Yosemite, or "That's one Big Rock"

When I asked K if she wanted to write the post about Yosemite, she declined, noting that all she could think of to say about it was "Man, that's one big rock". With this I am inclined to agree.

Mark and Katy overlooking Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley

The Yosemite Valley in California is one of those rare places in America so massive and beautiful that any attempt to describe it fails, and any pictures taken invariably look like some postcard-shot clicked in front of a blue screen at a $1 Photomat machine. Despite the theme-park atmosphere, hundreds of ill-disciplined children climbing around precariously on the scattered rocks, non-stop hybrid shuttlebusses, squirrels so fat on tourist handouts they have jowls, and neighboring campers that ignore everything listed about quiet hours and the dangers of frequent bear incidents (Yosemite has the highest frequecy of dangerous incidents, including tent-shreddings and car break-ins), there is something so incredible about the sheer size and beauty of the area that makes it worthwile. So rather than gush on about the massive granite faces, one ancient block pushed up from the Earth over a very long time and no doubt with considerable force, punctuated with numerous and violent waterfalls, I'll post a few pictures and suggest strongly that you make the effort to go there sometime. We'll be back, too, as seeing Half Dome gave me the urge to hike to the top of the cable-lined trail. As Promised:

Mark, Katy, Trisha, and Jamie at El Capitan


Sac-town and other updates...

I feel like I've been living in my car. Which is basically what we have been doing, but it is ceasing to feel like a vacation, and now feels like we have been doing this forever, and this is just how we will live.

We are currently in West Sacramento, CA visiting Jamie and Trisha. We just put up a bunch of posts about what we have been doing the past week, so scroll down. Also, please leave comments. We like hearing from you.

In response to comments, and also general questions that we get along the way about our veganism, this is what we eat...

For Breakfast...
coffee, and
a hot cereal made of hard red winter wheat, oats, whole barley and millet (tastes kind of like oatmeal but has more nutrition), sometimes with pieces of dried fruit, or
whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and jelly, or
pancakes with maple syrup and wild berries if there are any by where we are camping

Throughout the Day...
trail mix, chips and salsa, this crazy pufffed snack called Veggie Booty - which looks like cheeze puffs except it tastes like veggies, peanut butter and jelly, chickpea salad sandwiches, fruit and vegetables (usually carrots), and leftovers of whatever we cooked the night before

For Dinner...This is where the magic happens, always different, always delicious (except this one time in Grand Tetons)...Here are some things we have done...
Roasted potatoes, squash, peppers and onions in little foil packets over the fire,
Whole wheat pasta tossed with homemade pesto and cannellini beans, served with a spinach salad with homemade rosemary balsamic dressing and garlic bread,
Mish Mosh (see the post below),
Ethiopian Red Lentil Curry (Misirwot), and
Southwestern Pasta toss with black beans, fire-roasted red and green bell pepper and jalapeno peppers, chipotles, onions and tomatoes.

The key for effective vegan camp cooking is to be prepared with a pantry of organic, whole-grain ingredients, such as pasta, grains and beans, and a collection of spices and dried herbs. We shopped at Frankferd Farms in Saxonburg, PA - down the street from M's parents' house, and brought the essentials from our spice cupboard. Then, as you are traveling, shop for locally grown produce and cook what's available. The best plan is a loose plan.

We keep our meals to one pot, or possibly to one pot and a frying pan, and plan ahead to roast vegetables or garlic whenever we have a fire. The rule in our camp is that you must lick your plate clean after you eat (yes, we use soap and wash them after that, but it's a lot easier without any little food morsels on them).

More recipes will be posted later, or possibly in a book that we will publish.

Redwood-Sized Fun

K is working on a post about our actual ventures in the California Redwoods state parks, as her writing is more suited to the majesty of the trees and the excellent hiking experiences we had there. But no trip to this part of California is complete without at least some mention of the ridiculous array of roadside attractions found along or near the US-101 in Northern California. That's where I come in...

There are endless numbers of little motels and shops selling burl wood and redwood sculptures, and no shortage of 'Amazing One-Tree Houses' and drive-thru trees. Perhaps the greatest of these attractions is Trees of Mystery, host to a giant-sized sculpture of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Its really really big, and you can't miss it driving out of the forest, you just come around a bend and there it is. We didn't go into the actual for-charge attraction, but we'd be remiss to not at least take a photo.

