One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Month: July 2021 (Page 1 of 3)

Days 24 and 25- Minnesota to Home

Our drive today into Minnesota from Sioux Falls was a quick one. ha Just 15 miles or so outside of Sioux Falls to the East and you’ve arrived in Minnesota. Another state Kegan and I hadn’t been to before! So, now the only states I haven’t been to are: North Dakota, Rhode Island and Alaska. For Kegan, it’s North Dakota, Alaska, Delaware and most of New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine)- we’ll be fixing that on our Northeast road trip either next summer or Summer 2023 hopefully

Our first stop in the morning was in Blue Earth, Minnesota at the Jolly Green Giant statue, park and museum. Blue Earth is the home of Jolly Green Giant – which was started in 1903 as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. In 1925, a new variety of pea was created- the Princes of Wales- which was huge and wrinkly. Instead of apologizing for the size of the new peas, they leaned into it – calling them “Green Giant” peas. In the 1930s they got a marketing makeover and the Green Giant scary caveman character turned into the Jolly Green Giant- a friendly approachable guy in a leafy suit.

They renamed themselves the Green Giant Company in the 1950s and eventually were purchased by Pillsbury, then General Mills, then to B&G Foods in 2015 for 765 million! This giant statue came into the picture in the late 1970s. A local radio show host used to interview out of town guests who were passing through the town and he’d give them canned vegetables as a little prize for doing it. ha When the I-90 Interstate came through, the number of out of town visitors was dropping dramatically and he noticed! So, he came up with the idea of a giant Jolly Green Giant statue to attract people off the interstate and back into town. Seems to have worked 🙂

They have a little music park to the side of the statue with all sorts of bongo sounding drums and pipes. Norah loved it so much we took a photo of the company label on a couple items to see if they can be purchased for a home backyard! haha

Back on the road, but off quickly to see a really random and odd Godzilla statue

Just up the road from Godzilla was a Happy chef restaurant. Local one and only remaining restaurants from an entire chain- with a giant chef out front from the 1960s that supposedly talks- but we didn’t know there was a button to press to make him talk until after we were gone! Poor research, Erin!

Trucking on up to Minneapolis, we passed the World’s Largest Candy Store, so of course… we stopped in! This place was packed to the gills. and it seems like its in the middle of nowhere. ha No idea why there were so many people visiting this place.

Fun 3D painted mural

We ended up with 4 bottles of root beer, Fox’s Jam Creme cookies from Ireland, Crab flavored potato chips, a couple Haribo gummies that are hard to find here, cinnamon gummi bears, Walker’s Shortbreads, Japanese cracker peanuts, a few things Norah wanted to try- like Zotz fizzy candy I loved as a child- and I got a couple small sugar free things to try. I usually hate all fake sugar but 3 months removed from any candy or sugar I thought I might give it a try.

Our destination for the day was The Mall of America in Minneapolis. I had never been here and I remember years ago people used to plan whole weekend trips around going here for back to school shopping or just spending time at the mall. We had just figured we didnt have a lot of time to actually see the city and we are just here for tomorrow morning’s tickets to Paisley Park to see the home/studio of Prince before jetting home.. so Mall of America sounded like a fun afternoon for Norah.

They have an entire Nickelodeon theme park inside the mall
4 levels of shops, games, restaurants. 3 different parking garages
A brick and mortar Amazon store totally deserved to be photographed. ha We have come full circle.

I gave Norah some choices on what to do- Nickalodeon rides….arcade games… Fly Over America ride… She chose arcade games.

I was very disappointed that over half of the game machines were out of order. Literally over half, not an exaggeration. I’d say 30 games didn’t work. Also, we were there over an hour and all the signs talked about cleaning and CDC guidelines, etc. Not one machine was touched by anyone with cleaning supplies. ha It was a mess of a place. But you may think, “hey – this must just be an exception. Maybe it’s just an off day” You would be wrong. Let’s continue. ha

So, we couldnt find anything else Norah wanted to play, so we gave the card with credits still on it to another family and headed to Fly over America before they closed for the evening.

We stood in line to buy tickets 10 minutes, then got ushered into a series of 3 other lines, to finally get on this simulation ride where it is supposed to seem like you are flying over major landmarks in America. About 30 minutes, we finally get in and I hear a girl working say “are they supposed to be in row 3?” and another guy says “Row 3 is a last resort”

Hmmm…Ok…. we go in, we get seated and the gates in front of us drop and the ride starts forward. and then dies. We sit there in silence for 5 minutes. Everyone else’s seats (except Row 3 where we were) moves back to normal… but ours stays there and our gate stays lowered. Finally someone manually lifts the big heavy metal gate and rolls our set of seats back.

I tell Kegan “make sure when this starts again- if that gate doesnt drop, you pull your legs up- make sure Norah does too!” I can just see some malfunctioning ride in a mall run by 17 year olds chopping off someone’s legs. And their previous comments about “row 3 is a last resort” didnt have me feeling good.

Someone finally comes by and says “you can either stay for the next show and see both America and Hawaii or we can give you a refund.” (Never asks us to get up or leave or explains any issues… ha) So we quickly said “refund please!” and headed to the exit.

So…. with $61 back in hand (a ridiculous price for a ride, by the way) I told Norah she could use it to buy something else since we couldn’t do that and she was a little bummed. So, she went in a little toy shop and was looking around for something to buy. The shelf fell off the wall when we were standing there, by the way. haha This place is literally falling apart.

So, I started searching- there has to be a better toy store in this whole mall- and I’m reading off a list of stores and Build-A-Bear is mentioned. Immediately- THIS is the store we need to go to! ha I was surprised, she has never been into dolls or really that into stuffed animals and I thought we were through this phase….but apparently not!

