels very claustrophobic. The room, hallway and lobby feel like they had minimal space to work with and had to cram everything in. They are trying to have a log-cabin feel with the stone pillars by the entrance and stone fireplace as well as animal heads in the lobby. I'm just not feeling it but the staff is friendly, hotel is quiet, and room is secure and clean. Walking accommodations? Well, they could be worse. There are weeds and rocks and Aria seems to have a bit of an attitude about it.
It is the exact same condition we have when we stay in Murdo, SD but for some reason she is having issues with it tonight. I think she's protesting the new hotel. She has been here enough to know where we're at and where we're at is not at the nice hotel we usually stay at. What can I say, the price and location was better but I will probably give it all up to stay in my favorite hotel. But no worries, we'll be there in a couple of days when we head back to Wisconsin and stay one more time in Bozeman.
The day ends with all the work being done and looking forward to relaxing and watching TV for the rest of the night. Tomorrow is Glacier National Park. I can't wait to get back there and see how much it has changed as well as the drive up there.
The book is finished and sent off to several agents to be reviewed and picked up to present to publishers. I can't wait for that phone call. I was also able to get some self-employment/freelance work to help along the way. Both allow me to work from home, make money, flexible hours and work on my photography, writing and painting. But even then, I still need to get out of the house for a few days.
My book was complete and within a day or two ideas flashed in my head about future stories I could talk about with the same theme. A mysterious death with a parnormal twist which lead me to think about Montana and a place I haven't been too in a really long time, Glacier National Park. This also triggered an idea for a story and to help get the facts straight I decided to go and see the place for myself and this time I wouldn't be alone. Aria would be coming along and even though we can't hike any trails together the drive through the park will allow us to enjoy the time and scenery together.
Next came deciding the when and a review of the schedule, to go before or after 4th of July was the biggest question. It was decided, after seeing prices, it would be done before the 4th of July before hotels hit the peak of summer vacation and so did their prices. Even the prices now were a bit high but nothing I couldn't handle which also lead me to using my Choice Hotels points to help pay for a few nights and ease up on the cost.
Choice hotels can be a hit or miss property chain but for the most part their Quality Inns and Comfort Inn & Suites have been really good and a lot of them are dog-friendly and easily accessible to major highways and attractions. Choice hotels also has the easiest and most promotions for discounted stays that I have ever seen with any hotel chain. They also have the lowest pet fees so they are worth checking out. Plus their website is user friendly, with both email and text reminders of your upcoming stays and the notes you leave on your room reservation are actually seen and read by the hotel you will be staying at and if there are any issues they call you before you arrive.
Finally, those paid nights paid off and I was able to keep my room costs low. Even if you aren't a Choice Hotels fan, any chain you use reguallary I highly recommend getting onto their rewards program, check-ins are easier and quicker, your acknowledged and thanked for being a member by the staff and when prices are high you can use those point to reduce the rate or get it for free.
Well we all know that when the snow leaves, out comes the construction equipment and we often joke here in Wisconsin that the two seasons we truly have are Winter and Construction everything else is just fluff. So here I am, the end of June, before a major Holiday heading out to Montana and construction is in full swing. The first one occurs shortly after I leave the Twin Cities area and was given an alternate route by my Dad who travels the area frequently.
I'm still not sure how much time would have been added if I had stayed on the main route but this side route did add 20 minutes but it was through the countryside of Minnesota which for some reason always makes me feel happy and calm. The large fields and rolling hills, with an occasional small town to drive through with only a few buildings. Rain was always on the horizon and at times the pollen was blowing so thick it looked like snow.
This time of the year also makes it hard to regulate the temps. Humidity is high outside and inside the car it is eithr too hot and sticky to go without air or too cold to have air. It was put to the floor often to keep the inside and Aria cool. Once back on the main road and through the town I had entered I crossed over and eventually ran parallel to the Minnesota River. It was high. Northern Minnesota had experienced a lot of rain with washed out roads and it was finally flowing down to our area. A pullover area/park was completely under water and at times it was kissing the bank of the highway. Any large amount of rain would cause it to go over and another section of road would be flooded.
