Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 8: Montana to Idaho

Today was a leisurely day, compared with the last couple of weeks. We slept in a bit, getting up after 8 am. Instead of cooking our own breakfast and having to wash up, we went to the Many Friends Cafe, which is located within the campground. In the evening, the space is used as a BBQ joint, so the setup is more in keeping with that – more like a picnic shelter than a building, with picnic benches and a hanging firepit in the middle. It was another beautiful day, though, and they had some groovy music playing (G Love with Lemonade, I was told). The menu features omelets and egg sandwiches primarily made using locally grown and/or organic ingredients. I got some delicious vanilla bean tea (made by A Mighty Leaf – I will have to check them out again); then we ordered at the counter and sat down at the picnic bench closest to the firepit to wait for our food. Dave got what was essentially an omelet on a croissant, and I got a berry-granola parfait which was the freshest thing of its kind I’ve ever eaten. We also shared an apple coffee cake that was light and fluffy. If you’re ever in West Glacier, even if you don’t camp at Glacier Campground, I recommend having breakfast at this place.

We went back to the camp site by about 9:30 am, took down the tent etc, and were on the road by 10:30 am.

Flathead LakeThis time we went along the west side of Flathead Lake through Kalispell. It was fun to see the town and to take another route, but it was no less slow than Saturday’s drive had been. It still took us three hours to get back to I-90 – not just because of the construction on Rte 93, and this time not because of the weekend traffic. It’s just a slow drive.

We finally got back to I-90 around 1:30 pm, then had to backtrack to Missoula for lunch, realizing that there wouldn’t be many options as we headed west. We ate in at Quizno’s, where various families that came in for lunch gave us some pretty entertaining people-watching.

We were back on the road heading west by 2:30 pm. The weather was sunny and warm as it had been, but the air quality was much hazier today. As we drove through the mountains in western Montana and into Idaho, the scenery was masked a bit by what was likely either smog or smoke pollution.

We entered Idaho just after 4 pm, though crossing at that point into the Pacific timezone meant that it was now 3 pm. Unlike in South Dakota, when the time on our cell phones took about 15 minutes to change, in this timezone the display changed right away.

Once across the Idaho border, the drive was all downhill. Idaho is not very wide this far north. We came to, and crossed, the Coeur d’Alene River, and then to the edges of Coeur d’Alene Lake. We arrived in the city itself at 5 pm and checked into La Quinta Inn. We were excited about the availability of internet and showers (in that order).

We regrouped in the hotel for a bit, made a few phone calls to arrange next steps in our trip, then went to check out Coeur d’Alene a bit.

Lake Coeur d'AleneCoeur d’Alene is a cute lake resort town. The lake is pretty large, so a lot of people own homes along the banks, and/or have boats to go out on the lake and go waterskiing or whatever. The downtown area is scenic and typical of any resort town, with restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels right on the water. Coeur d’Alene boasts the world’s longest floating boardwalk, which forms a circle around part of the harbor. We poked around a bit – first driving up a hill overlooking the lake (where the sun was really too shiny to see much), then walking around the boardwalk and the lakefront in the downtown area.

For dinner, we went to the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Company. Dave enjoyed some of their craft brews (apparently the Centennial Pale Ale is quite good) and we amused ourselves by listening to the groups at the other tables. The people sitting next to us on the patio had their small chocolate lab, a sweet girl named Mazzy. It made me sad, of course, but she was a cutie and it was fun to pet her when she came sniffing at our table.

We headed back to La Quinta Inn by 9 pm, chilled for a while, then checked out the hot tub. Unfortunately it was not very hot, but it was worth a try.

Some photos of Day 8 are posted here.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 7: Glacier National Park

If you ever visit Glacier National Park, I recommend the following:

  • Spend the night before somewhere relatively nearby on the eastern side, such as Great Falls
  • Download the podcast audio tours of the park, which you can listen to while on the Going to the Sun Road shuttle
  • Enter the park on the eastern side, at the St. Mary Entrance, early in the morning while the air is clear
  • Your first view of Glacier National Park will be the iconic view of St. Mary Lake in the glacier valley also called St. Mary, surrounded by tall craggy mountainsView from St Mary Lake
  • Take the boat tour across St. Mary lake, get off at Baring Falls, and hike from there to St. Mary Falls and on to Virginia Falls, then take the shuttle from St. Mary Falls along the Going to the Sun road to Logan Pass, the highest point in the road
  • Then take the shuttle back to St. Mary Visitor Center, get your car, and drive through the park from east to west

We did not do any of the above, but now having been to Glacier, this is what I would have planned, if we had been able to make other choices. It didn’t matter, though, because our day really worked out perfectly.

View from Logan Pass Visitor CenterA brief orientation: Glacier National Park has only one road that goes across it, called the Going-to-the-Sun Road. From east to west, it starts at St. Mary Visitor Center (at the tip of St. Mary Lake), where the prairie ends. The road climbs past some glacier-topped mountains to a pass – Logan Pass – at 6646 ft of elevation. From there it winds its way downward and across the park, hugging the mountains, then McDonald Creek, and down to Lake McDonald. You can drive across Glacier along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which takes a couple of hours. Or you can take two shuttles – one that goes from St. Mary Visitor Center to Logan Pass, and then another that goes from Logan Pass to the Apgar Transit Center at the western end of the park.

