South Dakota, July 2012



Travelogue: South Dakota (mainly), July 2012

By Roger W. Reini

This is the story of a trip along the Lincoln Highway and to the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore and other historic sites, that my uncle and I made in the summer of 2012.

Prologue - Why This Trip

Over the last few years -- since 2005, actually -- it had become common for me to spend the July 4th period out of town.  2005 was when it began, prompted by Ford starting to shut down the engineering offices and making everyone take vacation that week.  That year, I took the train to DC and drove down to Virginia Beach to meet up with my sister and her family.  I went to DC one other year, and there were trips to Austin and Chicago as well.  There were some years I stayed home, but this year would not be one of them.

Why did I want to make this trip? Mount Rushmore is a classic American monument, for one thing. For another, it provided a perfect reason to visit South Dakota, the 48th state that I have visited, as well as the last of the Lower 48.  For yet another, it presented an opportunity to follow the historic Lincoln Highway farther west than I had previously.  And for yet another reason, it was to be this year’s male bonding trip with my uncle Bill, in lieu of a weekend at Hamvention in Dayton (I had attended a workshop on writing at Louhelen Bahá’í School the same weekend as Hamvention).

What did we want to see?  Well, Mount Rushmore, of course. It is an iconic American monument that every American should see in his or her lifetime. My grandpa and grandma Reini, great-aunt Hilia and aunt Marie went there back in 1965 as part of a big trip to the West and Southwest (with a bit of the South) that involved visiting my family (mom, dad and me) in Texas and my great-uncle Waino's family in New Mexico.  I asked Marie if she wanted to go to Mount Rushmore, but she declined. She had to take care of one of her cats who was nearing the end of his life. Now in addition to Mount Rushmore, there is the Crazy Horse monument, Badlands National Park, Devil's Tower National Monument, the Minuteman National Historic Site, and a number of other places.  There are too many to see on one trip!  There would also be a side trip to Minneapolis on the way back so that Bill could visit his sister. 

And there was a slim possibility of a side trip to Spencer, Iowa, to pay our respects to a famous cat who used to live in the library there: Dewey Readmore Books.  I say "slim" because Spencer would be a significant detour from our route, and there might not be enough time to visit.  As it turned out, there wasn’t time to make the detour.


Monday June 25

Today was four days out from the start of the trip.  I had already stopped the mail and the newspapers during my time away.  I would soon need to start packing in earnest, although with a trip of such a short duration, I wouldn't need to pack that much -- one, maybe two bags in addition to computer and camera bags, neither of which were very large. There would be the bag for the CPAP machine that I needed to use while sleeping (also not very large).  Did I need to fold down my rear seat to hold everything? I wasn't sure. It wouldn't be a big deal to do so.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to.

As I previously stated, there was an opportunity to travel on the Lincoln Highway, and that started out as one of the purposes of this trip, but would there be time to do so?  Past Chicago, the Lincoln Highway would pass well south of the fastest route to the Black Hills, I-90. Back in 2005, I had driven the Lincoln Highway all of the way through Illinois but only a little bit through far eastern Iowa. Would there be time to drive that portion again, or to drive some of it in Iowa? We might not know until we're on the road. We'd be prepared with our guidebook just in case.


Thursday May 28

Today was one day before departure.  Last night, I made arrangements for a hotel in Indiana for tomorrow night.  This morning, I went to the local Quick Lane facility to get the oil changed, tires rotated, and other things checked for the trip. I did some work while waiting for my car to be serviced, working on some minutes and checking my e-mail.  A TV was on in the background showing Good Morning America on ABC. One of the stories was on the major wildfire near Colorado Springs, threatening the Air Force Academy among other places.  I'd been to Colorado Springs four years ago and wouldn't mind going again, but if we were going there this weekend instead of Mount Rushmore, I think we'd be canceling the trip or changing the destination.  Later that day, I finished my packing, but I would wait until tomorrow to load the car.  No need to expose everything to the summer heat.


Friday June 29

Today was the last day of work prior to Ford's yearly shutdown of the engineering center during the week of July 4. But for my uncle Bill, today was the last day of work, period.  He was retiring today from over 30 years with the federal government, most of which were spent at the US Army Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) in Warren, where he served as an electronics technician on projects benefitting the Army and our country, and no doubt capable of bringing great harm to our enemies.

Things were slower than normal today; clearly, a number of folks had gotten a jump on the holiday.  That was all right by me, for it allowed me to concentrate on things with fewer distractions.  There were also some last-minute preparations for the trip, meaning the mailing of bills and the pulling of money. By 3 o’clock, I was finished; I’d done my weekly backup of files, and I was set to leave.  The parking lot was already pretty empty as I left.  On the way home, I topped off my gas tank at the Kroger gas station on Ford Road in Dearborn Heights.  It only needed 4 gallons or so.

When I got home and opened the door, the phone was ringing. As is my custom, I let the answering machine pick it up to see who was on (I don’t have caller ID on the landline).  It was my aunt Marie, wanting to know when Bill could head out; I said right away.  And with that, I backed up the contents of my laptop’s hard drive and packed some last minute items, and I was ready to go.  While I waited for him to arrive, I continued backing up my photos to the cloud.  I’d just started the year 2005 when he arrived.  I got my car out of the garage, and he put his in for the duration of the trip.  He loaded his things, and then, a little after 5, we were on the road.