An hour or two later and I'm now entering into South Dakota. The trip is a little over ten hours but today I'm not tired and enjoying the views and the drive. Thoughts of my writing, photos and shop drift through my head and plans of the future flash before me. Everything is changing and I am open to receive it all. A quick stop in Mitchell, about the half way point to Rapid City, reveals that this area is still under construction.
It has been almost two years and this road doesn't look any better than it did two months ago, let alone over a year ago. Now this is an area that has no clue what they are doing except that they are tearing up the road and making it extremely inconvenient to get to the businesses along this route. I pull into a travel center which is packed, big surprise, it is early afternoon on a Sunday and everyone is either going home or heading out on vacation. I pull up behind one car that appeared to be moving from the pump, I wait and wait and wait and there is no indication that they are going to move. So I move along and around them to get to another pump only to have them move as I come around the bend. This now, of course, she does. Ugh!
But now there is another car that is turning into the same area and when she sees me come around quickly pulls in next to the pump, the one I was going to take, and parks. Now I'm in between two pumps and the one that is open is on the wrong side of my gas tank. Around the car I go and quickly pull in next to her and an open pump. I gas up, go in to stretch my legs and when walking out see a pick up with a camper trailer sitting in the parking lot in front of the door. I walk out in front of him and back to my car only to have him pull forward and block me from moving so that he can get the pump next to mine.
Oh, really? So because you have a truck and trailer you get to do whatever you want and not only block me but block others from parking and moving from the parking lots behind you. Well, alrighty then. I'm in no hurry to get to my final destination but I don't appreciate being forced to stay put while you wait for the lady who cut me off to decided whether or not she is going to move. Finally, she does and he pulls forward.
Next to the travel center is an area for dog-walking and pull in for Aria to stretch her legs before we finish the last part of the road trip. Not far away from this area is a small picnic area with a couple of picnic tables and an older woman with what appears to be a sheltie sitting next to her feet underneath the tables. I walk back to the car and as I do she turns in my directions and I ask her if that is a sheltie, she says yes and Aria peeks her head around the side of the car. The two dogs quickly lock eyes and begin pulling us towards each other. Aria is on the large side of "the average" sheltie size scale and upon a formal greeting it was determined that this one was too. Both are full-blooded shelties and for the first time ever Aria was able to look her own breed right in the eye. They enjoyed their greetings and did a light play before we went our seperate ways.
Its always nice to meet nice travelers along the way and it was a good change of pace to the day. Now I had to weave myself through the construction in order to get back out to the Interstate. It wasn't as bad or took as long as I had feared but it was still a pain in the butt. We're back on I90 and heading West towards Rapid City. For the most part the drive is uneventful and a blur as I drift in and out of my thoughts and listen to the music and radio stories I have playing from my phone. It isn't long before I pass the small town of Murdo, SD which is about halfway through the state and about 3/4 of the way to the hotel. A few twists, turns and miles later I come over a hill and before is a sky so dark blue that it almost looks black. There is a flash of lightning which confirms I'm about to head into a storm. A few quick shots and I grab hold of the steering wheel and get ready for what is about to come.
A glance over at the dashboard shows that in the last ten miles or so the temperature has dropped 15 degrees and is still dropping. A look up at the clouds has me checking my phone for any alerts, only a notification that rain will begin around 310p, it is now 253p which means...the rain starts now. A large amount falls on the car and it is heavy only to have it stop a few feet later, this happens for the next couple of miles until it finally decides to keep a steady and heavy downpour for the next few miles.
I tap on the brakes to cancel the cruise control because as we all know people don't get cautious in these situations, they get stupid and dangerous. The rain falls so hard at times that visibility turns to zero, the wipers can't keep up and I can't see the lights on the car a few inches ahead of me in the lane beside me. People are starting to slow way down and some I think even pulled over but I know it is going to end soon and I can still see the yellow strip of paint on the road . I keep going. Then it lifts and cars can be seen as well as the road before us.
This happens one more time before I'm finally free and clear of the storm. Warnings of flash flooding fill my phone but nothing about tornados, thank the Universe. I'll never understand the tow trucks of South Dakota. Twice I came across a tow truck helping someone out and either they or their tools were sitting out in the lane. Are you looking to get hurt or cause an accident? All it takes is one person to not be paying attention and all of you will be severly hurt if not dead and the second was just after a major storm! Anyways, I digress.
