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.