Traffic was very heavy northbound on I-275 as we approached that freeway; fortunately, we were headed southbound and had no problem getting down to Michigan Avenue, where we turned to head west.  Before long, we were on I-94 passing through Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor and headed west.  Our destination this evening was the Hilton Garden Inn in Chesterton, Indiana.  It would be a late arrival due to our late departure, but that was expected.  We stopped for supper in Battle Creek, but not at our intended restaurant. Our intent was to go to the Cracker Barrel, as we would do whenever we drove down to Dayton, but it was busy tonight with a 20-minute wait.  I didn’t feel like waiting, so we went to Denny’s instead.  We were seated right away, but it took a long time to get served.  With 5 minutes to go before we walked out, we were served (finally!).  I had a spaghetti and meatball dinner, while Bill had tilapia.  It may have taken us a while to get our supper, but once we got it, it was good.  Then we continued onward.

It was dark by the time we reached Chesterton.  We had room 202, a reasonably comfortable room.  After settling in, I studied my Lincoln Highway guidebook and Google Maps to figure out where we were going tomorrow, to know where to pick up the highway.


Saturday June 30

The pants I worn yesterday had developed a hole in the front right pocket, the one where I keep my keys and change. The hole was now large enough to allow change to fall out; that was not good.  Bill suggested we find a sewing kit to make an emergency repair. We could find one at a Walmart along the way, he said.

I got up a little after 5:30, or 6:30 Eastern, and did my usual morning e-mail and Web checks. Bill awoke around an hour later. Breakfast was down in the lobby at 7, but it wasn’t free at Hilton Garden (the restaurant also operated for dinner).  I had the full breakfast buffet, while Bill had an a la carte selection of two items

Today, we were going to follow the old Lincoln Highway west for as far as we wanted, not knowing how far we’d get.  There was no place we had to be today, unlike on Sunday.  We could pick up the highway by heading south toward Valparaiso, and after we’d checked out after 7:30, that’s what we did.  I had brought along my copy of The Lincoln Highway Companion to follow the old route.  It indicated multiple versions of the highway, as the routing changed in many instances over the 15 years it was actively maintained.  Much of the route today has become multilane or divided highway, but some sections are still two-lane.  We followed both types of roadway through northwest Indiana as we traveled westward.  Some of the time, we were on US 30; other times, we were on side streets.

At the intersection of US 30 and US 41, there was a Walmart.  There, we found the sewing kit and picked up some other items, such as toothpaste and a 12-pack of Diet Rite Cola for the road.  We had a cooler, and we were going to use it, and we did.  As we went westward, we stopped a number of times to take pictures at historically significant spots: the Ideal Section in Dyer; Dixie Highway signs in Chicago Heights; Route 66 signs in Plainfield, etc. The Ideal Section of the 1920’s has been completely obliterated by 1990’s vintage multilane highway, but some markers are still present.

It was slow going between Matteson and Joliet in the southern part of Chicagoland; the road was being widened.  For lunch, we stopped at the Ace Drive-In in Joliet, a place mentioned in that Lincoln Highway Companion.  After eating the food there (I had a burger), we could see that it deserved the mention.  From there, we continued onward through the far western suburbs before finally breaking away from the Chicago area.  In Plainfield, we drove a stretch of roadway that was both the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. There were some sights in DeKalb related to the highway, including some commemorative markers and an interpretive gazebo.  There was also an artwork entitled Lincoln on Lincoln: a dog dressed as Abraham Lincoln, including beard.  Rather amusing, and definitely picture-worthy, I thought.

Farther west, in Rochelle, there was a vintage Standard station that housed a visitor’s center.  Well, when we got there, the station was there, but the visitor center had moved a couple blocks over to the railroad park.  That turned out to be at a crossing of two major railroads, and there was a small rise with a covered awning where people could watch the trains pass safely.  There was a gathering when we arrived, expecting the next trains to pass.  And it turned out that not one but two trains went by while we were there.  I got some good pictures and four movies of the trains as they went by.  That was an unexpected event for the trip.

This trip along the Lincoln Highway was very interesting, but it was taking a very long time.  We’d only traveled 150 miles or so in five or six hours.  Now we didn’t have to be anywhere in particular today, but we did have hotel reservations in Rapid City, South Dakota for Sunday night. Every mile we didn’t travel today was a mile we’d have to travel tomorrow, and we were still quite a ways from Rapid City.  So with some reluctance, we decided to end our Lincoln Highway adventure and start heading to Rapid City in earnest. Rochelle was near I-39, making it a good place to depart from the highway.  And so, we backtracked a few miles and got onto I-39 heading northward. I wouldn’t attain my goal of taking the Lincoln Highway farther west than I had before (not counting the stretch in Wyoming a few years ago).  I-39 ran into I-90 and became a tollway in Rockford, but we only had to pay once before crossing into Wisconsin.

As we traveled through Wisconsin, our roles changed.  I had been doing the driving since leaving Detroit.  Now, Bill took over, not only to give me a rest but also to let me search for a room for the night.  While he drove us through Wisconsin, I used my MacBook Pro and my MiFi portable hotspot to find a room.  How far did we think we could go: La Crosse, Wisconsin? Perhaps. Rochester, Minnesota? Better. And so I made a reservation at a Hampton Inn in Rochester.  Later, we had supper in Sparta, Wisconsin at the Happy Trails Roadside Diner. There were three bicycles hanging from the wall there, and among the historic pictures on the wall was one of astronaut Deke Slayton, who was from Sparta.  The food was decent enough.

The terrain became rather hilly as we neared the border with Minnesota.  We can thank the Mississippi River for that, I imagine.  Once we crossed over, the terrain flattened again after several miles. And so onward we drove until we encountered the exit for Rochester, which wasn’t directly on I-90. No, it was a few miles north.  But it wasn’t too difficult for us to find the Hampton Inn and get our room.  The parking lot was very busy; it turned out there were multiple wedding parties staying here. I think we got one of the last rooms available for the night.  We didn’t do very much that evening; the big thing for me was to download our pictures from today into iPhoto for me to identify and review.  Some of them turned out pretty well.  I ended up going to bed around 11.


