I couldn't help but laugh when I looked at today's schedule and saw that it was only a six-hour drive and thought to myself today's going to be an easy drive day. When did a six-hour drive become an "easy day" to me? Knowing this I was able to sleep in, finish up some work, and run a few errands before taking off. Aria was also enjoying the lazy morning and had curled back up on the king size bed and fell back to sleep a few seconds later.
After errands were run, I packed the car and headed out to Washington. As I drove away from Bozeman, which was always emotional for me, I slowly realized how much I had forgotten about this route from last year. In fact, I would say over half of it, I didn't remember.
I remembered it being kind of a long drive up to Washington but I didn't remember the many rollercoasters on a race track sections there were along the way, in fact, about half of the drive was through the mountains with this type of driving. Blind corners were all over these sections and one turn could have me behind a semi-truck, camper trailer or someone who wasn't used to mountain driving.
I didn't remember the many towns and communities that lined the route as well as the many exits that didn't have service at all. No road trip would be complete without a little bit of sweat from my forehead and today was no different. Because I had forgotten all of this, I let the gas gauge drop and it was gracing the "E" mark in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, limited to no signal and no safe pull-offs. I had plans to stop in the small town of Superior but road construction had me more focused on that than the signs around me and I blew right by it.
When I passed the next sign showing how many miles to the next town Superior was gone and the next one was 10 miles away. If they didn't have a gas station the town after that was another 15 which would bring my gas tank down to an even redder area. I held my breathe as I came around the bend a blue sign showed the symbols of what the town had and one of them was a gas tank. Whew! I stopped at the Conoco and it was a mini-mall, that had clothes, gambling, the usual gas station snacks, a small diner and decent size bathrooms. Throw in a few showers and it would have been a mini-truck stop.
Temperatures were rising and the heat was starting to kick in. Down went the windows, and open went the sunroof and we were off again. I didn't forget the twists, turns, and hills that welcomed me into Idaho, I did forget how sharp those curves were. Yellow signs with suggested speeds were posted all over, and even though they were more for the trucks this was the biggest warning that everyone, including me, had to slow down in order to keep the vehicle on all four wheels.
I did forget that once in Idaho I was in the state for several miles but when dealing with rain, sleet, and snow with limited visibility it made the surroundings non-existence and focus on that prevented me from seeing anything else that was going on around me. Now that I had unlimited visibility, blue skies, shining sun and dry roads I was able to see it all and the route from Bozeman to Spokane Valley was beautiful and the mountains were majestic.
I didn't forget that Idaho drivers, in a pick-up or SUV, didn't like to be passed on their mountain passes, least of all by a sedan, certainly not by one from another state and definitely not by a woman who could handle the passes with one hand better than they could with two. Once the Idaho driver moved over and saw I was going to pass him we were instantly in a speed race to see who would give. I passed him and he disappeared into the dust and never saw him again. Sometimes a woman just has to show a man how it is done.
Lastly, I didn't forget about Coeur D' Alene, ID which was a beautiful town and scenery that also made me feel like I was in heaven. I slowed down for this town. Unfortunately, there weren't any good pull-overs to take pictures but it was still a piece of heaven. The bridges intertwined and below me was the lake that was a turquoise color that stretched and expanded as I drove past it. Not long afterward I entered Washington.
Here the mountains took a step back to make room for Spokane Valley and Spokane. There far in the distance but still remained close and added character to the busy cities that were between them. More errands were run before Aria and I headed in for the night. Tomorrow Oregon. Two days by the ocean, sightseeing and photographing. I was looking forward to it.
The next day the sun was shining, the temperature was above 32 degrees and the hotel was quiet the entire night which made for easy sleeping for Aria and I but come 5a someone was up and ready to get the day started. She allowed me another 10 minutes before insisting it was time to get up and go. We went for an early walk where the sun was starting to peek through and then went back in for breakfast.
One more walk and we were back on the road headed towards Bozeman. The sky was blue and the sun was bright and warm. I was in love with this day, no bad weather or heavy clouds as far as the eye could see and the road was smooth. This could turn out to be a pothole-free day.
The route to Bozeman involved leaving I90 for about a hundred miles and taking Highway 212, which could also be called the truck driver's highway as I always saw more of them along the way than any other kind of vehicle. This was one of my favorite parts of the route, the road was smooth, speed was 70 MPH and there were a lot of small towns and communities along the way to help pass the time. In fact, it was the only part of the route where the miles ticked by like seconds. It was around the halfway point I entered the Custer National Forest.
There were signs for pull-offs and camping along the way but the roads became steeper, curvier and chain up areas was more frequent along the way. It was a fun change to the road but towns were also hidden and it wasn't long before the speed limit had dropped from 70 to 35 and then back up to 70 less than a mile later.
Highway 212 came to an end next to the Little Big Horn National Monument and up ahead lied Interstate 90 to take me the rest of the way to Bozeman. At this point, I was about 60 miles from Billings and speed was back up to 80 mph. It could be 100 mph and to me, this would still be the longest and dullest part of the ride, there was nothing along the way to keep me occupied. Heavy eyelids began to cloud my vision and down went the windows, up went the radio and another pull on the soda to get me through this portion.
Billings, an extremely Industrial City, finally lied ahead and in the far distance were the mountains. Traffic had started to gather and speeds were changing but I still had a hard time waking up to stay focused. It took traffic slowing down and road construction before I was fully awake and aware of all that was going on around me. I made it through the city, without any issues, and continued on to the final stretch before Bozeman. The day had been going great and the weather had been cooperating. However, the wind had also picked up and a few times made driving difficult but the sun and the snow was non-existent except on the mountains.