The wind has picked up and is pushing my car towards the side of the road and a few raindrops occur the rest of the way. I don't mind driving in the wind but it is killing my gas mileage and admittingly I am taking advantage of the 80 MPH speed limit unfortunately no one else is. So as I'm fighting a strong wind I'm also canceling my cruise control every mile or so because no one goes even a mile over 80 and always want to stay in the left lane. Truly, I don't know who your trying to fool because I know that you are the same driver who is doing 80 in a 65 so why are you not going that fast now? Maybe you don't have a long drive ahead of you but at this point, I've been on the road for over 8 hours and I will do all that I can to safely make this trip goes as quickly as possible. In other words, MOVE OVER!
Finally Rapid City begins to show itself in the far distance and so does the indicator on my dashboard saying I'm low on gas. Tough! We only have a few miles left before we get to the hotel and then I will fill up and you WILL get me to the hotel without issue. We're at slower speeds with a decreased wind it will make it just fine. I decide before I get to the hotel to pull into a fast food place and get supper, this is not without a bit of a growl from the car. The hotel is a block away at this point, calm down Ella.
As it is in most places I'm once again staying at a Choice Hotels Property, this one is another Quality Inn. I've stayed here at least two or three times in the last year or so and I can honestly say that everytime I do the place keeps getting better. The staff is always friendly and efficient, the hotel is near resteraunts, downtown Rapid City, about an hour from Mount Rushmore, and a nice grassy area to walk Aria. The beds are comfortable, rooms are clean and the neighbors are quiet. It doesn't get any better than this. It will also be my first night using my reward points.
I stated in another blog the benefits of being a rewards member and today is no different. I got a hotel snack on arrival which was trail mix, snack cookies and bottled water. My room was already held on the first floor as requested and when entering into the room realize I had been upgraded to a jacuzzi suite. Sweet!!
Even Aria had to do a double take on the room. Needless to say once I was unpacked and we had eaten our supper I fired that baby up and enjoyed feeling the jets on my back after a long day's drive. The only other thing that would have been better would have been an herbal massage. But I will gladly enjoy this jacuzzi tub.
The night ends with one final trip which is over to Culvers for a custard cookie dough sundae. Hey it is humid out and we're going to be having storms throughout the night. I think I've earned this special little treat, although, if I knew it was going to take almost ten minutes to get it I might have reconsidered....
Just like last year, this road trip ended the same way with little to no excitement on the drive home. It was almost like the Universe didn't want to delay my return or maybe I was anxious to get home. Regardless of the reason, it was always nice to be able to sit back and relax.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, the early wake-up had Aria and I ahead of schedule and even though I thought of leaving around 7a I decided to leave an hour earlier. I reached Las Vegas a few minutes before 7a which was when things started getting fast, slow and downright ridiculous; hello rush hour. Truly if you have been through one city's rush hour, you've been through them all.
A few miles later and I was out of Las Vegas and heading as far away from it as I could. Some of the areas I passed seemed familiar but a majority of it was not and I was pretty sure I had to cross into Arizona for a few miles but there was nothing on the city signs that showed it. About an hour or so later I saw the sign, “Welcome To Arizona” and just pass the border was the Virgin River Gorge.
The rocks that surrounded this pass were large, jagged, red and beautiful. There was no place to pull over and stop to take pictures, which was the biggest tragedy of this drive, emergency stopping only. A few miles later I crossed into Utah where from this point to Provo I dealt with inconsistent speeds, hills, and sharp turns. Just when I got the cruise set I had to cancel it because someone was going slower than me.
After a fill-up, I was finally in a flow of traffic that allowed me to set and maintain my speed for several miles at a time instead of a few feet. The winds were picking up which made some areas a bit challenging. I entered into Provo and knew there were some neat mountain scenes in the area but the GPS decided to keep me on the Interstate and bypass that route. Such a bummer!!
