Monday, June 6, 2016

A brand new blog

I explained on this blog, "Topper Takes a Trip," that  I have been blogging about our travels in our new Retro 195 travel trailer on the Topper blog because we hadn't had time to come up with a name for our new trailer. Well, that has changed, as we have agreed that the "old" girl should be named "Blue Suede."  We had already named our 2014 Nissan pickup "Black Beauty."

So, here we are sitting in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore starting a new blog called "Life in Black and Blue."  I hope you will enjoy following our travels in "Black and Blue!"

American History carved in stone

Today we fulfilled an item on our bucket list and visited the Mt. Rushmore National Monument. I don't suppose that I can add much to the things that everyone already knows about the monument. It was fun to see it in person. The story of the construction of the monument is fascinating, and as I told Jill, it is good to see such a monument, because it gives us a reason to pause and reflect on the amazing nation in which we live. The rest of the story I will leave to a few photos.

Gutzon Borglum was a Danish immigrant who believed the 
monument should pay tribute to the men  and the vision that made America great.


It was a perfect day for photographing the monument.

I always wondered why Teddy Roosevelt was included with Washington, Jefferson (Founding Fathers) and Lincoln (the Great Emancipator). The text below explains the sculptor's reasoning, which I find very sound. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Badlands and good eats

We were on the road early this morning; too early, but I'll get to that later.  We gassed up and pulled out of Murdo about 8:20 AM.  The wind was less insistent today than it was yesterday, which made the driving a bit easier, but we also are getting closer to the Rocky Mountains, and the terrain is getting a bit more hilly.  It all comes out a wash in the end.

The reason we wanted an early start today was so that we could do some sight-seeing along the way. Our first detour was to Badlands National Park. We exited I90 at SD240, which traverses the park. I stopped at the park entrance and flashed my VIP pass (well actually it is a senior pass that anyone over 62 can purchase for $10 and have a lifetime discount, usually free, entrance to National Parks and Monuments), and we were in.

The drive was spectacular.  For one thing, the speed limit is between 25 and 45 mph throughout the park, so you have to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak. For another, the scenery is breath-taking. We stopped at the first pull-out that was big enough to comfortably accommodate our truck and trailer.

As we walked toward the path to the scenic overlook, a couple commented on our "old" trailer. I explained that it is brand new, but made to look like trailers from the '50s or '60s.  Jim said that he had seen the exact same trailer in his home area about a week and a half ago. I asked where he lives, and he said Upper Michigan.  I told him the dates we had gone through his area, and he said he is sure he saw our very trailer! He works for the Canadian railroad and lives in Gladstone, MI. He had seen us from his train.

We had a lovely chat with Jim and his wife Debby.  She is a special ed assistant, so she and Jill had a great deal to talk about concerning teaching. They too are just traveling around enjoying whatever the road brings their way.

Jim asked me an interesting question: "What is the most beautiful thing you have seen on your trip?"  I had to think about that for a moment. The best I could do was to say that everywhere we have gone has its own special kind of beauty and charm. I added that where man-made things are concerned, every state has its car museum, its history museum and some prominent person or family, but the spectacular stuff is what God has made: Carlsbad Caverns, the Great Lakes, the amazing natural landscapes that we have seen from deserts to mountains to lush green prairies. And best of all is the people we have met along the way. I don't think there are any crabby people on the route we have taken. Everyone has been friendly and helpful and ready to share a story or lend a hand.

Here are Jim and Debby, a couple of friendly Michiganders.

Everywhere you look in the Badlands, there is amazing beauty.

To me the most unfortunate thing about all this beauty is that you have to see it in person. There is just no way to capture the grandeur on film (or CCD, or whatever it is I captured these pictures on). 

We continued our drive along SD240 until we came back to I90, which put us smack dab in the middle of Wall, SD, home of the famous Wall Drug.  The story of Wall Drug is very interesting and inspiring, and although Wall Drug has become a kind of tourist trap, the story of the family that built this empire is the quintessential American success story, and the people who work there are friendly and helpful and very charming.

Here is the exterior of Wall Drug.

This old biddy hangs out in the hallways.

Along with Annie Oakley.

We had lunch in the Ice Water Cafe. Our choice was a 1/3 pound buffalo burger with fried onion rings. It was quite good. We were good, though, and shared one meal.  That was only so we could be bad and have a pecan roll. Oh, my! Pecan rolls are apparently a tradition in southern South Dakota, according to the folks at the next table who 1) grew up in SD, 2) were eating a pecan roll and 3) were very nice to chat with. 