Also a necessity is a drive-thru tree. You really need to drive through a tree. To be honest it was a main goal of mine on this trip, and now I can sleep easy at night, having finally driven through a tree.

Also worth mention is the 'Famous Confusion Hill', site of some sort of mysterious vortex or something. Again, it was costly, and it looked basically like a carnival-house that was built on an incline, so that when you go in you get all disoriented. They also host the amazing Chipalope, a sort of Jackalope spin-off that's a king-sized chipmunk with antlers, as well as the Twin-Towers Memorial Trees, which (you guessed it) are two large redwoods growing next to one another. The sculpture at the entrance is pretty cool, a 40' totem carved upright from a single log. Most are carved while down and then put back up, or made in pieces and reassembled. So that was pretty cool.


K, fire-master

From the first night we've been allowed to due to wildfire dangers, K has wanted to make the campfire. Not just start it, but make it high-quality, hot, and organized (so that all of the available wood is consumed). Her first efforts were met with much frustration and sadness, as in many parks and campgrounds the wood that was available was not completely cured, kindling was wet or altogether unavailable, and her understanding of fire-construction was limited. Many times the fire would become extraordinarily smoky, or put itself out after a few minutes.

However, with dedication, perseverence, and a little bit of study from our trusty Outdoors Handbook (which we pikced up at the Lolo Pass vistitors center), K has learned the ways of a true fire-master. Her past few attempts have been bright, hot, and not-overly-smoky. Here she is enjoying a successful fire at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Congrats on your new skill!

Prairie Creek State Park, Northern California

We went on a splendid hike, probably the best of the entire trip, at the Prairie Creek State Park, which is part of the Redwoods national/state system. I have decided that 11-12 miles is the perfect length of a day hike for my present physical condition, so I was relieved to see that the itinerary matched this for once. (M tends to like to walk a bit further and faster than me.)

The hike started off on the James Irvine Trail, which can be reached by taking the interpretive loop out of the visitor's center. By the way, if you make it to this visitor's center, you MUST go inside and see the elk skull lodged in the tree trunk. I guess they like to jam their antlers into other elk, but if not available, will do it to a tree and this one got stuck and died, leaving the tree to grow around its skull. As the exhibit label puts it, "A rare find indeed!"

The James Irvine Trail passes through grove after grove of old-growth Redwoods, and now we really believe the books that called these trees the tallest in the world. As we walked, we commented that it seemed the trees were getting larger as we went...possible, I thought, but in this place it seemed just as likely that we were getting smaller. The trail meanders up to the upper ridge along a canyon through which shallow, cold waterfalls and streams flowed, the sides of the canyon lined with ferns and moss. After about four miles, the trail intersects the Fern Canyon loop trail, which descends into the canyon, so you can get a look at the ferns lining the canyon walls from below. As we left the canyon, we were back on the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, and walked about a mile south along the beach to meet up with the Miner's Ridge Trail.

There were a ton of birds on the beach - many gulls, some kind of pelican-like bird that we haven't been able to identify, and little sandpipers. As the tide receded, pieces of crabs and shells and seaweed were revealed in the sand. It was surprisingly warm and sunny on the beach, so we stopped to eat some leftover Mish Mosh and delicious Washington apples from our Olympia relatives. As we were walking out on the beach we saw water spouting up into the air several hundred yards offshore, which we assume came from a whale of some type, as there are many known to inhabit and migrate through this area.

The Miner's Ridge Trail was much more overgrown at the beach end and we found some suspiciously bear-like scat as we started back into the woods, which of course, made me nervous. However, we ran into nothing more than a couple of banana slugs and some vibrantly blue berries which we did NOT taste. There was evidence of fire damage on this trail, although it may have occured long ago. The regenerative property of the Redwood is phenomenal, and we saw trees that had the entire inside burned out, but were still growing strong and tall. These burned out areas created dark and spooky 'caves' within the trunk of the tree and I only went in one, but the silence there was so complete that I nearly forgot that I was inside a thousand year old life.

Redwoods have tanine in their bark, and unlike many conifers do not have pitch, which makes them less susceptable to destruction by fire. Their bark can be up to a foot thick. There were once over 2 million acres of redwood forest in Northern California, but now less than 100,000 acres remains and only 40,000 of that is protected by state and national parks. As much as we have enjoyed the natural existence of these remarkable trees, we have noted that many must enjoy what can be made out of these trees...we passed endless truckloads of redwood logs and drove by countless sawmills and lumber yards.

