Saturday, August 24, 2013

Just like Lewis and Clark, I continue north and west!

Don't get so focused where you are going that you don't see where you are.

This has been my motto during this trip. At times when I think I should plan farther ahead, I stop myself. I certainly don't want to rush through this adventure. While I have a basic plan, I work out the details as I go along.

With warm memories of my time with the Rayburn family and visions of corn and the clever and artistic folks who create the Corn Palace, I was back on the road.

It appears South Dakota is a major sunflower growing state. I drove by what seemed like a bazillion acres of the beautiful, large yellow blooms. Sure made for a colorful drive.

What a beautiful sight!
Of course, farmers here also grow plenty of field corn, wheat and alfalfa. I drove through many really small towns along the way – one of the delights of driving the back roads instead of the major highways.

My destination was West Whitlock, a South Dakota State Park. It was a weekday and there was no problem getting a campsite – of the 105, only 4 of them were occupied. As with most state parks, the campsites are spacious and relatively inexpensive. With an electrical hookup, this park was $16 a night; I stayed two nights.

This park is basically on a peninsula that juts into the Missouri River. As I face south, the river is on my right and the large inlet on my left. The park has lots of mature trees and a super clean “comfort station” (park name for bathrooms).

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped near here – at an Arikara Indian village. These Indians were farmers and built 80 earth-covered – grasses and weeds, too – lodges for their families. One of these dwellings has been saved. Inside it was bigger than I expected.

Arikara Indian lodge

Warm/hot weather is finally here and I have turned my AC on for the first time on this trip. The park had squirrels, robins and dove, and one of the campers said a raccoon visited their site last night.

When I left the state park, my route took me north and then west. Along the way I took a short side trip on a poor asphalt and then dirt road to see the Sakakawea and Sitting Bull monuments that are fairly near each other. Sad to say, neither of them have been tended to and as a result have a lot of trash around.

Sakakawea Monument
Sitting Bull monument
Briefly in North Dakota
My original North Dakota travel plan was to drive north to Highway 2 and then use this two-lane road to travel west. My plan changed when several folks recommended that I avoid the northwestern part of the state. This was confirmed when I called to inquire about campsites there and got many 'no vacancy' replies.

I was able to find a campsite in the southwest part of the state at the historic town of Medora. It was OK, but certainly not worth the $30/night price, so I only stayed one night. Had the campground been better, I would have stayed a second night in order to explore the interesting-looking small town. I chose to continue west and into Montana.

Montana – fourth largest state in the USA
State Facts include
  • Became the 41st state in 1889
  • More than 94,000,000 acres of land and less than 1,000,000 residents
  • More scenic views and wildlife than people
  • 24 mountain ranges, acres of national forests and vast wilderness preserves
  • State nickname on license plates: The Treasure State
  • Other nicknames are: Land of Shining Mountains, Big Sky Country and The Last Best Place
  • Two National Parks: Yellowstone and Glacier
I came into the state on I-94 for a few miles and then went west on Road 200-S, then northwest on Road 200 and turned north on Road 24 that took me to Fort Peck Lake and Fort Peck Dam. Except for the dot-sized town of Circle, there were no signs of civilization on this 140-mile drive!

Fort Peck was first charted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They were following the Missouri River, nicknamed “Big Muddy”, in hopes of finding the fabled 'River of the West' that they hoped would provide an all-water route to the Pacific.

The enormous Fort Peck Lake collects the waters of the Missouri River behind the massive dam. This dam is the world's second-largest earthen dam. And it is one of six dams on the Missouri. The dam, reservoir and campground are administrated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. I toured the huge and interesting Visitor Center to learn about the project.

The dam was one of the PWA – Public Works Administration – projects of The New Deal. Construction started in 1933 to create jobs for the unemployed. Ten thousand civilian workers hacked, dug, poured, sweated and wrested a sea out of the desolation of what is known as High Plains. Besides the planned town nearby, several communities were started for the workers. The dam was completed in 1940.

Brief Dam Facts
  • Twenty million acre-feet of water can be impounded behind the nearly four-mile long dam.
  • Maximum depth can be 220-feet with a serpentine shoreline longer than California's!
  • Currently the water level is down because of the drought that has affected lakes throughout the southwest.
  • Construction of the first powerhouse began in 1941 and was completed in 1951.
  • The second powerhouse was started in 1958 and completed in 1961.
  • Total average annual power generation is 1.1 billion kilowatts.
I have enjoyed the campground here – and have stayed four nights ('Old Folks' National Pass made this just $8 per night!)