After leaving Billings there were about 2 hours left of the drive, the views only got better and I was revived to make it the rest of the way. About ¾ of the way I passed through a small town called Livingston, which was still under road construction the same area as a year ago, and down to one lane.
This section, after Livingston, is best described as a rollercoaster on a race track with speeds as slow as 60 to as high as 85. It was the most fun part of the entire trip and I loved taking the curves just a little bit faster than the rest. I climbed past the others and the slight tilt of the road made for a nice “photo op” with the towering mountains around us. Most of these curves were blind so it was imperative to be alert and aware of all the vehicles and trucks on the route as well. One blind curve could have me reading the small print on the back of a tractor-trailer or in the backseat of a slow-moving car. Which is why, when possible, I stayed in the left lane and coasted effortlessly past them.
It was also the scariest and most heart-stopping route I had ever been on. A year ago, I came back to Bozeman for a visit and a storm had moved in. I left the day after and the roads were only slightly cleared. The slush covered sharp curves and blind corners would pull me into the side or the shoulder without any warning. I was scared the whole way and was never so happy to see the sign for Livingston which was where the front had broken apart and opened up to cleaner roads.
Through the pass and up ahead were the signs for Bozeman. I was earlier than anticipated and the weather was still warm with temperatures near 60 and no stop was complete without a visit to Big Sky Country. This was also a route I could never get right the first time. I always think I know it but end up going in the opposite direction and have to pull out my phone to guide me back to the proper road, and today was no different.
On the way to Big Sky, there were a lot of Trailheads for hiking as well as turnouts to pull into for pictures or to allow others to pass or get out and go for a walk. One such trailhead I enjoyed was Lava Lake and was determined to find its entrance this time and find it I did, along with the many, many water-filled or snow-covered potholes along the way. The drive was one car wide and no turn around until I got into the main parking lot. Every bump and hole was felt with me apologizing to my car the entire way, a large and deep water-filled hole lied ahead before the parking area and I was afraid there would be no support when I went through.
Thankfully, looks were deceiving and it wasn't that deep but the snow I had to straddle to continue forward was high and scrapped the bottom of the car which had Aria jumping around in the back seat and whimpering. I made it through that up on the packed snow and was making my turn around when the car sunk down into a hole and I was stuck.
Snow, ice, and slush spat out as the front passenger tire spun freely without finding any grip. I put it in reverse, then forward, back to reverse at one point it didn't even bunch an inch. Panic started to set in, but it didn't overrule my stubbornness and I kept trying and finally, the tires gripped and pushed back. I still had to go forward to get out and giving it extra gas had me lurching out of the snow and slush and back on to the soft and wet gravel. Several thank yous to the Universe and more apologies to Ella and I slowly made my way back to the main road.
I pulled in to the turn around a short distance away and allowed my nerves and shaking hands and body to settle down. A few deep breathes later, I got out of the car and Aria and I took a walk around the area. A great place to take photos, stretch our legs, calm the nerves and enjoy the gentle breeze that flew past us. A few minutes later Aria and I left the turnaround and continued on towards Big Sky stopping along the way at other turnarounds for more photos, the final one allowed Aria to get out as well.
It was a good day for hiking and photographs, the breeze was gentle, temperatures were warm and that combination with walking made it ideal for a light sweater and no jacket. This was my idea of heaven and for it to be in Montana was icing on the cake. I made a u-turn and headed back to Bozeman for the night.
After supper and a few more walks, Aria and I were officially done for the night. Tomorrow we would be on the road again and in Spokane Valley, WA
Expect the unexpected and you will never be surprised. The one thing that I have never experienced before and hope to never experience again happened today. Driving along Interstate 494 through the Minneapolis suburbs found me needing to change lanes and upon doing so hit a massive pothole that took out two of my tires on the passenger side, one of those tires was only a week old.
A small twinge of hope began to creep in until the dash indicator came on that I had a low tire. Damn. I moved all the way over to the shoulder and put on my four-ways. Conclusion: not going anywhere, anytime soon. A call to AAA and being on an Interstate made me a priority and within the hour a tow truck had arrived and began taking an assessment of the damage and getting the car ready to be towed to my dealership a few miles away.
Aria was with me the whole time and got to enjoy the ride in the tow truck and hung out in the waiting room at the dealership where from the moment we walked into the shop until our departure everyone had to stop what they were doing and come over to say hello. Three hours later I walked out of the dealership with new tires, a nice bill, and a delayed departure. It could have been a lot worse on so many levels, to sacrifice time and money for my safety was well worth it.
Finally, we were on our way, however, I wasn't deaf to the weather report that showed Southern Minnesota was going to get some snow that day, between 3-5 inches, and the heavy stuff was right through my route. Knowing what lied ahead I maintained a higher speed as long as I could but the further South I went, the clouds became darker and thicker and sleet began to hit the window. I was happy to have four new tires on because the road went from dry, wet, to slushy to snow covered in a matter of a couple of miles. Visibility was also dropping and the wind picked up. I knew the further West I went, the better the weather would be so I kept moving forward and the sign for I90 appeared ahead.
I took the ramp and, Oh My God!, it was riddled with potholes. There wasn't an inch of road for the next two to three miles that wasn't torn up or holed up. I could have cried and slowed down to avoid any repeated issues. A few exits later the Interstate finally smoothed out and cleared up enough to get back up to speed and the rest of the trip through Minnesota was snow showers, blowing snow and strong winds with roads that went from slushy, wet to dry.