Sunday July 1

I’d gone to bed around 11 last night and woke up around 6:15. Bill woke up later. I had plenty of time to take my morning medicine, check my e-mail, my Facebook, etc. Around 7, the phone rang; it was my aunt Marie calling to talk to my uncle Bill.  Later, he spoke to his sister Jean, whom we’d be visiting on our return trip.

This being a Hampton Inn, there was a breakfast bar in the lobby.  The waffle grill was there, but I didn’t use it. No, I had the scrambled eggs with sausage and peppers, a banana, some yogurt that might have been banana flavor in part, and a muffin.  Good Morning America was on the TV in the breakfast room; the broadcast was coming from Minneapolis.  At one point, probably the top of the hour, the local news took over.  The breakfast room was pretty busy, as you would imagine with a full hotel. Some of the people there had to have been from the wedding parties, but I bet that some were Mayo Clinic patients. Once we finished our breakfast, we finished packing up and made sure the cooler was filled with fresh ice. 

Around 8:30, we left Rochester and picked up I-90 heading west. The drive was uneventful; we listened to Breakfast with the Beatles as we drove.  A few hours later, there was the sign for the South Dakota border.  We had made it to South Dakota! And I had now been in all of the lower 48 states (not counting Alaska and Hawaii). But we had to leave it right away, for I missed the exit for the state welcome center and had to loop around, and the loop took us back into Minnesota.  But it was a worthwhile loop, for we found quite a bit of tourist literature to help us refine our plans.  And what were our plans for the day? Drive to our hotel in Rapid City, obviously; that was prime.  I also wanted to visit the famous Wall Drug, which we would pass on our way to Rapid City.  If there were time in the evening, I would want to go to Mount Rushmore.  It turned out there wasn’t time for that, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We stopped for lunch at an Arby’s in Sioux Falls, and we also gassed up the car.  We swapped positions in the car; I had been driving, but now Bill was. I looked at the tourist literature as we drove westward.  On the radio, Breakfast with the Beatles had ended; it was now time for the Euro 2012 final, Spain versus Italy.  Who would win? Spain would, and rather handily, too: 4-0.  As we listened to the game, we noticed the sights and sites, such as Porter Sculpture Park, home to the world’s largest bull head.  And then there were the billboards for Wall Drug.  They started in Minnesota and were a constant companion until the time we reached Wall.  I took pictures of many of them -- not all, although it seemed like it.

We crossed the Missouri River at Chamberlain and appreciated the scenery as the land turned from flat to hilly.  It became flat again, but then the land dried out and became more rugged.  We were nearing the Badlands, and eventually we could see some of the Badlands in the distance.  There was a scenic turnout along I-90, and we stopped there for a few pictures. There was a fair amount of haze, so the pictures wouldn’t be the greatest, but so what: we’d be coming back to the National Park in a few days.  Then we continued onward to Wall.  I was wondering if Wall Drug would be open when we arrived there.  I needn’t have worried; it was open from 7 AM to 10 PM every day.

Wall Drug is a very large place, occupying a whole city block. We’d parked in a lot a block away and walked over.  We had our cameras with us, and we used them to take pictures of several of the exhibits and artwork.  Bill looked for some items for his wife (and my aunt) Marie and his sister Jean.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular this evening.  That wasn’t quite true; I was looking for some aspirin.  I found some here; it was still a drugstore, after all.  You could also say that it was a Wall mart.

Rapid City was 50 miles west of Wall.  Our home for the next few days was the Holiday Inn Express at exit 59, near the Rushmore Mall.  I’d been led to believe it was west of LaCrosse Road, but Google Maps was wrong; it was east of the road, located next to an Econo Lodge, an Outback Steakhouse, a Boston’s sports bar, a gas station and a Denny’s.  We got settled in our room, room 115 very close to the lobby. We walked over to the Denny’s for supper.  Bill had tilapia, while I had a Santa Fe Skillet that was almost too hot to eat.  Then we went back to our room for a bit of reading and preparation for tomorrow before turning in for the night.  Tomorrow was looking to be very busy.


Monday July 2

I woke up around 5:30 in the morning; I could already tell that the sun was up.  Bill had beaten me up, and he was in the restroom; unfortunately, I couldn’t wait for him to finish. I pulled on some clothes and went out to the restroom in the lobby near the swimming pool.  Good thing we were close to the lobby!  A newspaper was waiting for us outside the door; what was unusual was that it was the local Rapid City paper, not USA Today as is typical.  One of the morning’s major stories was the cancellation of fireworks in most area communities due to the extreme fire danger.

After I took a shower, we went to the lobby for our breakfast.  Unfortunately, all of the tables were occupied, so we had to bring our meals back to the room.  I moved my MacBook Pro to the floor to clear some table space.  The MBP had become really discharged overnight even though I’d had it plugged in; that was probably due to a loose plug.  I’d use the adapter extension plug in the future, and the laptop never discharged to that level again.

Our plans for today had us going to Custer State Park and driving the Wildlife Loop, then visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. Those were rather ambitious plans, so we couldn’t dawdle too long getting ready.  Our first destination: Custer State Park. The park was some 28 miles south of Rapid City. After stopping for a restroom break at the visitor center, we set off on the Wildlife Loop. This road went along the eastern, southern and western edges of the park. It took us a few minutes and a few miles to see our first wildlife: some antelope.  Not longer afterwards, there was a lone buffalo on the right side of the car.  Bill was in a better position to take a picture of it than I was, but I was able to get some pictures by sticking the camera up through the moonroof (I was pulled over at the time, of course).  Other drivers that passed by in the other direction said there were two large herd of buffalo on the other side of the park. We continued onward, seeing more antelope or deer on occasion.  Later, we came across a herd of semi-wild burros looking for handouts from anyone who passed.  Kids were having their pictures taken with the burros, and the burros didn’t mind.  A couple of burros came up to our car. On my side, the burro rubbed up against the rear-view mirror just like a kitty cat would rub up against you while waiting to be fed. On the other side, I got a picture of Bill taking a picture of a burro up close and personal.  We continued around on the Wildlife Loop, and we encountered one of the herd of buffalo.  We got out to take pictures from a safe distance away. I saw one buffalo a long ways off running toward the herd at a very good clip considering his size. I zoomed in on him (or her) and took a short movie; since that made the animal appear very close in the viewfinder, I got the feeling that we should get back in the car right away. But that was just an illusion.  We saw professional photographers or videographers set up in the field; hopefully, they got the footage they needed.  We passed by a prairie dog town but didn’t stop there; there were a lot of other park attractions that we didn’t visit, for that matter.  Perhaps if I return here, I’ll spend more time at the park.