One morning I awoke to a red sun and pink-peach clouds. Couldn't resist taking a photo. 

The downside to this park has been the bugs – many almost too tiny to see, but certainly can feel as they crawl on my skin. Also lots of mosquitoes in the evening, the usual gnats, and a lot of ladybugs. My only defense against the biting bugs is a long-sleeved lightweight cotton shirt and jeans. The most prevalent bird is the robin; they are pretty 'tame” and will let me walk real near.

The most surprising sight was when a full-sized white-tail deer ran across the park only 30 feet from me.

Carol's Amazing Big Trip as of August 24, 2012
Whew! So far I've driven almost 10,000 miles and have been in 26 states. Many of those miles have been on two-lane minor highways and through tiny-dot towns along the way – my preferred way to travel. I've sure enjoyed reconnecting with friends from 20 to 30 years ago as well as seeing relatives and friends I made when I was volunteering in New Mexico and Arizona state and county parks.

Carol's trip as of 8/24/13
Tomorrow I continue west on two-lane Highway 2.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Wide open spaces and more farms - South Dakota

The Rayburn Clan in Hurley
After a short drive north from Nebraska, Jeremiah and I rolled into the tiny town of Hurley. Friend Carol Rayburn, one of my motorhome-living mentors, met me and I followed her to the many-generation family farm just outside of town. Jeremiah parked easily near a large shed – this would be my 'campsite' for the next five nights. 
Jeremiah at Rayburn Farm
The “clan” consists of Betty (aka Mom) Rayburn, three grown sons (Dick, Don, Steve), their families, and Carol. It was Turner County Fair week and I was fortunate to be there for the fair activities. It was the 133rd year for this fair, making it the oldest one in the state. If you want to “see America” this is the place to go: a super people-watching venue – men, women, and children of all ages, short and tall, slender and extremely fat, able-bodied and lame – what a variety. With no daily entrance fees, families come from all around – even other counties. The weather was cooler than usual for which I'm sure the animals appreciated.

The Four Best Days of Summer” fair starts with a free dinner for all comers; this year it was a ham dinner complete with free ice cream from the South Dakota State University dairy department. Yum! This was followed by four days of the usual fair events – midway rides, commercial exhibits, farm animals of all kinds shown by 4-H kids. Homemaking and craft projects were submitted and judged, and the evenings featured races and such in the grandstand. Oh, and all the tasty fair food! We had lunch and dinner each day at the fair.
$300,000 combine
My favorite critter
Just call me "Dot"
Demolition Derby
Demolition Derby

Pig Milk
Mom Rayburn has moved to a nursing home nearby. Carol R and I visited her every day. She's had lots of visitors and many bouquets of flowers to enjoy and I'm sure that helps pass the days. Carol and her brothers have a huge job disbursing furniture and items from the old family home so it can be sold.

The morning I left the farm, Don picked 10 ears of sweet corn for me to enjoy throughout the trip. This morning I “cleaned” them, cut the kernels off and packaged them for my freezer. In case you didn't get the email that circulated last summer, the best way to clean them is: Leaving the husks on, cut off the butt end just above where you think the bottom row of kernels are. Put an ear, husks and silk still on, in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Grasp the ear of corn by the top – husk and silk – and shake until the clean ear comes out the bottom. No mess, usually no silk attached, and hot enough to melt butter and enjoy.

I left Hurley on Friday morning, driving the short distance to Mitchell, SD. I've been here two days and will leave in the morning (Sunday)

The folk art wonder on the prairie - the Corn Palace
This was a ”must see” on my South Dakota stops. I found a super RV park just a couple of miles from the Corn Palace – and that was my destination, via foot, today. Photos just don't do it justice!

The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 as a way for early settlers to display the state's agricultural bounty, to prove the fertility of the soil and to attract immigrant farmers to settle here. At that time, the town of Mitchell was just 12 ears old. Each fall, they had a festival to celebrate. Brochures say it is a folk art wonder; the interior is an arena for concerts, basketball games, stage shows, trade shows and countless other events.

corn motif on street lights
Each year, a new decorating theme is chosen and the outside of the Corn Palace is stripped and redecorated with new corn and grains. The work is done by hand and is a delicate and detailed process. More than 3,000 bushels of rye, oat heads and sour dock are tied in bundles and attached. Twelve shades of colored corn are planted in separate fields to maintain color purity and the very best ears are hand-picked by our local grower for use on the Corn Palace. When the corn crop is ready about 275,000 ears of corn are sawed in half lengthwise and nailed to the building following patterns created by local artists. This year's theme is “We Celebrate”. (Double-click photos to enlarge them to see details.)