She picked out Isabelle from Animal Crossing. She got to watch her get stuffed, then she added cotton candy scent, talking, a heart inside the body and got her a pair of boots. She has been thrilled with this “bear” ever since. Guess we should have taken her to Build A Bear sooner. Who knew?

We hurried up to Shake Shack on the 3rd floor for a quick dinner. It was 6:45 and the malls closes at 7 on Sundays. We got our food and inhaled it in about 4 minutes to get over to our reserved Escape room time!

This was by far, the coolest and most techy escape room we’ve ever done. Norah is obsessed with these now and any time she sees one, she’s all about it. We did the Mission to Mars where everything was electronic, screens, an escape pod, we had to restore Oxygen, Communication and Power before we could lift off of Mars and return to Earth. We escaped in 45 minutes (out of 60) but we did get 4 hints from the guy outside the room. 3 of them were things we were already working on but weren’t working right, like we were supposed to move a laser point with a joystick, but it didn’t move… but 1 was a legit hint we would have been stuck on a lot longer.

After the Escape room, it was 8:15p or so, so we headed out to our hotel near Paisley Park for our tour the next morning.

My overall thoughts on Mall of America – I’m sure it was amazing in its heyday… but now its just a rundown version of its old self. Needing a lot of maintenance and upkeep that no one is willing to do because its a for-profit business and I’m sure like all malls in the country, they aren’t seeing the patronage of 25 years ago. I’m sure eventually it will go the way of the dinosaur, too and we’re just slowly watching it get there. It was disappointing. But… maybe it is a good symbol for America. Great plans and big ideas, executed poorly to maximize profits to the rich while doing just the minimum to keep them above breaking safety laws. ha Yeah. It’s actually very fitting come to think of it!

Day 25 – FINAL DAY

We booked a 9:25am tour at Paisley Park to see the home/recording studio and general weirdness of Prince. Kegan loves Prince and specifically asked if we could go by Paisley Park on the road trip. haha So… here we are.

I’d love to show you a lot more photos, but they legit take your phone, make you shut it off, lock it in a sleeve and give it back to you- then they wand you to make sure you don’t have any other electronics. Like- legit odd. So, the inside looks a lot like the outside. White- tall- 80s modern… I was disappointed that the tour only showed one main atrium area with a couple offshoot areas, Studio A, then a dance studio room converted into a shrine to Purple Rain, then a room converted to hold all of his custom shoes- which seemed to be what most people were there for. Then, we were led on into a stage area and lounge club. All areas that anyone public could have gone to anyway if they were a music club member or saw a show here. There was no private quarters or anything that felt like it wasn’t just a commercialized reason to get people to come give their money. I was totally disappointed in the lack of information given about his music or his lifestyle. Everything was very “Prince was awesome” but no info on why he was awesome… or any specific songs recorded in a certain space…no oddities given… which you know there are TONS of weirdo comments that could be made about anything to do with him. There are tons of stories out there already that could have been told- a couple I’m aware of. Kevin Smith- famous director for Clerks/Mallrats/Chasing Amy, etc… he was asked by Prince to make a documentary about his life. He spent a good year making this, editing, etc… sends the final cut to Prince for review.. and his team says basically “ok. thanks. send us everything you did, all the film, etc. Here’s your check.” Prince never wanted to release it. He just wanted to see the documentary and have it for himself! ha. There are tons of stories about calling in his personal chef at 2am, asking them to have a 5 course meal ready for 20 people by 5am. Dave Chappelle’s Chappelle Show has an interview with Charlie Murphy (Eddie Murphy’s brother) about back in the 80s meeting Prince and his crew at a club and getting invited back to Paisley Park to play basketball. Charlie Murphy says they changed into basketball clothes and Prince and the Revolution came out on the court still wearing all their over-the-top get up and heels from the club. ha Then after Prince BEAT them at basketball, he made them all pancakes. haha I have no doubt every bit of this story is true.

The tour just felt generic, I guess. Or like they were embarrassed of his eccentricity to the point that they just didn’t talk about any of it. That’s what made him HIM. I don’t think he would have approved if he were alive. They played a clip of “unreleased” music that was EXCLUSIVE *eyeroll* that literally was playing on the Sirius Prince Radio channel when we got back in the car.

They did give us our phones back right at the end in the studio/stage area so I snapped a few things.

Kegan tried to buy some vinyl in their gift shop, but they didn’t have either of the two albums he wanted. So, with our tour over, we set the GPS for home- a 9.5 hour drive from here- with one last stop on the way- The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota!

Tons of history about Spam and how people eat it in other countries. How it fed the troops in World War II…very well done free museum.

We were really dropping in to hopefully grab weird random Spam flavors like Jalapeño… or Pumpkin Spice (supposedly that was a real thing! ha) or even just the Portuguese sausage or asian Spam sold elsewhere…..

Nope. Not a single fun Spam can to be had. Highly disappointing.

We did still end up with a flat of Spam in Hickory Smoked, Regular, 25% less sodium and 1 can of turkey Spam to try.
And I bought this comfy looking thin Spam hoodie. its fun ha

So… that was our last stop of any importance! We left there around 1:30pm and got back home around midnight.

The cats were very happy to see us. We had a house-sitter that watched them and gathered chicken eggs and kept them watered.. but they were still very happy we were home.

We had originally planned to have an extra 5 days on this trip, but had to cut it short when I learned Norah had 4-H project turn in on Wednesday this week and not Saturday. Oops.

