Day Sixty Two: I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Has Gone: South Dakota (Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore)

Events of Saturday May 16th, blogged Sunday August 30th.

We awoke to a golden sunshiney morning and a campground full of hustle and bustle. Children frolicked, dogs scampered about, and a general feeling of fun and frivolity was in the air. As if all this wasn’t enough to lift my spirits, I had been told the night before that as part of their weekend celebration, the park was offering a FREE (yes, FREE) pancake and sausage breakfast! Winning!

The breakfast was held at the Game Lodge, which once served as the Summer White House under President Calvin Coolidge. They came to escape the bugs and crowds of downtown DC, along with the humid air that aggravated the President’s bronchitis, and Mrs. Coolidge would sit knit on the porch while her husband was out fishing for trout (the creek had been well stocked from a local hatchery prior to his arrival to ensure a plentiful catch).

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Even Silent Cal surely never enjoyed a feast as delectable as this (warning: some hyperbole may apply).

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The wait staff were primarily senior volunteers, and it was cool to talk with them and hear their experiences about living out of their RVs and moving from park to park to work seasonal jobs in exchange for a free place to set up camp.

After breakfast (Annie wasn’t allowed in, but rest assured I did sneak her out a sausage or two) . . .

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. . . we took a drive along the scenic Wildlife Loop, so named because most of the free ranging animals that call the park their home can be spotted from this road.

It was a perfect morning, and we saw all kinds of cool critters – including pronghorn antelope and my very first buffalo!

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Some members of the local animal population were hipper than others as to how this whole scene went down. The mules had sussed out that if they actually approached the cars they were fairly likely to get a handout and an ear scratch (or two). So they went car to car like furry panhandlers.

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The miscreants were so incorrigible and relentless they basically created a traffic jam in the middle of the park.

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Surprisingly, they never approached Marigold. Perhaps they feared the wrath of the Queen Mother of all Moochers lurking within . . .

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After the drive we decided to go for an afternoon hike along a three-mile trail through the prairie. I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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There were a few uphill climbs that taxed my woefully out of shape lungs, but I loved watching the insects hop out of the tall grasses, and there was an intoxicating air of solitude and tranquility that permeated the whole place.

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The views and scenery were incredible.

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Annie was feeling so wild and free she even went paddling with no provocation!

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As we returned to the parking lot post hike we encountered two older couples who were visiting from Chevy Chase MD. They were impressed to hear of our adventures, and one said that her (younger than me) son was on a cross-country road trip as well, but was only “roughing it” in cheap hotels. Amateur! Shortly after they left, another family came up with a son who was around 18. Somehow the conversation turned to ticks. He made a creepy chuckle and said he had a story about ticks he could tell me. His family adamantly objected to him telling it. I made a hasty exit.

Fresh on the heels of those successes we decided to make another foray to Mt. Rushmore. The good news . . .

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The bad news . . . no dogs allowed. At all. Anywhere. On basically a concrete plaza with nothing to harm. Jerkfaces.

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But the whole thing was really breathtaking and inspiring in a way I hadn’t anticipated. For five bucks I rented the audio tour that had tons of cool backstory about the folks who built it, the resistance from Native Americans, the funding troubles and delays, and even some tabloid gossip. Did you know the sculptor’s mother was a sister wife? True story! Or that when the Jefferson head was dedicated in 1936, the ceremony was broadcast over the radio, and a Native American dance tribute had been planned to help smooth over some of the feathers that blasting apart this sacred mountain had ruffled. It was cut by the network for time.

I got to walk around the base and climb a small portion of the 506 steps the blasters and carvers walked up every morning on their way to work. Gave me some great new perspectives.

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It was an excellent time and it was so much more than just the kitschy photo-op I expected. But my mission was far from complete. I NEEDED a picture of Annie with the ginormous heads.

On the drive in, I had noticed a few roadside vantage points where I thought I might be able to hop out and get off a couple of quick snaps.

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Motoring along, I spotted a possible pull out spot. It was duly festooned with all the usual folderol about “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME” Blahdeblah. I pulled in, pushed the brake, peeped over my shoulder, saw the view was pretty crap, and moved on.

A short distance down the road I spotted another pullout. “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME EVER IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE UPON PUNISHMENT BY HANGING”  or some such. I pulled in, depressed the brake, saw cop lights in my rearview, and pulled out. He followed me. With his lights going WOOP WOOP WOOP.

I stopped at the NEXT little pull out, and he parked and began to slowly approach Marigold-pressing his nose up against the back window and giving a close appraisal of all he surveyed. Once he finally made his way to the front and I handed him my documentation he demanded: “Who’s in the back?!” I told him no one was, that it was just Annie and I (and she was up front). Then he announced that the paperwork I had provided him wasn’t enough and he needed to see my rental agreement. Which, of course, was buried somewhere way in the back of the van and necessitated crawling over my unmade bed and digging through mounds of laundry and other treasures in an awkward crouch position while he tapped his pen. At long last the proper documentation was located. And then he asked me to get out and come with him to his car?! What the hell! In all my years of traffic stops (and they’ve been plentiful) I’ve NEVER had a cop make me get out of the car before. And I told him that. To which he responded: “There’s a first time for everything!”

So I go back to his car, and Annie hangs out the driver’s side of Marigold, BARKBARKing to raise the dead, totally displeased by the appearance of the po po. I spend the next THIRTY minutes in the cop car while he grills me about my whole adventure, questions why I keep saying “We” when I assured him there was no one else traveling with me, and then really amps up into overdrive when he notices that, while the VIN number on the van matches with the license plate on the van, it doesn’t match the one on my paperwork. I try to explain the utter ineptitude of the rental dude, but he has HQ do a thorough run down on all of it. Including running my driver’s license number, which initially returned with some “confusing information.”

Cop: “Do you go by any aliases?”

Me: “Errr… I was married briefly about ten years ago.”

Cop: “Could he have a restraining order against you?”


