Enjoy My Adventures and Discoveries
As I Drive Across The Country.
As I Drive Across The Country.
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.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by a loud sound and when I rolled over was blinded by the light that flashed in. The storm had arrived. I got up to use the restroom and to peek out the window, sheets of rain were pouring down in a diagonal direction. The wind was fierce blowing loose branches, twigs and leaves across the parking lot. It began to sound like hail as the rain continued to fall harder and was pushed up against the windows. A return from the bathroom had me realize that I didn't see Aria anywhere in the path to the bathroom, nor had she been in there. She never enjoyed storms and being in a small hotel room where the noise pounded and echoed about I knew she wasn't having a good night.
I curled up in bed, called her a couple of times with no response. Wherever she had chosen to hold up for the night she wasn't going to leave it. I laid back down in bed and listened to the storm continue, it wasn't long before I was back to sleep. It seemed like only minutes had passed when I felt a cold, wet nose nudge up against my face. A peeked eye had me looking into Aria's face which was quickly followed by a few licks. I rolled over towards the window and the beginning of daylight began to show through.
As I got up, I took a look outside to see that my car was still in one piece but the parking lot was littered with tree debris. I quickly got dressed and Aria and I got ready for our morning walk and to start the day. We merged from the room only to see more twigs, branches, and leaves scattered about the hotel lot and the walking grounds. A look up at the sky revealed more bad weather was on the way as the clouds grew darker the further West I looked.
Today's agenda involved visiting the 1880 Town Museum located about 30 minutes from here. According to the website, and from an email, the museum would open at 9a which allowed for me to visit, take photos and come back for Aria before check-out time. Temperatures were going to be warm that day and after the storm passed humidity was also going to be a factor.
Today the car was packed up again, this time, with fewer items. It was time for a short trip out to Montana and view a few places along the way. Aria knew what this meant and wasn't too eager to jump in but when given the option to stay back, she quickly jumped into the car and settled in for another adventure across the states.
This time as I headed out West I would be taking a different route that would take me through Southern Minnesota, South Dakota, and finally ending in Bozeman, Montana. I would be staying a couple of days out there and had plans to tour the back roads and historical sites along the way.
The new route would involve I90W for a large portion of the drive but first, I had to get there. The day had overcast skies with a chance of rain and cool temps which made driving ideal. I headed out of Wisconsin towards the Twin Cities and was barely through it when the GPS and I started to have a disagreement about which way to go. It would prefer I took I35 but I wanted to take another route in order to avoid I35's construction and traffic.
This debate continued for several minutes, with a constant "recalculating, recalculating," ringing through the car. No matter what, it refused to recalculate me to continue on my current route and wanted me to do an immediate turnaround and take I35. The GPS was turned off and I continued on the current route.
A few minutes later, the Twin Cities disappeared from my rear view mirror, as well as the traffic and large buildings. A few towns later and they too disappeared and opened up to the countryside that made up a large portion of Southern Minnesota that included dairy farms, crops, and rolling fields. A few hours later and ahead was the sign for I90W, I decided to give the GPS another try and turned it back on.
Normally this was a quick startup but apparently, he was pouting and took longer than usual to start up. Eventually he "found a signal" and was able to re-calculate my destination to now include the route I was on. I turned on I90W and it wasn't long until I was crossing the border and into South Dakota.
I discovered on my return trip that I90 offered a lot more to the eye than I94 and was happy to be back on this route. Old and abandoned buildings lined up along the Interstate, some closer than others as well as old barns. Unable to stop due to the traffic, speed and not seeing them in time, I was able to get a few shots from time to time on an exit.
Eventually, even those buildings started to disappear and all that surrounded me was open fields and rolling hills, cars were also becoming fewer which had me sit back and enjoy the ride while getting lost in the radio story that was playing.
Not aware of the time and getting involved with the radio story that was playing I soon began to feel a dull ache in my left arm. I was brought out of my thoughts and looked down to realize my arm was locked and holding the steering wheel in a slight turn even though I was going straight. As I began to look at the dashboard for any indicators of trouble my eyes were caught by the thermometer which now read an almost 20-degree drop. I looked up and realized the clouds had gone from a gray to an almost dark black and the wind had picked up. A quick calculation had me realize that the temperature had dropped 20 degrees in about an hour which meant I could be in a prime spot to see a tornado.
My mind was awake and my body on alert, I continued forward and kept an eye on the sky. I still had a few hours to go before I would be at Murdo and was hoping that whatever weather was brewing would at least wait until I got into a sheltered community. As if Mother Nature heard me the clouds began to spread out, the wind began to ease and the temperature slowly began to rise. I was moving away from the storm and even though the color had turned back to gray I knew tonight was going to still bring us some weather.