Tomorrow I'm again on the road, this time to a South Dakota State Park along the Missouri River. In a few days I'll scoot through southwest North Dakota (my original route goes through the oil/gas boom area in the northwest). Then I'll be in Montana four about a week while I drove east to west mostly on Hwy 2.

It's a super trip! And I'm so blessed to be making it. Jeremiah Junior continues to perform beautifully and trouble-free! And, the weather man says things will be warming up again.

I love this quote by Rver Kay Peterson:

When your ship of life sinks, will you go down smiling because life was a wonderful adventure to the very end?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Visiting cousins in Kansas and Nebraska; friends in Missouri

Life is a gift bulging with mystery, intrigue, comedy, tragedy and purpose. When we realize our days here matter, our pain has significance and our choices are meaningful, we can step through the darkest times with hope in our hearts.
--Patsy Clairmont, Christian writer

Kansas City area – three cousins to visit here
Cousin Steve Anderson (my dad and his dad were brothers), his wife Ellen and I had some sweet visiting time. Steve is recovering from some serious health problems and that slowed us down a bit since he tires easily. The newest Anderson offspring arrived while I was there, making my cousin Steve Anderson a first-time grandfather. Blake Alan Anderson arrived weighing in at 8 lbs, 3 oz.

Cousin Bill Hunter (my mom and his dad were siblings) and his wife Rose was my second stop in the KC area. Since they both still work, my visiting time was over a weekend and we made the most of the short time.

Cousin Janet (Hunter) Hartsock (Bill's sister) and her husband Paul treated me to a driving tour of greater downtown KC (Kansas and Missouri) area. So many interesting things to see. They both grew up in the area so they knew the history of the area. The day flew by and soon I was in Jeremiah back tracking a bit to Missouri. I'm camped at Smithville Lake campground and will be here until Thursday morning. Two friends, Carol and John Pletz, are volunteering here this summer. I met them when we were volunteering at McDowell Mountain Park.

I've given myself three days of no driving and minimum visiting. This gives me time to get housekeeping chores done and to continue learning this blankety-blank computer. Steve helped me get Quicken ($$ software) installed so I've been working to get it up to date since my first computer crash last May! And to get this blog entry ready. He also helped me with my camera software and now I can manipulate photos for the blog!

This morning I awoke to a glorious pink/peach sunrise, Canada geese honking, numerous other birds serenading the day's beginning. Outside temps are in the low 70s – this desert rat thinks the temperature is cool! The loop where I'm camped has been empty the past two days; it's like having my private grassy park, dotted with trees, a view of the lake and picnic tables. This is typical of midwest campgrounds at lakes – overflowing Friday to Sunday midday and wide open Sunday through Thursday.

When I went to the Pletz' campsite to visit, their 'grand-dog' dashed over to greet me – and was so excited he jumped on the back of my legs, giving me two nasty lacerations from his toenails. Carol helped me clean up and bandage the area. That night I tossed and turned while worrying about the injury. Well, infection is the last thing I want. When I decided to get medical attention in the morning – 'buy' myself some peace-of-mind – I slept soundly. The ER folks were super, and after cleaning up the wound area and giving me a prescription for 5 days of antibiotics, I drove back to Jeremiah.

I was annoyed when the one-man “geese patrol” came through on his John Deere gator and shooed the grazing geese back to the lake! When he came by on his way back I asked him why he did this – the geese weren't bothering any one. He said they left a “mess” behind. So, here we are out in nature, and people are 'camping'. My attitude is if folks don't want to see goose poo, they should stay home!

On Thursday I drove into Nebraska for more Anderson cousin visiting. This time it was to see more Anderson cousins - Don and Connie Anderson and Gary and Barb Anderson. I parked at Don and Connie's driveway and it was non-stop talking to catch up on life. They also took me to the independent living apartment where Aunt Maxine Anderson lives. She is Don, Gary and Steve's mother. She lives in a lovely place, and she enjoys watching golf on TV. Their entire family were serious golf players!

All too soon, it was time to head north into South Dakota,