Finally all was resolved, and we were allowed to continue on with only a warning. Did he think I was smuggling immigrants or kidnapping small children and decided to take a quick detour to see the giant heads?? We will never know.

With that excitement behind us, we headed back to Custer State Park and grabbed some food and souvenirs at the general store. These guys are regulars there:

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Happy travelings to all . . .

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And to all a good night.

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Day Sixty One: The Fog Comes In on Little Cat Feet: Wyoming, South Dakota (Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore)

Events of Friday, May 15th, blogged Saturday July 22nd

Annie and I awoke to an astonishing site! The gargantuan Tower that was clearly visible from our campsite just the night before . . .

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What diabolical sorcery, what wicked intent, what fresh hell could this be?!

Oh, it was just the fog.

The mystery solved and the damp chill oppressively pervading the campsite, we quickly determined that the best course of action was to snuggle back into our sleeping bag and have a lazy morning. (We excel at those.)

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Eventually we rallied and made our way back to the Tower proper so that I could peruse the gift shop which had been closed the previous evening. It was rainy and foggy and a busload of Japanese tourists had just flooded the parking lot and I knew the serenity I had encountered there only hours before would have vanished.Timing, they say, really is everything.

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On the way out of the monument site we stopped to visit this super cool World Peace Sculpture entitled Wind Circle.  When viewed from the appropriate angle a circle of smoke, as though blown from a peace pipe, rises into the air to encircle the Tower within its protection. The artwork was created by internationally renowned Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto who has also placed works of art at several culturally significant areas of the world, including the Vatican and the Bodhi Tree in India. As an additional gesture of coming together, the pieces of granite at the base were brought in from the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial.

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Turning 180 degrees from my view of the Wind Circle I came face to furry face with yet another prairie dog town. The fog and drizzle made the cuties even more difficult to photograph than before, but they sure did have a lot to say.

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At last the time had come to saddle up and make our way Eastward Ho with the sky pressed down close upon us. Patches of fog drifted in and out. Pockets of rain passed around us. The day was gray and bleak.

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But there was beauty in the bleak. The Black Hills scenery looked like a rumpled green quilt stretched out before us.

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And Wyoming has interesting things scattered along its medians . . . like airplanes launching into the sky . . .

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And random teepees . . .

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You can see behind the sign that the Black Hills really do look black.

My first stop in South Dakota was an odd little art gallery that I had stumbled upon while researching my trip online.

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The Termesphere Gallery hosts the wok of American artist Dick Termes who paints incredibly detailed visions on spheres using a unique six-point perspective he created. Their style was inspired by his desire to paint the total picture. Termespheres are typically hung by small chains and rotated with electric ceiling motors so that as they turn, the complete world is revealed.  Although the image is painted on the outside of the convex sphere, the vantage point continuously changes. The rotation may also appear to reverse direction, giving the sensation that the viewer is inside the painting viewing the concave surface of the inside of the rotating sphere. They were amazing, and I even got to meet the artist!

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Unfortunately they were all well out of my price range, so we continued easing on down the road. It was getting to be well past lunchtime when I heeded the irresistible siren song of Cowboy Bagels! What could be better?

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Only Cowboy Bagels was OUT OF BAGELS!!! Granted they did have a few Chocolate Chip or some similar monstrosity left, but real cowboys don’t eat Chocolate Chip bagels! You cowboy up with an Everything or an Onion, but NOT a Chocolate Chip, or even worse, Cinnamon! Even the Day Old bin was a bust. It was a bitter pill to swallow and I left there hungry and disgruntled and even more concerned about the fog that seemed to grow more ominous the closer we got to our destination . . .

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And what was our destination you ask? Anything fog unfriendly by any chance??

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ONLY MOUNT FREAKING RUSHMORE!!! No, nothing at all there that might require a strong sight line to truly appreciate. Nothing at all! And it’s not like it was ELEVEN DOLLARS to get in and my handy dandy National Park All Access pass was worth bupkiss becauase they called it a parking fee rather than an entrance fee. (Oh wait, actually it was exactly like that!) But I’m sure it will all be worth it to bask in the majestic glory of the giant faces looming over me right? Right?

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WTF is this Mount Rushmore? I’ve been robbed! (On the upside, I got a great vantage point and no lines in the gift shop.) The fog was so dense, I kid you not, when I first got there I took selfies of myself FACING THE WRONG WAY! I went in the Visitors Center and said: “It’s to the left correct?” No, no, it’s to the right. It was cold and clammy and I was basically alone on a concrete plaza staring at nothing. Not only that, I couldn’t even bring Annie out to share in the joy as there was a NO DOGS sign about every three feet. Never mind the fact that there was absolutely nothing a dog could harm there.

My spirits as dampened as my coat, I headed back down to the surrounding town of Keystone to have a look around.

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There was a mixture of stores selling authentic Native American handicrafts alongside cheesy souvenir shops. It took all my fortitude to pass up the $53 plastic horse enrobed in what, judging by the placard, I could only assume was a “Trail of Snow Glitter Tears”.

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The rain fell harder, so it seemed prudent to set about finding a place to stay for the night. Luckily, my targeted destination was only about 45 minutes away, which meant that, weather permitting, I could take another stab at the Disappearing Presidents tomorrow. We set our course for Custer State Park, traveling down the twisty turny super scenic Iron Mountain Road.

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Which even took us through some tight squeezes blasted out of the mountains . . .

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We pulled into the park late in the day, dejected and discouraged and not looking forward to making camp in the pouring rain. But all was not lost. By pure happenstance we had arrived on a Fee Free Weekend so didn’t have to pay a cent to enter! The one slightly weird thing was that there was absolutely no way to secure a camping spot in person. The ONLY way to do so was by phoning someone in a call center off property who would then tell me what sites were available when I could clearly see for myself as I was parked right next to them. We found a decent spot next to a (now raging torrent) stream, made quick work of heating up dinner, and then burrowed deep into our bed to listen to the rain on the roof.

