Monday, May 30, 2022

The most epic adventure ever!

 The term "epic" is thrown around a lot, but I feel like the trip my brother and I took would qualify. Over the course of 11 days, my brother and I visited 11 states, 9 of which we had never been to before, and set our new furthest West and North points either of us have ever been! 

There is a massive amount of stuff I am going to try and fit into this post, it is going to be a long post and there's no way I can accurately portray all the things we saw or did. 

I took 16,319 photos on the trip, which is a new personal record for most taken in a single week. 

We left home on May 14th and headed west on I-84. We drove through Pennsylvania, which is an 8 hour ride, and most of Ohio, stopping for the night in Maumee, which is where we like to stay in that area and I was last in in 2019. 

Pennsylvania is mostly trees.
We stopped for lunch on the second day in the South Holland Oasis, just outside Chicago. I actually took this photo while sitting there eating lunch, 
Joliet, Illinois is the furthest West I had ever been before that trip, but that was blown out of the water by a wide margin! This was the first interesting sight after crossing my old boundary.
Most of Illinois west of Joliet is farmland
We saw and crossed the Mississippi River for the first time! The left side of the picture is Iowa, the right Illinois. Iowa would be the first of 7 new states I would visit for the first time on this trip.
Although I hadn't mentioned it yet, this shows our destination. My brother points to the bottom left corner of South Dakota, home  of Mount Rushmore, which is something we both had on our "bucket list" to see. I point to our home in New York where we started from. 
The World's Largest Truckstop is in Iowa and it's a destination in and of itself. It's really cool! We had dinner there that night, they have a full restaurant as well as fast food options built in. 

However, my favorite part was the Truck museum they have on premises and it was spectacular! I saw I believe 15 new brands of vehicle I'd never seen before! A week later and I still haven't had to the time to check...
We saw Iowa Speedway! This is the 5th NASCAR track I've seen in person.
We didn't budget in the time for the Truck stop and museum so we ended up driving deep into the night, getting a motel in Council Bluffs.
In the motel I opened a pack of cards. The goal was to open some cards in every new state we went to, but I was not successful in that regard, I missed three states. 
It was night when we got to the motel, but I could see the lights in the distance, and that's Omaha, Nebraska!  The motel backs up to the Missouri River.
We saw the Golden Spike monument in Council Bluffs, which was the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.
We crossed into Nebraska thinking we would just be there for a few minutes, then take I-29 North...but I-29 was completely closed for construction. We found this awesome, sprawling monument to early settlers which had some of the best sculpture I've ever seen.
My favorite was this unruly cow with it's tongue out. 
You could really see emotion in these sculptures, something that generally doesn't convey all that well usually. I was very impressed.
Omaha has only been around since 1853, and once hosted the Kings in the NBA. 
About the statues.
So, after driving around trying to find a way to get onto I-29, we pulled out the paper map and looked at it...I saw US-77 heads north and met up where we wanted to go at the top of Nebraska, so off we went. It was farm mostly but fun to drive through. 
We drove through the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) nation.
A FedEx truck speeds through a dirt road off in the distance. 
After finally getting onto I-29 in Sioux City, we passed the monument noting where the only person on the Lewis & Clark Expedition died and is buried.
And we finally got to South Dakota! Unfortunately, I forgot to open any cards in Nebraska.
South Dakota had suffered some seriously bad weather the week before we went. Over 100 mile per hour winds, multiple people killed, and significant property damage, as you can see by these silos that were collapsed by the wind.
The Missouri River again, which bisects South Dakota and changes it drastically...on the east side is farms and plains, but on the west side..
It becomes the National Grasslands. The topography was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and was very interesting. Instead of flat, it was lumpy, and there were almost no trees! It was strange and even a little surreal to me, because it was something so different from what I had ever seen before. It was like a desert of grass, almost. 
I was surprised to see how  many roads were not paved west of Joliet.  Here in the northeast the roads are generally all paved, even the country roads out in farm country. Based on what I saw that is actually the abnormality even though it's all I've ever known. 
There were lots and lots of cows along the side of the road. So many cows...there were more cows than buildings. Luckily, I love cows, and enjoyed seeing them.
You can see very far...