If you hike this trail, be prepared for a variety of hiking surfaces, some elevation change, and to hear a lot of "that's a big tree" coming from your hiking companions along the way. Don't miss this state park if you are in the area.


Eat what you've Got (Mish-Mosh)

Not wanting to make another stop at the grocery, and quite dedicated to finishing the many foods that we brought along, but with a rather limited pantry, our first 14-mile hike through the redwood forests of California got my brain going. We had used up most of the fresh food we had available, but long walks make you hungry. the last 6 miles or so were filled with questions like 'hey, did we eat all of that onion the other night'. The result was this haphazard recipe, which K semi-affectionaltey dubbed 'Mish-mosh'. Looks like vomit, but tastes oh so good...

1 carton leftover white rice (from
Thai Talay restaurant in Bandon, OR)
1/2c whole-wheat couscous
most of 1 packet dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 leftover onion
1/2c or so of sliced-up baby-cut carrots, preferably with Sponge-Bob on the bag. These are better if you let them sit in the ice chest for a few days and periodically drain the water they've been soaking in (mmm...)
1 tbsp dried garlic pieces
1/4c crunchy peanut butter
1/4c toasted sesame oil
1/2 tbsp hot red pepper flakes
2 tbsp tamari
3/4 - 1c water
1/4c miso

mix the rice and dry couscous in a cookpot with a lid. Put the dry mushrooms in the water and boil to reconstitute (and make a nice broth). Dice up the leftover onion, add the carrot slices, garlic and chili flakes, and sautee in sesame oil until translucent. Add the peanut butter and tamari and stir to make a sauce. Take out the mushrooms and dice them up, adding them to the sauce. Pour the boiling mushroom water on the couscous/rice mixture and cover to let the couscous fluff. Add the sauce to this mixture, then add the miso, stir it up, and enjoy.

Not sure how useful this is to those looking to make something out of leftovers, as I think it unlikely that most travellers in the state parks of CA are hauling about toasted sesame oil and miso, but perhaps this says something about us. All I know is that it was mighty tasty, and provided a much-needed energy boost during the following day's hike as well.



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Farewell, Pacific Northwest

Today was a long and rewarding day. After yesterday's trip southward from Olympia, we ended up staying in Salem, OR. Nerd that I am, I insisted on beginning the day with a visit to the state capitol, which appropriately enough has a golden statue of a lumberjack on top. From Salem, we headed out to the coast, and enjoyed an amazing drive through sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, dunes, and the like, stopping frequently to look around and take in the scenery. The coastal areas of Southern Oregon are some of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen - there's just something magnetic and powerful about the combination of ocean, rocks, and evergreens the way they occur here.

As if that alone wasn't enough to make it back out here sometime, there's an awful lot of things we wanted to see but missed: The Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier (though we did go in the park briefly, and see it from a distance - it's hard to miss - we'd like to spend more time in the area, perhaps hiking the wonderland trail), Mount Saint Helens, and Crater Lake. Plus we managed to spend all that time in Northwestern Washington without setting foot in Seattle or taking any of the many ferries.

Oddly enough, Portland reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh. Lots of rivers and bridges and trees. Clouds most of the time. Olympia and Salem were both smallish cities with good land for small faming nearby and affordable - and close to bigger cities that have amenities like pro sports franchises and decent concert venues. There's certainly a draw to the region. As we sit in Brookings, Oregon - on the ocean just a few miles from the California border (and the Big Trees I've been looking forward to seeing for so long), I can't help but think I'll be here again.

Pacific Northwest, you haven't seen the last of us... goodbye for now.


Olympia Family

We had lunch with some relatives in Olympia, WA yesterday. K's Great Aunt Doris is in the middle surrounded by M and K, Doris's daughter, Anna, and 3 of Anna's 5 kids, who are some of the most polite and enthusiastic children we have met in a long time. They picked us apples from the tree in their yard and shared all kinds of interesting information with us. We wish we had more time in the Northwest, but it's time to head south.

Thanks for the stories about your crazy rooster and the abundance of apples! We enjoyed hearing them.

This Is How You Do the Beach in the NW

My experience with east coast beaches has been rather minimalist. You wear a bathing suit, take a towel, some sunscreen and maybe a small cooler. This is not how they roll out here in Oregon.