Day Sixty (Part Two): Misty Water Colored Memories: Wyoming (Devil’s Tower)

Continuing events of Thursday May 14th, blogged Tuesday July 21st

As I mentioned in the last entry, I wanted to save writing about my evening hike around the base of the tower for a later time. So, with that being said, we now resume our story already in progress. . .

Devil’s Tower really had an effect on me, in a way I can’t quite describe. I mentioned it was sacred to the Plains Indians, and the different tribes invented varying legends to account for this otherworldly rock formation. As one of the more common tales tells it, a group of young maidens had gone out to play when they were spotted by a pack of giant bears who began to chase them. The girls ran and rand and finally collapsed atop a large rock, praying to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise up toward the heavens so that the bears could not reach them. As the bears struggled in vain to climb the steep tower, they left deep claw marks all along the sides. At last, the maidens were able to escape into the sky where they transformed into the constellation Pleiades. (Interestingly, I heard a different origin story for Pleiades at Death Valley-but that one was about a bunch of stupid dudes who disobeyed their parents, so I like the BAWOTD version better 🙂 )

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I arrived at the Tower at my favorite time of day, the gloaming, when the light is low and soft and there seems to be a magical quality to the air. There was a hint of flowers on the breeze and it smelled like spring. Unfortunately, Annie was once again denied the pleasure of accompanying me, but in this instance I’ll go along with it as the Tower and surrounding woods is still considered a sacred space by several Native American tribes. In fact, as you traverse the paths you can see small colorful prayer bags tied to some of the trees encircling the base.

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It’s difficult to capture in pictures, but every angle presented a new viewpoint, and in some lights, the greenish gold moss coating the stone seemed to glow from within.

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As I was rounding the back side, and marveling at the quiet (there was not a soul to be seen), and admiring the huge boulder-like chunks at the base that had fallen off of the Tower over time, out of nowhere a deer bounded out from amid the rubble and came to a stop no more than five feet from me. She looked me straight in the eye, unwavering, holding my gaze for a good thirty seconds and showing no fear at all. Again, I can’t properly put it into words, but I was left with the feeling that something very poweful had transpired.

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As I rounded another side, suddenly the trees enclosing me opened up and I was treated to breathtakingly expansive views of the surrounding countryside.

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Now I may have been alone on the trail, but I wasn’t alone at the Tower – there were actually a handful of climbers scaling the 1,300 foot edifice (see the tiny red speck in photo below). Devil’s Tower was first climbed in 1893 by a pair of local ranchers who drove wooden pegs into the rock face to form a ladder. Some of the pegs remain today and can be viewed through a little telescopey thing. In 1941 a dude named George Hopkins lost a bet and was forced to parachute onto the top of the tower as a publicity stunt. He had planned to have a rope dropped down to use for his descent, but . . . ooopsie . . . it missed the tower and so he was stuck up there for six days exposed to the cold, rain, and 50mph winds before he could be rescued. Do I need to start a DADOTD feature?

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As you can imagine, the native Indians didn’t take to kindly to their spiritual site being clambered all over by every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a rope. Many of the leaders objected to this practice, deeming it a desecration. In response, the kindly old white dudes of the federal government instituted a VOLUNTARY climbing ban for the month of June when many tribal ceremonies are held at the Tower. Of course some dumbasses do it anyway. Because . . . reasons.

I hated to leave the Tower as it really enchanted me, but the sun was setting and the wind was picking up, and it was time to head back to the toasty confines of Marigold and the puppy snuggles to be found within. Annie seemed to have made a complete recovery, and her BARKBARK was back to full effect. We feasted on beans over the camp stove and had just settled our heads for a long spring’s nap when a heavy rain began to fall and thunder rumbles and lightning flashes moved toward us from the distance. Annie has never been a fan of the kaboomies, so she quickly got into the sleeping bag with me and cuddled up close. Thanks to the migraine that the dropping barometer heralded for me, we both spent a rather fitful night.

Day Sixty: Glide On the Peace Train: Montana, Wyoming (Little Big Horn, Devil’s Tower)

Events of Thursday May 14th, blogged Thursday July 9th

Sooo . . . hey there! Bet you thought I forgot all about this little blog. If you don’t know me, you think maybe we met an untimely fate in the creepy campground, or that Corpse Belly really did prove fatal to Annie and I was too bereft to carry on. If you do know me, you know that the truth which is out there is that things got busy and life got in the way. But I really want to finish the final days of my amazing journey (which I am already nostalgic for). So – with the caveat that memories are dimming and I am relying on my paper journal and photos for much of this – let’s journey west once more to the wide open spaces of Montana.

The morning dawned chilly and overcast, which was actually going to be fitting for the rather somber itinerary I had planned for the day. The campground failed me yet again when not one but TWO soda machines proved to be empty and non-functioning. And there’s nothing that makes me crosser than a bait and switch with my Diet Coke, ESPECIALLY first thing in the morning!

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Annie seemed a bit brighter, so we headed down to road to the Little Bighorn Battlefield – the site of Custer’s infamous Last Stand. For those who don’t know, in an earlier treaty the Plains Indians had been pushed out of the majority of their original hunting grounds (they were a fairly nomadic people) and forced to live on reservations in the Black Hills. Not long after that agreement, the US government found gold in them thar hills and decided the land was far too valuable to waste on the native inhabitants. So, as per usual, they tried to weasel out of the treaty, but the Indians were already fed up with being shuffled around, and had smoked a peace pipe on this treaty and everything, so they were NOT having it.  General Armstrong Custer and the US Cavalry launched an attack on an Indian encampment here and were resoundingly defeated. Fun Fact: The Indians refer to it as The Battle of Greasy Grass.

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As soon as we pulled in I could feel the weight of history in the air and a somber feeling surrounding me and the sense that something important and sad had happened here. Dogs weren’t allowed, but Annie was still feeling sluggish, so she slept in the van while I took the narrated driving tour through the battlegrounds. It was haunting and still.