There are a number of other areas of Glacier that are not accessible from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Rather, you have to drive up the east or west side of the park and take roads across to get into the mountain areas of each of these zones. We didn’t visit any of these areas, but no doubt they are beautiful.

Check out our Glacier photos from Day 7 here.

Back to our adventure: we had stayed on the west side of the park because we believed we were more likely to find a campground on that side. This is likely true, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we ended up at a lovely campground just outside the western entrance to the park. We left our campground at about quarter to 8 in the morning and got to the Apgar Transit Center just barely in time to catch the 8 am shuttle to Logan Pass.

Heaven's Peak, as seen from the Going-to-the-Sun RoadWhile on the shuttle, Dave snapped photos and we chit-chatted with the driver and some of the passengers. The driver shared that she had seen a bear when she got into her bus that morning. The bear saw her, and she carefully slipped into the bus, and there was no trouble. =)

Travel up the Going-to-the-Sun Road was a bit precarious – it is a rather winding road, and the surface and shoulder were torn up in a few places due to construction. We were so glad to not have to be the ones driving.

Dave and Jenn in front of Jackson GlacierWe arrived at Logan Pass at about 9:20 am, made use of the restroom there at the top of the road, and took a few photos. Then we caught the 9:30 am shuttle toward the St. Mary Visitor Center. We got off two stops later at the Gunsight Pass Trailhead. At this spot is a perfect view of the Jackson Glacier, so we took several shots here before hitting the trail.

We also took a few moments to honor Lucas, as Dave clipped Lucas’ dog tags to my backpack. I wept for our absent hiking companion as we started down the trail.

Reynolds Creek - Deadwood FallsWe started hiking around 10 am. The trail was perfect for us – relatively flat and shady. About half an hour into the hike, we came across Reynolds Creek’s Deadwood Falls, and admired the beautiful water in the sunshine. Fortunately this was also an opportunity to be passed by the youth group that had been trailing about a hundred yards behind us.

Overgrown trail - Gunsight Pass TrailWe continued hiking, and the trail at times was very overgrown. A few times, the tall flowers were higher than my head! We were thankful that it was warm and sunny, but not too hot that we felt uncomfortable wearing pants – it would have been awkward wearing shorts in such overgrowth.

St Mary FallsAt 11:30 am we found ourselves at St. Mary Falls. There were a number of people coming and going, and Dave ended up taking photos for a few of the groups. I told him he should work for tips.

Jenn and Dave at Virginia FallsWe then continued up the trail to Virginia Falls. It was a deceptive trail: it climbed a bit, then there were some falls, then it climbed some more, then more falls, etc. I noticed that a lot of hikers seemed to think they had reached the Virginia Falls when they got to the first set of falls. Fortunately Dave checked the map, and we knew we got to the “real” Virginia Falls when we arrived at a bridge that crossed the creek. Also, it turned out there was a sign that pointed toward the Virginia Falls overlook.

We arrived here around 12:15 pm and had lunch under a tree growing out of the rocks next to the river that flowed beneath the falls. It was a peaceful and scenic spot to have lunch. We took a few photos and then got back on the trail by 12:45 pm.

All in all, we probably hiked about 5 miles – a good hike for us.

Our aim was to get back to the road and take the shuttle onward. We had to double back past St. Mary Falls, back to the original trail, and then follow the signs to the Sun Road. However, when we got there, the only evidence of the shuttle stop was a tiny (2 in x 2 in) sign on the side of the trailhead post with a shuttle symbol and an arrow pointing to the right. We were in the middle of a parking lot beside the road, where there was no shuttle stop sign. We took a few steps in the direction indicated by the arrow, but didn’t see anything. We walked back to the other end of the parking lot, where a middle-aged couple was just hanging out in the shade. They acted surprised that we didn’t know the shuttle stop was in the other direction. We hiked back that way and about 100 yards away from the parking lot, but saw nothing but the road curving away. We walked all the way back to the previously mentioned couple, where they gave us more detail: the shuttle stop was perhaps another 1/4 mile down the road.

Tour boat on St Mary LakeSo frustrating, but we finally found it, and the shuttle came about 10 minutes later, at approximately 1:35 pm.Our next aim was to take the 2 pm bus tour across St. Mary Lake, but as the bus poked east along the road, we were really wondering if we were going to make it. The shuttle came across the bend at Rising Sun Boat Dock, and we could see that the boat was still at the dock. As we pulled into the parking lot and got dropped off at the shuttle stop, we were amazed to see that the boat still hadn’t pulled away, and it was after 2 pm! We ran toward the dock and asked the woman on the shore if we could get on the 2 pm tour. At first she told us no, because the boat was full, but then she went to double-check the numbers and came back to tell us that we could! She made it a point to emphasize that we must pay once we returned, but that she was glad we could squeeze on.

View from St Mary LakeThe boat tour was very relaxing after hiking 5 miles. It was informative – the tour guide shared information about how the lake had been formed glaciers millions of years ago.

She also talked about much more recent history, when the park was first developed for tourists. The original owners of the park created a series of chalets, and one of them had been on a point that jutted into the lake. Visitors arrived by boat and were taken up to the chalets in an elevator system. Once the park service gained ownership of the park, including the chalets, it burned this one down and bulldozed it into the lake. I was highly amused by this.