South Dakota must be the billboard capital of the USA, there are tons of them, and Wall Drug must have 3/4ths of them.

We stopped at the Ranch Store in Interior, and that was one of the most fun places we stopped at the entire trip!
Prairie Dogs live there, and you can get peanuts to give them which they will come right up to get. 
Look how close this one is to my brother! 
This one actually sat on my foot and pawed at my leg to get a peanut! 
They also have The World's Largest Prairie Dog statue, which is I believe 18 feet tall. 
After that, we went to the Badlands, which is maybe 5 minutes away down the road from the Prairie Dogs. It's spectacular....but pictures don't do it justice, you need to see it in person to truly grasp how impressive this is. I took a lot of pictures, and chose the most interesting to post here. 

My smartphone has a panorama setting, and this was certainly one of the best places to use it. 

We stopped at Wall Drug, which didn't really live up to the hype...
But seeing these animatronic singing cowboys made it well worth it! My brother says they all look like they are on meth, and I can't disagree. 
They also have an 80 foot dinosaur. 
We drove into the night again, reaching Rapid City and our motel in Keystone in the dark, during a thunderstorm. 
The next day was the biggest, best day of the trip and also one of the most physically exhausting days, but it was worth it. We went to see Mount Rushmore! (That's my brother on the far right of the picture, taking a photo of the flags)

Mount Rushmore looks impressive in pictures and on film, but seeing it in person is spectacular. If you can ever get the chance to see it, it's well worth it, because pictures can't fully capture how impressive it is. 
We got caught in a storm while we were there but had prepared by bringing our umbrellas. It was windy and cold and we got very wet anyway, and I discovered my smart phone and my actual camera (only good for long distance shots) can funtion while wet.
We walked the "Presidential trail" in the rain, which was cool. There is a cave you can go in to get this view, and it was well worth it, but I did hit my head on the inside of the cave. 
After that, we drove to the side where there is a profile view of Washington. 
Then we drove to Crazy Horse, about 15 miles away. Crazy Horse will be very impressive someday....hopefully. They started carving in 1948, and this is as far as they got. 
This is what the final sculpture is supposed to look like, with the actual sculpture in the background. 
What was VERY impressive was the Museum of the American Indian, which was gigantic- some 60,000 feet. I couldn't see all of it, I reached my exhaustion point with still 5 rooms ahead of me, that I didn't get to see. I would be plagued by that the rest of the trip. All the portraits on the wall are survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn. 
So many artifacts...
They even had cards on display! 

The museum is run by the Lakota, unfortunately there were no artifacts from the Montauk (who I descend from) nor the Wappinger (the people that give my hometown it's name)
We stopped at a cool antique store on the way back...
and Horse Thief Lake, names because a band of horse thieves were based there back in the past. 
We then went to the National Presidential Wax Museum, which featured a mix of vignettes...
and busts. 
Some of them were a little off...
while some were pretty amazing. 
The gift shop was fun!
Here's a view of Keystone, the town we stayed in. Population 240. The town regularly sees 2 million visitors a year coming to see Mount Rushmore (which is in Keystone) and Crazy Horse (two towns over on the same road)
Then we went into Rapid City, up a scary road to Dinosaur Park, which has some fun yet silly dinosaur statues, and a great overview of the city. 
I was too exhausted to go up the staircase to see the dinosaurs but luckily two small ones were easily reached from the parking lot. These dinos have been here since the 1930s! The sign said since 1936.
Then we went down into the town and my brother walked to some of the Presidential statues on the street corners. The city takes advantage of being so close to Mount Rushmore, they have statues of the presidents over 20 city blocks. I was too exhausted to walk to ANY of them but my brother got a few. 
Then we went to Golden Corral and Wal-Mart in Rapid City...
We stopped at Dinosaur Museum to find  out if it would be open the next day...
the Wal-Mart actually had some Parkhurst so I got a blaster! First time I have found Parkhurst at retail since the 2016-17 season, even though I live in an area with three teams that are considered local and Rapid City is nowhere near any NHL teams, I think you'd have to travel 3 states in any direction to even be in the same state with a team. 
Dinosaur Museum WAS open, it wasn't very big luckily. 
then we went to Reptile Gardens, which was REALLY fun. We hadn't planned to go here, but we saw billboards for it and it looked like fun, so we went. I'm glad we did.
I love lizards, and this is the biggest lizard there is, the Komodo Dragon. 