Perhaps because you can drive your car right out onto the beach, perhaps because the temperatures of the air and water are not quite comfortable for bikini wearing, going to the beach is entirely different.

Extravagent lunch, snacks, drinks, perhaps a full bar, umbrella, windscreens, chaise lounges, and tables are all part of the necessary equipment. We had a great day at Gearhart Beach with Anthony and his family and friends. The weather was warm, at least for coastal northern Oregon, but I left my jacket on for most of the day. I made it into the water up to my knees, but my feet started going numb, so I stuck to building castles in the sand.


Portland, Oregon

it's a nice town. We're sitting in the coffeeshop of the world-famous Powell's Bookstore right now (it truly is a 'city of books'), sipping and reviewing the trip-to-date. If you haven't checked the site in a while, take a look back - we've added a few new posts but changed the dates so that everything's in (mostly) chronological order. A few new posts are in the pipeline as well, but these will, of course, take their place on the top...

Portland's Public Transportation and Bookstore

We took the train to downtown Portland from Rock Creek to go to Powell's Books, which is hands down, my favorite bookstore in the world. It is huge, they have many new and used titles, and you can sit in their coffee shop and read all day. M and I picked up Rediscovering America: John Muir In His Time and Ours by Frederick Turner, which is perfect reading for our journey.

Portland's public transportation is pretty good - $4 will get you a ride-all-day pass, but all of the streetcards and buses downtown are free anyway. The system was clean and on time, as far as we know, although we are feeling a bit more lax about schedules these days.


Castles in the Sand

We went to the river beach at Sauvie Island, just outside of Portland, OR. Anthony and his mom didn't mind getting their hands dirty by building some sand castles. The weather was overcast, so the beach was pretty empty.

One warning, some of these beaches are "clothing optional" - and you will definitely see patrons taking advantage of this liberty...it's pretty family friendly, just nude.


One More Beautiful Thing About Washington

I forgot to post this picture of M and myself in front of a waterfall on our hike through the Hoh Rainforest. Lance said it looks like Costa Rica or something and it's hard to believe we are so far north.

Interpretive Trails

One of my favorite things about the National Park systems are the interpretive nature trails and signs that you find around the visitor centers. Here are a few of my favorites. Don’t step on the thermal areas, as you could fall into the bowels of the earth, burn your shoes or your hat could blow off your head.

Don’t feed the wildlife or make the deer do tricks. Sit! Shake! The funny thing is we saw deer so tame that I'm sure they would eat out of your hand. Reminds me of Rooster Cogburn's ranch down on the I-10 on the way to Tucson. The ranger told us a story about a group of tourists who were taking photos of these docile deer when out of nowhere a mountain line jumped out of a tree and killed one, dragged it off the trail and sat there, next to the visitor's center for a week until he was done eating it.

Berries and Berries

While camping in Idaho, Lance, found an ample supply of berries in the woods surrounding the campground. He gathered as many as he could for our pancakes the next day.

The berries were so good that, at every stop, we had to get out and look for more. Here we are near Mt. St. Helen’s in Washington


Slugs and Bugs

Olympic National Park and the surrounding Forest Service and state park areas offer a wide variety of ecosystems, elevations, weather, and plant and animal life. The three major environments that you can explore here include the coast, the temperate rainforest and the mountains. The Olympic Peninsula is huge and you have to drive the perimeter, as no roads go through the interior.

We ran across many banana slugs, in yellow, green and black, and this interesting camo-colored one.

We spent two nights in the Hoh Rain Forest and one night near Hurricane Ridge on the drier eastern side of the peninsula.

In the Hoh Rainforest, we hiked about 8 miles into the backcountry towards the Olympus Ranger station, on a trail that roughly follows the Hoh River, which is icy cold and grayish blue with “glacial flour” – the powdered remnants of rocks pulverized by the glacial ice in the mountains that feed the river. I finally understand what is meant by “old growth forest” – we walked by trees that were hundreds of years old – some thousands of years old – and bigger around than our old apartment in Phoenix. The trail took us past waterfalls and meadows, and a thousand shades of green.

There is no sleep as sound as one after a 16 mile hike, and after we woke up we drove around to the other side of the peninsula and headed up towards Hurricane Ridge, scoring a spot in the fabulous Heart o’ the Hills NPS campground, where twelve bucks got us a soft, moss-covered and level site amidst towering conifers.