So I had to cut off all of the Iowa and Illinois stops. We are still hoping to go back to Mason, Iowa and do the last 4-5 days sometime soon, but Norah starts school Aug 9th again, we have a fall break trip to New York City booked for October. We are going to Florida for a week in November, looking like Spain for Spring Break or Christmas Break – still up in the air. Lots of fun travel on the horizon. We’ll figure out some time to get it done!

Thanks for following along our adventures! I love that people tell me they enjoy reading this. It’s such a good record of everything we do and see for our family to look back on, but I love seeing anyone else enjoy it, too!

Until next trip!

Day 23 – Badlands to Sioux City, South Dakota

Today we had to leave for the airport early – by 6:30am! (We are not early risers by nature, if you can’t tell! ha) It was a quick easy drive to a small airport. 7 gates. ha Before we even got to Starbucks from the airport, my mother was already at her gate.

Norah couldn’t hack it that early. haha

We got our coffee and headed out East towards Badlands National Park. But about 50 miles before a town called Wall, these signs start popping up in all directions. In fact, we saw the first one a couple days ago along the road in Wyoming. Wall drug- famous for their FREE ice water and 5 cent coffee. They have been advertising on the roadways since 1931 when they opened in the middle of the great depression. The owner dug a well that gave ice cold water… and road weary travelers started dropping in for refreshment. The business grew into a must stop destination for the town of 800 residents…with over 2 million people stopping in a year for their free ice water 🙂

We arrived to Wall Drug about 10 minutes before they opened and the parking lots were already full and people were lined up outside the doors. ha

It’s just a bunch of small knick-knack stores with a drug store on one end and a cafe. A few quirky carved out characters to get your photo with. But…if you go all the way through to the backyard, you’ll find some fun. And your free ice water you were promised 🙂

So, after a fun little stop there, we headed into the Badlands. Thusly named by early Native Americans here because of its lack of water and hard to navigate terrain. It was bad land.

This, by the way, made our 10th National Park this trip! Quite a number for one roadtrip!

The Badlands is basically just a drive through about 20 miles of this scenery. There are a couple spots where you can walk out onto the rocks. A couple other short trails out in between some rock… but mostly just viewpoints and Prairie dog towns for viewing the landscape.

A bighorn sheep was holding up traffic for a good bit eating that good grass right beside the road.

We were driving the Badlands “backwards” coming in from the West, so we visited the visitor’s center last so we could learn more about the area and get Norah’s National Park Passport Book stamped. It’s a really cute book for kids (or adults really!) to document when you visited, what you saw, what you liked best, wildlife you saw, etc… and each park has a stamp available at the visitor center for you to get your book stamped, like a passport stamp. Norah really liked collecting the stamps. Hoping we can add to it over the years and she’ll have a great memory book of trips to various National Parks. Doubt we’ll hit them all- there are 63 parks, some in remote Alaska or the Channel Islands or American Samoa.. haha but never say never!

This skull was found in the badlands. Its of a Titanothere. I had never heard of such a thing. It was basically a two-horned rhino looking animal- but has no living relatives today.
Also, this creepy pig bear thing. ha No thanks on meeting this on the trail. This was an Archeotherium. A giant 5 foot-to the shoulders- pig.
But for every scary creepy animal they’ve reconstructed, there are these finds. This is a Messohippus. A prehistoric tiny horse. The precurser to our modern horse- yet just the size of a small dog. Now I want one as a pet.
I didn’t know owls burrowed in prairie dog holes… and I figured you guys might not either. So now you know! ha So strange.

After our exit from the park, while trying to walk out into prairie dog towns and see one up close, we find this private farm with a giant prairie dog statue out front where you can actually feed them, because they are like pets- not protected in the national park. It was busy, so we didn’t stop. Norah still hasn’t forgiven us. ha

Our last couple stops in this area were at the Minute man Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center and then on out to the Delta-9 Missile Silo launch site.

This visitor center is set up to memorialize our Cold War defense system- the Minuteman II Missiles that were buried underground in this area as our national defense system against Russian nuclear attack.

You can see the various naming convention of the different launch command centers underground. The green area had Alpha 1, Bravo 1, Charlie 1, Delta 1. A video of old footage said that November 1 in the red section had the best cook- he used to bake the guys homemade bread…so everyone wanted a November 1 assignment haha. Funny bit a humor to balance the very seriousness of their duties at the time.

Delta 1 is the only area that still exists and the silo still has a fake warhead in the shute ready to be deployed. They give scheduled guided tours to the Delta 1 command center underground where 2 men would have sat ready with keys and codes awaiting a command code to send the world into mutual destruction. The tours were booked out until September, so that will have to happen at another off-season non-Covid point. But we did go out to the Delta 9 launch site a few miles away to see the actual mission silo.

These Minuteman II missiles had 80 times the payload of the bombs we dropped on Japan. Imagine the impact-1-2 million people dead with each blast and we had hundreds of these ready to go. Russian had more than we did! Imagine a launch across the Eastern seaboard. 150 million dead or so? Scary, scary stuff.

My favorite artwork from the bunkers haha
Just to show the obsession with all things atomic at the end of World War II. You really don’t want me to get going on how we never needed to nuke Japan once, let alone twice to end the war. That it was just a bunch of boys who wanted to demonstrate power and test their new weapons… its complicated and I don’t have enough energy today, so you are spared that soapbox 🙂
A chart explaining the chain of command and multiple steps needed to actually launch a missile. Luckily, it never came to that.