The day ended at Rock Springs, Wyoming and the area didn't seem to be like I remembered it or maybe I was just mixing towns up. At any rate, the hotel was still the same and so was the location. Two more days of driving and one more night in a hotel and then we would be back home in Wisconsin. I love traveling and being on the road but it was nice to get back home and not have to eat out and spend money every day. But the experiences, growing, and learning that happened along the way made it all worth it.
I woke up early due to an intense headache that made sleeping difficult. The pain was bordering on a migraine and the temperature in the hotel room was fluctuating from a comfortable cool to boiling hot. Aria was also pacing, drinking water and pushing me to get up and do something. We both chilled on the bed a little longer waiting for the a/c to cool down the room, but within an hour we were both up and ready to get going. A glance at the weather on my phone showed the area was under a weather advisory. A high warm front was coming that would lead to accessive snow melting, possible flooding and an advisory was out for fires. Fires, melting snow and flooding; really? Well, that explained the headache, this was going to be a long day and drive but I had no choice. We left before the sun was up and made my way to South Dakota.
Traveling through Wyoming was best experienced off of the Interstate and onto their Highways. Even though my GPS wanted to stay on the "fastest route". I decided to be a step ahead of it and looked up alternative routes and found the one that only added a couple of minutes to the drive and offered a whole lot of scenery. The mountains and rocky hills could be seen all the way to the South Dakota border, there were plenty of small towns with services along the way and the roads were quiet.
The views were amazing on this sunny and warm day and the various livestock and gazelle could be seen as far as the eye could. As I got closer to South Dakota the rocky hills gave way to more rolling hills with green grass and still an occasional spot of snow. Old man winter still didn't want to go away. Snow became non-existence the closer to Murdo I got and the temperature remained close to 65 degrees. Heaven!! I was truly blessed with great weather this whole trip.
I end the trip here on my last night, a year later, on the road and headed back to my home state of Wisconsin. This trip meant a lot to me in that I felt more confident about myself, articles, traveling, and photos that were taken along the way. A lot of personal doors were closed as well to allow the new ones to open.
The next day was going to be another early one. I only had an eight-hour drive ahead of me but I also had a lot of work to do when I got there. Even when on the road, the work never stopped. Aria and I did our morning routine and then headed out to the Las Vegas area.
It was mountains surrounding the route the entire way, which I was surprised to see. I thought for sure after entering into Nevada, this time from the North, it would flatten out to the desert and open views but it didn't. There were always mountains and hills that surrounded me, at times, they did fade away and were in the far distance but they were never out of sight.
This route took me on 93, straight South, all the way through Nevada. The one thing I did learn, very quickly, was that even though there might not be a desert view there was the desert feeling. Large towns were far and few and the areas between these places didn't offer many services and that included gas. Which thankfully the state told me as I left the town, there was a posted sign that said where the next gas station was and it was never less than a hundred miles, one was almost two hundred miles. In case you didn't pick up that last part, I write it again. The sign was posted AFTER I left the city and after I had passed all the gas stations.
At one point I had to pull out my phone and determine where the gas station was because the sign had posted for my current route, not the route I was going to be turning on and thankfully there would be a gas station along that route. As I came up to the turn I saw the sign that posted it was about seven miles away. That was the only sign to indicate where the gas pump was located and for as big of a sign as it was, o.k. it was a billboard, I expected the place to be a lot bigger. It wasn't. There were a total of four pumps, a cafe, and a hotel and the name was changed. I was passed it before I knew that was what I wanted and had to turn around.
The remainder of the drive was uneventful and boring. It only became interesting when I had to go through the mountains and got to do my twist and turn driving. However, that was short-lived because this entire route was two lanes. Only twice did it open up into three lanes and even that was only for a mile to allow for passing, otherwise, it was playing chicken with oncoming traffic as I passed a slow driver. Two lanes for over two hundred miles.
Signs of construction were all over during the final stretch of this route and before it got too thick I pulled over at a gas station to grab some snacks from the trunk. Aria was up on the backseat doing a bit of a dance which meant she had to go. I let her out for a walk and instantly she saw the cows on the other side of the fence and began barking. They did nothing but look at her. Aria's hair was up on her back, acting all tough, the cows looked at each other back at her and then went back to eating the grass. She finally did her thing and with one last bark at the cows walked proudly back to the car. I mean really, whatever helps her sleep at night.