Next came the Crazy Horse Memorial. In deciding between which to visit first, Crazy Horse or Mount Rushmore, we went with what was closer to where we were, and that was Crazy Horse.  We drove through the town of Custer to turn up the road to the memorial.  Our first glimpse of it came rather suddenly, about a half-mile from the entrance to the grounds. I remember pointing at it and excitedly saying “Look, there it is!”  We drove in, paid our admission, and found a parking spot.  Our first destination in the visitor center was a short video on the history of the monument; when that concluded, we left the theater and entered an exhibit area that had a view of the monument, models of the grounds once the monument was completed, and some artwork, probably part of the Standing Soldier Collection.  We toured the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center and marveled at the exhibits.

We had lunch at the Laughing Water Restaurant across the courtyard from the main visitor center.  I had a buffalo burger, while Bill had a salmon burger; both of our burgers were good.  The courtyard presented more opportunities to gaze upon the monument and take pictures of it; we each took the other’s picture in front of the monument.  Farther back was the model of the monument that was being used as a reference for the mountain carving, and behind that were more exhibits, including the family home and the sculptor’s studio.  In a corner was a repository of rocks blasted from the mountain; for a donation, you could take home one of these rocks. We would do so, making our selection on the way out. I took a larger rock, while Bill took two smaller rocks that, combined, would be the size of the rock I took.

Another attraction was the chance to take a bus ride much closer to the mountain and learn some more of the history behind it.  We took advantage of that opportunity, and it was worth the $4 bus ride.  The flies that were biting my ankles through my socks were definitely a nuisance, but I’m glad I got to see behind the mountain and get a closer perspective on the work.  As we listened to the talk from the bus driver, one of the sculptor’s sons drove past. Seven of the sculptor’s ten children continued their father’s work, with six still active today (the seventh died in 2011). The bus driver said that the most common question he’s asked is when the work will be finished.  There’s no way to know; that will depend on how much money is available. And they won’t be looking to Uncle Sam for help; no government money has been or will be accepted for it.

After Crazy Horse came Mount Rushmore.  There was some rain en route, but by the time we’d arrived there, the rainclouds were gone.  I got my first glimpse of the mountain as we turned to enter the parking facility.  There was no fee to enter the grounds of the memorial, but there was a parking fee of $11, good for all calendar year.  We parked in area 1 of the garage and walked up one flight of stairs to reach plaza level.  Straight ahead of us past the entrance portal were the carved faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, iconic symbols of the United States.  We walked along the Avenue of Flags leading to the Grand View Terrace; I located the flags of Michigan and Texas.  When we reached the terrace, our view of the monument was unobstructed.  I got some close-up pictures of each president (thank you, zoom lens), and we got a ranger to take some pictures of the two of us in front of the memorial.  Next came a walk around the Presidential Trail, which enabled us to get as close as we could to the mountain.  There were four plaques placed around the trail, one for each president, in places where one of the faces was highlighted.  These locations presented different perspectives on the monument, while the plaques summarized why each president was being honored, along with quotations from sculptor Gutzon Borglum on why he chose to honor them.  The first portion of the trail was accessible to everyone, but the remainder involved stairs leading down to the sculptor’s studio.  That was an interesting location, for it contained the model that was used as the master for the mountain carving.  The model is more fully fleshed out than the mountain, for the plan was to carve their bodies as well as their faces; however, the advent of World War II and the death of the sculptor put the kibosh on those plans, leaving us with what we have today.  Then came the climb up another flight of stairs to get back to the main viewing plaza.  Adjacent to it was the vintage viewing plaza, which also provided good views of the mountain.  That viewing area was in place when my grandmother, grandfather, aunt and great aunt visited in 1965. The rest of the visitor center had to be completely different from what it is today.  We went down to the lower level to see some of the exhibits there and to view the bookstore.  I found three books there, one on Mount Rushmore (appropriate) and two on Crazy Horse and the Lakota (also appropriate).

By this time, I was getting pretty tired and wanted to head back.  As we were leaving, Bill ran into a former co-worker from TACOM and spoke to him for a few minutes.  We headed back to Rapid City by way of US 16, passing through downtown.  We saw some of the statues of US presidents erected on street corners downtown; the one that caught my attention was the statue of Harry Truman. In it, he’s depicted holding up the newspaper that said DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.  We stopped for supper at the Perkins restaurant on LaCrosse south of I-90.  I had their turkey dinner, which was good but on the filling side.  I couldn’t finish it all; the muffin I’d ordered as dessert came back to the hotel with me, where I ate it later that evening. The big project for this evening was downloading and identifying the pictures we took today.  I had taken 253 pictures, while Bill had taken 81.

Now what were my thoughts on seeing these two magnificent sculptures in the mountains?  They were both moving and thought-provoking in their own ways.  Mount Rushmore is an American icon, honoring four of the US’s greatest leaders.  The Crazy Horse memorial reminds us that, as the Lakota tribal leaders said at the time, the red men had their own heroes, too.  The spirit motivating the building of the Crazy Horse memorial is admirable and cannot be denied. The plans for the memorial campus once the monument is completed are very ambitious, but I hope they come to fruition. I’m proud to have contributed in a small way toward its completion. It’s doubtful I’ll be alive to see the project completed.