After the stressful morning, this drive was hard to stay awake and focused on. Coming down from the excitement of the day, low visibility, which meant nothing to look at and an eight-hour drive ahead lead to a lot of yawning, stretching, seat adjusting and window opening to make it through. The miles clicked down slowly. I was never so happy to finally see windmills, dozens of them, that lined the road and the field, at least it was a momentary distraction that woke me up for a few more miles.
It felt like I had done a 6-hour drive, which was only 3.5, the "Welcome To South Dakota" sign appeared before me. Thank you! For a moment I thought the state had moved away from me. I pulled over at Sioux Falls, gassed up, revived up and walked Aria. She too was getting tired of the drive and ready to be out for good. Five more hours to go. The good news was, once I crossed over into South Dakota the speed limit increased to 80 MPH and the roads were dry. Blessed be! I set the cruise and away we went...for about two miles then I hit road construction which brought us down to 55 MPH and a four-lane road went down to two lanes.
The wind was a factor for the entire way to Rapid City, the car was being pushed to the side and at times it felt like I was being pushed back from the head on wind. Passing trucks was always a wake-up call as I came out from being next to their trailers a gust of wind passed us causing a sway and tighter grip on the wheel and just when I thought I was going to get bored again the town of Crow Creek lingered ahead.
It was a beautiful area to drive into and coming from the East it offered a panoramic view of the rolling hills that, today, were sprinkled with patches of snow that looked like cotton. The massive lake that laid below with a beautiful railroad bridge off to the left and a local car bridge on the right.
The sun was setting in the distance and thanks to the wind I had to fuel up one more time and the usual stopping spot was closed. I finally pulled into a small, deserted town that had a gas station that closed before 7p on the weekdays. There was a tall, thin older gentleman that was walking the property, I pulled into the gas station and hoped these were 24-hour pumps and inserted my card. The gentleman walked to the end of the store looked around, turned and walked back in the direction he came. He didn't acknowledge me once, nor did he even look up in my direction. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back he was gone.
A gust of wind blew past me and there was no sound of a car being started or driving away. Nor were there sounds of footsteps along the dirt parking lot. He was simply there one moment and gone the next. It was something that made me perk up and felt I should be getting on my way sooner rather than later.
I remained outside while the gas slowly pumped and looked around if this area were in the South I would have expected to see a tumbleweed roll across the road. Old equipment and run down buildings were all that I saw. The sound of the Interstate in the distance and the wind were the only noises that could be heard. The town was completely deserted.
The pump continued to click away and I kept looking around, a glance at the car showed Aria was up on the seat as well. She was watching me, watch all that was not going on around us. I was not frightened or nervous, just curious about this area. It finally clicked off and I was back in my car, getting ready for the last hour and half of the drive. By the way, the parking lot was also full of big, deep, water-filled potholes. Damn.
I90 was under construction in this area so I took one of their detours which was a smooth side road and change of scenery for a few miles. The GPS freaked out and told me to "turn around when possible". I would not.
I knew I was heading West, the direction I needed to be going, and knew that I was running parallel with the Interstate. Just calm down GPS; it did not. Only when I saw the Interstate next to me did it finally give up, recalculated and guided me back to it. Where there was a large truck stop I could have gone to instead of the deserted one a couple of miles back.
Back on the Interstate, I drove towards the remaining sunset which had a pink glow near the horizon and up towards the sky it changed to a light blue, with a hint of purple, a little red in the back and a darker blue made up the clouds that were blocking out the sun. Beautiful, calm and peaceful.
A short time later I was in complete darkness, the sun had gone down and cars were far and few. Once again the miles ticked down slowly and the feeling of exhaustion started to kick in but before it could take control a huge line of twinkling lights began to shine through the darkness and line the horizon ahead. Hello Rapid City. The stomach was growling, the head was hurting and I hadn't eaten since 6a this morning and we were now nearing 10p. My body was locking up from the lack of food and soda wasn't making the hunger go away.
Just before the hotel, I pulled into a fast food place, grabbed supper and headed over to the hotel but before the night and day were over. Wham! One last pothole as I pulled into the parking lot. Enough already! Aria and I headed in, got checked in and she was greeted by guests who, once again, said how lovely and beautiful she was and Aria took it all in with the, "I know" look she was so good at giving. A night walk, supper, and relaxation ended our first long day on the road heading West.
"Because The Greatest Part Of A Road Trip Isn't Arriving At Your Destination. Its All The Wild Stuff That Happens Along The Way." - Emma Chase
Any drive can turn into a road trip and any road trip can turn into an adventure. For the tax season I would travel over 80 miles, one-way, to a small tax office during the peak of winter season. Every single day brought about new experiences, near misses, sights and open roads. If I didn't love the road so much I would have hated the whole time I worked there.
It starts out small, the changes, along the way. Like life the changes are subtle and then all of a sudden your wide awake to see how much has changed in a short period of time. The first change is the length of day. By the time tax season begins we have also begun to lengthen our days by mere minutes every single day. I wake up early to all darkness and by the time I leave from work it is, once again, dark. Thankful for the windows so I can see some sun on the days that don't include overcast skies.
Same spots, different days, show the sun coming up a little sooner than it did the day before. Same spots, different days, show that when the sun is peaking up over the horizon it casts its rays on blanketed, pure, white, snow that cover the farming fields as far as the eye can see. It takes my breathe away to see such beauty so early in the morning. On the way home, the sun stays up a little bit longer bringing in more light to show me the way home. Now the rays shine long and bright over the blue sky and the different shades of yellow and red show how cold it really is outside the car.