Baring FallsThe ride across the lake took about 40 minutes, and then we pulled into a dock where we were encouraged to take the very short hike (5 minutes max) up to Baring Falls. Dave and I had originally considered hiking to these falls as the final leg of our morning hike, but this was much easier. The port stop was about 20 minutes, long enough for everyone to poke around and get some photos of the falls. Then it was a leisurely 30 minute boat ride back across the lake.

Back at Rising Sun Boat Dock, we waited a long time for the shuttle. It finally arrived around 4:15 pm. We had to watch our time, to be sure we caught the shuttle westward early enough to make the connection at Logan Pass to take us back to our car at Apgar. We told ourselves that we could spend no longer than an hour at St. Mary. Once we got there, we found that this wasn’t even a concern. There was really very little to see at the Visitor Center. We poked around, bought a few postcards, admired the osprey nest, etc.

As we waited for the next shuttle back to Logan Pass (they run every 30 minutes), we had ample time to admire the view. As I mentioned at the beginning, the scene at St. Mary Visitor Center truly is the iconic view of Glacier National Park. It was starting to get a bit hazy by that point in the afternoon, but the water in the lake was still an incredible blue, and it was a marked contrast next to the mountains and the glaciers above it. As I watched, I noticed curvy streaks in the sky, evidence of the airstream there on the edge of the east side of the continental divide.

Logan Pass Visitor Center, with Reynolds Mountain in backgroundSomething must have been going wrong with the shuttle bus and/or drivers, because it wasn’t until after 5:15 pm that a fairly surly guy came out to start up the shuttle and get us all going. After that, though, the trip went really smoothly. As soon as we got off the first shuttle at Logan Pass, there was a shuttle to Apgar ready and waiting. We got on that shuttle and it left immediately – leaving enough spaces in the bus to pick up additional passengers later on the route. It would have been a good opportunity to nap, except that the ride was so bouncy. It was better to enjoy the scenery anyway, and to listen to the amusing conversations of the other passengers.

We finally arrived at the Apgar Transit Center at 7:15 pm, having been on buses for two hours straight. Still, we couldn’t complain – at least we didn’t have to drive! We were thrilled to realize that we probably drove a total of 3 miles today – a big contrast from the previous several days.

We did a bit of shopping there in the Apgar Village, and got back to camp around 8 pm. Our camp neighbors across the road had a very rowdy but good-natured game going – something that involved tossing little disks into holes in boxes. They were amusing to listen to. We had hot dogs and beans for dinner, then make a campfire and watched the wood burn for a while. We were too sleepy to do much else, and were in bed around 11 pm.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 6: Drive to Glacier National Park

Montana Skies #3This morning we got up at 7 am, and after showering, we were treated to a nutritious and delicious pancake breakfast home-cooked by Kristen’s dad, topped with homemade chokecherry syrup and fresh strawberries on the side. Yum! Unfortunately we couldn’t stay to have fun adventures with our friends, because we had to get ourselves to Glacier National Park as early as possible, knowing there was a very good chance that we might not get a campsite for the evening. We drove off at 9 am, waving goodbye as we drove out the gravel road, while the kids chased us as far as they could run.

We fueled up in Hardin, and then drove for as long as we possibly could. We got as far as Livingston, MT, where we took a bathroom break and got some groceries at Albertson’s. We got back on the interstate and realized that there wouldn’t be many options for lunch once we passed Bozeman (which was just a few miles after our stop in Livingston), so we got off the highway again there. We got lunch from Dairy Queen, and topped off the gas tank. We ate lunch in the car so we could continue to make progress across the great state of Montana.

Montana Skies #2This section of I-90 may be the most beautiful. It follows the river known as Clark Fork as it snakes around and through several different mountain ranges. The river, the pine-covered hills, the different sets of snow-capped mountains in the background – it is all breathtakingly gorgeous. There was one spot where there were a few different people bicycling along the side of the interstate. Seemed crazy to me, but they looked like they were traveling through – with packs tied to the back of their bicycles.

We stopped briefly in Butte to grab some Starbucks, where the extroverted barista told us that Glacier is the best national park, and pshawed Yellowstone.

Finally we got through Missoula, and exited the interstate at Rte 89 around 3:45 pm. We stopped at the travel plaza for the usual bathroom and gasoline break, then started heading north toward Glacier.

It was a LOOOOOONG drive. Just a few miles north of I-90 there was a serious road construction project going on that had the entire road torn up for 14 miles. Some of the driving was actually more like off-roading. It was slow going. Finally past the construction, we were able to go full speed for a little bit, and then came up over a hill to see a spectacular view of Flathead Lake, a beautiful and quite large recreational lake, on which Kalispell is located to the west. We took the eastern route around the lake. This drive was painfully slow – after all, it was Saturday, and there were a lot of people going to and from their lake homes, etc. I just wish they could all learn to drive the speed limit instead of 10 mph under. =(

FINALLY we arrived at the west entrance to Glacier National Park at around 6 pm, only to learn that all of the campgrounds in the park were full. So discouraging! We stopped at the visitor’s center for a quick restroom break and then turned around and headed back out the park.