Tuesday July 3

The alarm clock went off at 5:05 AM; the only problem was, neither of us set it.  Bill wasn’t happy about that.  Neither was I, yet I stayed up to check my e-mail. I was on the verge of getting up, anyway. Around 6 o’clock, Marie called to talk to Bill. I continued to identify the pictures we’d taken yesterday until we went to breakfast.  Today, we were able to eat in the breakfast bar area; was it less busy because we were up earlier or because there weren’t as many guests at the hotel? The parking lot seemed just as full, so I suspect it was due to our eating at an earlier time.  But we needed to eat an early meal today, for we had a bit of a drive ahead of us.

Today, we planned to go to Wyoming to visit Devils Tower, made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was over 100 miles away from Rapid City. After the long drives of the weekend, we did not feel like continuing with the driving on Monday, and so Tuesday became the day. As we headed westward on I-90, we were listening to the ‘60s on 6 again, as we did for most of the trip.  At one point, news broke that Andy Griffith had died, and tributes and reminiscences started pouring in.

The territory seemed to become more rugged as soon as we crossed the Wyoming border.  We stopped at the Welcome Center to use the restroom and to pick up some literature, and then we continued to the exit for US 14 in Sundance. This was the southerly approach to Devils Tower. As we traveled northward on Highway 24, we first saw it as a dark shape in the distance, made indistinct by the haze.  There was a turnoff on the other side of a pass, and we stopped there for a few pictures, although thanks to the haze, the pictures wouldn’t be the best.  A better opportunity came a few miles later with another turnoff much closer to the mountain; we stopped to take a few more pictures there.

A few miles down the road, we turned down the road that led to the park.  There was a bit of a backup to get into the park, but soon we were inside.  On the left, there was a prairie dog town; we didn’t stop there then but planned to do so as we left the park.  The parking area was full, so we had to park in one of the subsidiary parking areas a short distance from the visitor center. I needed to use the restroom rather badly, so that was my first destination; the only problem was that a lot of other men and boys needed to use it just then, so there was a line.  Fortunately, it moved quickly, and we were soon ready to walk around the tower.  There was a trail that went 1.2 miles around the tower, although with a short rise before reaching the trail. The trail stayed close to the base of the tower and meandered up and down, but it always gave great perspectives on the tower.  At one point, there was an observation area farther away from the tower, but positioned to give a good look at the tower. There were binoculars mounted there that gave folks a good view of the summit and of the mountain side. From here, we could see some people climbing the tower or, more accurately, climbing down the tower. They weren’t visible to my naked eye, but I could see them using the zoom lens on my camera.

There were a number of shaded places on the trail, but there were a number of places that weren’t, and it became rather warm in those unshaded areas.  Fortunately, shady locations were almost always just ahead.  We went on until we had returned to our starting point, and then we went inside the visitor’s center for a bit. It was from the visitor center that I saw a good photo opportunity with Devils Tower and the American flag side by side.  That opportunity did not go to waste.  Soon, we were headed out of the park and remembered to stop at the prairie dog town, where the prairie dogs were out in force.  There were signs saying not to feed the prairie dogs, yet someone had thrown bigs chunks of bread to them, and they were trying their darndest to eat them.  I got a number of pictures of the prairie dogs, taking full advantage of my camera’s zoom lens.  They were cute critters. Never mind that they might have been carrying bubonic plague and other nasty diseases, they were cute critters. And then we were out of the park.

We decided to return to South Dakota by taking advantage of a loop road around the tower, which headed north then east.  It went through some very small towns, but there weren’t any good places to stop for lunch or to get gas.  We weren’t able to do either until we reached Belle Fourche back in South Dakota. We were trying to get there, anyway, as Belle Fourche had the marker for the geographical center of the United States. It was south of the actual geographical center, which was some 20 miles north on private property that the owner did not plan to develop in any way (44.967787,-103.772846).  The marker was at a visitor center off the main highway and on the Belle Fourche River (44.674432,-103.852746), and it definitely was an elaborate marker and good photo opportunity.  With that taken care of, we ate lunch at a Subway restaurant in town, then drove off to reconnect to I-90.  We drove through Sturgis and got gas there, then drove briefly through the town, which was getting ready to host the big bike rally in a month’s time.  There was a motorcycle museum in town, but we missed seeing it.  Then it was back to Rapid City and back to the hotel around 4:15.  Time to download and identify today’s pictures, and time to rest for a bit.

Suppertime came around; where would we go? We decided on the Golden Corral south of the hotel.  When we got there, it was rather busy on this Tuesday night.  The food was OK; it wasn’t really different from any other Golden Corral. However, when we were ready to leave, we discovered that the cleanliness of the men’s room left a lot to be desired.  Bill refused to use the men’s room there, and I didn’t blame him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend a long time there, and I got out as quickly as I could.  I doubt I’d want to visit there again.  Bill went over to the Wal-Mart across the parking lot to look for a few items while I waited in the car. Afterwards, we went downtown to walk the streets with the statues of the presidents.  It was getting dark, so we didn’t see all of them, perhaps half of them.  Still, they made for an interesting display on the streets of Rapid City.  Then it was back to the hotel for the evening.


Wednesday July 4

There wouldn’t be any fireworks today, thanks to the extreme fire hazard. But we would spend the day doing something appropriate for the 4th of July: going to a national park, specifically Badlands National Park. We set out around 7:45 going east.  Since we were approaching Wall Drug from the west, we saw plenty of their billboards again. I took several pictures of them as we traveled eastward.  At the second exit for Wall, we exited the freeway, but we weren’t going to Wall Drug, not yet.  This was the western access road to Badlands National Park, and the entrance was some six miles south of the freeway.