Then comes the falling of the snow, an inch or two can be handled but not several inches. Trying to drive, in the winter, during the dark hours can be interesting enough but now add several inches to unplowed roads and a nightmare with a large potential for spinouts, and accidents makes me wish I had called in sick and not even dealt with this weather. I curse mother nature but thank the Universe above when I finally get to work safe.
As the season comes to an end, the time change has occurred the days are longer, snow is less and traffic begins to increase. It's April and schools are starting to come to an end and everyone is preparing for the summer. Traffic which was usually a steady speed now races past me and then comes to a slamming halt a few feet in front of me. More than once I have to swerve or slam on the breaks, and put on my hazards to warn others behind me we're stopped. Blinkers to alert others that I'm merging are answered with speed ups or keeping pace because some are too selfish to let others in.
This lovely dance that is so often played when coming into the city will not be missed and still is not missed months later. I now have a commute that is over half the distance shorter and it feels amazing. However, this route takes me on the back roads which can lead to cars going anywhere from 5 to 10 miles below the speed limit, farm equipment, road equipment, and construction workers.
A roll of the eyes when I get behind any one of these is quickly forgotten when a bald eagle soars overhead and then later that same day is seen again, hanging out in a dying tree overlooking the land around him. I never grow tired of seeing them and this one is seen often along this route.
Homes are far and few along this route but it is an easy, feeling to drive along this road. Very little traffic is ever found and it is quiet as I drive along the rolling hills and curving road to my place of employment.
The next morning I was greeted by rain, but it held off long enough for us to take a walk and grab breakfast. There was one thing in this town I wanted to do before leaving and that was see the Corn Palace, located in downtown Mitchell, South Dakota. In 1892 the Palace was originally built as a gathering place for the fall festival which has now become a tourist attraction. Every year it is redecorated with naturally colored corn to design the theme and murals that make up the Palace. It is known to be the world's only corn palace.
It wasn't easy to get to due to the construction that was going on, in and around the town but eventually I got there and it was a neat site to see. I had visited it years ago and coming back to it brought back memories. By now the rain was falling down harder and time wouldn't allow me to go in and visit it. I was able to take a few shots from the street before heading out and back towards Wisconsin.
The rest of the way home was spent driving in rain and at times it was blinding with hydroplaning becoming a factor every few miles. Speeds were up and down the entire way and even the lightening up of rain didn't help. The drive seemed to take forever and the chill from last night was still lingering which brought about sleepiness and fatigue, it begged my eyes to close for just a moment.
This would also lead to a few more pull-offs to stretch the legs, muscles and to get out and wake up. Eventually, I crossed over into Minnesota which gave me a little boost of energy for the next few miles but just as the towns gave way to open fields and no scenery there was another tap on the eyelids. Sickness and a long drive don't make a good combination. There were very few cars on the road as it was the middle of the week, which was nice in that I didn't have to worry about anyone coming up behind me or going slower than I was. Bad, as in I didn't have anything to be on the lookout for which lead to just sitting back and driving. Thank you Universe for good, upbeat music and caffeine it would have been a lot worse without it.
Once again I found myself going through the Twin Cities during rush hour, actually, this time it was slightly before rush hour but thanks to the rainy weather that was still happening it might as well have been. People drove crazy during dry weather and are even crazier when precipitation comes into play. An hour later, I was finally through the cities, made a stop for supper and continued home. The rest of the way, the rain didn't stop once, and the last hour of the trip felt like three. Even though I was off of the Interstate and took local highways it still felt like I wasn't going to get there any time soon.
Finally, up ahead was the sign for my hometown and not long afterward I was on the back roads and pulling into the driveway. Aria was instantly up on the seat, looked around, and whimpered with excitement. I pulled in, shut off the car and let her out. She bolted for the front yard, ran around and quickly ran into the breezeway where she excitedly barked at the door to let everyone know she had arrived safe and sound.
I unpacked the car and it wasn't long before I was in my room, flat on my bed and finally let sleep take over. The tension in the muscles relaxed, a slight fever could still be felt but it was soon forgotten as blackness took over and I was out for the remainder of the night. Aria could be heard in the distance also making herself comfortable and with a long sigh, she too fell asleep.
I had done a little research on the Badlands while sitting in my Bozeman hotel, and was able to find out the cost, as well as see that the scenic route was a loop and that an entry point was near Rapid City, and when done with the drive I would be outside of Murdo, SD.
The drive through Rapid City had signs for various attractions in the downtown area and for the moment, the weather had cleared to a light drizzle. I merged on to the I90 and headed East. It wasn't long after leaving Rapid City that the signs for the town of Wall came back in to view and eventually the signs for the Badlands. Up ahead low, gray clouds were lingering on the horizon, temperatures were cool and rain was off and on the whole way. I arrived at the checkpoint entrance, was given the approximate mileage of the route, as well as a guide of the area.
I drove off and up ahead was the hint of the Badlands mountains.
The area was named by the Lakota people who thought of the area as "land bad" due to the extreme temperatures, lack of water and exposed terrain. The French-Canadian fur traders also agreed to nickname the area "bad lands to travel through." The name "Badlands" is now a geological term that describes the rock and topography of the area. Pets were allowed here but only on paved roads and campgrounds and must be kept on a leash at all times.
The faces of these giants could only be described as rainbows, pink, yellow and green colors were sprinkled all over their surfaces while others offered different shades of brown to orange. Throughout the entire route, there were pull-offs for pictures, speed was slow and the views were endless. Every turn offered another breathtaking view, which lead to a lot of pull-offs.