Our Campsite Outside of Glacier NPI was anxious that we might spend the rest of the evening playing the “no room at the inn” game. However, God took care of us – the first campground we came to, about a mile outside the park, had plenty of tent campsites. It was a really nice, shady site in the woods. The tent spot was a tight squeeze for our big tent, but it worked. After we got everything set up, we discussed the option of pulling up stakes in the morning to try to get a spot in the park. Ultimately we decided that this campground was very nice, AAA approved, had good bathrooms, and was convenient, so there was no reason to move. Dave went back and paid for a second night, and we settled in.

For dinner I made stir fry with tuna, bellpepper, and onions, over rice. It was a light healthy meal. We were so tired we didn’t even bother making a campfire. We chilled out in the tent for the rest of the evening before going to bed around 10:30 pm. Here in the northwestern part of the Mountain time zone, it wasn’t even completely dark by the time I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

A few more photos of Day 6 can be found here.

Cross Country Trip, Service Projects

Road Trip Day 5: South Dakota and Montana

Sunrise at our Campsite - HDRI had set the alarm for this morning for 6 am, and when it went off, it was still dark. The sun had not yet risen over the mountains just to the east of us. We had slept fairly comfortably given that our tent was set up on soft grass, but it seemed very early and we were really tired. I hit snooze a few times, but we finally got up and got ourselves going, and were able to enjoy a lovely sunrise. Dave took lots of photos of the early morning sun on the Crazy Horse Memorial.

About an hour later I looked at the clock on my phone and had to double-check twice.

“Dave, I have to tell you something that you’re not going to like,” I said. “What?” he asked. “I accidentally got us up at 5 am. Sorry.” All he could say was, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Obviously we had reset all the clocks for Mountain Time *except* for the alarm clock. I made sure not to let that happen again.

The dew had started to fall last night before we were even done eating dinner. At 6 o’clock in the morning, as the sun started to rise, our tent, camp chairs, and the picnic table were soaking wet. It was apparent that it would take a while for it all to dry out.

Crazy Horse from the VC Parking LotOnce we got ourselves together, we drove back to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which opened at 7:00 am. Even though we were there a half hour after opening, the woman at the entrance gate made a comment about us being early birds. I told her, “We’re awake, we figured we should take advantage of it!” We were glad we did, too, because there were very few people when we arrived, and it started to get really busy as we were leaving just a couple of hours later.

We watched the orientation video about the Crazy Horse Memorial project’s history and current status. We wandered around the visitor center for a while. At 8 am, Dave went out to make a few phone calls to try to organize our next activity. We were hoping to visit Jewel Cave, but as Dave made phone calls, we found that all the morning tours were booked. He also called Wind Cave and learned that we could get in on a first-come, first-served basis. We decided to take our chances with that.

Scale Model of Crazy Horse - HDROnce we had that straight, we spent a little more time at the visitor’s center facilities at Crazy Horse. The place is laid out so that you drive up from the main road to the visitor’s center, which is a mile or so from the base of the mountain itself. The initial entrance fee is $10 each (or $27 per car if you have more than 2 people in your vehicle). Once you get to the visitor’s center, you find that you can pay an additional $4 per person to take a bus tour to the base of the mountain. And, if you really want to see Crazy Horse up close and personal – and really feel inspired enough to support the project – you can pay about $150 to take the special tour up to the top. This all sounds really outrageous until you learn that this multi-million dollar project is being funded exclusively through entrance fees, donations, and profits made by selling items in the various stores at the visitor’s center. Apparently the foundation has been offered federal funding at least twice, but the founder of the project was a free-market libertarian, so they will never accept government funding. It will probably take 200 years (my estimate) for the thing to be completed. Fascinating.

All that to say, Dave and I limited our enjoyment of Crazy Horse to the terrace at the visitor’s center.

We left Crazy Horse around 9:15 am and went back to the campground to take down our now-dryish tent.

Then we drove down Rte 385 south to Wind Cave National Park. We got there around 10:15 am, and the tour we wanted to take (the “Natural Entrance Tour”) was at 11 am. So we poked around in the visitor’s center a bit, learning about the history of the cave, etc. Then we went outside under a shelter, where the group gathered to begin the tour. As we headed to the cave entrance, I noticed a black line of clouds heading our way.

Wind Cave Natural EntranceThe park ranger, Justin, was personable and knowledgeable. He showed us the original entrance to the cave (the natural entrance) which was a hole that couldn’t have been more than 24″ wide. It was amazing to think that the original explorers of the cave would give tours to groups and require them to squeeze through such a tiny space. Needless to say, Justin didn’t guide the tour group down this entrance.

Inside Wind Cave #2The cave itself was pretty cool. Wind Cave is very unique for several reasons, the most geologically interesting of which is that it has formations seen in very few other caves. These formations are called boxwork. There are none of the stereotypical stalactites and stalagmites – mostly just lots of boxwork.

Another aspect of the tour that was fun was toward the beginning, when Justin gathered the entire group into a large space, and showed us what the lighting would have been like for the original explorers, who used a candle bucket. You can’t see much detail carrying just a candle, or even much of the floor. Dave and I were glad that we didn’t end up taking the Candlelight Tour, which we had been hoping to do rather than the Natural Entrance tour. After Justin showed us the lighting with the candle bucket, he then blew out the candle, and we got to experience the cave in complete darkness. It was remarkable – you can’t even see your hand a centimeter in front of your face. As Justin explained, this is complete darkness – your eyes can’t adjust to this kind of darkness.