They had cool rocks around and they were labeled too. 
Really big turtle.
They had a Prairie Dog enclosure also (yes, I know they aren't reptiles, they are locals, close enough!) and there were babies too. 

They have a glass dome you can go in to get a face to face view of the Prairie Dogs. Honestly could have spent all day watching them. 
lol. I would have bought this if they made it big enough for me. 
and now I am sure Mom will want to go there! These gigantic purple rocks were awesome...and expensive. 
Then we went to the Rushmore Candy Company, which is probably not the best idea for a diabetic, but my number was trending low from the walking, even though I was exhausted I tried to push through as much as possible. 
Although it was mostly a looking thing. 
Um, ew. Pickle soda? No thank you! 
Then we got on the Interstate and headed west....
with Devils Tower in Wyoming being the destination! It was pretty impressive. It actually was more impressive from a distance. 

I really like this picture. 
Although I didn't realize it until we got back home, this photo was taken at the very furthest West we have ever been! The road to the visitor center circles around the tower and the apex of the curve before you reach the top is the furthest West you go in the park. I hadn't seen another New York plate since we were in Iowa but there were three others in the parking lot here, including in front of us on the road going in. 
I could only do a very small part of the park, making it as far as the covered pavillion, my brother went further than I could go. 
On the way out, we finally saw Buffalo! I really wanted to see them and there were three in the field near the Tower. 

They also had longhorn cattle. 
We took the scenic route back, which led to this cool lookout in Alva, Wyoming. This is normal...
and zoomed in as close as my camera could handle. 
We drove through the little town of Aladdin, with a population of 19...the smallest town I've ever been in. 
Then we went to the Geographical Center of the US, which is in Belle Fourche, SD. That is when it takes into account Alaska and Hawaii.
We went back to Mount Rushmore to see it lit up and it was spectacular then too! 

The next day we headed to North was not a fun trip. All the places we had been to in South Dakota were fun, but once you get north of Sturgis, it stopped being fun. This is Bear Butte, which is a major religious center for the Native people, being the place where the Cheyenne got their laws and history from their God, among other groups. It was the last interesting sight for many miles. 
There was a whole lot of nothing...but at least the fields are green. 
Note that this is not the same image, now mountains appear in the distance. We would drive through them. 
A mesa! something to look at! 
back to nothing. This went on for hours. 
Then we got into North Dakota and now all the land is brown. There are no cows to look at, no farmhouses, nothing, as a general rule. I apparently forgot to photograph the true desolation, and was so happy to see a building that I photographed it only. 
North Dakota had a statue of a cow, which was on the top of a muddy hill, with a curvy mud road to get to. I was too exhausted to get to the top but my brother went up to the cow. 
On top of the hill..some mud but not much yet. 
The ride down was a bit harrowing. The road was mud, not even dirt, and slippery. We started to go sideways but my brother kept us going forward. That was the only part of the trip I was actually scared. Oh, I should also mention there was no guardrail on the mud road, just some small trees. When we powered through the mud, some of it actually flew up onto the windshield and appears in some of the photos I didn't post here. Also note the high number of bugs squashed on the nose of the Edge, even after going through several rainstorms. 
A shot of the right side. Our Edge was actually being an SUV instead of a tall station wagon! 
entering Bismarck, the capitol of North Dakota.
A heavy rainstorm came through while we were parked and the mud was plopping off, but some of it still remains on the Edge now, a week later. 
As we were going to dinner we did see a rainbow with all the colors visible. 
The next day we saw the World's Largest Buffalo, which is 60 feet tall. 
To give you some scale...
I'm five foot eight! And yes, I'm freezing in this photo. It was 40 degrees, raining, and windy. 