We strolled through the shops after lunch, not expecting to buy anything...until Jill spotted the very jacket I had wanted to buy in Mackinac Island but couldn't find one to fit.  Well, this one says South Dakota on the front, instead of Mackinac Island, but the jacket is the same.  I bought one. 

We got back on the highway and had a short jaunt to Rushmore Shadows RV Resort.  Yesterday, when I called for reservations, the woman I spoke with made it very clear that check in time is 2 PM. In spite of our lollygagging along the way, we arrived at 1 PM.  So, we went down the way and found a place to park. We walked the dogs and listened to an old radio mystery on podcast. Then we showed up. Jill mentioned that we had been biding our time so as not to arrive early.  The lady at the desk said, "Oh, tell me you didn't do that. You could have been sitting in the shade at your campsite." Oh, well! 

This place is very nice. It is a membership park, which is to say it is part of a chain of parks which offer perks, like deep discounts on camping fees, to those who choose to buy a membership, very much like time share condos. We opted not to take the 90 minute sales pitch for a discount on our stay, even though the camping fee is quite high. 

As we neared Rapid City, we began to see more red clay in the hills.

So, we are now less than 10 miles from the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.  We plan to see it tomorrow.  On Tuesday, we hope to see the black hills. So, please return for further adventures.

Sinking our teeth into Murdo

June 4, 2016

Today is my son, Patrick's, birthday.  He was born 32 years ago. For some reason that just reminded me that he was 32 hours old when I met him. Patrick is adopted, but he is as much a part of me as my own soul.

On this birthday, Patrick was at the Oregon coast celebrating with his wife and two adorable daughters, while Mrs. Blogger and I were traveling from Sioux Falls to Murdo, SD.  Murdo is not a metropolis, but it has its own charm.  We checked in at the American Inn and RV Park, which was nearly empty. Apparently, Murdo is not a place where RVers congregate on weekends.

Once the trailer was set up we drove around the town to get a feel for how the people live. There appears to be a good deal of ag-business and not much else to provide employment, although we encountered at least a half dozen hotels. Murdo is not a wealthy community, by the looks, but the people are friendly and happy to be of service.

There is one big attraction in town, and that is the Pioneer Auto Museum.  It is the most amazing collection of stuff I have ever encountered.  There are 275 old cars, some restored, some original. There are old pickups, fire engines, tractors, a 1924 White truck that was converted into a home-made motor home and traveled the world in the 1920's. Somehow we didn't get a picture of the motor home, but I did get some pictures of a very unusual car:

In addition to motor vehicles, there were literally hundreds of bicycles, motorcycles, pedal cars, signs, toys, memorabilia; you name it, they got it! This place is an amazing trip into the history of American pop culture.  One of my favorite displays was the old dental equipment, which unfortunately was behind a wire screen.

This thing especially gave me the willies.  It is a card with several different molds of denture teeth. When I was in dental school, we would spend hours in the lab setting prosthetic teeth into wax to make natural-looking dentures.  When we had completed the process, we had to take it to an instructor to have it checked. In particular, Dr. Krumbein was noted for looking over a "set-up," as we called them, and saying, "Very nice." Then he would proceed to flick the teeth out of the wax and say, "Do it again." 

We met the owner of the museum and learned that he went to college in Corvallis, OR and taught school in a Lutheran school there. We felt as if he were a neighbor, since Corvallis is only about 40 minutes' drive from Dallas.

After our visit to the museum, we went back to the trailer, where we had no wi-fi signal and practically no phone signal. I hiked up to the laundry, where there was enough phone signal to call for a reservation for our stay in Rapid City, but I couldn't blog; Jill couldn't look at things online. We were able to have a brief conversation with Patrick to wish him a happy birthday.

And so, we got out a couple of old movies I had recorded off the TV and enjoyed some good old fashioned romantic comedy from the 1930s and '40s.  It was a very relaxing evening. Tomorrow it is on to Rapid City and Mt. Rushmore.

Sioux Falls, what a delightful place.

June 3, 2016

Sioux Falls, SD is named for waterfalls (more like a cataract, actually) on the Sioux River. Duh! The falls were the center of the development of the city.  Originally harnessed by a huge mill, capable of grinding huge quantities of grain into flour, the falls later were used to generate hydro-electric power to energize the city's lights and other electrical devices.  Today, the falls are highlighted in a park in the center of the city, which shows them off to great advantage, while preserving the history of the area.