Between the towns of Mitchell and Murdo, there were only a few stopping areas, but more than North Dakota offered. Even the town of Murdo was nothing to brag about. It contained two hotels, two gas stations, one fast food and that was it. It did make getting around easy as well as finding the hotel because there were only two main streets and the two hotels were right next door to each other.
Maybe it was the overcast skies, the muddy roads and worn down buildings that had me think this was a bad place to spend the night. I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into and questioned whether I should stay the night or not.
The hotel was a privately owned Best Western with garden level rooms all around and parking was available close to the room. It also had a grassy area for dog walking. I pulled up to the main door and got out to check in, the staff was friendly and the lobby was quaint but clean. I was wrong, this place wouldn't be bad for the one night. After check-in, I went to the room and Aria and I got settled in for the night.
There was a downside to the location of our room and the walking area. It was located behind the hotel and there was no easy way to get there except to hike all the way around the building. The area was secluded and not well-lit, however, they did have doggy bags and trash bins close by. Walks would only be taken during the light of day. As we finished our last walk of the night, the dark clouds continued to roll by, the wind had picked up again and a few drops were starting to fall.
We headed back in for the night and as the door was locked a low rumble could be heard in the distance. A storm was coming but I didn't know it was going to be so violent.
The last day began like most with a cool morning and overcast skies. The weather was calling for rain all the way to Wisconsin. If I was lucky, I would get a few moments of relief along the way but that was only if I left sooner than later. We enjoyed the breakfast and our morning walk. The hotel was quiet and clean with a ground level room near the walking grounds and location was near the major highway. Despite all the construction, I enjoyed the little time we spent in Rapid City. A quick look at the map showed how close I was to local attractions, such as Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands National Park.
I finally packed up the car and was about to head out when the low tire indicator came on. Thankfully there was a gas station right next door with a free air pump and in a matter of a minute all tires were good to go and the indicator was off. I pulled out onto the highway and made my way towards I90 East towards Minnesota.
It wasn't long after my departure that the rain began to fall and the grey clouds surrounded me. This lead to a very slow and dull drive through most of South Dakota. Through the heavy drops, abandoned and run-downed buildings and barns could be seen but were unable to be captured because of the rain. Hydroplaning became a concern as I drove through some of the low lying areas. At one point the rain did stop long enough for me to get a glance at an old church with a windmill in the distance. Clearly old and abandoned I was instantly drawn to it, as I passed it I glanced back in my rear-view mirror to see that it wasn't just a church but a whole collection of old buildings.
What in the world was that? Also, where the heck was I in this state? A sign ahead revealed that I was close to the time change line and would be entering Central time. Thank you, South Dakota, that was helpful. I turned off on the next exit and made my way back to the structures only to encounter another sign that said I was leaving the central time zone and entering the mountain. Sure you can tell me the time zone but you can't give me one little hint of the town I was in.
After a few miles, the old town came into view with an exit alongside it. I pulled down into it with signs for a campground and a gas station but gates to the structures were closed. I had come across the 1880 Town Museum located outside of Murdo, South Dakota. From the road, I was able to snap a few shots of the buildings and made a note to come back again when it was open and see inside these buildings. Like I said earlier, I love historical places and museums.
Another turn around had me back on I90 and headed towards Minnesota. Even though the stop was worth the shots it had delayed me long enough for the weather to catch up and once through Murdo the rain began again and continued the rest of the way to the border. A stop in Mitchell, South Dakota had me filling up the car, grabbing a snack and enduring the cold wind and rain. There was no way I was going to get a break from this weather.
More rain with slower driving added more time on the road and at this point, I was ready to be done with the trip and settled for the night but still had over four hours to go. Once in Minnesota, I got off of the Interstate and onto a local highway which did not make the GPS happy at all. Instead of re-configuring to direct us on the new route it kept telling me to turn around, once again, I probably should have listened to the GPS but I always think I know better than it and continued North towards the cities.
When the route changed, the GPS reconfigured the route and the time to the final destination. Well, my GPS was so hell-bent on going the original route that every time it reconfigured it was not just adding a few minutes it was adding hours. At one point it told me if I didn't turn around now it would be 10 hours before I got to my destination. With an attitude like that it was only right to turn it off.
I had my dad's directions as a backup and I knew the names and locations of the towns on the signs, so it wouldn't take much to figure my way back to the cities. But the rain remained unforgiving and the roads became slick with hydroplaning once again coming into the mix. I was finally outside of the city and a glance at the clock told me that I would be entering the beginning of rush hour. I turned on the highway through the city and came to a dead stop.
