Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DAY 7 - Big Sky - both night and day

Last night we attended the Night Sky Program at Badlands with Ranger Larry from Texas and his volunteers. 

It was truly worth so much more than the price of admission - free  - and I was cold but entranced for the whole thing. There were actually a ton more folks than this indicates!

Today we headed further along I90 to Wyoming - to Sheridan, cowboy central they tell us. Along the way we had hoped to check out the Devil's Tower but were turned back - see link.

Now children, yesterday's lesson was on the social-political forces affecting the 1970's American Indian Movement. Today's lesson is slightly less serious. What is the pop culture reference for the Devil's Tower? - think mashed potatoes and can you sing the 5 notes?

The drive into Wyoming brought home the "big sky" country slogan. Amazing vistas - particularly when the BigHorn Mountain range appeared - capped with a whole lot of snow. More snow and rain here this spring than has been seen in a long time and flood warnings abound - but they(weather network) say things are getting better and in Yellowstone , it will hardly snow at all ;-)

Spring is the true season here - more like mid-April than early June. Buds only on trees, lilacs just coming out. It's was an amazing change from South Dakota - which while cool, was much further along and as noted earlier, actually had local asparagus. Wyoming won't see local produce till late June.

We managed to find a local supplier of beef/pork and lamb here in Sheridan but it was not easy. Big box stores abound and the little guys gets shoved out. Liquor is not sold in convenience or grocery stores in this state and you have to find the liquor purveyors, which while privately owned, had warnings all over the place about selling to minors, and which played a Christian radio talk show over the PA - an interesting juxtaposition I thought.

So we are enjoying a lovely night in Sheridan before we head to Yellowstone - NO SNOW OK?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 6 - Walking in Badlands (to the tune of "Walking in Memphis")


Badlands National Park is the premier paleontological environment in North America.

It is also  just north of the final Indian battle with the US government in 1890 at Wounded Knee which became a clarion call for the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1970's which we recall so clearly it can't really be 40 years ago!

As well, Badlands has some of the weirdest landscapes on the earth.

So lots to see and take in.

We started with early morning geological hike with Ranger Ellen followed by a presentation onsite at “Fossil Trail”.

Back at the Interpretive Centre, there was lots of exposure to the history of the park, and of the people who live here both Native American and the rest.

Indian tacos are on the menu at the KOA tonight. We decided to splurge. Not bad but not sure how the calories stack up - probably shouldn't ask. We've pretty much finished our bounty from the Farmer's market in Sioux Falls so will have to stock up in Rapid City on the way out of the state. 

 Although we were rained out of the “Prairie Grass” hike  at dinner time, we hope to see the “Night Sky “ program after dark tonight.

Wish us luck! (both for the presentation and for staying dry!)

On to Wyoming in the morning.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Can you see it?....oh crap!

The rain fell last night - and fell  - and fell. We were warm, snug and dry in our little nest but the rest of South Dakota is pretty water-logged.

We thought today would be the better day to check out the Black Hills and the Mt. Rushmore sculpture given that we had to drive 2 hours to get there so didn't think rain would curtail that activity.
We also decided to check out the PrairieBerry winery whose wine we sampled last evening - something called 3 Rednecks ( the label has pheasants in hunters' caps), a cabernet sauvignon that was a winner at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle wine festival.

As we drove west and south, the terrain changed again from grasslands to rolling hills to what looked like the Canadian shield - craggy rocks, ponderosa pines, black spruce all in the 2 hour drive. This is what terrain around Mt. Rushmore looks like on a sunny day.

The winery lunch was terrific. Paul had buffalo meat with wild mushrooms on homemade foccacia panini, and a black bean soup. I had a goat cheese and olive tampenade panini (they marinate their own small raw olives) with a greek orzo salad and more of the wondrous olives. We sampled (sampled!, small amounts only!) three more wines - Red Ass Rhubarb - a very sweet dessert wine of rhubarb and raspberries that I liked a lot, and that Paul said tasted like cough syrup; Phat Hogg Red which didn't have near the body of the 3 RedNecks, and BuffaloBerry Fusion - a white chardonnay-type wine which was lovely but no different than others we tried in the past. So we're coming home with a couple more of the 3 Red Necks.

As we has travelled south of I90 to the winery, the weather changed from rainy and 55 degrees F (not warm I grant you) to rain, mist and 42 F (downright cool). The mist enveloped us as we started up to Mount Rushmore ( don't know why my brain did not compute that this was a mountain!) and near the top we realized the likelihood of seeing the presidential  sculptures was getting slimmer.

And so it was - the presidents never appeared, and the exhibits seemed less than exciting without the real thing to gaze upon. This is what the monument was supposed to look like. Mt. Rushmore monument

and this is what it actually looked like, at least on May 29, 2011.

So we headed back to the nest - tired, somewhat frustrated but happy with the winery meal at least - and the fact that the rain cleared up and the temperature went up to over 50F (again with the small mercies!)

Tomorrow we hike in the badlands.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 4 How bad is bad? BAD....and that means good!

Today we found ourselves in true cowboy country - the badlands of the prairies. One could almost see Butch Cassidy et al streaking across the grasslands  (though I think I am one state too early for the Hole in the Wall gang!)

But the drive across S. Dakota was remarkable.

We began our day at the Sioux Falls Farmer's market,

and got stocked up with fresh veggies, natural beef and local wine.
We drove across the Missouri river, stopping at the Lewis and Clark site where they stayed on their trek up and down the river as part of their search for a passage to the Pacific ocean. Huge river, beautiful pavilion, although there was a reminder that snakes abound in this part of the world - aaagh!

