Salt and trees put Nebraska town on the map
The Morton mansion in Nebraska City, Nebraska
After three days camping in Cody, Wyoming, we headed southeast on Highway 120 to Thermopolis and Casper then took I-20 to Douglas where we overnighted.
The scenery along the nearly deserted road was mostly prairie with lots of sage brush and a few rolling hills. We spotted mule deer and pronghorn antelope sleeping or feeding along the roadway and occasionally, we would top a hill and see flat, desolate country for miles and miles and an occasional rain storm, probably in the next county. As I recall, we had no phone signals.
Just outside Thermopolis, a popular and busy little town known for its hot springs, we rode south and parallel with the Big Horn River passing through the Wind River Canyon, which shows off breathtakingly high and colorful cliffs. We should have spent more time here.
At Douglas, we spent the night in a very nice KOA campground, located on the outskirts of town and far enough from the Interstate that we could sleep undisturbed with the windows open.
Inside the Morton mansion.
Douglas has the distinction of being the home of the fabled jackalope tale. Seems a local taxidermist took the antlers from a deer and mated it with the body of a jack rabbit and to this day, there are some in this town who swear the jackalope exists. Douglas thought enough of the attention to erect an eight-foot statue in the middle of town.
Douglas’ real claim to fame? The town is listed in the 100 best small towns of America.
From Douglas we drove to Fort Collins, CO., dined with some Oklahoma friends from high school and college days then drove across Nebraska on the Pawnee Pioneer Trail. We passed mostly farm land, with thousands of acres of corn and soybeans, and a few beef and pork feeder lots and a bunch of oil pumping units. Land that wasn’t growing a cash crop was fenced and covered with prairie grass for grazing cattle.
We drove through corn fields on both sides of the highway as far as the eye could see. This site continued across Nebraska, Iowa and into Ohio.
Signs along the highway said we were driving parallel in some areas, to the famous Pony Express Route. We are in the once wild, wild west.
In North Platte, Nebraska, we enjoyed 50 degree nighttime temperatures, which is a rarity in this part of the country in mid-August and got back on the highway early the next morning and drove 270 miles around Lincoln to Nebraska City and camped in Victorian Acres, a well-appointed campground with big campsites and lots of green grass.
We spent two nights in Nebraska City whose most notable citizen was Morton Salt Company founder Jay Morton. A landmark in town is the Morton mansion, called Arbor Lodge. His father, J. Sterling Morton moved here in the mid 1800’s and complained there were no trees in town. He led a movement to plant trees and later became the founder of Arbor Day. He was also named Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland. Morton built the original 32 room house but son Jay expanded it to more than 50.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 94
GALLONS OF GASOLINE: 1,288
COST OF FUEL: $3,879
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 10,639
Pronghorns in Montana; Cody’s museum in Wyoming
A cowboy chuckwagon cook prepares a pot of pinto beans at the entrance to the Cody Center of the West Museum in Cody, WY.
Crossing the border from Canada into Montana did not bring a change in scenery. The flat, treeless prairie landscape in southern Alberta, Canada, continued until we reached the Missouri River north of Helena where the flat grasslands were replaced with big canyons and trees.
Float boats were drifting the river made famous by Lewis and Clark
The pony express rider heading west in Montana is actually a metal sculpture but certainly appears authentic.
, hoping to catch trout and small bunches of pronghorn antelope were spotted numerous times feeding near the highway. Pronghorns are seen throughout the west and in some areas are almost common sights. Most motorists fail to see the wildlife because Montana has an 80 mile per hour speed limit on this section of Interstate 15.
The chuck wagon cook stirs the beans and offers samples to bystanders.
After spending two nights in Great Falls, we drove south on I-15, stopped for lunch at Wheat Montana Bread and Bakery located at the intersections of I-15 and I-90. We splurged and stocked up on homemade bread, a couple giant cinnamon buns, muffins and cookies.
A field of sunflowers near Cody, Wyoming.
We spent the night in a KOA at Big Timber, Montana—a nice, clean campground but near a railroad track and the interstate highway. Campground owners apologized in advance for the train and highway noise. Martha mentioned that we have been on the road now for three months, leaving Florida in early May and traveling north into Canada and finally to Alaska.
The 173-mile route to Cody, Wyoming started on Interstate 90 in eastern Montana and continued to Laurel. We left the four lane highway for a less traveled Highway 310 into Wyoming and changed to Highway 114 and finally Highway 14 to the KOA in Cody. Along the way we passed sparse landscape
Authentic teepees outside the entrance to the Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
with some farmland, lots of prairie and rolling bare rock hills and the occasional canyon. Parts of the landscape reminded us of the Badlands in South Dakota.