After taking in the exhibits at the visitor center, we drove the 15 miles out to the Delta-9 Missile silo

At first, you think- why South Dakota? But seeing this graphic depiction of the trajectory to Moscow…it all makes a lot more sense now. In 30 minutes, any of these rockets would have reached Moscow.
There is a glass top over the silo now so you can see now inside to how massive these rockets were.
The retractable cover that would have ran back along the track to allow the launch of the missile, if fired.

So, after confronting just how close we were to killing ourselves off for about 30 years there… we drove on towards Minnesota. Along the way we passed a billboard saying “Feed Otis Popcorn” – and Otis was a camel. Well, Norah saw it… and she REALLY wanted to feed Otis popcorn. haha Good marketing, folks. So… that’s how we came to stop in at 1880 town along the interstate.

Kegan and I were not overly thrilled to be going here, but we didnt have a ton planned- they had bathrooms and Norah seemed to be genuinely excited about feeding a camel. ha Even less excited to learn they charge almost $20 a person for the pleasure of visiting their town! But… all in all, we were really glad we stopped! They had some really neat items and a huge collection of antiques I hadnt seen before…. so I changed my tune. Now, I say it’s definitely worth a stop!

The desk of the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore unassumingly sitting in a round barn. ha
A prop from Dances with Wolves that was used in scenes when his horse was shot. Apparently, the people who own this had Buck, one of the horses that was used to film the movie and there was a ridiculous amount of letters and paperwork proving that “Cisco” who was famous at the time as the stunt horse, was actually all scenes of Kevin Costner riding Buck, their horse. *eyeroll* – so ignore the Dances with Wolves stuff if you go. ha Otherwise, cool stuff.
Norah immediately recognized the wolf Two Socks here from the movie as well. We had her watch it before our trip to give her a little more historical context about the West.
The first building you enter is a two story museum in an actual round barn with a hay loft. It was very creaky and squeaky…not sure its been inspected to hold the weight it holds and all the tourists.. but no collapse while we were there 🙂
They have moved a ton of old buildings to the site. Most of which are in better condition than other frontier type towns we’ve seen with this similar theme of preserving the feel of an old frontier town.
Every building had fantastic antiques and items in great shape. I was impressed with the types of things displayed.
This was really the highlight for me. A full REAL saloon building. Still with the stage area, the upper balcony, the upstairs brothel rooms still set up and furnished as they would have been. Someone working behind the bar downstairs. It felt like you stepped right into 1880 and you could play a hand of poker or sit upstairs if you were a lady along the wall and watch the commotion below. I have never seen a real building from the time still look like it was ready to open for business in a few hours! It was very cool.

We finally got back around to Otis…but he was just inside a fence, chilling… no one around and no popcorn to be seen. And he wasn’t interested in us. ha So…Norah did not get to feed a camel popcorn, but she saw him and she seemed happy enough.

Walking back to where Otis was, we saw Longhorn cattle up close. Closest we had ever been. Those horns are MASSIVE.

An old bank complete with old teller window
Old fire engine
Old firehouse. Norah got to ring the bell for the whole town to hear.

We got back on the interstate and headed East again, passed this guy walking his pet dinosaur along the road.

That brought us to the Dignity statue at a rest area overlooking the Missouri river- at the location where Lewis and Clark crossed out into the territory on their expedition.

This spot along I-90 near Chamberlain, South Dakota was also the spot where Lewis and Clarke set up camp before crossing the Missouri River into uncharted territory with the Corp of Discovery in 1803. It makes sense- the entire eastern side of the hillside slowly slopes down to the river like one giant boat ramp.. so I can see how this seemed to be a good spot.

There was a large gallery of items explaining some of the crew and goods the exhibition used…there was even a 55 foot keelboat like the 3 the group used for supplies… but of course looking at my camera role, the only photo I took was of the stuffed prairie dogs that they discovered! haha

Random giant pheasant

We trucked on across South Dakota, eventually arriving at the famed Corn palace in Mitchell, SD.

Every year, the town of Mitchell creates all new murals out of corn cobs for display. They have been doing this for over 100 years, attracting visitors to their town. It’s the world’s ONLY corn palace. ha

Showing how they create the murals. Sketch them out, mark the color for each area. Cut corn cobs in half and put them in!

Last stop of interest today along the road was the Porter sculpture park near Montrose. I thought it looked interesting, but after visiting and talking to the strange man who designed all of this- I now call it a must stop.

He said he works on the sculptures during the winters and then mans the booth and runs the RV campground in the summers. He said it sure beats sheep herding. ha

He said this had an “Indiana Jones vibe”- some reviews online said it had a satanic theme and they wouldn’t visit… but after seeing and talking to the guy- he’s just weird. He’s not a devil worshipper. Definitely Indiana Jones seems more accurate, no matter how weird it may seem. ha
He made little metal bats that hung upside down inside the bull.
A very watchful eye up in a corner inside, too.

All in all, a great little walking path with tons of poems to accompany his many sculptures. We enjoyed seeing them as well as our conversations with the artist himself.

Dinner was just a roadside BBQ joint right up the road from our hotel. Unassuming and we didn’t have high hopes- but they had OUT OF THIS WORLD smoked chicken wings. Couldn’t recommend them more!

One more post for the last two days coming up – Minneapolis to home- coming soon! 🙂

Day 22- Devil’s Tower, Deadwood and Rapid City, South Dakota

Our first order of business today was a two hour drive away from Rapid City to hit Devil’s tower National Monument and then backtrack through towns such as Spearfish, Sturgis and Deadwood.