Minnesota was yelling, "welcome home!" to me as I dealt with brake riders and tail kissers throughout the entire drive. A crash here and near-crashes there had me delayed another hour. At this point, it could very well be close to 10p before I would be home. Eventually, I made it through unscathed and stressed out. I was never so happy to see the sign for the suburbs I used to live in. A few quick turns had me off the interstate and onto a side road where traffic was less and driving was easier.
Another quick stop to fill up and grab supper had me back on the road again. A few more slow areas along the way and I was finally in Wisconsin where traffic spread out and opened up. The rain was with us the entire way but at times turned to a light drizzle that made the drive a little easier.
By 7p that night I was pulling into the driveway and Aria knew exactly where we were. She jumped up on the back seat, with a whimper and a yelp as if to say, "we're home!" Exhausted from the last several days on the road it was good to be back. Aria was quick to jump out of the car and take off running through the yard.
There was no place like home. With a sigh of relief, came a gentle breeze that blew my hair off of my shoulders. As I looked into the wind a song began to play in my head "Wind of Change" by the Scorpions. "The future's in the air, I can feel it everywhere, blowing in the wind of change...The wind of change blows straight into the face of time, like a storm-wind that will ring the freedom bell for peace of mind..." The word's echoed in my head as I looked into the wind towards the open field ahead of me.
After being on the road for almost two weeks exploring the West Coast it was nice to be waking up in my own room, own bed and back to a routine that didn't include getting into the car. As I reviewed the photos and edited the articles I started to miss the road and was eager to head back out again. However, the budget was tight and I needed to stay put for a while. I discovered that most travel writers would write about places near them and began to get creative. I looked at what was around me and what I could write about locally.
My sister-in-law had started working at a nearby town museum, Barron County Historical Town Musem, and it sparked my historical interest immediately. After a few conversations, I went over there to write my first article about a museum and photograph the collection of historic buildings before the season had officially started. This would be my first step towards museum writing and it would also let me know if I would enjoy it and would be good at it. It became one of my most popular blogs as well as the photos being published online at travelwisconsin.com.
The next morning I stepped out of my hotel room with Aria, the sun was shining on the door but the air was crisp and cool with a hint of breath in front of me. For the first time in days, I had to put on the heat in the middle of the night. Temperatures dropped another 20 degrees as day turned to night and were slow to climb the next morning. As we began our walk we were cooled further by the wet grass between our feet. As we started back in a breeze blew by us and through our hair making it feel like Fall instead of early Spring. As I looked into the wind I couldn't help but think that less than 24 hours ago, I was in shorts, tank top, running the a/c, sweating and in 75 degree weather. Today I was wearing a sweater, jeans, coat and ran the heat for most of the night. Hello, Wyoming. The car was packed and I continued East towards South Dakota.
It wasn't long after our departure that we encountered our first area of road construction and I couldn't help but wonder if they were the same workers who had stayed at my hotel. Our route today took me from Interstate to Highway, back to Interstate and ended the rest of the route on Highway. Speeds ranged from 55 mph to 80 mph and the Highways were marked just as high as the interstate. The route began cutting through the mountains near Rock Springs, Wyoming and took us towards Casper. They twisted and turned until the scenery around us became high, rolling hills and finally opened up into fields. It wasn't too long later that I began to see the open fields have more hills which become higher and eventually welcomed back the mountains.
The beginning had a lot of turns offs, pullovers and parks to stop at if I had more time I would have pulled over to enjoy them. Some of the views were amazing and there were also historic markers as well. But just like any other place I had been on during this trip, there was road construction and a lot of it. If I wasn't being stopped by construction, I would be slowing down for the rough road ahead. I reached Casper and there was not much to talk about when it came to this town. It was a bunch of small buildings next to snow-covered peaks, however, nestled next to it was a town called Evansville which had a lot more life and spark to it.
This route must see a lot of road closures as there were signs every few miles that had flashers to indicate when the road ahead had been closed and directions on where to go when it was. Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with any side routes or closures. After all, I was no longer in California, Wyoming was hardier and more accommodating. It wasn't long after Casper that the mountains moved back and allowed the open fields and rolling hills to take over the view. This would make the drive seem even longer but thanks to the occasional abandoned, run-downed home, a moving train, running streams it wasn't too terribly bad.
Just before I crossed over into South Dakota I was greeted by large hills that welcomed you to the Black Hills area. It was hard to believe that the National Forest lied just behind it. What I did see of the hills on this route were worth noting and eventually saw the signs that lead to Mount Rushmore.