It was a very windy day today when we set out from the hotel, and it was still windy as we entered the park.  We saw two groups of bike riders pedaling against the wind; they had to be having a hard time.  Pulling up to the entrance booth, I had pulled out $15 for the entrance fee. But the booth attendant asked Bill, who was driving, if he was over 62.  He answered that he was, for indeed he was. The attendant then let him know he qualified for a senior pass: $10 provided lifetime admission to most national parks and monuments.  We could have gotten one at Devils Tower yesterday and not have had to pay today. He got the pass, and we were on our way.

We were driving the Badlands Loop Road from west to east, and this would give us a good overview of the park. But we wouldn’t see all of the park. We would miss the entire southern part of the park, and we would miss the sites along the Sage Creek Rim Road, such as a prairie dog town and the general hangout for the bison herds.  But we wouldn’t miss any of the scenic turnouts along the loop road (there were ten, perhaps eleven).  Most of the turnouts provided views of spectacularly rugged terrain; the one that didn’t was in the prairie, and that provided a wonderful look all its own. I was busy with my camera, taking a mixture of wide angle and telephoto shots.

In the middle of our visit to the park, we stopped for lunch at the Cedar Pass Lodge restaurant.  We had burgers; mine was Angus, Bill’s buffalo.  We then visited the visitor center down the road for a while, using the restroom, viewing the exhibits, getting the road guide from the bookstore, etc.  Then it was back on the road until the next turnout.  Here, we noticed a motorcycle with European license plates. The country code was H, which stands for Hungary.  Somebody was going around the world!

There were a number of hiking trails in the eastern part of the park.  We walked the Fossil Trail and saw models of a number of fossils that had been found in the park. We took the Window Trail and the start of the Door Trail but passed on the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. I might have felt like doing the last one had it been at the start of our visit or at the start of the day, but I was feeling rather fatigued and didn’t want to take it.  I guess I have a reason to come back to the park some day.  The Door Trail had a short boardwalk section and a longer unpaved section, but it wasn’t clear to me where the unpaved trail was.  No matter; the scenery was still spectacular. Walking back to the car, we countered the only form of mammalian wildlife we’d see in the park today: a bunny rabbit munching away contentedly next to the trail.

The final turnout was Big Badlands Turnout. This may have been the location where my grandparents had their pictures taken during their trip to the park in 1965.  Comparing their picture to the ones I took here, the terrain seemed similar.  And after we were done here, we noticed it was nearing 4 o’clock.  We’d pass near the Minuteman National Historical Site on the way out, but it would be closing soon, and the Minuteman silo at exit 116 would close at 4. They would have to wait for another visit.

After leaving the park, we started heading back on I-90. We stopped at Wall Drug again to see the rest of the facility that we’d missed on Sunday.  This time, I had some of that free ice water, mainly from the “wells” in the Backyard (really fountains) and took a few more pictures of the jackalope, the totem poles, the carvings, etc.  Then it was back to Rapid City and back to the hotel.  I had taken 426 pictures today, and Bill had taken 125.  No way was I going to be able to identify them all in one sitting! I wasn’t going to try.

We were NOT going to return to the Golden Corral for supper, that was guaranteed.  Where would we go?  To Fuddrucker’s in the mall, that’s where.  The mall stores were closed early for the holiday, but the restaurant was still open.  A number of nearby restaurants were packed, but Fuddrucker’s wasn’t terribly busy; it did get a bit busier after we arrived, though.  Yes, we were having burgers again, but it didn’t matter; you’re supposed to have burgers on the Fourth of July, ha ha.  Then it was back to the room to start packing for our departure tomorrow.  I also made reservations for a room in Minneapolis (Minnetonka, to be precise) for Thursday and Friday nights.  I had enough frequent stayer points in my account to qualify for a reduced rate for both nights.  It would have been nicer had I had enough points to qualify for free nights, but that wasn’t to be.


Thursday July 5

I popped awake around 5 to use the restroom, but before I could get out of bed, the alarm clock went off and woke up Bill.  He wasn’t happy, for neither of us had set the alarm. The maids must have done so accidentally; they should be more careful.

Today, we were leaving Rapid City and heading for Minneapolis. It would be a long drive, so we wanted to get a jump on things by getting an early breakfast. In fact, we were too early, getting some things before the breakfast room officially opened. This allowed us to check out and leave before 7 AM.  The trip odometer read 1760 miles; I reset it as I turned onto the ramp for eastbound I-90.  An hour later, we were at Wall Drug looking for a few gifts -- well, Bill was looking for gifts for his sister, his wife and a family friend. He was partially successful;

By 8:30, we had left Wall and were underway in earnest. We stopped at the rest area near Chamberlain, which was also a scenic overlook for the Missouri River.  There was a marker for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and there was a walkway to the edge of the bluff.  At the edge or along the walkway, there were views of the river and of I-90 below.  We took a few pictures out there and then continued onward.  Bill took over behind the wheel, while I continued compiling an album of the best pictures of the trip for showing Jean and Paul tomorrow.  I also sent my niece Candice five pictures from the trip, as she hadn’t seen any of them yet. I tried checking into my computer systems at home, to see if there were any problems.  It appeared power had gone out at least once, for I saw some error messages on my iMac.  I figured the best way to clear up those error conditions was to restart the iMac, which I could do.  However, I got concerned when it didn’t come back up.  I couldn’t reach it from my laptop, nor could I reach it from my other system on my home network.  Something had gone seriously wrong, and I wouldn’t know what until I got home.