Native American Legend of the Kiowa and Lakota tribes of the area say that one day a group of girls were playing when their brother turned into a giant bear and chased them. The girls climbed onto a big rock and fell to their knees, praying for the great spirit to save them. The Great Spirit heard them and made the giant rock rise up so that the giant bear could not climb the sides. The deep ridges in the side are the bear’s claws from trying to climb the steep sides. The rock continued to grow until it reached the heavens and the girls all became the stars in the Pleiades constellation (also known as the 7 sisters.)

The rock formation is so HUGE. Its actually a large magma pocket-or igneous intrusion- that cooled so slowly, the magma formed hexagonal sided joints (basalt has a hexagonal crystal structure) in huge columns and then the area weathered around it due to time and erosion, but the magma weathers slower, leaving this giant tower of rock jutting out of the ground.
The rocks at the base show all the pieces of the columns that have already fallen
We could barely spot one speck of a guy up there climbing. He had a while to go. ha

Also, inside the park, we saw our first prairie dog town. They were adorable little things. So playful. One popped out of a hole with his arms straight up in the air and yelled “MEEP!” and we were sad we didn’t get that on video. ha

Fat Gus prairie dog

We exited the park…and boy were we glad we got there when we did. We had no trouble parking at Devil’s Tower or stopping along the road for prairie dog watching, but when we left, there was a line a mile long waiting to get into the park. We were thankful we were slightly earlier birds than the rest of the folks today!

Our next site was the Aladdin Coal Tipple. A coal tipple is a device used to sort different sized coal chunks into railroad cars. This is one of the last standing structures of its kind in the American West…and as you can see, it’s falling down and has been re-supported to preserve it a bit longer.

We drove on to Belle Fourche. The geographic center of the United States!… except its not. ha If you read the sign out front of the visitor center it actually says that the point is 20 miles away. ha BUT… the monument is here, so we went and photographed it. 🙂

This brought us driving through Sturgis- luckily the giant bike rally that brings in almost a million people doesn’t happen for 2-3 more weeks. It’s in August. I can’t imagine what a congested mess everything will be adding 800,000+ bikes to this summer traffic in this area. ha No thanks!

Traffic hasn’t affected us much, to be honest. Parking lots are full, but we are able to find a spot of someone leaving almost every time… hotels are full, but no issues with our rooms being available or parking in the hotel lots. Restaurants are full, but reservations have been our saving grace. Only a couple nights when we didn’t plan ahead have we ended up with Wendys 🙂 Ordering ahead for pickup through apps online has been a game changer, as well.

Driving back towards Rapid City brought us just outside of Deadwood, South Dakota. Which, if you’ve ever had HBO, I hope you’ve watched the series Deadwood. It’s such a good old western series. With a ton of cursing. ha If that isn’t your thing- please ignore my advice to watch it. ha

Our first stop was at the Tatanka-Story of Bison visitor center. This site has a unique history. Kevin Costner built it. Apparently, he loves the Black Hills. He wanted to make a movie about the people and the west of this area. Couldn’t hardly get funding. That movie he made and directed – Dances With Wolves – went on to win multiple awards and over 400 million at the box office. Smash hit. and even though it was made in 1990, I bet almost everyone reading this watched that movie at least once. It was iconic. Fast forward a few years and Kevin Costner has another big plan- he wants to create a huge hotel outside of Deadwood with a train that will run in to it and bring tons of tourists… he sees this as a destination spot for city folks. But no investors are seeing his vision. After years, he was unable to get anyone to see his vision… but it sounded like (from a video at the center) that the hillside he envisioned for the project had already been cut down and leveled…and he felt like instead of ruining the land and leaving it for someone else or making it easy for a another cheap chain business to plop something down there and tarnish the area, he decided to create a visitor center to tell the story of Lakota people and their relationship with bison historically and give a place to showcase these giant bronze bison statues that he had commissioned for an art installation around his hotel.

He said it was something you do to make things right. You don’t cover up your mess or pass it on for your children to deal with. So I get the feeling this small museum was his way of paying back for the damage to the land with nothing to show for it.

We watched a 20 minute video about it, then a person of Lakota heritage showed us around the items in the small museum section, then we proceeded out back to see the sculptures placed here.

The statues are of a “bison jump”- a Native American hunting technique where they would drive a herd of bison towards a drop off to kill them as they fell below.

Once we left there, we headed into Deadwood proper.

Our first stop was lunch at Jacob’s Brewhouse and Grocer
We parked at the restaurant area in a pay lot and began our walk through town.

Deadwood quickly developed overnight when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. A river running right through the area was loaded with gold and a ton of dead trees- hence “Deadwood”. It sprang up overnight, literally, with outlaws, gambling, prostitution and all the other good things that go along with men making money for the first time in their lives.

One of these men in the town was Wild Bill Hickok- a famous wild west character of his time, famous for gunfights, sheriff duels, and other probably exaggerated and made up stories that the eastern city folks just LOVED to eat up in the dime novels and newspaper articles. He had only been in town a couple weeks when he was shot by Jack McCall, a day after Wild Bill beat him at poker and then gave him a bit of his money back and told him to go get something to eat. That apparently was condescending and the next day, Jack McCall returned to the saloon and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head and tried to flee town. Wild Bill died instantly, holding 2 black Aces and 2 black 8s- forever known as “the dead man’s hand”.