We came to Cody to see the popular Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West Museum and we were not disappointed. The museum is extremely well-done with a huge collection of Cody’s memorabilia, covering his family life, professional career including when he owned a newspaper, his days as a pony express rider and a scout for the U. S. Army, which won Cody the Medal of Honor. It was his Wild West Show, however, that made Cody a household name in the United States and Europe.
A plains Indian display at Cody’s museum.
The complex includes the Plains Indian Museum which might be the largest collection of Indian artwork and artifacts in the country. The Museum of Natural History displays an almost unbelievable collection of firearms and western art.
It took a full day to tour the complex. Tomorrow we are driving into Yellowstone National Park through the east entrance, about an hour away from Cody.
A bald eagle performs in the raptor center at Cody Museum.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 89
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 9,936
GALLONS OF GASOLINE: 1,210
COST OF FUEL: $3720
Notes from along the road around the Great Lakes
Coyotes and wolves hybrid
Not far from our campground in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada, we heard reports of coyote or coywolves attacking and killing dogs and small farm animals. Authorities say the coywolves are mostly coyotes but contain a small percentage of wolf from an unlikely mating of the species years ago. They exist throughout the northeastern U. S. and eastern Canada and have been confirmed in northeast lower Michigan. Coyotes do not hunt in packs or stalk their prey, however, there have been reports that coywolves may stalk their prey. (http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4978724-coyote-coywolf-attacks-have-ontario-communities-worried)
Walking 600 miles in 30 days
In Wiarton, Ontario, Canada, we talked with a young couple who were hiking the Bruce Trail from Toronto to Tobermory, a distance of 600 miles. They were planning to finish the hike in 30 days or an average of 20 miles per day. Nice to be young. The trail follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, one of the thirteen UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada, for almost 900 km (560 mi).
Camping from South America to Canada
In St. Ignace, Michigan, we camped near a couple from Sweden who were driving a German made MAN diesel truck camper conversion that had been shipped from Europe to South America. From South America they drove the high wheeled vehicle through South America, Central America, Mexico and across the United States and into Canada. The truck was built for back country rugged driving but from the outside didn’t appear to have many camper features.
A close encounter of the bear kind
Heidi dog’s bathroom clock went off as usual at 6:30 a.m. in a Sault St. Marie, Ontario, Canada, campground on the edge of town. Half awake, and in the dark, we walked about 50 yards from the RV to a fenced-in dog park where she proceeded to take care of her morning toilet, as they call it in Italy, then walked back to the RV. Fifteen minutes later, a huge black bear weighing at least 400 (say the spotters) pounds, made a brief visit into the campground following the same route we walked only minutes before. It climbed a tree near the dog walk area, woofed and clicked its teeth a few times at a barking dog, then exited the tree and the campground. We are not in Kansas.
Who would have thought?
It’s early September and we’re camped in St. Ignace, Michigan and awoke to a startling 37 degrees outside temperature. Inside the RV it was 53. Thank goodness for a gas furnace that works.
Walking and driving the Mackinaw Bridge
On Labor Day an estimated 30,000 people with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder leading the way, walked across the five mile long Mackinaw Bridge. Two lanes of the four lane bridge were blocked off for walkers. It was the 58th year for the annual bridge walk. A week later while we were staying in St. Ignace on the Canadian side of the bridge, more than 1000 antique tractors were driven across the bridge. It was the eighth year for the event. The bridge is more than a bridge for vehicles.
Speaking of bears, Michigan has between 15,000 and 19,000 black bears. About 90 percent of those live in the Upper Peninsula, where we are currently camped. Males can be five feet tall and weigh 400 pounds. We have hiked many a mile in Michigan and yet to see a bear which is fine.
Extra camping fees in Michigan
Local residents pay $11 for an annual camping permit called “Recreation Passport” that allows them to stay in Michigan State Parks. In addition, they must also pay the camping fee which can vary from park to park. . Non-residents must pay $31 for the Recreation Passport plus the camping fee. Michigan also charges $8.40 for campers pulling a tow-car if they disconnect the vehicle while in the campground.
Dinner with the critters
At Sault St. Marie, Michigan, we had dinner at a very unusual place called The Antlers. There are over 200 animal mounts scattered throughout the restaurant with dozens of various antlers tacked to the ceiling and walls. Deer, antelope, bears, big cats polar bear and fish are among the critters mounted on the walls and ceiling. Most thrilling, however, was the news that The Antlers has been featured on a national television show My Ghost Stories. Nothing scary about the hamburgers. They were delicious.