The tour was about 1 1/4 hours long, and we were glad we took the time for it. After we came up (exiting the cave via elevator) and went outside, we found that it had rained, but was now clearing and becoming beautifully sunny. Perfect timing for us!

Deer @ Wind Cave NPOn our way toward the visitor’s center, we passed some prairie dog colonies, so of course I wanted to stop and watch them for a bit. As we drove back, we noticed a mule deer buck with a beautiful set of antlers. Dave took some photos and he stared at us the entire time.

Prarie Dog @ Wind Cave NPWe watched the prairie dogs play for a bit, then stopped at a turnout to have some peanut butter sandwiches. It turned out there were prairie dogs right at the parking lot there, so we watched them a bit and took a few more prairie dog photos.

Anna Miller Museum #2Then we headed toward Montana via Wyoming. We stopped briefly in Newcastle, WY to take photos of the Anna Miller Museum, to amuse Dave’s mom (whose name is Anna Mary). By now it was past 3 pm, so we didn’t have the time to enjoy all that the Anna Miller Museum had to offer. Instead, we got back on the road and headed back to I-90, which took another hour or so.

Check out our Day 5 photos.

Once on the interstate, we drove through Wyoming for about 3 hours. We saw many incredible vistas in Wyoming as we headed west toward the Rockies, and then stayed north as the interstate worked its way along the feet of the great mountain range. As we cut across the northeastern part of Wyoming, the corn and soy fields had pretty much disappeared. Most of the land we drove through was grazing land for cattle – not many crops being grown there. It has a very wide-open feel.

We crossed into Montana around 5:15 pm, and fortunately didn’t have much further to go to get to our friends’ house in Hardin. We got to their farm just after 6 pm, after managing to just avoid being struck by a long train hauling tons and tons of coal. (There are no RR crossing gates here in Hardin to warn you not to drive across!)

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out with our friend Kristen, her kids Hannah (7), Caleb (5), and Toby (3), and her parents Dave and Bonnie. We had a delicious home-grilled steak dinner, played with the kids, and had a late-night philosophical talk with Kristen. We stayed up a bit later than we should have, but it was great to have a chance to spend time with good friends.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 4: Omaha to Black Hills, SD

Check out Day 4 photos here.

This morning we got up, showered, had a quick breakfast in Becky’s kitchen, packed up, and got out around 9:30 am. We gave the keys back to Ruby and Missy and said goodbye. As we left, Ruby came out to try to take Missy for a walk before it started raining. Unfortunately for the two of them, large drops started coming down just as we backed out of the driveway, and we saw them turn around and go back into the house.

It was pouring down rain as we backtracked a bit, taking I-680 back around Omaha, across the bridge back into Iowa, and up I-29. However, as I-680 split off in the direction we had come from, we continued north up I-29 to the Iowa-South Dakota border. We crossed the Missouri River (as we had to and from Omaha, but this time much further north) at Sioux City, and into the very southeastern tip of South Dakota.

The Wall Drug Ads Begin...It was not long before the famous South Dakota roadside billboards began to appear. Those who have been to South Dakota will know what I’m talking about. Those who have not yet had the pleasure of going to South Dakota need to know: it’s the tackiest state in the union. There are 1000+ cheesy quasi-historical sites to visit, and they are advertised for over 600 miles across the entire state, on every interstate and other major route.

The two most prolific advertisers are Wall Drug (in a town named Wall) and the Mitchell Corn Palace (in Mitchell). There are numerous other tourist spots that also advertise with repetitive billboards, but Wall Drug and Mitchell Corn Palace have signs that are ubiquitous.

SD CountrysideOther than the now-cluttered roadside, the landscape didn’t change much. Similar to Iowa, South Dakota has a fair amount of corn and soy fields. However, South Dakota’s landscape becomes a little more diverse, incorporating hay fields and cattle grazing lands.

We made our way up I-29 to Sioux Falls, where we had a quick stop at Wendy’s to grab some lunch (and, thankfully, ketchup packets to use with our hot dogs tonight), and got on the road. We were on I-90 a couple miles later, finally heading west again.

This was the first time on this cross-country trip – our fourth – that we found ourselves on the same route that we had taken before (on our 2nd trip in 2004). That time, we drove I-90 from Minnesota to Rapid City. This time, we picked it up just inside South Dakota as I mentioned.

It’s hard to appreciate what it’s like to drive across an entire state such as South Dakota unless you’ve done it. However, hopefully this explanation of I-90’s exit numbers can put things into perspective.

The exit numbers correspond with the mileage of the interstate, so they start with Mile/Exit 1 on the western side of the state and go all the way up to approximately 406 on the east in South Dakota.

We entered the state pretty close to the eastern border, at Exit 396, at approximately 1 pm.

Mitchell Corn PalaceWe then drove to Mitchell (Exit 332) and stopped at 1:45 pm to see the Corn Palace. Somehow we ended up staying more than the 10 minutes we planned for, and got back on the road (now with a full tank of gas, postcard stamps, and photos of this year’s Corn Palace exterior) at 2:30 pm.

At about 4:45 pm Central time, around Exit 192, we crossed over into Mountain Time and it suddenly became 3:45 pm.