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The rolling hills stretched for miles, and the prairie grass rustled in the wind, and it was easy to picture the Indian camps and the approaching mounted cavalry. Little Bighorn was important for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it was the first (and probably only) major battle that the Indians actually won. One of the speculated reasons for this was that for the first time, rather than just engaging with the braves in the armed war parties, the Cavalry actually took the battle into the Indian home camps; attacking the women, elders, and children. To see their families being massacred spurred the Indian warriors on to fight as they had never fought before. Also, Custer had broken a sworn promise to never kill another Cheyenne, and that just ain’t cool.

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Spoiler Alert: Custer and his men are vastly outnumbered, they make some tactical mistakes, and they lose the battle. That large monument above marks “Last Stand Hill” where he and the majority of his men fell and were buried in a mass grave. It didn’t seem right to do the usual wacky selfie face here. This is my mournful and respectful selfie face.

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In classic American fashion, even though the (now dead) white guy lost, they still named the park after him. The site was originally known as Custer Battlefield National Monument, and wasn’t rechristened as Little Bighorn (after the river which runs through it and which the Indians were camped beside) until NINETEEN NINETY ONE! The bill that allowed the name change also authorized the creation of the Indian Memorial pictured above to honor the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who sacrificed their lives here as well. It wasn’t until 1999 that red granite markers began to be added alongside the white ones to denote the spots where specific native warriors fell.

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I did think it was kind of cool that the dead horses got their own marker, even if they did get it before the Indians who actually won the battle got theirs.

The words on the side of the Visitor Center reflect the message of peaceful resolution that the monument hopes to impart.

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Soon enough it was time to leave and get back out on the open highway. But not without a quick stop at a nearby Trading Post filled with equal parts gorgeous native made items and ticky-tacky touristy shlock.


And it wasn’t too long until . . . WYOMING WE ARE IN YOU!

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Way in the distance you can see the Black Hills . . .

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The highway through Wyoming was gorgeous, and empty, and not all that different from Montana.

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And there were yet more glimpses of old Western towns and curious signage . . .

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At last we saw our destination, looming up out of the distance . . .

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Devil’s Tower – perhaps more familiar to you as the creepy rock formation from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but a landmark that held great significance to the Plains Indians who knew it as Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge. It rises almost 1,300 feet into the sky and became the FIRST National Monument back in 1906.

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This was where we would be camping for the night, so I decided to drive into the campground and secure our spot straight away. The first thing you pass when you enter the Monument grounds is “Prairie Dog Town.” Acres and acres of holes with cute little gophers popping up and down all day long like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. I hurried Annie through this part.

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Once we found our campsite, we discovered another furry fella had taken up residence . . . there were literally cows roaming around our picnic table! I guess the monument grounds abut someone’s grazing land, and the cattle occasionally take liberties.

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Once Old Bessie wandered off, we got out and Annie started making herself at home, complete with her first Wyoming Woogle

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This campground was lovely, and super laid back (they were GIVING AWAY firewood) and you could even SEE the tower from our spot!

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I met a lovely older couple who was parked in the next space over and who were traveling in an old conversion van they had made themselves. We took turns comparing notes, and they were quite impressed with Marigold, while I was quite envious of their working refrigerator!

As it was still relatively early, I did end up hiking around the Tower, but that was a pretty special experience that I think I will save for the next post, to give you something to look forward too . . .

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Day Fifty Nine: Big Sky Country: Montana (Bannack, Hardin)

Events of Wednesday May 13th, exceedingly belatedly blogged Thursday May 28th

Sincerest apologies for the unforgivable delay in getting these final posts up. The final days of the trip were lacking in either decent cell coverage, time, or both. And then I returned home and there was a too brief recovery period followed by an immediate dive into wedding related activities for a dear friend. The latter I am still enmeshed in, but I really want to finish the tales of my grand adventure despite the awkwardness of being so removed in time and distance. So onward we forge!

When last I left off, Annie and I (and Marigold) were camping at the Bannack State Park which is also home to an actual, authentic, real life ghost town. Did I mention there was a tipi we could have stayed in? Day Five or even Day Twenty Eden probably would have jumped at the chance, and Day Hadn’t Actually Left Yet Eden was all over it during the planning stages, but Day Fifty Nine Eden is tired and can only think “but I’d have to drag all my stuff in there . . . how warm would it be . . . would Annie be nervous and BARKBARK. . . where do I even find the person I would have to ask about availability . . .” and just stuck with her campervannie.

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(Side Note: while I was making my oatmeal, Annie was exploring our campsite on her tether. At one point she discovered a rodent corpse (mole, vole, shrew-something of that ilk) and gobbled it down, fur and all, bones crunching loudly, in about forty five seconds. I had an inkling this would not be good.)

After our morning stroll, we headed back to explore the ghost town some more with better light and less tired eyes.

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The building on the left was originally the courthouse (later a hotel) and the building on the right was Skinner’s Saloon where all the meanest, nastiest, most badass (in a bad way) dudes hung out. The courthouse was where sheriff Henry Plummer spent his days, and the saloon was where he spent his nights, as leader of a murderous band of outlaws known as The Innocents (Password: I am innocent). Fun fact, his Wikipedia entry lists his occupation as “Criminal, Sheriff.”

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Even today one can find the odd miscreant or two sniffing about the place.

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Plummer and most of his cohorts were eventually found out and hung from the town gallows which still stands today. Not gonna lie, there was an extremely creepy, somber, prickles on your skin feeling to the place, so much so I couldn’t even manage a wacky selfie. Later, a park ranger I encountered told me that in the early part of the 1900s local kids would dig up the bones of the executed and sell them. It is possible someone somewhere today still has the sheriff’s skull.

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Just past the gallows was Cemetery Hill where the more upstanding citizens were laid to rest. The picture painted here wasn’t much cheerier (and I do prefer my graveyards to be cheerful and upbeat). Most died from gunshot wounds or disease, and very few lived past their twenties. Even Sheriff Plummer, who had a long history of occupations both legit and otherwise, was a mere 27 when he met his demise. (No cemetery photos, but this is a view from the hill to show just how cut off and remote it really was).