On one such pull off I got out of the car and was greeted by a cold wind that cut through the coat like I was wearing a sweater. The wind had picked up which could only mean more rain was coming. Every stop would have to be timed to avoid getting caught in a potential downpour. A few photos were taken when from across the road a couple shouted to me and said, "Did you see the locals?!" I responded, "What?"
They then pointed behind them and there were several Big Horn Sheep high up on the cliffs watching us take pictures of their home. I snapped a few shots with looks that could only be described as, "Here we go again." before they got up and left the area. Other wildlife in this area included American Byson, Coyote, Bobcat, Swift Fox, and Prairie Rattlesnake.
I got back in my car and continued along the route. There were also twists, turns and hills along the way, some of them became sharp and caution had to be taken.
The area was also used for hiking and camping with plenty of sites and stops along the way. There were extreme warnings about hiking, stay on the trails, be sure to dress for the weather, and always have water on hand as there were no watering stations anywhere.
About halfway through there was a high overlook of the area which also offered picnic tables and a small shelter and the view from up top was gorgeous. This was also the time that I let Aria out to stretch her legs and take in the view herself.
As in Montana, she looked around with awe and wonder at the large objects that surrounded us. The wind blew through her fur and when she looked into it she closed her eyes and lifted her head slightly. Her nose twitched a little at whatever it was she was able to smell, then opened her eyes and took in the surroundings one more time. She looked at me and came bounding over, where I petted her and we both took the time to relax before getting back in.
By now the wind was getting stronger and colder. Thankfully, I was on the last part of the route and staying in. There were no easy pull-offs the last quarter of the drive and the rain had begun to fall. Walkers and hikers could be seen along this route and near the end was a large visitation and registration building for overnighters.
I continued on and it wasn't long before we saw the exit station and were back on the Interstate heading towards Mitchell, South Dakota.
Normally, I would have skipped this town altogether and continued on towards home. But with all the sites I had lined up to see it was too long of a day to go all the way. It wasn't long after leaving the Badlands that my body started to relax and tension from the weather was starting to ease which meant the eyelids were starting to get heavy.
The rain had also begun which, at times, made seeing the road a challenge. At least it would help me stay awake but once it lightened up to a drizzle the feeling of sleep wanted to take over. Even though it was only a couple of hours, it felt more like ten and the longer I was on the road the harder it was to stay awake. The window was opened to allow the cool air to flow in and revive me, only to be chilled, then I would roll it back up and the warm air from the heater would have sleep tapping me on my eyelids, which lead to the window being rolled down again.
For once, I was happy to see that I was getting low on gas and would have to pull over somewhere soon. A small town made up of fast food and gas stations appeared and I pulled in. After I gassed up I went in, used the facilities and got a large bottle of caffeine. The walk, cold wind, and rain which felt like ice hitting my face was also enough to revive me. When I returned, Aria was up on the seat, I got in, turned and asked her if she needed a walk, she looked around and listened to the rain that was hitting the car which was heavy and thick sounding. She looked back to me, hopped down on the floor and curled up. "I take that as a no?" I said. She responded with a long sigh and a grunt.
I smiled slightly, turned the car on and the GPS sprung to life saying I still had another hour to go until I reached my final destination. One hour, not long, this could be done. I pulled out, returned to the Interstate and continued East. Everything was going well until the last twenty minutes when sleep decided it couldn't wait any longer and again began tapping on my eyelids. A few seat shifts, an opened window and finally I was pulling off of the Interstate to my hotel's exit.
It was at the bottom of the ramp that I saw that this area was also under construction. In fact, it would be safe to say it was worse than Rapid City. The hotel could be seen up ahead but getting to it was like a maze of orange cones with crooked, bent and missing signs. The road itself might as well have been speed bumps. I finally got to the stop light and saw the sign marking the entrance to my hotel. A frontage road, also under construction, lead the way and finally, I was in the parking lot.
The hotel was nothing to brag about and all the rooms were on the ground level. They were also in need of an upgrade and the lot surrounding it could have used a cleanup but the rooms were clean, safe and the staff was friendly. I was also near the walking area which made it convenient especially with bad weather.
Thanks to the weather over the last couple of days I had developed a chill but the face was warm. The heat was turned up in the hotel room to kick out the chill but also had me sweating from the temp my body was trying to fight. I took Aria for an early and short walk, followed by a long and hot shower. This lead to an early night curled up under the sheets letting my body do what it needed to do to fight off the sickness that was slowly creeping in. My eyes closed quickly and sleep began to take over and the last thing I remembered was Aria jumping up and curling up next to me before she too fell asleep.
I woke up, and once again, there were overcast skies with a chance of rain. I am in South Dakota, right? Not Washington or Oregon? This was a wet Spring and it appears the dreary weather was going to follow me the whole way.
Today was going to be spent around Rapid City before heading further East into South Dakota where I would spend a night in Mitchell near the Minnesota border. The weather was not going to be cooperative and temperatures were going to be cool. Cold and wet were the two things I didn't go well with but none the less I had stayed here to visit these places and refused to let Mother Nature ruin another one of my plans.
Still feeling bummed over the loss in Montana, I geared up for the drive and visits around Rapid City. Aria and I did our final walk before I packed up the car and headed out to visit The Chapel In The Hill. This chapel was located on the outskirts of Rapid City in a residential town and while on route to it had to keep checking the GPS to be sure I was going in the right direction. It seemed odd to have a tourist attraction in such a nice neighborhood but after a turn here and there, the gated entrance was found and up ahead was the chapel.