Dave in the Badlands #2Badlands National Park is at Exit 131. We got off the interstate here at about 4:30 pm (Mountain Time) and took the scenic drive across the Badlands. We had been to this national park before on our second cross-country road trip, but we really enjoyed it, so we thought it would be worth a quick revisit. It turned out not to be very quick, but it was still worth the detour. We saw several bighorn sheep, and lots of prairie dogs (my favorite, and the reason I was keen on stopping). The weather was absolutely beautiful – very sunny and not too warm – which was nicer than the surreal overcast weather we had when we visited in 2004. The scenery was just as beautiful as we remembered it.

The Badlands Loop road returns visitors to I-90 at Exit 110 (21 miles from where we left the interstate), at Wall, SD – home of the famous Wall Drug! Free water – 5 cent coffee – dinosaurs in the back yard – etc! We skipped the kitsch (been there, done that), got gas, and hit the road around 6:30 pm.

We finally exited I-90 at Rapid City, at Exit 57. To recap: we drove 339 miles on I-90 in South Dakota, which wasn’t even the entire thing. And every 1/8 to 1/4 mile was a billboard for some cheesy tourist spot. You have to experience it to appreciate it.

Our destination for the evening was a campground near the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is near Mount Rushmore. (We saw Rushmore on our trip in 2004; it was nice but isn’t something one needs to see more than once every 20-30 years.) Once past the craziness of Rapid City, the highway winds through the Black Hills and is quite scenic. The traffic becomes lighter as a number of cars branch off toward Keystone and Mount Rushmore. It probably took less than an hour to get to our campground.

Black Hills Surrounding Heritage Valley CampgroundWe passed the entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, and then a mere mile or two further was our campground. I highly recommend it – it’s called Heritage Village, outside of Custer, SD. The staff there were super nice, it has all the necessary facilities (clean bathrooms, showers, laundry, a sink in which to wash dishes) without being too large or over the top (no wi-fi or swimming pool). It had a range of accommodations: cabins, RV spots, tepees, and tent sites. We found a nice spot behind the unoccupied tepees where there was only one other tent a few spots down. When we got there, a couple of deer were grazing in the woods a few hundred yards away. Though not shady, our campsite was flat and grassy, and had a spectacular view of the Crazy Horse Memorial itself.

Crazy Horse Monument Light ShowSince our purpose in visiting this part of Black Hills was to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, it was super cool that we had such a great view of it. Even better was that they have a laser show on the mountain that starts at 9:45 pm. Since we didn’t get to the campground until after 8 pm, which means we didn’t start eating dinner until after 9:30 pm, we didn’t make it over to watch the laser show from the official viewing area. However, we had great sightlines from our warm campfire as we ate our hot dogs and beans. It was hard to see exactly what the shapes were, but the colors were pretty cool.

After dinner, we had some marshmallows and then washed up. It was chilly – the low was supposed to be 48 degrees – so we hopped into our warm sleeping bags around 11:30 pm after putting out the campfire and called it a night.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 3: Champaign to Omaha

This morning we ate a quick waffle at the Econo Lodge’s free continental breakfast, then made a quick stop at Kohl’s to buy Dave a couple of University of Illinois T-shirts (so he can represent while he’s on the road), and got on the road around 9:30 am.

Iowa Corn #2There is a lot of corn in the Midwest. It is not a myth. There are also a lot of soy fields. The third largest crop may be orange highway construction cones. There are a lot of them as well.

Today we saw three different stimulus projects, bringing the grand total up to 5 for our road trip so far. They were all on I-74 in different parts of Illinois.

The Machine Shed Restaurant in Davenport, IAWe had lunch in Davenport, Iowa at a place called the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant. Its motto is “Dedicated to the American farmer”. There is a bunch of farm equipment out in front, and the entire restaurant is farming-themed, including dressing the wait staff in overalls. The food was super tasty, but OMG there was a lot of it. Dave was responsible and got a fried chicken salad, but I got a chicken salad croissant sandwich, which also came with a cup of DELICIOUS potato chowder, some of the best sweet potato fries I have ever had, and a fruit cup.

About halfway through our meal, one of the waitresses was going around collecting the ketchup bottles, and she took ours as well. Dave’s and my commentary to each other:

Jenn: I guess they’re cutting us off.
Dave: No ketchup after 1 o’clock.
Jenn: That’s how they do things here in Iowa.
Dave: It’s the devil’s condiment.
Jenn: [laughed for about 10 minutes]
Dave: Are you going to spew chicken salad out your nose?
Jenn: No, but maybe honeydew.

I drove for about an hour after lunch but was too sleepy to make it all the way to Des Moines. We pulled over to switch and take a bathroom break, only to find that the two gas stations at that exit were both boarded up and deserted. Creepy.

Wind Turbine in IowaThen I completely zonked for about an hour and a half while Dave drove. When I woke up and started looking around, I said, “Windmills!” They were well over 200 feet tall with gigantic turbines. I think windmills are surreal normally, but after waking from such a long nap, it was very dreamlike to see them in the middle of the corn and soy fields, waving away seemingly lazily. (Though Dave later calculated that they’re spinning at something like 136 mph. He’s the engineer, you see.) Click here for some interesting info about Iowa’s wind energy industry.