After a few more hours on the road, we crossed over into Minnesota.  Our first destination was the historic National Farmer’s Bank building in Owatonna; Jean had told us that it was recognized for its architecture and its stained glass windows.  But would we make it there before 6 PM, when it closed for the day?  We were trying very hard to get there in time.  Fortunately, weather and traffic cooperated, and with the help of the maps inside the Owatonna tourist brochure, we made it to the building with 25 minutes to spare before it closed.  The building was now used by Wells Fargo, and shortly after we went inside, one of the bank staff introduced himself and encouraged us to go up to the balcony on the second floor for a historical display and for better photo opportunities. 

It was indeed a magnificent building, especially for such a small town.  Apparently, the owner of the original bank had wanted to be an artist, and so he indulged his love of art in hiring the eminent architect Louis Sullivan to design the building. There were two large stained glass windows on the second story and another one in the ceiling; two murals occupied the other walls on the second story.  There were four large chandeliers, or electroliers as they were called; nowadays, the light bulbs were compact fluorescent.  Of course, the building was on the National Historical Register.  As closing time approached, we took some pictures of the outside of the building, as well as of the historical marker across the street in the park. I also took a picture of the Little Professor Bookstore down the street; it brought back memories of Dearborn’s old Little Professor Bookstore, which has been closed for several years after the owners retired.  We walked up and down some of the surrounding streets before returning to our car.

We had nibbled on peanuts, beef jerky and other things during the drive; we’d not had a proper lunch.  We figured we’d better have a proper supper before setting off for the Twin Cities. After driving around some more of the town, we went towards the freeway for the greatest number of choices.  My first suggestion was the Perkins restaurant across I-35 at US 14, but as we went there, we saw Olivia’s Family Restaurant, which was mentioned in the brochure as the Owatonna Family Restaurant.  Since we’d just been to a Perkins in Rapid City, we decided to take a chance on Olivia’s.  And it was a good chance to take, for they served good food there.  We each got a chopped steak with baked potato; I got a salad, while Bill went with the soup.  I’d eat there again if I ever found myself in Owatonna.  However, I think they should change their music channel.  I was hearing a lot of 80’s music, but it seemed off to me.  I don’t think they were the original songs; I think they may have been karaoke versions with some guide vocals.

Minneapolis was about an hour north on I-35, but our destination was actually Minnetonka -- specifically, the Hampton Inn on I-394.  I guided Bill to the hotel based on my study of the atlas (the GPS display wasn’t available); we got there around 8:30 and were given room 211 for the next two nights. Once in the room, we unpacked, and then I downloaded and identified today’s batch of pictures - the smallest batch to date for the trip.  They were still good pictures, though.


Friday July 6

I found myself awake around 6 o’clock but didn’t want to get out from under the covers.  It was chilly by the desk where the computer was, which also happened to be next to the air conditioning.  I ended up going back to bed to read e-mail and do other things with my iPad.  After 7, Marie called and spoke to Bill, after which we went for breakfast in the lobby. 

What were we going to do today? Three items were on the agenda.  The main item was to see Bill’s sister Jean and her husband Paul, but that would be in the afternoon.  In the morning, we’d visit the Mall of America and then go to Radio City, a ham radio store in Mounds View. Around 9, we left the hotel to go to the mall, which was some 20 miles away.  It also was close to the Minneapolis airport.  After exiting Highway 77 onto Killebrew Drive (a nod to the old Metropolitan Stadium that used to be there), we parked in the parking deck and went inside.  It was 9:40, and most of the stores had yet to open.  There was an aquarium on the lowest level, but that was a $20 admission.  We walked all the way around the three lower levels (the fourth did not go all the way around).  On the third level was a full-line Best Buy.  We went in there with the intent of getting some USB drives for transferring files, namely photographs; one drive would have been for giving my pictures to Bill, while another would have been to give photos to Jean and Paul.  However, Bill didn’t care for the selection or prices of the drives, and so we left empty-handed.  There were a number of full-line restaurants on the third level, but it was too early for lunch. In the center of the mall was an amusement park with a Nickelodeon theme. On the first floor, we visited the Barnes and Noble and each got a book on Minnesota bike trails.  Farther around, there was an Apple Store, and right across from it was a Microsoft Store.  At the Apple Store, I picked up one of their new Smart Cases for my iPad.  At the Microsoft Store, I picked up the latest edition of Streets and Trips, which I knew existed but had not seen anywhere.  We ended up having lunch at a Subway near where we entered.  Bill wasn’t that impressed with the Mall of America, considering it to be not that much better than the Somerset Collection in suburban Detroit. To me, it was definitely bigger -- similar but bigger.

The drive from the Mall of America to Radio City wasn’t difficult; it was mostly a straight shot on I-35W through downtown Minneapolis.  Traffic wasn’t too bad going through town.  We saw the Metrodome as we drove through downtown.  As we crossed the Mississippi River, the presence of another bridge next to the freeway bridge jogged my memory: were we driving over the bridge that had replaced the one that had collapsed in 2007?  Neither of us were sure. Later, we learned that it was in fact that bridge. Back to the drive: we were to exit at exit 28C, but when we got there, that exit was closed. The overpass was gone, in fact; it was being replaced. We’d have to take the next exit. But that may have been for the best, as the next exit was for County Road I, the street on which Radio City was located.  Unfortunately, we missed the store the first time through and had to turn around.  It was much easier to see heading eastbound than westbound. Admittedly, we were fooled by the lack of antennas on the building, something typically found at ham radio stores.  The store also sold telescopes and was located next to a bike store; for anyone operating bike mobile, they’d have a one-stop shop, ha ha.  Now neither of us were looking for serious gear that day.  We ended up getting some magazines, and I bought a Skywarn hat (that I don’t think got put in my bag, as I discovered two days later back in Michigan; it would eventually be mailed to me).  Then we drove to Jean and Paul’s place in northwest Minneapolis.