We learned about the Olympic Marmot (which lives no where else on this planet) at a great ranger talk on Hurricane Ridge. The talk raised issues of how species interact to keep each other in check. Because there are a lot of ranches on the Olympic Peninsula, wolves were hunted, trapped, poisoned, etc. until they were gone. Then coyotes, not native to the region, moved in. Wolves hunt big animals like elk and deer. Coyotes hunt smaller animals, for example, marmots. This disruption in the food chain is causing a decline in the numbers of marmots that live here. The ranger told us that reintroduction of the wolf is possible, but that there is no money to carry out such a project.

This area is undisputedly one of our favorites, and we hope to return to do more backcountry exploration.


The End of the Line

We made it just about as west as you can get. Here’s M gazing into the Pacific Ocean near Kalaloch, WA.


Morton, Washington. Lumberjack's Jamboree!

How we ended up here, I'll never know. We left from Idaho and drove and drove. Rather than taking the interstate, we decided to follow the good old US 12, a more scenic and slower route through the Cascades around Mount Rainier. Though it did afford us with many outstanding views of the heavily-wooded and mist-shrouded mountains, it was not so kind with providing us a timely place to sleep.

We were lured into one 'Luxury RV Resort' by the placarded Coin Laundry - at that time much needed. There we were greeted by a professional welcome liaison on a golf cart, and we then learned the resort was home to 700 sites (most of which were heavily covered in scrubgrass and anthills, not good country for tents) and a golf cart. We must have lost an hour just trying to leave, and the vibe was very, very weird. So we pressed on...

Which brings us to Morton. By this time it's darker than dark due to the mist and trees, and I'm delirious from twisting mountain roads and watching for elk. So we see a sign heralding 'RV Park' and pull off... we ended up at a city park, where the pay station was actually someone's mobile home. This is not, i repeat is not a regular campground. K disappeared into the trailer for a while, and coming back $20 lighter was asked if we were in town for the 'Logger's Jamboree'. They must not have looked very hard at us, or perhaps there's a different stereotype of environmentalists in Washington. Who knows. So we made camp and slept.

In the morning, I was cornered by a grumpy man who having seen my baseball cap, or perhaps my license plate inquired whether I was from 'Pissy-burgh', making disparaging comments about the Steelers and Pirates. Maybe he's still sour about the 'bad calls' or whatever other excuses Seattle fans make for their Super Bowl loss. As we know, knocking the hometown, and especially the Steelers will not stand. But not wanting to start anything we quickly ate our pancakes and took off. Shame to miss the festivities...


How Could We Forget?!

Way back on the way from Madison WI to Tornadoville rest area in Minnesota we passed by a real American Icon, and somehow neglectfully didn't post anything about it. Better late than never, eh? So here it is, in all it's glory: The world's largest 6-pack. This is the old Heileman brewery in LaCrosse Wisconsin.

The building and brewery have changed hands several times, and Heileman's beloved 'Old Style' is no longer produced there. The giant tanks (which incidentally ARE filled with beer) now belong to City Brewery, who proudly produce LaCrosse Lager among other fine brews. We couldn't help but enjoy - only $1 for anything they produce!


Happy 90,000th, Sandy

Somewhere between Missoula, Montana and Lolo Pass on the Idaho border, our 2000 Saturn LS (her name is Sandy, which she gained after being parked at the Phoenix airport for 6 weeks back in 2004) surpassed her 90,000th mile. She's been cross country three times now, and her four cylinders of raw American power have treated us well. Thanks for the good times, car. Here's to many more!

The First May Be the Worst

What is more fun than standing with a thousand sweaty tourists screaming at their children amid a smoking inferno of sulfuric-acid smelling steam? Yellowstone has so much more to offer than the geysers, but I suppose it’s something you just have to see. M stated, “This is sort of what I picture hell to look like” and I couldn’t agree more. The landscape is made a little starker by fire damage to the surrounding hills. The colors in the hot springs and geysers are caused by mineral deposits and bacterial colonies. The springs that are actually at or near boiling point tend to be very clear, because they cannot support even the most heat-loving extremophiles.

Yellowstone has the distinction of being the first park in the National Park system, but we did not stick around very long. It's a huge park and must have a lot to offer, but anything along the main roads seem to be congested with traffic and construction and the views were not that spectacular at all.


Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons National Park may be one of the most spectacular places on Earth. Driving in from the east, we followed a two lane road down over some mountains, past colorful flower-field meadows and soggy marshes. The Tetons appeared in the distance, then we caught glimpses of the lakes that spread out in front of them.

No picture we took really captured the scenery...you really must see it in person.

To get a closer look, we did a 10 mile loop hike around String and Jenny Lakes. The trail generally follows the lake, but edges up into the mountain pine forests in a few places. Around the lake the heavy, sweet scent of ripe blueberries filled the air. Yes, we thought it smelled wonderful...and so do the bears.

That's right...we're in bear country now, and the ripening berries were drawing the black bears out of their normal habitats up in the mountains. Extreme caution must be taken when cooking and camping and hiking because many of the bears have become habituated to human contact and can be aggressive.

As we came out of a grove of trees and started across a meadow, Mark spotted a bear about 50 yards away. Did you know black bears weigh 200 pounds and have claws that are extremely sharp and 1-3 inches long? We started to walk a little faster than usual, but as bears are predatory creatures, this caused the bear to begin running after us! This really made us want to run! Luckily, the bear scampered down the shore of the lake and went up through the trees back into the mountains, without devouring us. It was definitely one of the most exciting experiences with nature that I have ever had.


Thermopolis, WY

First of all, this is one of the best names for a town. Ever. Second the Eagle RV Park is awesome and I definitely recommend it, if you ever find yourself here. Third, FREE hot mineral baths were the perfect bit of pampering for three weary, smelly travelers. Showers included. Check out the state park that is there, before shelling out big bucks for the other resorts.


Somebody Broke Wyoming

Our first impression of Wyoming was a bit negative since much of the eastern part of the state is overgrazed, overmined, polluted and covered with a gray silt-like material. Drilling fields are everywhere. Open strip mines spew strange fumes into the air. We had just about given up hope when we got to the protected Big Horn Mountains, but after leaving them, we found yet another expanse of drilling. In every direction, drills dip up and down, resembling metal-skeleton cattle grazing on the bleached grass.

Elevation 9,666; Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

B.Hippo finally got up the nerve to get out of the car and what a beautiful place to do it. As we drove through the Bighorn Mountains we saw pronghorns, a mama and baby moose (we think - do they live here?), deer and cattle. Lots of cattle. I have mixed feelings about the US Forest Service's "preservation" tactics - since they seem to rent out most of their land out west to cattle ranchers, which certainly has a negative environmental impact. Nonetheless, the vistas were amazing and we have never been up this high (well outside of airplanes and other flying machines).


Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

I guess I might be a little claustrophobic, but the idea of going into a cave kind of bothers me. So I was a lot more interested in doing some hiking and bird watching at Wind Cave. However, my more adventurous travel companions convinced me to go on the tour. We went on the last one of the day, and were very lucky to be the only 3 people on the tour. I want to give huge props to our guide, Ranger Chandra Foster, for giving us an informative, enthusiastic explanation of the formations of the cave and the history behind its exploration. The photo shows us standing at the 'natural entrance' to the cave, which is a pretty small hole that we all COULD have fit through, but luckily got to go into a man-made entrance (lucky at least for my sake, m was about to jump right in). Wind Cave has nearly all the boxwork formations in the world and and we also got to see lots of dogtooth spar, which is another formation.

Yes, I look frightened in the picture, but was feeling much better about caves AFTER the tour.

Mount Rushmore / Crazy Horse

Hmmm. There's something very indicative of the American value system when sculptures carved out of South Dakota's black hills become national monuments and are visited by millions. Nothing against either Rushmore or Crazy Horse or the stories that go behind them, but the Black Hills themselves are far more beautiful and grandiose than any sculpture ever made by man. I think George would agree...

What's more is that Rushmore seems to be the premiere tourist destination in this area of the country, or at least the place that the thousands of RV's flock to. It's really a shame, because both Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks are within an hours drive, and are far more interesting. Of course they involve observing and experiencing nature rather than carving it, so some may find themselves, well, bored at the lack of dramatic backstory.