There was no fee to visit the Chapel it relied on donations and was operated by volunteers. Since the rain had started to fall and the wind picked up, the volunteers were trying to keep warm in the souvenir shop near the entrance. Here I found a map of the area as well as a donation booth. The volunteer, an older gentleman, came out and gave me some information about the Chapel.
Chapel in the Hill was a replica of a Norwegian Church in its home country. Settlers from Norwegian found themselves here and decided to build a Lutheran Norwegian Church. It was an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway that was built in 1150. A short walk up to the chapel and the details of it were astounding, there was a sense of peace the closer I got to it. There were three ways to enter the Chapel and once inside there was a pulpit in the front, pews, and an organ. The background was filled with a recording that talked about the history of the building.
Just off of the pulpit, there was a small room with a sliding window that resembled a confessional only there was just one entrance. The recording went on to say that this was used for those who were diagnosed with Leprosy and the sliding window was used to give them communion.
The recording was low, almost a whisper, and with the soothing tone echoing slightly throughout the chapel which was never referred to by the religion but a place of spiritual healing. Spiritual healing, acceptance, and forgiveness were experienced here and the energy flowed freely and calmly. Even as I stood there I felt myself being opened to receive new things.
I walked out of the Chapel and took more pictures. The rain had begun to fall a little more and the path called the Prayer Walk could be seen in the distance.
This was an uneven path that could be hiked up into the hills with statues and benches along the way. I turned onto the path and noticed a bunny sitting in the middle of it a short distance ahead. It looked to me and then hopped passed me down the path. I stood there, took a few photos and walked a short distance up it. More peace and solidarity could be felt here and as I stood there giving myself a moment of pause the rain began to fall harder as if in response was cleansing me of all negativity, doubt, and fear.
As I turned to go back at the bottom of the path there was the rabbit. It looked back at me and hopped a few times before turning back to see that I was following as if I was being guided out it took me back to the chapel before it hopped off to the side to let me pass. Once I was back on the concrete I looked back only to see that the rabbit was gone.
Just passed the gift shop there was another building that was a replica of the types of homes that were lived in when first settling into the area. There were two statues, carved out of wood, that stood near the entrance and were giving me pause.
Flashes of the 1880 museum came rushing back to me, I took a deep breath, calmed my energy and walked in only to find more creepy looking mannequins inside. Once again, the feeling of not being alone and the change of energy filled my body. A part of me does not want to turn my back on those mannequins and what is it about those eyes? I took my photos and quickly left.
As I walked away and back towards the car there was a voice in my head that was telling me to look back, just one more time, look back. I refused to do so I needed to be focused on my driving and the trip ahead and not about what was going on behind me. I thanked the volunteers for their time and information before I got back in and headed out to the Black Hills.
It was time to see another historical site and this would be Mount Rushmore. Another point of interest near Rapid City and one that I had been to years ago. Except at that time, we weren't able to see it because of the fog that had rolled in.
Down in Rapid City it was raining but the further up I went the heavier the ran got and the lower the clouds came. I wasn't sure how close I was to the monument and how well the weather was going to turn out and all it took was one turn and I was in snow. This wasn't light snow either, it was wet and heavy but hadn't started to stick. The further up I went the more it began to stick. There was a small town called Keystone located before the final climb to the monument. It was a cute town that was currently quiet but no doubt saw a lot of tourists when weather permitted, there were a few hotels in the area with a lot of tourist shops that lined the main roads. A sharp turn took me out of the town and up towards Mount Rushmore where a sign was posted that said North by Northwest and National Treasure was shot here.
A mile or two later there was another sign that said historical marker ahead. Well, that got my curiosity going, historical marker, pull off? Maybe I could get some shots of the Black Hills because visibility was beginning to drop and according to the GPS I still had a few more miles to go and it was all uphill Another slight turn had me seeing the pull off and a glance up had me looking dead on at Mount Rushmore. Wait, what?!?
Stop the presses, your telling me a National Monument, that was marked about a mile back as just a regular historical marker, can be seen from the main road? I don't have to pay to go in to see it? Interesting. I pulled over to the side and got out to take photos and was able to see the entire monument from this pull off. Several other cars had done the same and the photos were quickly snapped as the clouds were teasing about whether they would block them completely or just for a moment.
TV and movies did a great job of magnifying the size. From their shots, this looked to be massive and huge but from where I stood they didn't seem big at all. Now I had to find a place to turn around. I continued the drive up, found the entrance but no place to turn around, there were a few more pull-offs that allowed me different angles for shots but still not a good place for a turnaround.
I pressed on and saw a sign that said profile view ahead. Profile view?
It was then that I saw a huge pull off that would allow me to make a safe u-turn and head back down the mountain towards Rapid City. I pulled in and as I was making my turn around something caught my eye and the clouds moved away long enough for me to see Washington's Profile. The clouds were working with me and I was able to get a few shots before they closed in and made him disappear altogether.
The drive down was more challenging than the drive up as this time gravity was pushing me down faster than I wanted to go and once again the brakes were getting a workout.
Slush and ice had built up which caused a few fishtails and I was once again dealing with a large truck next to me. I made it down safely and it was in a matter of a turn here and there that roads went from ice to snow to wet.
Rapid City had only seen rain and by the time I got back down the rain had slowed and roads were beginning to dry. It was time to leave the city and get on to Mitchell, South Dakota. However, there was one more stop I had to do before I got there.
The next morning I woke to, once again, overcast skies. Aria and I got ready for our morning walk and when I looked back towards the hotel the mountains were starting to come into view. A little over 24 hours ago I had stood in this exact spot and these mountains were green with sprinkles of snow patches, now they were completely white.