Old Dutch Windmill in Elk Horn, IA - HDRSome time later, we decided to pull off the interstate to the Iowa Welcome Center. Really we just wanted a quick bathroom break, but when we got off the offramp, we discovered that the place was 6 miles off the freeway. We obligingly set off down the road until we came to a different kind of windmill – an 1848 Danish windmill. So, we got both low-tech and high-tech windmills while we were in Iowa.

Before we got back on the highway, we drove to the top of a rise and Dave took some photos from the top of our Escape. The visibility was pretty good from up there, and the weather was beautiful.

More Day 3 photos can be found here.

We finally got to Omaha around quarter after 7 pm. We are staying at our friend Becky’s, but since she’s on a business trip, we were greeted by her 80-year-old neighbor Ruby and her 6-month-old Maltese-Cavalier puppy Missy. After getting settled a bit, we got dinner and a beer at a pub called (ironically) “Old Chicago”. Then we ran some errands to prepare for a few upcoming nights of camping, and then called it a night. Long day, but good progress!

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 2: Dayton to Champaign; Storage move-in

A brief review of today (some photos here):

day_02_002.jpgA quick but delightful breakfast with Ryan, Elyn, Molly, and Emma, then hit the road.

Ohio, I-70 West: corn and soy fields.

Cross border into Indiana: more of the same.

East of Indianapolis, a 15-mile speed trap where the speed limit was 60 mph. Was careful not to meet any law enforcement officers personally.


West of Indianapolis, I-74 West: Sigh of relief to be out of Indianapolis. Stopped at a Starbucks because really we were too sleepy to be driving safely. Ordered two tall cafe mochas. Sat and decompressed for a while… 10 minutes later realized we should have already received our coffees. Were given grande cafe mochas to make up for the fact that the barista forgot about us.

day_02_017.jpgBack on I-74: A few minutes later, the “Check engine” light came on. Got off at Crawfordsville and called Penske. They said not to worry about it. Proceeded to Champaign.

Arrived Champaign just after 12 noon. Checked out the storage space. Had lunch at Panera. Returned and officially signed up for the storage space.

day_02_016.jpgWe spent almost 4 hours unloading a 16 foot box truck into a 7 1/2 ft x 20 ft storage space. All of our stuff *just* fit. It felt great to be done!

Then we drove to drop off the Penske truck… got there and remembered we had to get gas… did that and then returned the truck without incident, just in time before the place closed.

Drove over to see what our house looks like (yes, we signed a lease without seeing the place). The previous tenants are still living there, so we didn’t go in. Ran a couple of errands.

Checked into the Econolodge; don’t recommend it. Took showers, and watched the All Star Game at a sports bar called Pia’s. Baseball + Obama… my head might explode.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 1: DC to Dayton

After an emotional week that included even more hard stuff than we planned on, we finally had our entire apartment packed into a truck, and had said goodbye to dozens of friends, co-workers, neighbors, and church family. This morning we got up, finished cleaning up and packing a few last things (of course the internet connection was the last thing to take down), said goodbye to a few neighbors, and finally drove off.

We left the DC area around 10:30, a bit later than planned, with Jenn driving the 16 foot yellow Penske truck and Dave following in our Ford Escape Hybrid (both packed to the gills with all our stuff).

Day 1 photos can be found here.

MD CountrysideThe trip was basically uneventful – just typical driving nuttiness. We drove all the way from Maryland to Dayton, OH – about an 8 hour drive not including stops for lunch, gas, and restrooms. We made pretty good time, following the directions that Google suggested. There wasn’t much traffic, especially since we were driving through hills or countryside most of the time. Other than the Beltway, the worst traffic we hit was in Columbus around 6:30 pm, and through the construction in downtown Dayton when we got there.

There were a few insane people on the road, though, and it’s amazing how they pop up more than once on a long trip like this. When we were driving through Maryland – I think near Hagerstown – there was a little red Ford Focus hatchback with a crunched back bumper. We were all driving down a steep hill, where the speed limit was either 55 or 65 (which meant that most of the traffic was going no slower than 75 mph because of the incline). The person driving this car was braking the entire way down the hill, seemingly trying to achieve something like 40 mph. Dave and Jenn – separately – each thought to ourselves, “Wow, that’s dangerous.” No surprise that the rear bumper would be in that condition!

But we hadn’t seen the last of this person! Outside of Morgantown WV, there was some freeway construction that brought all of the traffic down to one lane, and the speed limit was 55 mph. Unfortunately the entire mile-long line of cars was forced to go 35 mph because of the one slow person at the head of the line – the same red Ford Focus hatchback! Thankfully they exited the highway instead of slowing down traffic for the entire four miles of construction.

Unrelated: We also saw what looked like a drug bust, but who knows what it actually was. Not long before crossing out of Maryland, there were a number of sheriff cars that had several cars pulled over to the side of the road, and all of those cars’ occupants were sitting on the ground in front of their cars. Hard to tell what’s going on, on the other side of the freeway when you’re driving by at 70 mph. Maybe it’s related to this.

One more amusing observation: When we crossed over from MD into WV, the speed limit goes up from 65 mph to 70 mph. You can deduce that this means the speed limit drops when going the opposite direction. There was a Maryland State Trooper just waiting at the border to bust people who didn’t slow down. “Welcome to Maryland – now give us money.”