Prairie Dogs = Great

I love prairie dogs. Having never seen them anywhere but the zoo, I had little to think of them until entering Badlands National Park from the west and driving (very slowly) through a sizable prairie dog town. For those who have never seen this, think of a real life whack-a-mole game filled with critters resembling large short-haired guinea pigs or small groundhogs. The towns stand out from a mile away since the rodents bulldoze all the surrounding grassland (so they can see over it to look out for predators), and there are hundreds of animals, some standing watch on two legs, some eating, and some poking their heads out of holes. As if the wonders of the prairie dog town weren't enough, on the other side of badlands we were greeted by a 6'10" concrete statue of, you guessed it...

Corn is King, Long Live the Corn

As discussed in previous posts, corn is THE prominent feature of the midwestern and northern plains landscapes. And in Mitchell, South Dakota, they've done something to recognize this. They've built a palace for (and of) corn. And they've done this every year since 1892. Perhaps the strangest feature of this corn castle is that it sits adjacent to city hall, and seems to double as a basketball arena / gift shop. Inside you can buy everything from candles to spoons to books all featuring, and many shaped like, America's favourite government subsidized grain and high-fructose sweetener.

Well worth a stop if you're in town, all of the mosaics adorning the building's facade are actually constructed of different colored ears and husks. Truly one of the strangest (and only) things to see in this part of the country.


Happy Anniversary, M & K

It's been 3 years since our blissful wedding day. We spent the day in Badlands NP, eating a delicious Coleman-stove created meal and watching a gorgeous sunset.

Have You Dug Wall Drug?

You have probably seen these bumper stickers or road signs someplace around the world, as they have appeared as far away as Kenya, Africa. That is because the enterprising owner of Wall Drug (which is still the only drug store within 500 square miles) went on a massive PR campaign, putting up thousands of signs anywhere he could.

This turned Wall Drug from a simple country drug store to a thriving mall-like tourist trap that continues to offer free ice water and 5 cent coffee.

The bumper stickers are free.


Tornado Warning

On the way from Madison, WI to South Dakota, we ran into some bad weather on the I-90 heading across southern Minnesota. Initially, the thought had been to try to outrun the storms and drive through to the other side. When hunger won out, however, the decision to stop and cook some dinner was made.

Lucky we did, because no sooner had we unpacked the coleman stove than it began to pour, and clouds moving 50 mph or so from the north and southwest collided before our eyes, causing winds of up to 80 mph, unbelievable lightning, and several tornadoes (fortunately we were not witness to any of these).
After the storm was over, we cooked dinner at the next rest area.

On the Road - Wisconsin and Minnesota

We drove out of Madison with very little in a way of a plan other than get to South Dakota in a day or two. We quickly diverted from the freeway and took a series of rolling, scenic, two-lane highways past farms and through small towns.

I was surprised by the array of wildflowers in bloom, lots of Queen Ann’s Lace and Black-Eyed Susans with little purple and orange flowers growing in between.

But of course, the thing that stands out is corn.

Lots and lots of corn. Corn for corn syrup, corn for animal feed, corn for popcorn and corn on the cob. Giant angry-looking machines line the fields, ready to rip the corn cobs from the stalks. Lots of dead corn stalks, dried and blonde in the fields wherever drought conditions exist. I expected more variety from our nation’s breadbasket.

Madison, Wisconsin

Well, we did not get to drink beer out of a boot, but Madison was still a lovely place to stop. Home of the University of Wisconsin, the World Famous Triangle Market, and of course, our friend, Rocco, Madison has a population of about 200,000. This town lives for the (name of team), cheese and beer. We were entertained by Rocco’s stories of the Capital Brewery Fish Toss, frozen lakes and his scientific research.

Verdict on Nepali food? Well, our party had mixed reviews, but in general it would be hard to beat our meal earlier that day at the Chicago Diner. The only other patrons were bone-skinny white ladies dressed in ethnic print; it was about as Madison as you can get. College towns seem to be even more Liberal than usual when surrounded by corn country.

Rocco gets a 10. We’re still waiting on your quote.

We're Still Here

For those of you who are wondering if we may have dropped off the face of the earth, this is fortunately not the case. We have, however, had very very limited access to broadband (and even dialup) for the past many days. Fortunately here in the great town of Madison, WI, this is not the case, and within the next many hours we should have you all updated on the following:

  • The Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn MI)
  • The Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL)
  • The Chicago Diner (Chicago, IL)
  • and Madison WI
For now, however, we are hot and tired, and rest is in order. tomorrow we're off to South Dakota, so posts will follow connection permitted...