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This was a harsh and brutal world and it’s amazing that they were able to carve out some semblance of “normal” life at all. But carve they did – there was even a school (just across from the Saloon of Death).

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Maybe fifty yards from the school are the jails-the original on the right, and the big fancy modern upgrade on the left. The original one has a view of the gallows from its tiny window. The roof of the bigger one is covered with sod and grass and was being visited by a robin as we walked by. I thought that was pretty cool.

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But once again the time had come to saddle up and get back on the road. Everyone assumed their positions.

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Montana is a big state, so there was a lot of driving. And a lot of teeny little Western towns.

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In Montana you can buy your dog a cuddly little bullet toy to snuggle and play with.

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Midway through the day I noticed that Annie seemed to be acting strangely. At one point she crawled in to the passenger footwell where I kept a full duffle bag and some other things stored, and draped herself across them in an awkward and rather uncomfortable looking position.

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Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening she was extremely sluggish: eye droopy, restlessly moving about the car in what appeared to be failed attempts to get comfortable, showing little to no interest when I would leave Marigold to fill up the tank or take a pee break, and just generally giving off an unhappy vibe. It was worrisome to say the least.

This was another day when I didn’t really have a set agenda as to where I wanted to end up for the night, I just wanted to make solid progress across the country so that Wyoming would be easily reachable the following day. As the day wore on and I started searching for campgrounds, I became aware that we were not that far from the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It hadn’t made my original itinerary, but knowing it was nearby intrigued me, and I decided to make camp at the nearest possible spot so that we could pay it an early morning visit.  The choice came down to another branch of the KOA chain or the “family owned” and majestically titled Grandview Campground. Based almost solely on the indications that the Grandview had a laundry facility whereas the KOA did not, I chose the Grandview. I chose wrong.

Stepping in to the “Office/Gift Shoppe” I was immediately struck by the overwhelming aroma of cat pee. As I looked around I noticed that the whole room appeared to be an ADD hoarder’s paradise. The entire place was crammed with clothing, ugly tchotchkes, random papers, cleaning supplies, sunglasses, half empty boxes, and other assorted bric-a-brac scattered helter skelter across every available surface with no apparent rhyme or reason. The counter where one would presumably make a purchase or check in for a stay did not have a single glimmer of available space. And the proprietress appeared to be engaged in a bitch session with a random policeman in the backroom.

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Fighting back the urge to run, I secured a campsite. Once again, upon enquiring about the heavily promoted WiFi connection offered, I was met with surprise and frustration and directed to one of two spots that “maybe” had a signal. That taken care of, I loaded up a bag of dirty clothes, leashed up a still lethargic Annie, and moseyed on over to the laundry room. Whereupon I realized that I had used my last batch of detergent in Washington. Of course. So Annie and I wandered over to the Gift Shoppe to see if any of the various and sundry items available for purchase there included anything actually useful like detergent. Nope, just “replica” bear claws and the like. (Also, the place was wide open but the owner had vanished like the wind.) So we went back to the laundry room in the hope that maybe there was an overlooked vending machine hiding in a corner somewhere. And the door was locked. With most of my clothes inside. Because some little children, who appeared to make the campground a permanent residence, were playing some game that involved locking themselves in. Because THAT’S NOT ANNOYING AT ALL!

I pounded on the door, scowled at the kids, grabbed my belongings, drove across the highway to a truck stop which was what actually comprised the “Grand View” (along with a tract home development) I had from my campsite, procured some Tide pouches, gave more than a little thought to switching up to the KOA, and resignedly returned to camp.

My mood was not improved by the behavior of my traveling companion who spent the evening sacked out under the picnic table, showing no interest in either my dinner or the various free range cats on the property, or even just doing a bit of BARKBARK for the hell of it. In fact, she didn’t utter a single peep that entire night and I was giving serious consideration to foregoing Little Bighorn in favor of another trip to the vet.

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I could leave you with that cliffhanger but that just seems cruel, so I’ll spoiler the next entry to say she makes a full recovery from what in the final analysis appeared to be a severe case of “Corpse Belly.”

Day Fifty Eight: Meet Me Underneath that Big Montana Sky: Montana (Hot Springs, Dillon, Bannack)

Events of Tuesday, May 12th, blogged Monday May 18th


Even though the day was overcast and gray and I couldn’t wear shorts like I could the day before, I felt better and brighter. I took a shower in the mineral water, which I may have neglected to mention smells like rotten eggs, but as I learn again and again on this trip, a nice hot shower cures a lot of ills.  It was time to pile back into Marigold and be on our way.

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Bye bye Crazy Tightrope Dude!

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Bye bye random tipi on a random side street!

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And Hello to a loong drive across Montana!

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Hello cows!

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Hello copilot dog!

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Hello quaint little Western town of Dillon where I stopped for lunch during a rain shower!

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Hello quirky little second-hand shop with a fantastic garden filled with bric-a-brac and treasure, that sadly had closed for the day while I was eating lunch, and that also appears to be for sale, so someone please stop me before I decide to make my next career running a second hand shop in Dillon, Montana!

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Tell me this place doesn’t have Eden written all over it!

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Hello “Try Restin at the Creston Motel!”

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Hello yet more Montana highway scenery!

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Why does every town in Montana feel the need to make its presence known via a giant letter on the nearest hill?

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Hello Testicle Festival! (The giant billboard advertising it flew past too quickly for me to snap a shot, so please accept this copy of their poster as a substitute.) For the uninformed, the Testicle Festival is a multi-day event, centered on the consumption of fried cow testicles. There may also be turkey testicles available for those with smaller appetites.

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And Hello Bannack State Park – our final destination for the day!

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Bannack State Park was a must visit because it contains and protects an actual Ghost Town, preserved as it was when it was left, and not all tricked out for tourists. AND they even allow dogs to wander through the town, including inside the buildings!