Waterfalls are becoming major attractions
In Canada we found waterfalls galore in the area around Owen Sound, Ontario and all were attracting lots of visitors. At Munising, Michigan, the area boasts at least 12 major waterfalls. Most communities are taking advantage of the waterfalls as an attraction and publishing separate brochures with pictures and maps for visitors to the area.
Driving across the Mackinaw Bridge
It was drizzling rain and clouds were covering the tops of the five-mile-long Mackinaw Bridge during our crossing giving us the impression that we were climbing into the clouds—an erie feeling. When built in the late 50’s it was the tallest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge is the dividing line for Great Lakes Michigan and Huron. ????
How far did we travel?
5,728 miles, used 639 gallons of fuel, and spent 60 nights in campgrounds
A lesson learned in old Charleston
The historic Exchange and Provost building is a National Historic Landmark in Charleston. Built in the late 1770’s for the expanding shipping industry, but also served as a public market and meeting place.
Walking down one of Charleston’s many narrow walkway.
It is early June when we arrived here and pulled into a KOA Campground about 15 minutes from downtown Charleston. Outside of town Tropical Storm Andrea left little evidence of its passage, leaving a few fallen trees along I-26 and a few puddles in the campground.
We are accustomed to parking in tight spaces, particularly in older campgrounds that were built in a period before the popularity of today’s larger Class A motor homes and our campground for the next three days is no different. The necessary hookups and connections are made and we unwind from the Richmond Hill, Ga, to Charleston drive in camp chairs under big trees outside the RV with a cold drink. It’s early June and warm as usual in the deep south Lowcountry but the RV’s twin air-conditioners quickly cool the inside of the Green Knight. There will be no sleeping with windows open tonight. Speckled perch caught a month ago on a creek off the St. Johns River in Putnam County, Florida, is prepared on an outside grill and served inside with fresh sebago potatoes from Robert Revel’s Farm in East Palatka, FL., along with a salad. Although the mosquitoes are biting, life is good.
Wanting to beat the next day’s heat we leave the RV about 9 a.m., drive into downtown Charleston, find a spot in the city’s parking garage and walk to the nearby visitor’s center for a few brochures. Among those selected was a well-defined walking brochure of Charleston’s historic district, stretching from the city center to Waterfront Park, a twelve-acre park along about a half mile of the Cooper River. It appeared a good idea at 9:30 in the morning when temperatures were in the low 80’s. We bought a couple of mocha coffee drinks from a vendor across the street and headed downtown, on foot.
The Saturday morning Farmers Market on Charleston’s downtown Marion Square is a popular shopping and gathering place.
The “White Man” plays to a young audience at the Farmer’s Market in Charleston.
Barely two blocks later we find Marion Square where we stumble upon the weekly Saturday morning Farmers Market and get an early morning taste of Charleston. Twenty-nine farmers and growers from the area are peddling fresh local produce, most of which are organically grown, seafood from nearby waters, potted plants and cut flowers. A half dozen vendors are selling ethnic foods. There are booths offering the southern favorite boiled peanuts, specialty flavored coffees, pastries, fresh juices and more. Local artisans booths, including the popular sweetgrass basket makers are scattered throughout the square.
Obviously the weekly Farmer’s Market is a popular gathering place for Charleston residents who are here in huge numbers supporting the farmers, growers and artist. We pitched in and added to the local economy buying a couple fresh pastries but had to pass on other interesting “stuff” because we were walking.
We joined the parade of tourists heading deeper into the old city and found the City Market, an historic complex that was established in the 1790’s and stretches for four city blocks in a building that is designated a National Historic Landmark including a dozen or so historic Gullah sweetgrass basket makers, selling their handcrafted wares.
It’s about 11 a.m. and the weather is building to its 90 degree prediction when we finish walking the City Market and head further into the historic district, where the $6 self guided walking brochure promises we will “walk in the footsteps of revolutionaries, patriots, pirates, planters, Southern bells, slaves and finally freedmen.”
Reading the brochure and rescued somewhat from the heat by the shade of the city’s towering old oak trees, we continue the walk to Waterfront Park.