Here are the falls just above the powerhouse.

And this is the falls from the top of the tower at the information center.

Here is the information center.

Here's the old blogger across from the old power house which is now the Falls View Restaurant.

Looking across the falls, what appears to be some stone ruins, is in fact some stone ruins. The grist mill once stood on that spot, but it burned down some years ago, and all that remains is the rock wall that comprised the foundation and first two floors of what once was a five story building.

Sioux Falls is known as the Queen City, and in its day the mill was known as the hive. Although the mill had a huge capacity for grinding flour, it suffered from a lack of power or a lack of grain or both and eventually closed.

Here's a closer picture of the ruins of the mill.

Below the mill is the old power house for the hydroelectric plant,
which provided power to the city for several decades.

Looking southwest from the falls, we saw the spires of St. Joseph's Cathedral.

And looking to the north, we saw the John Morrell Meat Packing plant,
which appears to be one of the larger employers in Sioux Falls. 

Departing the park, we bid a fond farewell to the falls and drove around the town a bit.  There are some beautiful and very large homes near the center of the city.  

It wasn't long before we began to feel the pangs of hunger overtaking us. So, we checked on the 'net and found Granite City Food and Brewery.  Our meal was delicious and the Broad Ax Scottish Oatmeal Stout was passable.  

After lunch, I dropped Jill off at the beauty parlor, where she had her hair styled and (I myself don't believe this) colored.  While she was doing girl stuff, I did manly stuff, namely grocery shopping. I took the groceries home and put them away, walked the dogs briefly and then headed back to the beauty parlor after the prescribed two hours.  As it turned out, that was about an hour too soon. The results were worth it, though.  Jill is pleased, and I of course, think she looks beautiful. 

Evening brought a couple of short-lived storms with strong winds, thunder and heavy rain.  Each one lasted about 30 to 45 minutes, and then the sun came out.  The dogs were very worried, but by bedtime, the sky was clear and we took them for a stroll around the grounds. Midwest weather is strange to us.  Forecasts go something like: "At 7:15 rain begins. At 7:42 rain ends." We from Oregon are more accustomed to "In October rain begins. In June rain ends."

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Sioux Falls and agreed that, if need be, we could comfortably live least in June; not so sure about December.  So far, we have searched in vain to find somewhere that doesn't have its own special beauty and charm.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Joy in Webster, "ticked" off in St. James

June 1, 2016

OK, bad wi-fi be hanged, I am going to try to write a post.  We are camped in Butterfield/St. James, MN.  We arrived yesterday after a beautiful if a bit rainy drive from Webster, WI.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I reported that we had arrived in Webster after a beautiful if a bit rainy drive from Michigan.  The park we camped in outside Webster was, um, interesting.  The owner, who is a bit of an entrepreneur,  greeted us, beer in hand.  Al, it seems, purchased this rundown park and has great plans to fix it up.  So far, it appears he hasn’t done much.  He is apparently too busy with his frozen pizza business. The park is pretty,  but it was raining when we arrived, and there was mud everywhere.  A few truckloads of gravel would do wonders. The plumbing engineer apparently has not heard of gravity, or thinks that fluids flow uphill, judging by the fact that the sewer drains were all 18-24" above the ground. Now, Al can't do much about this problem, but we were also besieged by ticks, or I should say Lulu was. We removed four of them from her neck at various times.

It was Memorial Day weekend, so the park was nearly full. Most of the guests, I think, were friends and relatives of Al, and they were definitely in party mode. There was a young couple parked next to us in a brand new trailer. It was their first time ever RVing, so we became their resource for how-to information.  They were very sweet and friendly and had two adorable daughters, Lily and Emmaline, 3 1/2 and 1 year old, respectively. I think they felt a little out of their league with the loud party going on in the lower level. We made a point of chatting with them and playing with their girls.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the park, because our friends Ben and Shirley saw to it that we didn’t have time to sit down! We called on them Saturday afternoon at their amazing log home on the Yellow River.  They had prepared a delicious dinner of grilled halibut, broccoli, rice and a wonderful salad. We had a tour of their home and then talked late into the evening.

Ben and Shirley were members of our home Bible study group when we all lived in Clackamas, OR. It was good to see them and renew our friendship after nearly a year since we had seen one another.

Sunday began with worship service at First Baptist Church, where Ben sings in the worship team. The pastor gave a great sermon about the need for unity in the church, which seems to be a national theme, judging by the churches we have had the privilege to visit on this trip. After church we went out to lunch at Adventures, an adventure themed restaurant in Siren, WI, about seven miles from Webster. 