It wasn't long after this stop that I came onto the construction with a nice bright orange sign that said one-lane traffic up ahead, another said, guide truck being used and the final one, the delay could be thirty minutes. Of course, it could be, I mean it was like 90 degrees in the sun, even with the a/c on, the heat could be felt.
Up ahead the flagger could be seen and I was a bit of a distance away from the truck in front of me and had to slow down, even more, to allow a construction driver to move from one side of the road to the other. I thought I was going to have to wait but the flagger quickly waved me through.
We weaved, maneuvered, slowed down and sped up for the next several miles. The shoulders were torn up and it appeared the goal was to make the road wider but at this stage, who knew. I felt sorry for the flaggers having to stand outside in this heat. I15 was up ahead and I was in the final stretch to Boulder City but not without one more push from an impatient truck driver as we both moved to get onto the ramp.
Just like the other towns, I went through, Las Vegas from this direction was no different. There was no indication that I was coming into the city until I came around the corner, between the mountains, and there was the city before you. Today offered a little more than just a city view, fighter jets about five of them, were out doing test flights through the canyons and around the city.
The heat of the day could be seen as I looked out towards the city. Dust was everywhere and the city looked dirty from where I currently was and even seemed to disappear as the wind kicked up more dust and dirt. There also seemed to be heavy traffic, almost a rush hour feel, which seemed odd because it was only 230p and on a Tuesday. Well, I would hate to drive through any city and not deal with their traffic, I mean what fun is there to just coast on through without having to slam on the breaks. I made it through and headed out to Boulder City.
Which was still under construction, the same section with the same confusing signs from a year ago. Do they even have a plan or are they just making it up as they go. I remembered the correct way to get to the hotel which, unfortunately, hadn't changed much either. This time, it wasn't a good thing. The room at least locked and the a/c was working great but the tv channels were limited and fuzzy, the cleaning was half done, the beds poorly made, the a/c unit was missing buttons and I was sticking my fingers into questionable holes to adjust the temperature. And I can only hope that the white powder on the sink was from a sugar packet. At least I was on the first floor with a walking area out front.
I enjoyed visiting and staying in Boulder City for the main reason because of the heat. I'm one who can't stand extreme hot or cold temperatures and when they are present I will stay indoors to be more comfortable and only go out when necessary. This made it perfect for me to catch up on my writing for books, articles, review and post photos to my Etsy shop and personal website.
A few hours later I took a break and Aria and I left Boulder City and headed towards Las Vegas, the drivers were spread out, courteous, and driving was stress-free. I maneuvered my way to the downtown area where after a couple of turns everything changed. Every single block had people honking horns, yelling and pulling out in front of others. It continued all the way back to Boulder City. I blamed the heat.
Back at the hotel, the work continued and Aria enjoyed the time outside of the car by napping or cuddling up next to me. The guy in the room next to me had me on alert. Not sure what it was but I just made sure to be alert when he was out and walking around. Aria picked up on it too so her walks weren't always when she wanted them to be. Later that night, I was woken by the sound of an alarm going off which was quickly silenced, followed by voices nearby. I could see in the darkness that Aria's head was up and looking towards the door but didn't respond. Part of me wanted to get up and peak while the other part thought they might be breaking into my car. Not that I could do much if they were, I rolled back over and fell back to sleep.
A few hours later I woke again to look at the clock and heard the silence, I walked up to the window and peeked out. The car was still there and looked to be in good shape. Another car had appeared alongside it which I assumed was their alarm going off and they were the voices I heard. I returned to bed with a relaxed mind and less than an hour later I felt movement on the bed. A body pushed herself up against my back and ahead laid on my forearm, followed by a long sigh. I turned slightly and could hear the patting of her tail against the bed, it was still too early to be up. I rolled over and she laid her head on my chest and we laid in the darkness while the remainder of night disappeared.
Driving across country can bring about some interesting situations. Broken down on a day by day basis enjoy my adventures and set backs along the way to some beautiful destinations.