After forgetting to open cards in Nebraska and not having any to open with me in Wyoming, I opened some NASCAR cards at the big buffalo - he's named Dakota Thunder by the way - that I found at Wal-Mart in Rapid City. Also, note the GPS...I wasn't kidding about it being 40!
A whole lot of nothing. 
The Continental Divide I always thought that was the Mississippi River, which we somehow ended up crossing 4 times. 
Now in Minnesota, we saw somebody have a bad day, or at least the aftermath of it. 
Land of 10,000 lakes...tiny, tiny lakes. 
They have a Paul Bunyan thing going on. 
We made a u-turn so I could see this Monster Truck.
Now in Virginia, Minnesota, which is the farthest North I've ever been! Specifically, the end of this street. The hotel is now a Quality Inn and we stayed there. 
The hotel parking lot backs up to the town water station. 
We had some snow and sleet before we headed out the next day...
Unfortunately my brother's phone had a gravity related incident, but he was still able to use it. We've had smart phones since 2016 and this is the first time any have gotten damaged, so we are lucky in that regard. You can see the reflection of my phone taking the picture. 
We went to the US Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, but that will get it's own post...or posts, I don't know yet. 
Then we went to Duluth...not to do any trading, but...
to see Lake Superior. There was a waterfront you could walk to but I was too exhausted so I settled for this. 
then we drove through Saint Paul...
and got our motel in Minneapolis. 
We drove through Minneapolis en route to dinner...

and went through the city at night on the way back to the hotel.
Our original plan was to leave for home on Sunday from Eveleth, but I happened to see a flyer for the NNL North model car show, which was going to be in Bloomington the day after we were going to go through it on the way home. It would have been foolish to not take the opportunity so we stayed an extra day and went, and I'm glad I did because it was fun. And I did very well in the vendor room...most of the shows I go to, I've already gotten what I wanted from the vendors...this show only had one vendor I had seen before so I ended up bringing home 10 kits. 
We went to the Mall of America to hit their food court and just to say we were there. It was confusing to get into but pretty cool. We got there just before it closed so we only got to go into one store, not counting the food. 

the M&Ms store is the one we got into.
would have liked to see the Lego store too, but it wasn't possible. 
The next day we started the two day ride from home, and happened to stop in Wisconsin Dells for lunch, because the signs on the interstate showed they had food places. I'm so glad we did because it was awesome! 

We had no idea they had a Museum of Root Beer but we had to stop.

I even found a hockey root beer! 
The museum is the brainchild of a dedicated collector who's trying to collect one of every kind of root beer memorabilia he can find. My kind of collecting!
There were even some trade cards, an early form of trading cards! 
On the way home, the Chicagoland area traffic was not fun, and took an hour and a half to move through. 
Because of it we didn't get back to the motel in Maumee that we had booked on the start of the trip until about midnight. I slept through a portion of the trip. 
Finally, on the 11th and final day of the trip, we got home! I slept through almost all of Ohio and about half of Pennsylvania. 

It was an incredible trip. It was a challenge for me physically to do, and I couldn't do all I wanted to...not even counting the time crunch. But I will remember it hopefully forever, and I am so glad I got to see Mount Rushmore with my own eyes, something I've wanted to do for years. 

I did forget one thing, though, and that is that I wanted to bring a South Dakota quarter and hold it up in front of the actual thing. 

This major long trip is something I can only do about once a year, if that much. I saw many places I want to explore more, but I don't know if I ever will. Unfortunately they are all so far away...Wyoming is 27 hours away of straight driving, but of course would take 4 days, and 3 days to get to South Dakota, my favorite place I found on the trip, was really pushing it. 

I didn't get all the photos uploaded to my website until the Monday after the trip, aka early this morning. I worked on that almost exclusively, there was so much work to do.

Some links if you want to see more photos...there are over 16,000 of them from this trip!

Mount Rushmore Trip section  has albums for each day and Reptile Gardens
Museums Section has albums for the American Indian Museum, Dinosaur Museum and Presidential Wax Museum

Thanks for reading!