Although five years younger than St. Augustine, Charleston has many Colonial era structures still standing and most are found along the 3.5 mile walking route from Bay Street to Waterfront Park. We escaped the heat for a hour or so as we took a guided tour through the historic Heyward-Washington House. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward, Jr., entertained George Washington in this house for seven days on his visit to Charleston in 1791. We thought it interesting that Heyward was exiled to St. Augustine in 1780 during the Revolutionary War when he was captured by the British. The museum grade house is furnished with a large collection of Charleston-made furniture including the Holmes Bookcase, considered to be the finest example of American-made furniture and considered priceless in value.
Thoroughly rung out and dripping wet from the heat, we reach Waterfront Park, a 12 acre park fronting on the Cooper River. Other whipped tourists are lounging on the grounds in the cooling shade of oak trees and resting for the walk back downtown. Unfortunately, there are no street vendors in the park, offering badly needed bottled water. The park has a storied history and has withstood dozens of hurricanes during its existence but none as costly as Hurricane Hugo which struck in 1989, Hurricane Hugo, causing about $1 million of damage.
In the heat, we walked back to the downtown area and had lunch at a nice restaurant, then walked the rest of the way back to the visitors center where our car was parked. If our next visit to Charleston is during the summer, we vowed to take a bus tour and leave the walking to the younger visitors.
GREAT STEAK FOR LUNCH
Dinner at lunch prices is what we received at Grill 225, located in the Market Pavilion Hotel at 225 East Bay Street. Like many fine dining restaurants, the lunch menu prices are discounted over the more pricey evening meals but the food is the same. We both ate steaks, prime and aged 42-50 days. They welcome tourists off the streets, even those hot and sweaty ones who were foolish enough to walked the walking tour on a hot summer day instead of taking the bus.
TOUR THE YORKTOWN
The WWII aircraft carrier which fought in the famous battle of Midway is anchored at Patriot’s Point in Charlotte Harbor which is also the embarkation point for Fort Sumter tour boats. Accompanied by a nice sea breeze, we took a walking tour of the ship, inside and out. Known as the “ship that would not die,” the ship is also home to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society museum and houses many planes in the hanger bay and on the flight deck.
NEXT STOP: Galax, Va., located near the Blue Ridge Parkway OFF I-77 for a Rosanne Cash concert at the Blue Ridge Music Center and a small town music and arts festival in downtown Galax, home of the popular National Fiddling Contest.
The USS Yorktown is now at anchor in Charlotte Harbor after serving in WWII and Vietnam.
. . .
Bar Harbor’s lobster pounds still exist
The 20 mile drive from Ellsworth to Bar Harbor, Maine thirty-five years ago was populated with lobster pounds. Best described as rustic roadside eateries these screened-in shacks served mostly steamed lobsters without the trimmings. The customer selects a one or two-pound live lobster; cooks put the lobster in a numbered mesh bag, then drop it into big pot of steaming, boiling water. Cooked and ready to eat, the cook whacks it a few times with a mallet to crack the shell and serves the customer. That was lunch in the old days. Just lobster.
Customers wanting lobster with trimmings drove to one of the sit down restaurants in Bar Harbor.
Thirty-five years later, the scene has changed but not entirely. There are still a few old-fashioned screened-in-porch lobster pounds on the drive to Bar Harbor, but most are now restaurants serving lobsters and most other varieties of Maine seafood fare. A few have a screened-in porch in front of the restaurant to at least give it the feel of an old-fashioned lobster pound.
We found one such lobster pound and ordered a couple two-pound lobsters– just lobster with no trimmings. Thirty-five years ago, I would have ordered two of these “two-pounders” on the way to Acadia National Park in the morning then wolfed down a couple more on the way back to Ellsworth late in the afternoon. Apparently I have changed right along with the lobster business.
On a full stomach, we drove into downtown Bar Harbor and walked its main street of quaint shops along with bus loads of other tourists. Customers dressed in the latest L. L. Bean hiking or biking garb were lined up on the boat dock preparing to take whale watching trips. Just as many old timers showing their age wore khaki shorts, knee high white socks, white tennis shoes and Ron Jon’s tee shirts from Cocoa Beach, Fl. We’re easily spotted.
The traffic thins as we drive around the loop road through Bar Harbor National Park. That’s because most of the day’s visitors are stacked up at Thunder Hole waiting for high tide and the traditional “ka-whoom” sound of the surf as it is forced into a hole in a big shoreline rock.
We pulled out of the traffic onto an overlook en route to the top of Cadillac Mountain and enjoyed the ocean scenery before pulling off the road for a picnic lunch that Martha had prepared. The rest of the crowd is inching its way to the top of Cadillac Mountain to take in probably the best view on the Maine coast.