Bozeman and the interstate were now visible and full of cars but even from where I stood I could see their speeds were slower than what was marked. This gave me pause as I had no idea what I was going to be dealing with and how far the storm had went in the direction I was traveling.
We returned to the room, ate breakfast and I packed the bags for what was going to be an interesting drive to South Dakota. I had also decided to stay on the Interstate the whole way back to Rapid City, SD. Not sure how the route I had taken in was going to be, I knew the Interstate would be the first thing to be cleared. I packed the car and did one final walk with Aria who could sense I wasn't eager to get going but knew we had to. A few flakes had started to fall and I didn't want to be here if another storm decided to show itself.
A little more walking and then we headed back to the car, once inside a light had come on to indicate that a tire was low. Over to the gas station I went, filled the tires and finally I was on my way. The roads through and around Bozeman were clear enough that I could pull over and take a few photos of the freshly covered snow mountains and the rolling clouds. It was short lived and on to I90E, I went. Once out of Bozeman the roads and weather began to deteriorate.
Slush, snow, and ice were covering the roads which had me slowing down. But even so the car was still being pulled off to the shoulder and it took all of my concentration and quick reaction to keep us on the road. Locals were eager to speed by even as we were climbing and going around sharp turns. I didn't care, I was in a rush to get out of this area but not enough to lose control.
It only got worse the further away I went, visibility had now dropped, a curve was up ahead and I could barely see the front of my car. I had to come to a crawl and hope no one would come up fast behind me as only one lane was fully cleared. This was the left lane, the one that I was currently crawling in. The low visibility was only for a short distance but when going that slow it might as well have been 20 miles.
Finally, I broke through and ahead was unlimited views, I passed by a few small towns and as I climbed, for the last time, away from the mountains it became clear that it was here, where the storm had broken apart. The roads became clearer and visibility kept improving and by the time I got to Billings, I would have never known there had been a storm.
I veered South into Wyoming which had no signs of any recent snowfall. This part of the state had large hills and some twists and turns as I continued through but eventually fell back to open areas of fields and livestock. Soon those too disappeared to allow again for thick trees and mountains to come into view. I was close to the border and up ahead was the Black Hills and Rapid City.
This time I entered from the North, old, historical looking buildings lined the streets as well as road construction. When I was here a few weeks ago there was also construction but now there was more and what had been done was now larger, rougher and longer. I wasn't even sure they knew what they were doing or why.
Finally, I turned down a familiar road and up ahead was the hotel. I pulled into a fast food place for supper, then went and checked in to the hotel. Only to find out I wouldn't have a ground level floor because the hotel was also under construction. They were renovating all ground level rooms which meant unavailable. Great!
I returned to the car, walked Aria and then loaded up with food, beverage, Aria and bags and together we went into the hotel. Even though I knew what she was going to do I kept hoping she would prove me wrong and just accommodate me to our room, but no. We arrived at the elevator and I had barely pushed the button when she started to pull me away. I pulled her back in time to step into the elevator and Aria reluctantly followed.
We get to our floor and the doors were no sooner open and Aria bolted out and I was given a hard pull out as well. I pulled her back in, told her no and she responded with a bark and a growl. “Really, we're going to have back talk now?”
She kept close to me as we walked down the hallway to our room, I opened the door and she darted in, this time I let go of the leash which made a banging sound and had her stop mid-stride. Aria looked at the leash and then at me with a look that could only say, "Well it's not fun when you drop it". Then walked normally throughout the room. I closed the door and we settled in for the night.
Not familiar with the area had me checking counties to see where the storm was headed and if I would be affected. Snow amounts were ranging from dusting to measurable amounts. There was always the chance it would miss us and everything would be fine. I went with that thought as I settled into bed, only to be proven wrong the next morning.
I woke up to a gray sky and what appeared to be snow in the far distance. Aria and I got up and headed outside for a walk. I looked back to the mountains that were behind us and they were gone as well as part of Bozeman in the distance. The clouds had dropped and looked like they weren't going to be lifting anytime soon. After breakfast, the phone continued to buzz and beep as updated weather alerts continued to pour in. Now they included passes that were closed or would be closing soon.
Even though the clouds were low it wasn't snowing hard in Bozeman so, being the adamant photographer that I am, I decided to head out and see if maybe the further West I went the better it would be. Not only was I wrong, I was almost dead wrong. The roads became slushy and sleek only a few miles West of Bozeman and clouds dropped so low that visibility was limited and the snow began to fall harder. Trying to find a place to turn around wasn't easy as turn-offs became far and few.
Finally, I was able to find a ramp that allowed for a turnaround and headed back towards the hotel. As I turned around and headed up the ramp I couldn't help but pull over and snap a few shots of the snow and the storm. The drive back was even worse, the slush had built up and the trucks were running fast and heavy. Images of mountain driving came screaming back only this time the slush was thick and tried to pull my car over to the shoulder. More than once I almost lost control and one time was next to a dump truck.
Thankfully, I was able to regain control before the total loss occurred and made it safely back to the hotel. Aria was only too thankful to be back to the hotel room where she curled up quickly and laid low for the remainder of the day. Bummer. I did some blogging and website work but needed to do something else while I was here besides hanging out in a hotel room. A quick view of the town revealed a local town museum that wasn't too far away.
I also needed an oil change and there was a Jiffy Lube near the museum that I could use. Leaving the hotel revealed a slight lull in the storm which allowed me to find the Jiffy Lube that had two garages and two cars in line for each garage. I decided to come back and went over to the museum but parking was on the main street with the closest spot being several blocks away. I passed on the museum and turned back towards Jiffy Lube only to discover the lull was over and the storm was back, blowing and snowing harder than before.