We've been travelling the I 90 highway for most of the trip so far and have been finding some interesting tidbits - like the fact that as we go west, the gas prices go down ( today filled up for $63 US) and the highway speeds go up. Here in S Dakota the speed limit is 75 mph. which seems to be about 130 kmh - We puddle along at about 100 with cars , trucks, vans and the occasional horse and cart passing us.

Paul has also been interested to see the older outlying buildings (sheds, barns etc.) which have been abandoned and left to fall in on themselves. No one even attempts to remove them. We counted about 15 today - often they are behind modern homes or farms - seems odd somehow to see these buildings left to crumble.

As we got closer to Badlands the terrain changed somewhat but nothing to give us a hint as to what to expect when we turned down into the park.

The KOA is the best so far with beautiful campsites and so quiet! We have eaten our wonderful meal from the farmer's market, drunk our wine, checked out the sunset on the White River.

We had hoped to see the stars tonight but I hear the rain starting up again (.."but at least it's at night" ;-) so will hopefully see the night sky program at the park tomorrow.

But that will be another story....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 3 - Frost and Birds at 4am

Why the birds were singing we don't know, maybe just calling - help - get blankets. It was cooold but the electric blankets did the trick along with the heater - the best $40 we ever spent!

Left DeForest around 9 and made La Crosse, Wisconsin by noon.

4 dead deer along the way! What kept appearing (along with the dead deer) were roads to Wisconsin Dells which seems to be Wisconsin's playground but which also features some amazing rock formations which look a lot like Bruce county.

La Crosse is on the border with Minnesota and the Mississippi river divides the states.

Beautiful views on the Minnesota side and we climbed and climbed - maybe 1000 feet to the flat lands where the prairies begin, we guess.

Drove in a straight line for 280 miles - finally turned off the GPS because Hortense was bugging us by saying the same thing ("Keep driving straight for 280...260...240 miles").

The weather had been beautiful until Minnesota then the rain returned and we kept the radio tuned to NPRs across the state to check out the next destination - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - the first state we have never been in before.

So it cool but not raining and we have a warm and fuzzy camp site about 100 meters from the I90 - but the scotch helps!

It's amazing what you find to be grateful for - oh it's cool but it's sunny.. oh it's cool and rainy but we're near a laundromat..oh it's cold(freezing actually) but it's not raining...oh it's cold and rainy and freezing, but the bathrooms are warm and the electric blanket is turned on and there's scotch in the thermos.

More from us tomorrow.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Days 1 & 2 - From the "Woodlot" to the Woods

We did it - we started on our vacation - Pat and Paul's big adventure.

The air-con is fixed so of course the weather was cool and rainy from about the time we crossed the Bluewater Bridge till we got closer to Indiana - where the forecast changed to a tornado watch.
So we turned the van and trailer west and headed towards the big bright spot in the sky - which turned out to be above the shores of Lake Michigan - Van Buren State Park near Kalamazoo Michigan - (you're singing right? "a-b-c-d-e-f-g-h-I got a gal in Kalamazoo").

The wedding of the year was amazing. Friday night at the Woodlot restaurant in Toronto was a gourmet experience (including the sighting of one of the "Top Chef Canada"'s contestants). The Woodlot has some of the best food in the country - and partying there with our kids and friends was a treat! Then Sunday, we headed to Langdon Hall in Cambridge for more food, and festivities. A wonderful weekend. Check out the photographer's blog for some terrific pics.

But we were unprepared for how tired we were once everything was over and we still had to pack for this trip. Then to get turned around because of "potential tornados" put us off a bit but in the end, the State Park was lovely - till the rain started....

The new trailer held up pretty well but it was quite the downpour so we did get somewhat damp - but this was not as frustrating as trying to get around Chicago in the pouring rain - no one was singing then!

We persevered however and kept to our plan of trying at least one meal from "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" series by visting a great place north of Chicago in Glenview called ,"Hackneys on Harms"(one of 6 Hackneys in the Chicago area - all family-run businesses begun in 1939 at this site) - with onion rings to die for and guinness marinated hamburgers on homemade rye bread. Sounds odd but tastes wonderful. The diet is definitely on the run.

Tonight we are staying at a KOA near Madison in Wisconsin - to dry out, warm up and hopefully sleep without hearing the lashing of rain that kept us up last night. Of course, it is going down to near freezing tonight so ..... (We actually ARE having a good time so far!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NOT so cool..

We may have hit the first big bump in the road (hah!) and could be delayed in leaving. The air conditioner in the van needs replacing and of course this was discovered just before the long weekend aaagh.

Thanks to Hope at KOA Middlebury, Indiana we won't lose our whole deposit but seriously, why wasn't this checked before we took possession of the van.

I am literally, not a happy camper.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

10 Days and Counting

We actually leave in 10 days. Between then and now we have our son's wedding. No one ever said we do things by half measure.

The tent-trailer is in the driveway awaiting its inaugural trip, which will have to wait till May 25 now because the weather has been fairly wretched - rainy and cool. We don't want to take a chance that bedding could get wet before we even leave!

The first few days will find us in four states - Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and South Dakota. Hopefully it will warm up. Currently West Yellowstone, which we arrive at on June 1, is in the minus column with snow showers - yuck. We are somewhat glued to the the weather underground site which lets us plan out travel according to the sun, and are quite prepared to abandon the northern route for warmer climes.