Bannack (poorly named after the local Bannock Indian tribe) made it onto the maps in 1862 when gold was discovered there. In 1864 it was named the first capital of the then Territory of Montana. The population ebbed and flowed as some gold sources played out and then new mining techniques allowed different sources to be tapped. At its peak there was a population of 10,000 people living in this very remote section of the state, accessible only by the Montana Trail. Though the last residents didn’t leave until the 1970s, the town’s heydey was basically over by the turn of the century.

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We rolled in to Bannack later in the day, as the sky was darkening and the winds becoming blustery, adding to the spooky and abandoned vibe of the place, so we only poked around a short while (long enough to determine that while Bannack may be devoid of people, there is clearly a MASSIVE population of bunny rabbits and chipmunks, because Annie’s nose was in overdrive sniffing under every slat on the boardwalk and every house foundation). We made plans to explore further in the morning and headed off to make camp beside the very creek that miners once panned for gold in. It smelled like juniper.

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Day Fifty Seven: Bluer than Blue: Montana (Hot Springs)

Events of Monday, May 11th, blogged Monday, May 18th

WARNING: This blog contains a Grey’s Anatomy spoiler, but that episode aired over three weeks ago, and FaceBook had spoiled me before I got to see it too, so get over it.

Side Note from the Future: I am writing this entry in the Badlands of South Dakota where we are currently experiencing BOTH a Wind Advisory (my favorite) AND a Freeze Advisory. On the 18th of May! This place is hardcore!

So this blog is going to be short and not really all that sweet. I hesitate to even write it, because in hindsight it seems pathetic, and there are no wacky anecdotes or cool photos, but I have committed myself by now to a daily post, and I also want to paint a realistic portrait of the trip. So pardon the glum tone, it was a blah day, but those happen. I woke up lethargic, unmotivated, and in more of a funk than before. I had already been thinking I might borrow the last possible “borrow” day I had from later in the trip and stay a little longer to enjoy the hot springs (and WiFi) and maybe even indulge in the onsite masseuse this tiny little motel had. There was also a larger hotel/spa within walking distance that offered outdoor hot springs pools along with indoor bathing for just five dollars.

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But I had no energy or interest for blog catch-up, spa soaks, or even having my troubles massaged away. It’s a pretty deep funk when even pampering doesn’t interest me.

Not long after breakfast I went back to bed for a nap. This is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as “check out my vacation photos” goes.

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The highlight of the day may have been the fact that the cute old refrigerator made REAL ice cubes for my Diet Coke.

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Annie and I snuggled on the couch a lot binge watching Grey’s Anatomy online. #RIPMcDreamy (Smiley photo actually taken “tomorrow” but I had to post something to break up the grimness of this post.)

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I only mustered up the energy for the briefest of dog walks, despite the warm temperatures and sunny skies. And the town which yesterday had seemed quaint and relaxing, today seemed old and run down and bleak. Even the rock garden and geodesic dome in the back garden were shabby and worn on closer inspection.

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I think I just had cereal for dinner despite having a real kitchen to cook in.

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Sit on the porch and read? Nope. Too afraid of running into weirdo tightrope dude and don’t have the wherewithal to deal with him

I didn’t even use my personal mineral bath (I had yesterday though). By the end of the day, my lethargy and blahs was compounded by frustration and annoyance with myself for wasting the day: not writing three blogs, not going to the spa, spending money to stay here for those things and then not utilizing them. On that note, we went to bed, with hopes of a better day tomorrow. (Spoiler alert: just so you don’t worry about me TOO much, it will be.)

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Day Fifty Six: A Mother of a Day: Idaho, Montana

Events of Sunday, May 10th, blogged Sunday, May 17th

The old dude was right, it did get very cold that night. And was still chilly in the morning. But the campsite was beautiful and not a bad place to sit and write a few postcards over oatmeal.

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And there was a nice trail running along the river that we could hike along after breakfast.

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Today/that Sunday (I am terrible with my tenses when I’m writing from the future) was Mother’s Day here in the U.S. For those that don’t know, I lost my Mom, who was my best friend and an amazing woman, very suddenly five and a half years ago. And while I have thought of her often on this trip, and missed her, and longed to share it with her, and imagined her reactions to certain things, today hit me like a ton of bricks.

Mother’s Day is always a tough one for me, not just for the ever present mentions of moms, but more so because we had developed a tradition over the last years of spending the day together browsing various nurseries and garden centers so that I could buy her plants with which to fill her garden. And those were always some of the best times. Anyhow, I had foolishly thought that I could “hide” from the occasion this year – off in the middle of nowhere with few reminders. But, once again, I was wrong. And floods of memories came back on that riverside walk.

I pulled myself together and loaded us back into Marigold, as it was time we were off on our way to Montana. Driving out of the campground, these happy little fellows ran up to escort us down the road.

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We were driving along and I knew the Montana border was not too far down the road, so I was trying to be vigilant, but suddenly I saw signs for Kellogg, and I was CONVINCED that Kellogg was in Montana (I was assuming it was the Kellogg of cereal fame, which is actually based in Michigan, which is not at all Montana, but does start with the letter M). (Side Note: This Kellogg was founded by a gold prospector whose donkey wandered off one morning and he found it near a large lead outcropping and built the town up around it. The city motto is LITERALLY “Founded by a jackass and inhabited by its descendants.”)

Anyhow, as I was SURE I had missed my chance to take a photo of the Welcome to Montana sign (which I have tried to do for every state I pass through), I decided to pull over at the nearest opportunity to check where indeed I actually was. Luckily there was a McDonald’s just off the freeway, and I knew that was somewhere I could park for a bit without arousing suspicion. And for whatever reason, all the sad feelings came back and suddenly I found myself crying in a McDonald’s parking lot. Which is a rather pathetic position to find oneself in. But my dear friend Allyson happened to call about then and managed to cheer me up a bit, and I looked around and decided that if one had to be crying in a McDonald’s parking lot, at least it was one with an excellent view.

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I have no idea why the flag was at half mast, but I decided it was for my mom.

Onward to Montana!

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Montana has a colorful, yet near illegible Welcome sign, that they have curiously posted above the highway, rather than off on the side as almost every other state does. Nevertheless, I got my photo.