As you can see in the two pictures above, being that Deadwood’s claim to historic fame is the shooting of Wild Bill, there is a bit of a rivalry and tourism dollars to be made from anything about his death. One saloon has the same name – The No. 10 Saloon- but is in a totally different building and other side of the street from the real No. 10 of the time but they claim to have the real chair he was sitting in when he was shot. The second one says its the REAL site where Wild Bill was shot-which is true geographically, but the truth is everything in the town burned to the ground 3 years after he was shot… so everything on Main Street is new and the entire street was built up a level higher to protect against flooding issues and this particular saloon didn’t even open until 2013 in an empty building. So, take your pick of which tourist trap you’re most interested in..or see them both! 🙂
Pam’s Purple Door Brothel that operated all the way up to 1980! ha Lots of men with needs in Deadwood apparently!
The Bullock Hotel. Seth Bullock was the famous sherriff of Deadwood who arrived just a couple days after the shooting of Wild Bill and was known for his hard approach and piercing eyes, but never having killed anyone. He originally opened a hardware store with another famous Deadwood resident, Solomon “Sol” Starr who ended up being the town mayor for years, but after the fires in 1879, they didn’t rebuild the hardware, they built a fancy hotel -the first with steam heat and indoor bathrooms on every floor.
The Franklin Hotel was opened in 1903 with private bathrooms in most of the rooms- a novelty for the time! But closed during the Great Depression. It was private housing apartments up until gaming was legalized in Deadwood again in 1989… and it was renovated around 2007 to former glory. Would seem a lot older without this giant Suburban parked in front of it illegally. lol
Mr Wu’s! ha If you’ve seen the series, you know Wu-one of the main characters who was a Chinese Immigrant. We stopped in and played their slot machines for a bit. Lost miserably, of course.
Nice gesture to offer free popcorn for their players! ha
Norah saw ax throwing and just HAD to do it. She actually stuck 1 out of the 10 she got to throw.

After walking all of Deadwood up and down both sides of main street, we headed back to Rapid City. We finished earlier than I had planned in Deadwood because I had been looking forward to a Stagecoach ride through the streets that you could purchase. I had the location written down and the times that the coach ran. I thought it would be a totally cool experience to see how people would have ridden around before cars. I found the booth and the lady said they that they weren’t running the Stagecoach this season, too many people, too crowded. Never heard of a business that cancelled a money-making service because it was too popular. ha So that was disappointing.

It thunder stormed pretty heavily for a couple hours on our way to town and so we just went to the hotel for an hour or so until it quit, then we headed downtown.

Downtown Rapid City they have a “walk of presidents” with bronze sculptures of each president through Barrack Obama. No Donald Trump statue yet that we could find. I figure that’s better anyway right now as polarizing as that still is. We did see a mini van making laps up and down the main drag with a “F*** Biden and F** You for Voting for Him” giant flag yelling at people. His 15 year old minivan really gave me the vibe he was knocking life out of the park. *sarcasm*

Rapid City has a piece of the Berlin wall and a tank trap from the area of Checkpoint Charlie which we visited a couple years ago!

Downtown amongst all the restaurants and buildings is a narrow alley dubbed Art alley full of grafitti artwork.

Once we finished our president’s walk and exploring, we went to our reservations at Talley’s Silver Spoon, an old diner that it now run by a very good chef turning out some excellent food.

The Mushrooms D’Jour. A lot like Kegan’s mushrooms he makes at home, but add a swirl of basalmic vinegar to the top and put them over fresh toasted sourdough smeared with goat cheese. They were great and it was the only thing the entire trip Kegan TRULY enjoyed eating.
Norah got a Reuben that she ate one bite of and ate all of the fries. ha
Beef Tartar with pickled Daikon radish, a green chile and chili oil light sauce
A Salad I ordered with asparagus, poached egg, smoked ham, pickled onion, mustard seed and a cheese crouton.
Kegan’s Deer Loin meal. He said it was very good.
Buffalo Marsala Pasta my mother ordered. I tasted a couple pieces of the buffalo meat and it was incredibly tender. Very good all around meal.

Tomorrow morning, we drop her at the airport way too early in the morning and head to the Badlands for the last couple days of our trip!

Day 21 – Cheyenne, WY to Rapid City, South Dakota

We started out at the earliest museum left to see that we didn’t squeeze in yesterday- the Wyoming State Museum. It was a free museum and had some neat displays and history.

Petrified/Fossilized soft shell turtle shell. Impressive.
Very old-timey fire alarm. Literally a guy banging cymbals together! ha
Remember that vintage yellow bus I photographed in the parking lot of Yellowstone? Well, here is what came before that! So.Cool.

After that smaller museum, we went to the Botanical Gardens and the Paul Smith Children’s Village attached.

Inside the actual Botanical gardens was pretty underwhelming. It was just a few fruit, tropical trees, palms… I don’t know what I was expecting…but I cant say I’d recommend a trip for anyone else. The greenhouse areas looked huge, but only a small portion was actually open to the public.

Now it was time to leave Cheyenne heading towards South Dakota.

First town on our way was a little old town called Chugwater that just happens to have Wyoming’s oldest operating soda fountain.

Another business in Chugwater is Chugwater Chili. The soda fountain sold all their products, so we purchased some green chili rub, a chili seasoning, some Beef sticks…beef sticks were good!

Our next stop was back up near Laramie at another Oregon Trail site.

A really nice map showing the Oregon Trail from the Wyoming State Museum this morning.
Another map showing lots of different pioneer trails and almost all of them cross at Ft. Laramie. (The red is the Oregon Trail)

We sought out the Register Cliff, a large rock outcropping that wagon leaders used to use as a wind block and camping site on the trail. Many, many travelers carved their names or their family names into the soft limestone face.

It was hard to find the old names- almost every name carved on the cliff was from 1950 on forward. Just a lot of graffiti overtop of history. I mean, it’s all history….but I don’t really care about some guy in the 1960’s driving out here with his girlfriend and carving their names ha The sign said there used to be petroglyphs and Indian images and names, but basically they had all been lost to graffiti.