As we unloaded camera gear and jackets, Martha recalled that tucked away somewhere in a place of prominence in our house is an old rusty nail that she or one of our daughters carried home from the top of this mountain on our previous trip. We found no old nails today as we walked around the mountain top and soaked up the scenery which included heavily forested islands that dotted the bay and a large sail boat as it headed toward open sea. Although the top of Cadillac was busy with tourists, finding an isolated rock without a bunch of people, wasn’t difficult. We took a breather and talked about out time here 35 years ago with the girls.
The following day a ranger at the Visitors Center directed us to an “out-of-the-way” and less crowded hiking trail for older folks in Southwest Harbor, a few miles down the road but still within the park boundary. To really get the feel of Acadia National Park, visitors are encouraged to get out of the car and walk its trails.
“Nothing like Bubble Rock Trail,” we said, recalling the one-mile walk down to the waterfront 35-years-ago that wasn’t a trail; nothing but climbing over big boulders going down to the waterfront and returning. It kicked our tails back then and we were not giving it another opportunity.
En route to the “seniors trail” we headed for Southwest Harbor. Taking the advice of Yogi Berra who said “when you come to the fork in the road, take it,” we apparently missed the trail but found a neat three blocks long town and a nice pub in what we thought was West Harbor. With promises to search later for the elusive hiking trail, we shared Bar Harbor mussels, crab cakes and a couple craft beers and learned from a startled waitress we were in East Harbor, not Southwest Harbor. She wanted to know how we managed to get lost when there’s only one highway on the island. Danged if we knew.
We hiked back the two blocks to the car and drove home to our camp site near Ellsworth at the Timberland Acres RV.
Next: Crossing the border into Canada
Originally posted 7/27/2010
Walking across the Mississippi
The other half of the traveling Hughes duo removed her shoes, rolled up her pant legs and without fanfare, walked barefooted across the mighty Mississippi River. She stopped midway, reflected on the feat, laughed out loud and said our grandkids would never believe “I’m walking across the Mississippi River.”
All rivers have a beginning and an end and the Mississippi, American’s largest river, is just a tiny knee-deep stream, not more than 20 or 25 feet wide, at its headwaters about 30 miles south of the small town of Bemidji in north central Minnesota. It’s the first time either of us could recall ever seeing the beginning of a river.
Wading across the headwaters rapids as it leaves Lake Itasca has become a popular summer activity for tourists, which on this occasion includes the Hughes’s and about 100 others. They appeared just as awed as the Hughes’s; stopping and sitting down on the edge of the stream, not because of over-exertion but giving serious thought to what just happened. Many just walked back into the center of the stream, soaking up more of the experience.
We are camping at a KOA in gorgeous Bemidji, Minnesota, in the heart of Paul Bunyan country and making a day-trip to Itasca State Park where the Mississippi trickles from Lake Itasca. Upstream, it passes through Lake Bemidji where it has grown in size and now resembles a large creek or maybe a very small river, then heads east and continues its 2500 miles meandering trip across the midsection of the country terminating into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Hughes’s are in the fourth month of an RV trip that started inSt. Augustine and has proceeded through 13 states and a Canadian Province covering 6.025 miles to date.
As a stroke of luck, on the very rural highway en route to Itasca State Park, the Hughes’s pass a Family Music Festival, featuring bluegrass gospel groups from throughout the country. A stop was made here for lunch and enjoyed listening to a couple groups, including the talented Link Family from Missouri then proceeded to Lake Itasca State Park.
After walking across the Mississippi headwaters, we took a one-way 10-mile scenic drive through the wilderness area of the park and stopped for an afternoon snack at historic Douglas Lodge.
The following morning we took advantage of the well-maintained Paul Bunyan Trail on the southeast side of Lake Bemidji for a five mile walk along the waters edge and the wooded north country of Minnesota. The trail is 110 miles long, beginning in scenic Brainerd and ending north of Bemidji.
On the road back to the campground, a quick stop was made at the downtown visitor’s center to assume the tourist role once again, taking pictures of the giant (18 feet tall, 2.5 tons) Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, constructed in 1937. The statues are on the National Register of Historic Places.
An advertisement in the Bemidji newspaper for a weekend rib festival in the small town of nearby Cass sounded like fun and will fill tomorrow’s “to do” list. The 20 minute drive included The Bemidji newspaper advertising a weekend rib festival in the small town of Cass caught our attention. Cass is located on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, the largest reservation in the state in numbers of members.