Jean was Bill’s older sister (nine years older, I believe) and Paul was her husband.  They had two dogs, Habibi and Jesse; Jesse was much younger than Habibi and was more friendly.  Whenever he came by me, he’d want to lick my hands. Jean and Bill spent a good part of the afternoon reviewing old family photographs and other things that had been sent by their sister Noel.  Some of the photos dated back to when their mother was a young child, so they were around 100 years old.  That would make a good scanning project, I thought.  Later, I showed them a selection of the pictures Bill and I had taken on our trip, 96 out of hundreds; they enjoyed seeing them.  They prepared a wonderful dinner for us: salmon, brown rice, peas, cauliflower, salad, and melon.  I wasn’t too fond of cauliflower, but the rest of the supper was fantastic.  I had multiple helpings of the salmon and the rice.

We spent around 7 hours over there, but eventually we had to return to the hotel to get ready to leave in the morning.  We said our goodbyes and found our way back to the hotel, where we called it a day.  We’d have a long day on the road tomorrow.


Saturday July 7

I woke up around 5:30 again and checked e-mail on my iPad; it was still a bit chilly over where I’d set up the MacBook Pro.  It was a slow start to a long day, for today was the day we’d leave Minneapolis and return home.  Once we got up, we packed our bags and made sure we had everything.  By 7, we were down in the lobby having breakfast.  The eggs and sausage I had were pretty good, as was the bagel with cream cheese; however, the consistency of the yogurt left something to be desired.

By 8 o’clock, we had checked out and were underway.  As I drove out towards the freeway entrance, I saw a sign for a Hampton Inn and Suites to be built down the street from the current Hampton Inn location. Construction had not yet started.  Then we got onto I-394 and headed eastbound. As we passed downtown, I could see part of Target Field, home to the Twins.  But soon it and the rest of downtown were behind us as we got onto I-94.  Next came St. Paul, and later came Wisconsin.  We stopped for gas at our first opportunity in Wisconsin, getting some drinks for the drive ahead.  I continued to drive until a rest area, where I let Bill take over for a while. I was feeling rather sleepy or fatigued and tried to nap.  I rested, but I never slept. 

Bill and I alternated driving through Wisconsin on I-94 and then I-90. Yes, we were going the southern route, so we would be driving through or near Chicago.  The Wisconsin drive was uneventful; we passed the time by listening to this week’s AT40 repeat (from 1971) and the 60’s Satellite Survey (covering 1966 this week).  Once again we passed through the Wisconsin Dells, Madison, Janesville and Beloit, and then we entered Illinois.  Our plan was to take I-90 down to the northwestern Chicago suburbs, then take I-290 down to the Tri-State.  Before then, we’d stop at the Oasis for gas and a late lunch.  As we neared the Oasis, though, the truck ahead of us hit its brakes and turned on its hazard flashers.  Traffic was coming to a near-halt.  I couldn’t see anything past the truck, but the traffic report from SiriusXM said that there was a car fire near the Oasis. It took us 45 minutes to crawl nearly 2 miles to get to the Oasis, and after filling the tank, we parked and went inside for lunch.

There were several choices available to us for lunch (Panda Express, Sbarro, Subway), but we ended up going to McDonald’s. I got a Southwestern salad and a cheeseburger, and we found seats at a table in front of the east window.  I’d brought my iPad with me, so I tried to look for information about what was going on.  I eventually determined that the accident was some 2 miles away, just past the next exit.  Should we take that exit to bypass the backup? With the accident just beyond it, we decided to take our chances and stay on the tollway.  Eventually, we came upon the accident scene: two cars had gone off on the right, with one on its side and the other having burned.  Belongings from the car were strewn all over the grass. It was a terrible scene.  According to later news reports, one woman had to be airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries.

As we drove through Chicago, Bill was behind the wheel while I navigated for him; I was more familiar with the area than he was.  I was amazed at how high the cash tolls were; they were twice the I-Pass tolls.  We eventually got through Chicago and scooted through Indiana and western Michigan.  We stopped at the rest area near Battle Creek for a restroom break and for a driver swap; I would be taking us home.  By 10 o’clock, we were on M-14 in Ann Arbor; by 10:30, we were home -- well, I was home.  I opened the garage to give Bill access to his car, and he started transferring his things from my car to his.  I unpacked as well; I also turned on the air conditioning, for it had become very warm inside the house while I was away. It was 90 on the first floor and over 90 in the bedrooms on the second floor. And I could see that the iMac had a gray screen, an indication that something had gone seriously wrong after the reboot.  It was rather warm, so I shut it off and let it cool.

Bill and I had not had supper, so we went to Sonic and ate there.  I’d never used their drive-in facilities before, just the drive-thru window.  He had a chicken wrap, while I had a double cheeseburger.  Then it was back to the house where we said our goodbyes.  As Bill drove off, I put my car in the garage.  But would I go to bed? Not right away; it was too uncomfortable upstairs. I opened the windows and put on the fan, which helped, but I didn’t get to sleep until well after 2. During that time, I restarted the iMac after unplugging everything that was in the USB ports. It successfully booted, so I plugged the USB cables back in.  But something wasn’t right; I could not see the hard drives that were plugged into the USB hub.  I restarted again and got the same gray screen.  Then I had the idea to unplug just the hub; doing that allowed the boot to complete.  Something was wrong with the hub; I left it unplugged overnight.  It would resume working in the morning.



Since I’d returned home on Saturday and had one day of rest on Sunday, I could have gone to work on Monday.  But I didn’t; I took that as another day of vacation, for I really needed the rest.  Yes, I needed some vacation to recover from the vacation.  We’d packed a lot into one week, seeing sights that everybody, or at least every American, should see at least once in his or her lifetime.



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©2012 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised July 14, 2012