As the sun began to peek in I rolled over and turned on the TV. It was on a local Las Vegas station which announced that today would be their 12th warmest day of the season in a row. I rolled back over with a groan, do I have the timing or what? It's either fighting curves through rain, sleet, and snow or I get slammed with record temperatures in Nevada. No wonder Aria was lying lower than usual today. I began the day by checking the weather in Wyoming where, in a few hours, I would be in temperatures that were 25 degrees cooler than Nevada was right now. That would be a nice shock to the system; be careful what you wish for.
I packed up and as we got out to the car a warm breeze blew past us which was enough to revive Aria to take a small walk before we headed out. I took one last look around before getting in and as the breeze blew once again a feeling overwhelmed me; it was the feeling of change. I smiled to myself and got into the car where the temperature on the dashboard was reading 75 degrees and we were a few minutes before 8a. A quick stop at the front desk to check out and grab breakfast, upon return, the car started to feel like an oven. It was time to go!
The drive took me to I-15 Northbound and I went around the city of Las Vegas one last time before leaving it in the rear-view mirror. Road construction continued to pop up and as I left the city I took a few of their crazy drivers with me. Everyone just needed to pick a speed and stay with it. This continued for several miles and backing off on my speed only had everyone around me doing the same and the frustration continued. Finally, they sped up or got off altogether and the courteous drivers were all that remained for the rest of the journey.
I have to admit I-15 turned out to be a very photographic journey. Most of it was spent going through the mountains or near them and the further North I went the more white tips began to peak through. Shortly after leaving Nevada I entered into Arizona for a few miles and went into Virgin River Canyon.
The cuts, twists, and turns through the valley were jaw-dropping and the road was easy to maneuver. Massive walls of rocks that surrounded me made me feel like I was going to be swallowed up and disappear. The different colors of brown with a sprinkle of red caught my attention and I couldn't help but glance over. Another turn took me up and I was looking down into rivers that cut through the mountains. The road continued to climb out and I began to see blue sky ahead only to drop down again and lose sight of it. I wish there had been non-emergency places to pull over it would have been fun to photograph, but I had to work with my dash cam which didn't do the experience justice.
The mountains and beautiful scenery pulled back after I left the canyon and continued North towards Utah. I remembered visiting Salt Lake City as a child but didn't remember the details, I was glad to experience it again and see the snow-capped mountains around the bend. If there was any question about being in Utah, just look up and see the white tips and lush green. I was out of the desert mountains and into the seasonal ones.
Another place that took me by surprise was Provo, Utah. Clearly a University town but was still a cute and quaint town that was nestled next to several mountain peaks. When entering the city there were two ways to get through it, the University Express or University Ave; the express required a $.25 toll. Since I requested a no-toll route from my GPS, which had already proven to be worth every penny, we went down University Ave and I was glad I did. The views were better and the mountains were gorgeous. Since I had to stop and wait for light changes I took this moment to snap a few photos.
As I continued through and out of Provo the views only get better. Thankfully, there were now plenty of parks and pull-offs for me to view and take photos of the mountains and Provo Lake. I almost forget to look back in the rearview mirror, the sight behind me offered more breathtaking views but only dared to take a glance as the road was full of twists, turns, and hills with speeds changing quickly.
My last pullover was at Fort Bridger, Wyoming at a Travel Centers of America truck stop and as far as truck stops go, I've seen a few over the years, this one was pretty nice and extremely clean. I opened the door to gas the car, and was only wearing a short sleeve shirt, and quickly closed the door as the chilling wind that blew through shocked me back to the present. I was definitely out of Nevada and a coat would be needed from this point on. I reached back and even with the coat on, the cold wind had a bite to it and it was officially 20 degrees cooler than this morning. Factor in the wind it was probably closer to 25.
I had arrived safely and soundly to our location and Aria had a light hop, skip and a jump to her stride. She welcomed the cooler temperature and let the wind blow through her hair as we walked one last time before we rested for the night. Even in the hotel room, she was jumping around like a puppy and we played a little tug of war with her lamb chop. I think she sensed we would be back home soon and was anxious to have a break from the road.
Tomorrow I would be heading further North to South Dakota, another state I hadn't seen in a long time. This road trip had reminded me of the past in so many ways but I enjoyed seeing it in the present. It seemed fitting especially for this period of time in my life. If this road trip was any indication of what the future held then I was ready for all the bumps, bruises, twist and turns that would come along the way because I know up ahead lied cooler temps and smoother roads with spectacular views.