Just down the road is a site where you can still see the deep ruts the wagons made near a river from such heavy usage.

We came to a T in the highway at Hartville, Wyoming which claimed to be Wyoming’s oldest town. We just passed through.

As we came into South Dakota, the landscape got much greener and prettier. We were finally back to the type of land that I would live on again! ha Wyoming is beautiful and expansive, but I feel like if you got dropped in the middle of it with no town you could die. At least here, grass, rivers, trees….this feels hospitable 🙂

We were headed to the Mt. Rushmore area, but passing right by this amazing mammoth dig site, we stopped in to see what a watering hole full of over 60 mammoths looked like!

The Mammoth Site is still a private owned, in ground research and study center with actual scientists still excavating bones. They have placed a building over the sinkhole where these mammoth bones are found.

Driving on north, we entered the Black Hills National Forest area.

a random bicycle “sculpture” at a trailer park ha

We hit the Crazy Horse Memorial first. It’s an unfinished rock sculpture with a very interesting story I wasn’t aware of. He is the work of one man’s vision- who lived at the site and worked on the carving for half of his life, which has now been handed down to his children to complete the work. Government money has been offered many times to complete the site… but the sculptor didn’t trust the government to actually carry out the work correctly. (Kind of fitting for a Native American monument) The first part of the visit was a movie about the family and the guy that sculpted and planned it out-Korczak Ziolkowski. It was great footage and history to see. I just always assumed it wasn’t finished due to funding…or disagreements on who or how to do it…but now seeing the size and knowing its one family completing it over generations- it makes sense. Also-for scale- all of the faces of Mount Rushmore would fit inside Crazy’s Horse’s face alone. It’s massive.

A small sculpture of what the monument will look like when complete
They had these golden gates on the property, too- also done by the same sculptor. There were dinosaurs and other random animals in them. It felt very whimsical.

We continued our drive through the pretty Black Hills approaching Mt. Rushmore, which was a zoo as expected. But it’s something you just have to see if you never have…

At 6:30pm, there were still this many people just walking out to the lookout spots.

Our last stop we squeezed in just before our dinner reservations was an exact replica of the Borgund Stave Norwegian church. The original was built in the 1100s and is the best preserved wooden stave church in Scandinavia. So, for a replica to exist in the hills of South Dakota-I wanted to see it! I still haven’t seen the original in Norway, but it’s on my list too 🙂

Very pretty grounds, amazing building. Super cool.

Our last stop was at the Dakotah Steakhouse for dinner.

They had an AMAZING metal bison sculpture out front that just got more amazing the longer you look at it.
Good thing I reserved this last week!

All in all, a good day, a lot of ground covered. Tomorrow we’ll explore around South Dakota including Deadwood!

Day 20 – Casper, Laramie and Cheyenne, WY

We headed out of Casper first thing today towards Independence Rock. A prominent marker from the Oregon Trail days. Over 500,000 people followed this eventually worn path westward over 15-20 years as part of our territorial westward expansion. This rock got its name because wagon groups would leave Missouri in the early spring, they would hope to reach this rock by Independence Day so that they could make it over the mountain passes before the snowfalls began in the fall.

There are lots of names carved into the rock- and plaques commemorating some of the first missionaries or pioneers that crossed and blazed the trail that so many would follow.

We passed through Sinclair, Wyoming (like Sinclair gas stations with the green dinosaur mascot) and their oil refinery was basically the extent of the town.

Our next town was a cute little old town called Medicine Bow. Medicine Bow is a tiny little town of 284 people with a big history. It largely exists because the first transcontinental railroad ran through this area in the 1860s. In the 1890’s they found a very complete dinosaur skeleton of “Dippy” here. It’s currently in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Medicine Bow, though, is most famous perhaps for being the setting of the novel The Virginian by Owen Wister, which was the first REAL novel ever written about the west outside of dime novel stories. Written in 1902, it came before any Zane Gray or Louis L’Amour novels and it has been remade into a Broadway play, silent film, Gary Cooper Film, Bill Pullman film…and even a tv series recently.

The local hotel named after the novel, finished in 1911. It was the largest hotel between Denver and Salt Lake City when it was completed. It’s still a working hotel. Only the suites have private bathrooms- the Shiloh Saloon downstairs still has bullet holes in places from a past shootout. No telephones or televisions in the room.

The only real thing the explore right there was the Medicine Bow Museum, so we headed inside.

This board of all the local cattle brands of the area was pretty cool.
An old icebox in the museum
The museum curator there told us that this was for planes to land at night. When the temperature dropped to a certain level, it would fire the flame and act as landing beacons.
Hunting cabin that belonged to Owen Wister from near Cody that was relocated to Medicine Bow.
They had an old railroad caboose you could explore, too.

Just outside of Medicine Bow we came upon Como Bluff and Fossil Cabin.

This fossil cabin was made as a tourist attraction to the area- completely out of dinosaur bones!! Which does make it “the oldest building in the world” as it touts. haha
They are in the process of moving the fossil cabin to the Medicine Bow Museum area we had just left. The lady there told us it would be fenced off and we wouldn’t be able to go up to it… but when we got there no one was there but they had a big flatbed trailer on site and the fence opened, so we walked in anyway. 🙂

We continued on down the road into Laramie and ate at O’Dwyer’s Irish Pub. It was OK food but had a cool rotunda they served food in.