This lead to whiteout conditions and unable to see where it was located. What should have only taken five minutes to find ended up being fifteen and by then the line was now four cars deep. Stay or go. Once again I was asking this question, and once again I decided to stay. It needed to get done and what else did I have to do today. Almost two hours later the car was done and I was able to watch the snow go from heavy to nothing, slow to nothing and then when leaving it kicked back up to heavy.
I knew when I got back to the hotel I would not leave it again until I was ready to head back towards South Dakota which would be the next day. I went back to the hotel and found Aria curled up in her carrier enjoying the sound of the TV in the background. We went for another walk and settled in for the afternoon which was spent watching movies, updating social media and my website while I watched the snow continue to fall outside. As the night closed in, the storm began to move out and the alerts began to expire. A review of the map, weather, and route told me I was going to have to deal with some of it tomorrow.
There were several hours of driving ahead of us and the sun was pushing the clouds away and the humidity was creeping in. Towns were scarce between the museum and Rapid City which would be the next major town I would come to, however, there were plenty of signs and billboards for the town of Wall which sounded more like a carnival than a town.
Just before Rapid City, a collection of mountains could be seen in the distance and not long afterward was a sign that pointed in that direction and said "scenic bypass". I was always up for a scenic bypass. The route took me about five to ten miles away from the interstate and just before it started there were stations ahead with a cost to enter, I was now at the Badlands. Beautiful from afar, I could only imagine what it would be like to drive through it but not knowing how long it was or where it came out I made note of the area and decided I would come back to it on my return.
A few shots were taken at a pull over before the entrance and Aria was able to get out as well. I made a u-turn and headed back to the interstate. This new route I was taking would have me spend a few miles in Wyoming before entering into Montana and continuing on to Bozeman. Things were going along fine on I90 and soon we were passing through Rapid City. The weather was being cooperative and the roads weren't seeing much in the way of traffic or construction. After leaving South Dakota I stepped into Wyoming and that was when my GPS called out a turn that I was leaving the comforts of I90 to go on a local highway.
I normally don't question the GPS in an area I was not familiar with but this turn off didn't look like any highway I was used to seeing. The road was in rough shape and the buildings were sketchy, the clouds had also returned giving the area a depressing feeling and in the background, my radio decided to play the song "Madness" by Muse. It was during this time he sang out, "or is this just maaaadness..." Sign or sarcasm as I glanced down at the radio.
I only live once so why the heck not. I followed the GPS and continued on towards, what I hoped to be, Bozeman. The route was two lane most of the way, going through small towns with twists and turns along the way. An occasional truck or logger would be seen which gave me a little comfort to know that my GPS wasn't taking me out to the middle of nowhere. It also offered some great abandoned places which had me pulling over to take photos.
Then came the section where there was no one and nothing around me. I was completely alone, queue my radio's timing to put on the radio story "On A Country Road" with Carey Grant. This radio story was from the Suspense collection, and it was about a couple out at night on a drive, a storm rolls in, and there was a report of a crazy woman with a cleaver who had escaped from a mental institute. To save time they decide to take a back road and ran out of gas. Que more sarcasm as even darker clouds rolled in and I was the only one on this road. A quick glance down at the instruments told me I had plenty of gas and everything was running smooth.
For the moment the anxiety passed and soon cars started to reappear along with more small towns. This, of course, didn't happen until the story was completely done. Eventually, I hooked back up with I90 just before Billings but before doing so I encountered some high hills and sharp turns that brought me into a town called Crow Agency. As I descended into the town off to my left was an area full of white headstones and a flow of cars pulling into the area.
As I passed, I glanced over to see a sign that said Little Big Horn National Monument. This was something I had to check out. I remembered hearing about this site but was unable to place it at the moment but it finally came back to me as this was the last stand by the Native Americans and Colonel Custer's 7th Cavalry.
It was lined with white headstones to remember all those who had fallen both the soldiers and the Native Americans. The largest cemetery was located shortly after I entered the monument, I continued the drive in and there were white headstones throughout the field marking where the person had fallen and died. There were also pull-offs and placards to tell a little more about the area.
The driving route ended high on a hill and looked over the Crow Agency, the vast fields where the battle had occurred and down on the entrance. I stepped out for a better view and as a light breeze blew passed me I couldn't help but feel sadness at the loss that had occurred here on both sides. All this bloodshed and death, a small prayer was said to all those who had fallen here before I returned to the car and headed back down.
A few miles later I passed through Billings which was a large and booming industrial city with a few mountains off in the distance. Traffic was thick when I went through but was easily manageable. Clouds were scattered since I had left Little Big Horn but the closer I got to Bozeman the thicker, fluffier and darker they became. Another storm was starting to brew and road construction had also begun which slowed down the drive.
Even though it was only my second time back to Bozeman, the location of the hotel, as well as the area, came rushing back to me as if I had lived here my whole life. The GPS was quickly turned off as I guided myself the rest of the way. I pulled into the hotel parking lot and when I stepped out it was like being hugged by an old friend. Aria and I went for our walk before settling in for the night.
I would be here for two nights and tomorrow was going to be spent taking a route that would lead me through old mining towns and abandoned places as well as get another view of the back roads of Montana. I was looking forward to it and re-checked the location when my phone started to buzz and beep. I pulled it out and saw several alerts for the area that included a snowstorm warning and a snowstorm watch. Apparently, Montana had a different plan for me.
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.