Montana lived up to the hype I had been given as yet another in a long line of scenically stunning states.

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Alas, Annie has become a bit jaded to it all by now.

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I faced another directional dilemma. Originally, I had blocked out two days of time at this point of the journey to potentially visit Glacier National Park, weather depending. Glacier is supposed to be magnificently beautiful, but it would be two hours out of my way in each direction to get there, and, as it is located in the mountains of the far north, the main road through it would only be partially plowed. My other option was to visit the closer, but less iconic, town of Hot Springs, where there was rumored to be a cool old motel from the 30s that had mineral water baths in the rooms.

I kept wavering back and forth, even using an app on my phone to flip a coin. Finally I realized that I would basically have to drive through Hot Springs on the way to Glacier, so I decided to stop there first and see what sort of vibe I got. As soon as I pulled up outside Alameda’s, the motel, I knew this was where I needed to be.

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The place had the feel of one of those endless summer days spent in the country with nowhere to be and nothing to do. It seemed like a place where time slowed or maybe even stopped. And I could definitely feel the healing energy. When I went in to register, and saw a photo of the late Alameda, I knew I had chosen right.

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While that was the image I had in my head of what the proprietor of this establishment should look like, the current, self-described “live in gardener and manager of the month” was another matter entirely. He was of an indeterminate age somewhere between 29 and 47. He was tall and lanky with filthy looking white guy dreads, dime-sized dots tattooed beneath his eyes, those horrid spacer earring things, and was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts that were an identical dirt tan color and/or had never been cleaned. He was an interesting dude who apparently grew up in Maryland, then moved to Hollywood, then came to Montana and found himself employed in a position for which he had zero previous experience, but was ready to move on, and thought his next stop might be moving to Ecuador to help deliver babies. Of course he’d never actually been to Ecuador before, and I’m guessing baby birthing requires some sort of minimum cleanliness standard, but shine on crazy diamond!

I wish I had his photo, but there was no way to get one without arousing curiosity. Later in the day, as I was sitting on the porch reading my book, he came over and offered me the “single woman traveling alone free glass of wine special” along with the opportunity to come watch him walk a low-level tightrope he had strung across the property, but I demurred.

Instead I took a tour of the town, which seemed to be both stuck in the 1930s and not to have turned a profit since then.

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The bakery that all the reviews of the motel on TripAdvisor said I HAD to try was vacant and for sale.

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I even stumbled across a sad and depressing version of a Campervannie.

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The vibe in the town was doing nothing to improve my mood, so I retired to my quarters which were brimming with old timey charm and included a cute kitchenette with tiny old refrigerator, lounging area, breakfast nook, and huge soaking tub.

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But my favorite spot by far was the wide front porch surrounded by trees and shrubs, with comfy chairs to sink into and let the chirping birds and shining sun work their soothing magic.

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Day Fifty Five:You Say Potayto, I Say Potahto : Washington, Idaho

(Events of Saturday, May 9th, blogged Sunday, May 17th)

In hindsight, taking a room over a restaurant (especially one that serves breakfast) MAY not have been the wisest decision. The music and pan rattling started around 7AM. And then the diners (did I mention there was outdoor seating) arrived and showed little to no concern to my attempts at slumber above their heads.

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And then people started walking noisily by my door. I assumed it was other guests going to and fro, but it certainly seemed a lot more commotion than four other rooms should create. And then there was all KINDS of hullabaloo and clatter, and I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter…

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When I finally collected myself enough to move past annoyance and into my sheer love of parades, I went down for a closer look. Apparently this is the annual 49ers Parade, celebrating the gold rush that actually happened here in the 1860s, NOT 1849, but why quibble over details? There was plenty of Western flourish, from the coonskin caps, to the real Wells Fargo stagecoach.

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It was all very small town Americana, good clean fun. And there was quite a turnout!

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After the parade wound down I spent a little more time strolling the streets and soaking in the ambiance. I have to say, even if the town is playing up the Old West angle for the benefit of me and my ilk, I had never really thought of Washington as being Western Western, you know? So it was somewhat eye opening to realize that it had been.

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And then. Oh, and then. So, I was in the Emporium pictured above, and I saw a sign indicating that they had local(ish) ice cream made in the Oregon Cascades. I’m all about eating local, AND I’m all about ice cream, so this seemed like a perfect fit. And then I saw on the Flavor List that they had Licorice Ice Cream! Now I am a big fan of black licorice from way back (my Dad taught me that the black jelly beans were the best), but I had never even dared to imagine such a thing as licorice ice cream! It had to be mine! So I asked the nice gentleman at the counter, who informed me that he only had a limited flavor selection as the season hadn’t really started, and could he interest me in a nice butter pecan? I went rambling on about how cool the very idea of licorice ice cream was and he mentioned that he did have it, but it was back in the deep freeze and hard as a rock. I just kept yammering away asking what color it was and other nonsense, in no way fishing for anything, just caught up in the excitement of it all (yes, you read that right) and I must have finally worn him down, because he goes off to the back and after some grunts and sighs returns with my very own dish of creepy black licorice ice cream!!!

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After all that, it only barely tasted of licorice, but it was still darn tasty!

With ice cream in my belly (I didn’t share this time), we set off for a long, long day of driving east across Washington, with the only firm plan to try and make it to Idaho before nightfall.

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Washington was gorgeous: rolling green mountains, steely gray rivers bubbling alongside the highway, more cows grazing in long stretches of farmland, tall pines…

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And onward we drove, not even stopping for lunch, I just ate my Gere-A-Deli bowtie pasta from behind the wheel…

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At last! Idaho (save the jokes Walsh)! And new and improved potato loving bugs for the windshield!

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If possible, Idaho bumped the scenery volume up to eleven. And the air just reeks of freshness.

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Once in Idaho it was the small matter of finding a place to camp. There didn’t seem to be a lot of options nearby, and the section of Idaho we were passing through was rather narrow, and I really wanted to notch another state on my “slept there” belt, so it was important not to drive too far east.

I found one RV resort which shall remain nameless, but its Yelp reviews urged travelers to drive just 8 miles further up the road for much more pleasant accommodations. So we drove onward down a twisty dirt road which led us to…

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Maybe this guy could explain where the moose disappeared to…

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It was a little haven of peace and serenity, and even if the showers hadn’t been turned on yet for the season, and there was no hope of a cell signal, and the cute old dude who puttered around on his ATV informed me it would dip below freezing, it was nestled by a crystal clear babbling brook, and it would be home.

(Side Note: In attempting to come up with a title for this blog, I Googles “Songs about Idaho,” and found a page informing me that, should I want to WRITE a song about Idaho, possible topics could include: trout, lentils, timber, and mining. Someone get on that.)

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Day Fifty Four: EastBound and Down: Washington (Orcas Island, Anacortes, Winthrop)

(Events of Friday May 8th, blogged Saturday May 16th)

Side Note: I’m going to just come right out and say it. I’ve been slacking. For most of the trip I’ve only not blogged when lack of proper online connections forced me to do so. But -in this installment (Spoiler Alert) I end the day in a hotel with WiFi and don’t blog. And the last 24 hours in real time I have had internet and not blogged. Maybe it’s knowing that there’s no way I’ll catch up before the journey ends, maybe it’s weariness, maybe my inherent laziness is finally rearing its head. Who knows. But I am failing you and I am sorry. I hope you will be able to accept the oddness of the final entries being written once I return home.

But enough blogging about the blog-let’s get to the good stuff. Which is DEFINITELY NorthWest Washington.

As much as I hadted to say goodbye to Orcas, unfortunately we had a ferry to catch. And by some miraculous coincidence, with zero planning on my part, I pulled in to the ferry lot JUST as they were boarding-ZERO wait time! AND I was able to score a prime window “seat”. So I could hang in Marigold with Annie and still have great views.

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The ferry docked in Anacortes, and, depending on how well you know me, you may or may not be shocked to learn that I IMMEDIATELY went BACK to Gere-A-Deli and ordered the EXACT same things I had ordered previously. (Expect the Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap, which had been the special of the day, and for which I substituted a “Low Cal” Turkey Sandwich, which sounds mundane, but was, again, scrumdiddlyumptious!) And no trip to Annacortes would be complete without a Bigfoot sighting.

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Properly fortified, we set off for the final leg of our journey-and pointed Marigold eastward towards home. Passing through yet more standard issue lovely scenery along the way…

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Along with kooky roadside motels…

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And random tiny churches across from RV parks?? (It seats nine.)

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And then, just when we least expected it, Washington decided to bring out the big guns, North Cascades National Park, which hadn’t even been on my radar!

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Ummm…. mindblowingly gorgeous natural scenery anyone?!

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Seriously, it was like all of a sudden I’m in some Alpine wonderland!

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Even Annie was impressed.

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OK random national park I was only tangentially aware of, I am duly and most thoroughly wowed. They even had SNOW!

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Coming down from the altitude and still reeling from the loveliness, we could only wonder what could possibly be around the next corner?

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WNTHROP! Winthrop was around the next corner! I may have neglected to mention it at the start of this entry, but, as I had originally planned to travel to Vancouver after the San Juans, and then time constraints through a wrench in that itinerary, I was now heading east from a different starting point, and one that also allowed a little more time flexibility. So I decided to throw caution to the winds and just head in an easterly direction with no intended destination or planned route. As you can see so far, this experiment did not disappoint, and Winthrop was just another delightful surprise!

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Winthrop is like the Old West town of your imagination-all false fronts and cool fonts and old timeyness pouring out of every nook and cranny. Of course I should have realized it was all a little TOO perfect. Upon doing some digging, I uncovered the fact that the “Western-ness” is actually played up to attract gullible tourists (ahem) and was in part modeled on the Dutch village, Solvang, that I visited in California.

In truth, it WAS originally an area that Native Americans called home-digging for roots and picking berries along the creek. Then, in the late 1800s some traces of gold were found in that creek, and ALLL then white people started pouring in. The town was officially “founded” by one of them, a Guy Waring, who, for reasons I have yet to discover, named the town after Theodore Winthrop who was a Yale graduate, published author, and one of the first Union soldiers killed in the Civil War, so actually already dead before he could receive this honor, and never actually set foot in the area. Details.

Another friend of Warings, Owen Wister, was also an author, and wrote The Virginian, which is considered to be the firsdt Western novel, after he spent some time in Winthrop.

Anyhow, once the mines played out around 1915, the town went basically dormant until the 1970s, when the road from the Cascades was being built, and the locals decided they needed to do something to get folks to stop. And it worked by gum!

(Side Bar: I’ve just remembered a cute story I had wanted to mention about Anacortes. So, I was in the bookstore (naturally), and a gentleman came in to return a book. It seems he had special ordered the volume, and then when he took it home, he realized he already owned it. Now he wasn’t trying to get a refund, as he put it, it was “his mistake.” He was trying to donate the book back to the store gratis. He refused to take no for an answer! “I insist you keep it as a donation, dadgummit,” he exclaimed! That’s just how folks roll in Anacortes.)

But back to Winthrop. While the Western ambiance may be a bit faux, it was still full of all kinds of cute artsy shops and friendly locals.

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The town’s fiorst watering hole, the Duck Brand Saloon, was originally built by Guy Waring in 1891, but it was damaged in a fire and afterwards turned into the Town Hall. There’s a new Duck Brand Saloon now, and it may be inauthentic, but they make a mean strawberry lemonade.

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The Saloon also operated a small five room hotel over the restaurant. One with a view of Main Street and all its goings on. It was late in the day, and I was tired and hungry, so I ordered the grilled salmon (I couldn’t leave Washington without having at least one piece of salmon) and debated searching out a campsite, or just heading upstairs to the comfy bed, WiFi, and hot shower. I’ll make it today’s cliffhanger as to which one I chose…

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