After lunch, Ben and Shirley visited our campsite, so we could show off our trailer. They were duly impressed.  We served them coffee and chatted some more and took some photos.

Everywhere we went, Ben and Shirley were greeted by people they knew.  Many of them, it turns out, were relatives.  By the time the weekend was over, we felt as if we have family in Webster. This day ended with a barbecue of bratwurst and hamburgers and fresh veggies on the deck overlooking the river and s’mores over an open fire by the river.

Ben stalking the wiley marshmallow sticks!

Girlfriends and a geezer. 

Monday, Memorial Day, we attended a very moving ceremony at the Webster cemetery, commemorating those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy. When they closed the ceremony by playing Taps, I was not alone in having tears streaming down my cheeks.

After the ceremony, we had coffee at a local shop.  While we were there, Ben’s sister, Julie, and her husband, Chuck, came in and joined us.  They are delightful folks, and they invited us to use their condo in Branson, if we make a trip there again.

We went back to the trailer to change and then went back to Ben and Shirley’s home.  Jill and Shirley spent a lot of time chatting by the edge of the river, while Ben showed me his massive collection of every imaginable tool, including 30 chain saws.

I used Ben and Shirley's wi-fi to research places to go next.  Webster was the last of our only two true destinations on the trip. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t know where we were going the next day.   I ultimately chose Butterfield/St. James for our next destination, because this area is a handy distance on our way toward Billings, MT. When we reach Billings, Jill will fly to the bay area to attend her niece, Tess’s, graduation party.  I will remain with the trailer and the dogs. 

So, here we are.  We made two trips to St. James today.  The first was a much needed grocery shopping trip.  We first walked the downtown area of this town of 4,600 people.  It is charming. We were pleased to see very few empty store fronts.

Beautiful downtown St. James, MN

The second trip was occasioned by the fact that we have been inundated by carpenter ants, since we arrived at Sands Country Cove.  The park is lovely and there is a nice lake adjacent, but we have had ants; Pogo got a tick, and I found one crawling on me. That was the proverbial straw, since we have already had to remove four ticks from Lulu’s neck.  Hence, we went to Ace hardware, where we got some Ortho Home Defense to help control the ants and some Frontline Plus to help control the ticks on the dogs. I refused to take that treatment!

So, tomorrow, we will head for Sioux Falls, SD. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Impressions of Wisconsin

Having traveled from Iron Mountain, MI across nearly the entire east-west dimension of Wisconsin, my impressions are these: there are a lot of trees; there is a lot of water; there are not a lot of people.

Our route yesterday was from Iron Mountain to Webster, WI, which is not far from the western border with Minnesota.  There are so few interstate highways on this path that we were never on one.  We traveled mainly state and county roads and US highways.

The drive was beautiful, in spite of persistent rain showers. What struck me most was the innumerable small lakes and rivers, all filled with crystal clear water.

We were nearly half way across Wisconsin, before we found a tourist information center and were able to procure a highway map.  We stopped in Tomahawk Lake and had a lovely chat with the lady manning the tourist information center. While we were there, waiting for the most recent shower to abate, so we could get back to the truck without being drenched, a gent came in looking for information on bicycling in the area.

It turned out that he is the football coach at Wheaton college. He looked the part: big and fit, with rugged features. As we talked with him, it was plain that he cared deeply for the Lord and for his players. We learned that he takes the team to Haiti from time to time on mission trips. We mentioned that we have dear friends who attended Wheaton and are full time missionaries in Haiti, but he did not know them.

Continuing on our way, as we approached the western edge of the state, the heavy forestation gave way to some more agriculturally oriented topography. It was an odd sensation to travel across so much territory with only the voice of our GPS to guide us. Even though we had a map for the second half of the journey, the roads we traveled were so minor that we couldn’t find most of them on the map. Nevertheless, here we are parked in the Voyager Campground near Webster.

We got set up and headed to the home of our friends, Ben and Shirley, who live on 8 1/2 acres fronting on the Yellow River. Their property is beautiful and quite remote, although Shirley proclaimed that they are really not that isolated. Why, in the winter, when the trees are bare, they can actually see some of their neighbors’ houses.

After a gourmet meal that Ben and Shirley prepared for us, we relaxed and chatted. We hadn’t seen them in over a year, and that was before they moved to Wisconsin, so there was much on which to catch up.

I’ll follow this post with one about our activities in Webster, and with luck, I will include some pictures.