On down the highway, we passed this odd giant Lincoln Head. It was made to commemorate the Lincoln Highway but it just looks like Christopher Pike stuck in his futuristic wheelchair from the original Star Trek episode The Menagerie. ha

Just a couple miles from there is the Tree in the Rock. A famous landmark since the 1860s. As they were planning and laying out the transcontinental railroad in the area, they found this tree- a limber pine- “growing out of a rock” and decided to route the railroad around it…as trees don’t really grow in this area. Really, there are none around for miles, which I didn’t even notice until the sign at the tree talked about it.

It was said that as the train engineers would pass by, they would pour some water on the tree to give it a drink, helping it survive.
Photo from the Cheyenne Railway Museum

Our last little stop off along the way was to see the Ames Pyramid, now looking pretty lonely in the middle of nowhere, but it has quite a history. You see, the Ames brothers were pretty much opportunistic jerks.

In gold rush times, they went to California with a wagon load of shovels and made their fortune on selling overpriced tools to 49ers seeking gold. Then, they used that money to buy railroad contracts to lay railroad track… established themselves as railroad barons… and then proceeded to defraud taxpayers out of 50 million dollars by inflating costs and services so extensively that it became a national scandal because- I forgot to mention- Oakes Ames was a state representative and could approve the railroad budgets and contracts. The scandal was known as the Credit Mobilier Scandal and was the biggest national news of the time in the 1870s. Although, not much has changed for white collar and financial crime from then to now- their punishment for this embezzlement and deceit? Public censure. ha

So….anyway- the pyramid. Right after the scandal unfolded, both of the brothers ended up dying. Ten years or so after their deaths and the scandal was a distant memory, the Union Pacific railroad tried to restore some honor to their overlords. They constructed this pyramid along the railway at the highest point of the transcontinental railroad.. and at a point they would stop to change engines- so it gave the passengers something to go walk and do while the engine maintenance occurred.

Then the railroad rerouted. Then the highway rerouted… and now, its just a dirt /gravel path back to this giant pink Sherman granite pyramid in honor of two slimy old “businessmen” who got caught thinking they were smarter than everyone else. Rings a few bells for a some folks I know today. ha

Most of the rest of our drive was just the rolling hills of Wyoming all the way to Cheyenne.

We arrived to Cheyenne earlier than we expected, so we started trying to fit in the museums that I had thought we might miss.

Cheyenne is preparing for Frontier Days- a famous summer festival gathering and rodeo that has been going for 125 years! Coming up July 24th I think I read.

The first museum was the Nelson Museum of the West and another friend of mine was just here last week and posted online it was a “can’t miss” so we didn’t! The lady working was normally the cleaning lady she said, but she made my day because she flat out asked my mother if she was 60 yet for the senior discount and ruined her day. hahaha (kidding. but she wasn’t happy about it)

A $250,000 set of silver rodeo gear.
Lots of Indian beadwork
A trophy room of African animals? Weird flex, but ok.

Next museum. in town- the Frontier Day’s Rodeo Museum

This basically just told the history of Frontier Days and the rodeo. They had exhibits highlighting Lane Frost- one of the best bull riders of all time- who died tragically young on the arena floor at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo in 1989 after catching a bull horn to the ribcage and severing an artery.

There was an exhibit highlighting Chris Ledoux and his bareback bronco riding and his country music career. I believe Chris Ledoux grew up in the area and I know he rode at Frontier Days in the 1970s before winning the bareback national championship in 1976. Even if you don’t know Chris LeDoux, you know Garth Brooks – “A worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze, seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all” – Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)

Lots of old stagecoaches to explore from early frontier pioneer to the latest in style and comfort leading right up the the automobile.

Last museum stop, with less than one hour before they closed (everything in town seemed to close at 5pm) was the Cheyenne Train Depot and Museum. I was surprisingly impressed with this one!

When we arrived to the museum it was 4:10 so she told us if we hurried upstairs, we could see the guys running the toy train. I was like “whatever…its a toy train”…but we went because Norah thought it sounded fun. Holy Moly! It was the KING of all toy trains. This thing took up the entire upstairs of a museum. Some guy built this all from scratch over 20 years. Scale models of toys, geographic features, cast train cars himself, made trees. It was MIND BLOWING.

The train conductors, making a rail switch with two trains, just like a real life changeover!

The guy had this thing built inside a trailer and he hauled it every time he moved. They crane lifted the sections in through the upper windows to get them inside the depot museum. Just unbelievable dedication and craftsmanship.

After the toy train blew my mind, we headed back to the beginning of the museum to actually see the history. It was a great display of Union Pacific memorabilia, dishes, information… but a lot of historical photos I liked from the Cheyenne area, too.

Cheyenne is 1870. Very sparsely populated.

After the museums had closed, Norah had her online Spanish class, so we dumped her and my mother at our hotel and Kegan and I went seeking fuel and alcohol. ha He was looking for a particular “Summer” pack of beer and we had an hour or so until dinner. We successfully found both.

For dinner, we had Durbar Indian and Nepalese Bistro. Really good Indian food. I had lamb tikka masala and some grilled tandoori meats, Norah had chicken tikka, Donna had dal mahkani and Kegan had Lamb Rogan Josh.. and we shared and tried some Nepalese momo- which are dumplings.

We drove back into a storm that looked scary to our Candlewood Suites in Cheyenne. Gross hotel. Not well cleaned, smelled like fried fish, rotting lettuce and stale cigarette smoke…someone else’s comb still in the bathroom, the pull out couch bed had hair and junk all over it under the cushions. Carpeted halls had carpet peeling up every few feet. Bleh…It may have been free, but it still was gross. I’m an idiot and apparently only booked a one bedroom for the night-so that stuck Norah and my mother on a sofa bed..and no other rooms available for the night. Good job, Erin.

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