Stimulus-funded RoadworkWe’re going to try to count all of the freeway construction sites that benefit from the stimulus funding (marked by signs that say “Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act”). So far we have seen at least two: one on I-270 near Germantown, and the other on I-79 (I think) about 10 miles from Wheeling. We will keep you updated on your tax dollars putting Americans to work.

We got to Dayton around 7:30 pm and were thrilled to see our friends Ryan and Elyn, their adorable 2 year old Mollie, and their sweet little dog Emma. We had a yummy relaxing dinner and watched some Home Run Derby. It’s nice to sleep in a real bed instead of camping out on our floor using an air mattress. =)

Cross Country Trip

Where in the world are Dave and Jenn?

For those keeping score at home, below is a brief itinerary, so you’ll know where we anticipate our adventures will take us over the next few weeks:

Sunday, 7/12/2009 Last day in DC
Monday, 7/13/2009 Drive from DC to Dayton OH; Spend the night with friends
Tuesday, 7/14/2009 Drive from Dayton OH to Champaign IL; Unpack our truck into storage; Spend the night in Champaign
Wednesday, 7/15/2009 Drive from Champaign to Omaha NE; Spend the night at a friend’s house
Thursday, 7/16/2009 Drive from Omaha NE to South Dakota (specific location TBD)
Friday, 7/17/2009 See the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota; Drive from South Dakota to Hardin MT; Spend the night with friends
Saturday, 7/18/2009 Go to Glacier National Park; Camp, hike, etc
Sunday, 7/19/2009 Spend another day in Glacier National Park (what better way to spend the sabbath than in the beautiful outdoor spaces that God created?
Monday, 7/20/2009 Drive from Montana to Coeur d’Alene, ID
Tuesday, 7/21/2009 Drive from Coeur d’Alene, ID to Puyallup, WA. Visit my niece!
Wednesday, 7/22/2009 Visit friends in the Seattle area
Thursday, 7/23/2009 Do touristy things in Seattle
Friday, 7/24/2009 Do touristy and/or outdoorsy things in Seattle
Saturday, 7/25/2009 Hang out with my niece and the other side of her family in Puyallup
Sunday, 7/26/2009 Leave Seattle; Drive through Portland and head for the Oregon Coast
Monday, 7/27/2009 Drive down the Oregon and Northern California Coasts
Tuesday, 7/28/2009 Drive down the Northern California Coast; Spend the night with friends in San Mateo
Wednesday, 7/29/2009 Drive from San Mateo to San Jose; Spend the night with friends in San Jose
Thursday, 7/30/2009 Drive from San Jose to Fresno; Spend time with family
Friday, 7/31/2009 Hang out with the fam in Fresno
Saturday, 8/1/2009 Spend the day in the pool in the 100 degree weather in Fresno
Sunday, 8/2/2009 Hear some awesome preaching at my family’s church in Fresno
Monday, 8/3/2009 Celebrate Dave’s Birthday in the Sierras
Tuesday, 8/4/2009 Enjoy a little more time with the fam in Fresno
Wednesday, 8/5/09 Drive from Fresno to Lake Mead, NV
Thursday, 8/6/09 Drive from Lake Mead, NV to Canyonlands or Arches in UT
Friday, 8/7/09 Hiking and camping in Canyonlands and/or Arches National Park
Saturday, 8/8/2009 Drive from Utah to Denver CO; Spend the night with a friend
Sunday, 8/9/2009 Day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
Monday, 8/10, 2009 Drive from Denver to somewhere halfway to Illinois
Tuesday, 8/11/2009 Drive to Champaign; Spend the night in our house!
Friday, 8/12/2009 Get a truck; pull all our stuff out of storage; move into our house

Dave starts class on August 24!

Family Adventures

Eulogy for our beloved dog Lucas

Our dog Lucas was put to sleep at approximately 6:15 pm this evening, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. He went peacefully as his mama and dada petted him and told him we loved him. He was two years old.

Happy LucasLucas was a beautiful black lab mix who was rescued as a puppy, first from the Baltimore City shelter to the Washington Animal Rescue League. It was there that he became a part of our family, when he was about three months old. As a puppy, Lucas was happy, laid-back, friendly to any dog or person he met, and eager to learn new things.

Unfortunately, Lucas had an incurable mental illness. As he grew to adulthood, he began to exhibit signs of chronic fear and anxiety. Sadly, his anxiety manifested itself in the form of aggression toward people. At first it seemed manageable and explainable – moderate, and most often toward strangers. However, more recently he was reactive toward children, and then he began to act aggressively toward members of our family.

The majority of the time, Lucas was a beautiful, happy, fun dog who loved hiking, playing in rivers, chewing on rawhide bones, romping with his dog friends, and of course spending time with his parents. We hope that his friends will remember him that way. It is a tragedy that the aspects of his personality that made him potentially dangerous ultimately outweighed all of the positive things that he was loved for.

Happy MemoriesWe are heartbroken. We thank all of our friends for your thoughts and prayers. Thanks also for your understanding that this was a difficult decision that we made in the best interest of our puppy, as well as that of our friends and family.

Those who wish to honor Lucas’ memory are invited to support his friends at the Washington Animal Rescue League: