09 August 2010

Rockpile, Story, Custer, Rex, Red Lodge

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Gillette, Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana ~ 325 miles


Kim was rarin’ to go this morning, as she hopped aboard Old Paint here at the Rockpile Museum in Gillette.  We grabbed a little bite to eat as we left the Hampton, then stopped for some tea at the Subway across the street, and soon we found ourselves at the Rockpile Museum, which we thought was going to be a rock museum…but not!  It was a really well-done exhibit of lots of old West and old Wyoming relics and history.  The entire wall that you can see in the photo behind Kim was full of rifles, and the entire room was full of guns of some sort.  They had license plates from every year for this county in Wyoming, and one room was full of vehicles and cowboy equipment.  As you might expect in Wyoming, rodeo is a big deal – one whole room was dedicated to local high school rodeo teams and stars.  Several local families have been rodeo winners for generations, both girls and boys.  We spent over an hour here – it was worth the stop to take in the local flavor, and it was free.  You may have noticed that $5 is about our limit for attractions unless they are really, really good, so free is gravy for us!


Our destination today was originally Big Sky, Montana, but we’re thinking we might not get quite that far.  We left Gillette with a bead on Billings, but we had stops planned in Story, WY (for lunch) and at Little Bighorn (for history), and then we were taking a side trip to Red Lodge so that Kim could skip down Memory Lane a little bit.  As we got off the interstate to make our way to Story, we thought to call the place we were planning to eat lunch.  Rats – the phone had been disconnected!  We decided to check out the town anyway, just to get off the interstate for a while.  Sure enough, we found the place we had read about in Road Food and it was indeed “Shut”.We liked the look of it and wondered how badly the economy was affecting things out this way.  Still hungry, we wound through town and found the Wagon Box Inn and Cafe, even seeing a cool statue in a creek and a fawn crossing the road on our way.  As we pulled into the parking lot, the car behind us unloaded with a couple from Memphis.  Small world, huh?  We sat outside and enjoyed sandwiches and the 75 degree sunny day.  Aaaahh! On the way out of town, we stopped at the Post Office to mail some cards to Mom.  It had a little garden planted in front of it and there was the sweetest black lab out front who really wanted to come with us.  Too bad the car was full!


We got back on the interstate long enough to get to Montana, then we hopped off again to visit this museum, which shared land and signage with a Conoco gas station in Garryowen, Montana (gotta love that name!).  You never know where your next history lesson will find you!  We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum, but it was worth the stop.  Lots of original photographs of native Americans and Army personnel were housed here, and there was an interesting movie full of even more conflicting information about the Battle of Little Bighorn.  As we drove through the hills and valleys of the high plains, we could just imagine the prairie being full of grazing bison, teepees dotting the landscape, and we wondered how things got so out of hand as Americans moved west.


At the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, there were memorials to the US Army personnel who lost their lives in June, 1876, and there were also memorials to the horses who perished and to the Indians whose lives were lost.  Although the Indians won this battle, the public outcry over the loss led to the ultimate demise of the native Americans of the west.  Being in the area makes me realize that in many ways, the battle continues.  Kim and I have talked a lot on this trip, as we always do, especially when we are out west, about early settlers and the obstacles they faced.  Geography, up close and personal, really helps history come alive.


From the Little Bighorn, we sped up to Billings and managed to find the Rex Hotel.  How could we resist?  We weren’t ready for a meal, so we just enjoyed a bit of liquid refreshment on the patio.  It was fun people-watching – the Rex is downtown, just across the street from the Depot.  As we left Billings, we passed a Muffler Man – this one was holding a rifle!  We just had to stop for this photo op! By now, we were fairly certain we would not be making it all the way to Big Sky, so we decided to find a place to stay in Red Lodge.  Not only that, we had a dinner recommendation!


The neon at the Red Lodge Cafe was great, but the food was lacking. And if you can tell us exactly WHAT a halibut loin is, you’re smarter than we are.  We ate it anyway!  We had noticed that the Rotarians were in town (“Welcome, Rotarians!”) and motorcycles were in abundance, so we thought we should find a place to stay.  That proved to be not so easy, but we finally found a room at the Pollard.  Nice place!  Once we’d secured our room, we hit the streets (well, the street), hitting the Montana Candy Emporium and then stopping for dessert at a local restaurant, Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen and Wine Bar.  Too bad we hadn’t eaten dinner here, too.


Totally worth it!  Not only was this peach blueberry cobbler delicious, we met some very friendly people who gave us a ton of restaurant suggestions for us to try out in Seattle.  Names, addresses, and phone numbers – we may have to stay there for a week to eat our way through the town!  It’s been a wonderful day!

Visions of good meals dancing in my head!


Day 4 Gilette to Red Lodge

07 August 2010

Three States, Snake, Center, and Tower

Wednesday, 4 August  2010

Medora ND to Gillette WY  ~390 miles


While I worked on the computer this morning, Kim went for a walk around the old West town of Medora.  While out, she spotted a good place for breakfast, which was right behind our hotel.  The Cowboy Cafe is known for its sour cream raisin pie, which is evidently a local favorite.  We haven’t tried it yet, and today would not be the day, either, as they hadn’t made the pie yet.  But we were here for a substantial breakfast, and we got one!  We each had eggs and meat and shared a fruit bowl, then we sat on the terrace of the newly restored Rough Rider Hotel and Conference Center and wrote some postcards to Mom, since we were right next door to the post office.  And then we were off to explore nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

DSC_0311 dsc_0313

This park is the northern reaches of the Badlands, which stretch all the way to southwestern South Dakota.  The park was dedicated in 1949, and it is a real monument to Teddy Roosevelt and his love of the Badlands of the west.  We found it prettier than the Badlands in South Dakota, probably because there was more vegetation here. It is very close to the interstate, and there is a 36 mile loop (two way, thankfully!) that you can drive, stopping for photos, hikes, or whatever.  Just after we began there was a huge prairie dog town, so we stopped for a minute or two to listen to the chattering animals and watch them peeking up out of their burrows.  We got some good photos from several of the scenic pull-off areas, and then we decided to take a short little ‘nature’ hike.  Little did we know what an exciting National Geographic moment awaited us…We were just ending a delightful, not too hard Ridgeline Nature Trail walk – on the steps on the way down to the parking area, when right next to my right foot (clad in open sided Keens, not hiking boots!) I heard the unmistakable rattle of a you know what.  So what if I’d never heard it before or that I couldn’t see anything – I skeedaddled!  Behind me, Kim (wearing sensible hiking boots and socks) actually SAW the source of the noise and stopped.  And backed up!  So now we were separated by a snake!  Just as Kim finished telling me it was a small one, it decided to cross the path.  Suffice it to say that any snake that is as long as the path is wide does not fit my definition of small… Kim changed her mind, too, both about ‘small’ and about crossing the path anytime soon.  I, of course, took the opportunity to get some really great photos!  Once the snake decided to stay put (it actually acted like it might cross again, and at one point Kim reported it was in ‘strike position’) Kim got brave and scampered down the path.  We quickly alerted the family with three young kids coming up the path to the danger, and they opted for another fun activity.  The dad tried to get some pix, but the snake was no longer cooperating.  So down we all went to the parking area, where I was able to at least share the pictures on my camera.  We finished the rest of the loop without incident (and without getting out of the car!) and then went to Painted Canyon, another part of the park several miles east of the main entrance.  We had been told not to miss it, but we were underwhelmed.


Leaving the Badlands behind, we retraced our route toward Dickinson, ND, and turned south towards the geographic center of the United States.  In 1959, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, SD, as the Geographic Center of the Nation.  While we drove right past the actual point, we stopped in Belle Fourche (pronounced ‘Bell Foosh’) to see a newly built monument.  It was the map of the US mounted atop a compass and surrounded by flags of all of the states, and it was made of South Dakota granite.  It was in the back yard of the Tri-State Museum, so of course we checked it out, too.  The ride down here was the most boring so far.  Kim kindly drove and I unkindly slept!  But it was my turn back at the wheel, as we were off on another detour.


We should have known better, but we were lured by the promise of a fun, funky, fifties roadside attraction called Boondocks, just south of nearby Deadwood, SD.  Since we skipped both Deadwood and Sturgis when we were out here three years ago (www.roadsidegiants07.blogspot.com) we decided to give it a try.  And why should we have known better?  Because we know that the first Saturday in August is Bikers’ Week in STURGIS, SD!!!  And this was on the first Wednesday of August…we may as well have been invisible, arriving as we did in our Prius, which makes NO NOISE.  All told, we could have done without Deadwood (now officially designated as the Sassy Sisters’ Gatlinburg of the Badlands) and we had to drive through it TWICE, and we sat in a diner at Boondocks for easily ten minutes without being acknowledged (or finding anyone who cared) and yes, it was open.  But, we got some pix and we can say we have been there, done that and we never need to wonder if we have missed something good!  Onward we went to Devil’s Tower, which we did miss the last time we were near.  However, due to our time wasted in Deadwood, we decided not to actually go into the park, as we figured we had seen what we came for!  We were so hungry by now (breakfast being a LONG time ago now!) that we even ate at the KOA Kampground.  Not worth wasting words on, but at least we were no longer hungry and they served beer.


The sky had been gorgeous all day, but it was clouding up.  While that meant we might get a beautiful sunset (and we did), it also meant we likely would not get to see the Northern Lights (we didn’t) on the last night possible.  It also meant there was a big storm coming, which we really wanted to avoid.  We had heard at the Tri-State Museum that they had had six INCHES of HAIL the day before.  If you follow along with us regularly, you know that we attract hail like some attract lightning.  I think my insurance company would get suspicious if I asked for a third hail repair…So without further ado, we made a beeline for Gillette, WY, and shelter from the night at a Hampton Inn.  We got there just before the sky opened up!

Tomorrow will be another fun one!


Day 3 Medora ND to Gillette WY

Buffalo, Bismarck, Big Bugs, and Bears

Remember to click on individual photos for related links!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Jamestown ND to Medora ND ~365 miles


After a fantastic night’s sleep at the Jamestown Quality Inn (which was packed – where did all of these people come from??) we repacked our bug-spattered car (ick!) and headed out in search of breakfast.  We tried a place across the street which didn’t open until eleven, but some of the women working there pointed us in the direction of the Depot Cafe downtown.  After a bit of searching we found it, in the “mall”.  It was a happening place, although we were the youngest patrons in there by about 20 years.  But they knew how to make a good breakfast!  The place was full of railroad memorabilia and all of the menu items had train names.  Kim and I both had “The Fireman”, a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and toast.  Good way to start the day!

Breakfast at The Depot Cafe

After a short ride through downtown, we arrived at Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum – what a great time we had! Frontier Village was great – an old West street lined with museum quality shops and services – a newspaper office, post office, saloon, blacksmith, dentist’s office, barber shop, church, school, law office, bank, general store, etc.  Writer Louis L’Amour grew up in Jamestown, so there is a Writer’s Shack that honors him and his books. There was a stagecoach, so we paid our $5 fee and hopped aboard.  What a ride! We were practically hysterical!  It was fun for ten minutes, but we determined that we would have been whiney pioneers!  We rode out of the village and past a few buffalo grazing, then returned back to the stagecoach station.  From there we walked down to see the World’s Biggest Buffalo, which is one of Hampton Inn’s Landmarks.  We first discovered these mostly restored pieces of Americana on Route 66, and now we are on the lookout for them.  It was a big buffalo, all right – 60 tons!!  We walked through and looked at most of the exhibits, then drove down to the buffalo museum to try to see White Cloud, an the only female albino buffalo in North America.  It was a hot day (for North Dakota) so she was down in the shade of the trees, pretty far away, but we got a few photos of her.  It was almost noon and we had not gotten on the road, so we opted to skip the museum and get going.

World's Largest Buffalo, Jamestown ND

Our goal today was to get to Medora, in extreme western North Dakota.  We had been duly warned about the boringness of North Dakota, so we had searched high and low for places of interest so that the drive wouldn’t just be interstate all the way.  Our first detour took us south of Jamestown to pick up a section of “A Very Long Straight Road” which goes from Hickson to Streeter, North Dakota.  They were not exaggerating!  What we didn’t expect along this straight road through the prairie was lots of water!  And it came right up to the road, in lots of places!  It appeared that some of the water had appeared unexpectedly and had flooded out areas.  There were even seagulls!  What was really odd was that it wasn’t clear from where the water came – no rivers, just seemingly random ponds and lakes.  We enjoyed the drive out in the country and on our own. Shortly after the town of Gackle (spelled out in red, white, and blue tires) we turned back north and rejoined the interstate, headed for Bismarck and another state capitol.  Best things about the interstates out here – no traffic (NONE!) and 75 mph speed limits!

A Long, Straight Road

On the way to Bismarck, we passed the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in the town of Steele.  It was behind the Lone Steer Motel/Cafe/Lounge and there was a pretty little memorial garden there.  It was a nice little diversion…

World's Largest Sandhill Crane

The North Dakota state capitol in Bismarck is one of only four capitol buildings in the US that are skyscrapers (you may remember the Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge from last year’s trip, and Florida and Nebraska are the other ones).  We didn’t think the building was very pretty from the outside, but we loved the art deco interior.  Again, symbolism abounded inside.  We had a wonderful tour guide, Taryn, who shared some of the fun facts about the capitol.  Here are a few things we learned: The sculptures in the huge Memorial Hall represent farming and mining, the two largest industries in ND; the chandeliers represent heads of wheat, weigh 1000 pounds each, and contain 109 light bulbs each; the lighting in the House chamber represents the stars and moon at night, while that in the Senate chamber represents sunrise and sunset; the bronze doors of the elevators depict the pioneer experience; and there’s a really cool room that serves no particular purpose (it’s a back entrance to the Secretary of State’s office) that is lined in “monkey wood” – you can see the faces of different animals in it.  We enjoyed the views from the 18th floor, especially of the mall with “North Dakota” spelled out in flowers.  Across the way from the capitol was the state historical museum and a statue with Sakakawea and her papoose.

North Dakota State Capitol

From Bismarck, we went south to see Fort Abraham Lincoln, but when we got there, we learned that the park had just closed (at five PM), so we turned around and visited the ND Veterans’ Cemetery next door, then continued west, bound for the Enchanted Highway.  But first, we saw the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, “Salem Sue”, a statue of a cow so big (38 feet high and 50 feet long!) that we could easily see her from the interstate.  We just took pictures from the road and chose not to stop for this one.  Erected in 1974, Sue honors and advertises the dairymen of the area, their superior herds, and the production of high quality milk.

Salem Sue, World's Largest Holstein Cow

The Enchanted Highway runs from Regent, ND, to the interstate due north, and it is lined with some of the World’s Largest (are you spotting a theme here?) Metal Sculptures.  It was easy to see where to get off the highway, as “Geese in Flight” holds the Guinness World Record as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world.  It was erected in 2001 and is built of used oil well pipe and oil tanks.  Other sculptures along the way were The Deer Family (2002), “Grasshoppers in the Field” (1999), “Fisherman’s Dream” (2006), “Pheasants on the Prairie” (1996), “Teddy Rides Again” (1993), and “Tin Family” (1991).  Which one is your favorite?

"Geese in Flight" World's Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture

On the Enchanted Highway, we saw lots of pheasants by the road.  They hang out right along the sides of the road (something we had noticed on our Roadside Giant Tour in 2007) and this year I even got some good photos of them!  We also saw beautiful fields full of sunflowers in full bloom (second largest cash crop in ND) and we enjoyed the rolling green hills dotted with big rolled bales of hay.  By the time we got to Dickenson, we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at the first place we found, El Sombrero, and wolfed down some pretty good Mexican food.  It was dark by the time we pulled into Medora, so we found our hotel and lugged in our stuff.  We loved having our own little Teddy bear to greet us!


Thinking North Dakota was a lot more fun to cross than Kansas,


Day 2 Jamestown to Medora ND

05 August 2010

Far to Go, Getting to Fargo!

This year, I’m not adding as many photos to the blog, but clicking on each photo will either lead you to a hyperlink about the topic or to an album of related images on facebook.  Enjoy!

Monday, 2 August 2010


After enjoying one of the best and most memorable Creative Memories Showcases of my 16 year career, it was hard to say goodbye to some of my dearest “old” CM friends and also to my new pixie friends, but it was time for the next adventure to begin.  Kim flew into MSP from Tennessee and she, Anne, and I shared a room out near the airport on Sunday night.  None of us slept all that great, so we were up EARLY (read before 7 AM!!).  More goodbyes, and Anne headed off to the airport while Kim and I caught up on emails, briefly planned our day’s itinerary, and got ready to go.  You would think that we could have gotten away in a reasonable amount of time, but if you know us, you know that wasn’t happening…

Packed Prius!

Eventually, the car was packed (I am not using the term loosely!) and Kim and I left the comfort of our Hampton Inn with breakfast at Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul on our minds.  However, we put “Mickey’s Diner” in the Garmin, and so we ended up being not where I thought we were going… but, all things happen for a reason!  We were right in front of a US Post Office, and I had t-shirts to mail to Australia, so in we went.  Wow, what an amazing experience it was for both of us.  First, there was not a line – only one person there ahead of us – and then, without us saying a word, a postal employee started asking us questions and HELPING us!!  Before we left, he knew all about the Sassy Sisters and our trip, and we knew about his teenaged daughter’s driving lessons.  But back to breakfast!  We opted to just hang at this Mickey’s (I’d eaten at the other one before) and we were not disappointed.


Minnesota State Capitol

Once fortified, our first stop of the day was to visit the state capitol of Minnesota.  In the 14 summers that I’ve found myself in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, I’ve never once been to the capitol, so it was time!  The capitol building is beautiful!  Although there was a good bit of scaffolding up, it was still a treat to see a HUGE gold structure high above the entrance to the building.  The Minnesota State Capitol was built starting in 1896 and it opened in 1905, and was designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the Woolworth Building and the US Customs House in NYC, the US Supreme Court, and several other state capitol buildings.  The building is a traditional dome, and the paintings and detail work found on the ceilings was incredible!  One of the things I find so interesting about capitol buildings is all of the symbolism and thought that went into their design and construction.  Minnesota’s ceilings had a lot of blue, and the letter ‘M” was prominently featured throughout, as well as ‘l’etoile du nord’ (the North Star). The legislative chambers were gorgeous – one chamber had the preamble to the Declaration of Independence in an arch over figures representing early settlers of the state, and famous explorers were represented in each corner of the ceiling.  The Supreme Court room was not as elaborate, but it was still full of symbolism.  The highlight of the tour was getting to go up a spiral staircase that led to a sort of balcony that surrounded the dome.  The door opened out onto lots of scaffolding and a party of three workmen on break, but we were able to get close-up views of the fabulous gold statue called the “Quadriga”, which was designed by Daniel Chester French, who designed the Lincoln Memorial.  The statue is really covered in 23 carat gold!  From here, we had spectacular views of the mall, the cathedral, and Summit Avenue, which has the largest collection of original Victorian architecture in the US.

Cathedral of Saint Paul

Our next stop sort of had to involve a drive down Summit Avenue and a tour of the Cathedral of Saint Paul.  The cathedral was amazing!  Very reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome, although much smaller, it had stunning stained glass windows and a couple of small chapels in addition to the main altar.  The biggest surprise, though, was a copy of Michelangelo’s “La Pieta” that was one of four made from a cast of the original sculpture.  It was magnificent! I didn’t realize that it was the only one of his works that was signed, so I had to stay long enough to find and photograph his name.


From Summit, we went down the hill into downtown St. Paul in search of my favorite store, Candyland, and one of my favorite treats, chocolate covered potato chips!!  On the way there, we passed Mickey’s Dining Car, so Kim knew I wasn’t making it up!  She loved Candyland, too, but she has been on a major exercise/weight loss kick since May (and she looks great!!!) so she exercised great restraint and only got two turtles. But just being surrounded by all that yummy candy and popcorn was enough!  And of course, we loved the statues of Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and Woodstock that were outside the door.  St. Paul is Charles Schultz’s hometown, and for several summers Anne and I had fun finding the brightly painted statues of Peanuts characters that were all over town.  It was after noon by the time we left St. Paul, bound for Fargo, North Dakota, and points between and beyond!

Flats at CM World Headquarters

Once I realized that our route would take us through St. Cloud, Minnesota, home of Creative Memories, I knew we would have to stop and let the “Flats” say hello.  In case you are clueless about the “Flats”, I’ll try to explain.  I work with a group of twelve other Creative Memories Consultants on a website called pixels2pages.net, and they are from all over the world – Australia, Canada, and the US – and the ones that were not able to attend our Showcase sent a flat version of themselves for photo opportunities.  Since I had them with me, it seemed only fitting to get their photos at World Headquarters!  Since I’d just seen my Home Office friends in Minneapolis, we didn’t stay and bug them – just took a quick look around the lobby and continued on our way west.

World's Largest Otter, Fergus Falls, MN

It had not taken long for us to tire of the interstate, so after St. Cloud, we looked for alternate routes to get us to North Dakota.  We enjoyed riding through small towns like Ashby and Fergus Falls.  We even made a brief stop in Fergus Falls to let Peppy see the World’s Largest Otter (Fergus Falls is in Otter Tail county) in a small little park that had a pretty lake full of ducks and other pretty birds.  Back on the road, I can’t tell you much, because I let Kim drive and I promptly fell asleep until we were about to cross into North Dakota.

The Pixie Flats Visit Fargo!

I’m not sure what I expected of Fargo, but in the summertime, it didn’t seem like a bad place to be!  It seemed pretty spread out with lots of malls and big box stores – a version of suburbia on the Plains.  We found our way to the tourist information center, which looked like a grain elevator.  We met a nice lady there (Fran) who gave us loads of maps and brochures – enough for not only ND, but also South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana!  She also gave us dinner recommendations, which was good, because we were starting to get hungry!  While here, we got some shots of the Fargo Walk of Fame and the painted buffalo out on the lawn.  We are so easily amused!


Dinner was next – Santa Lucia Greek restaurant was the place that Fran had suggested, and she didn’t steer us wrong!  From the cold, sweet Peach Bellinis to Kim’s gyro platter and my European style seared pork tenderloin, it was the perfect road food for us!  Breakfast was starting to seem a long time ago!  After dinner, we went just across the street to the mall to see the Roger Maris Museum.  For those of you who didn’t know us when, Kim and I were HUGE baseball fans, especially St. Louis Cardinal fans.  You probably know that Roger Maris played for the Yankees and in 1961 he hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s single season record, but you may not know that he played his last two years of baseball (67 and 68) in St. Louis. leading them to win the World Series against Boston in 1967 and taking Detroit to seven games in 1968.  Kim and I sat, enthralled, in seats from Yankee Stadium, and watched a video about Roger’s career.  We were heartened to learn that he loved his time in St. Louis!  They had lots of great memorabilia, including real crowns for the Sultan of Swat – who knew?


We took a short cruise through downtown Fargo – lots of great neon and a real “step back in time” feel – and then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset as we headed west for Jamestown.  We really wanted to stop and see the ‘world’s largest collection of empty oilcans” in  Casselton, but it was too dark…

We still had a FAR way to GO!!


Day 1 St. Paul to Jamestown