September 17, 2015
I apologize for not keeping the travel log updated but I have been very busy as you will read.
While still in Washington State I provided Alexis with the opportunity to visit her twin sister in Indianapolis before she had to begin the Proton Radiation treatments. Their birthday is October 2nd and with Emily in school this was the best time for them to celebrate their birthday early. After Alexis returned I helped her move into her new home in the Fremont area of Seattle near Green Lake. She is sharing this home built in 1908 with a friend and her loyal and loving Dalmatian Dog! I love the neighborhood and just\\ know that it will be a healing and growth place for Alexis.
Lunch is always better when you can share it with friends and battle buddies. I was able to have lunch with Eric Mehler and his family – Mother, Brother and nephew. Eric (with the US Embassy) and I worked together in Afghanistan trying to help the United Nations personnel ensure that our tax dollars were being correctly applied toward paying the Afghanistan nation’s police force. His family home is in Anacortes with 22 acres of beautiful Pacific Northwest nature surrounding it. We enjoyed great conversation and fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden.
So begins a big adventure with Mary Eileen. I worked with Mary Eileen in Kabul, Afghanistan and one day last fall we were sitting in the Duck and Cover Club on the US Embassy grounds and talked about traveling the United States in a Motorhome. I gave her an open invitation and now almost a year later she is joining me for a 10 day Western United States RV tour!
I left Seattle behind as it was raining and traveled to Boise, ID where I was able to do some laundry and get the RV ready for a visitor.
The next morning we are off to Henrys Lake State Park, ID. With a small diversion on the way we found the Craters of the Moon National Monument and preserve.
At Henrys Lake State Park we parked right on the edge of the lake.
It was cold at Henrys Lake but that did not stop the fishermen and tent campers from enjoying the Labor Day weekend. As we set up camp and prepared our evening meal the sunset was one to admire:
Labor Day found us celebrating in Yellowstone National Park’s southern loop and the Teton National Park. We had lunch at the Inn next to Old Faithful while we waited for the appointed time of Old Faithful to show us her grandeur.
The Old Faithful Inn.
We didn’t have the aerial view but the colors were still vibrant.
This is the flow from the geysers as it enters the Firehole River.
We drove out of Yellowstone National Park and visited the Tetons National Park.
Our first ‘Elk Jam’!
And of course the ‘Buffalo Jam’!
An educational adventure as well:
On our second day at Yellowstone we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the Northern Loop. By far we would recommend the Northern Loop if you are limited on time. This loop had more variety of animals, rock formations, forest and everything than the southern loop.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
We did find that there were prohibitions in Yellowstone!
A perfect setting for our picnic lunch!
At the Lower Falls
Mary on the brink of the lower falls
Little Big Horn
Leaving Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho and the Yellowstone National Park we traveled into Montana with the goal of seeing the battlefield of Little Big Horn.
We were not disappointed as we were able to view the Custer Museum and the battlefield itself. The headstone markers are placed where the soldiers fell on that fateful day. As you’ll see in the photos that follow the Little Big Horn is a tribute to both the Indians and Cavalry that participated in the battle.
The Memorial at the top of ‘Last Stand Hill’
The battlefield extends for 5 and a half miles.
George Armstrong Custer
From the Little Big Horn we begin the drive to Mount Rushmore through the Northeast tip of Wyoming.
Then we enter South Dakota
We pulled into a campground called Horse Thief Camp Ground near Custer, SD at about 1900. The manager tells us that we should go to Mt Rushmore at 1930 to observe the lighting ceremony at the monuments. He states that there is a short movie about the monuments and then after the lighting ceremony all veterans are invited to the stage to participate in the lowering of the American Flag. How could we resist? The movie was educational and enlightening and our Ranger gave a great presentation. I’m glad we elected to go at night and participate in the flag ceremony. It all made me proud to be a veteran on Sept 10th, the eve of 9-11.
September 11, 2015
We began the day with a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument. This huge monument to the American Indian was first envisioned in the 1930’s and started in 1942.
The original vision of what this huge undertaking will be is represented in the two scaled models below.
No government funds are being used in this endeavor. All funds are received from private donations, admission fees and gift shop sales. While the memorial will probably not be finished in my lifetime the museum was well worth the visit. I stopped by one artisan’s table and I asked what the ‘survivor’ pins displayed were. She explained they were for cancer survivors of all categories and that she herself was a cancer survivor. One had a pink skirt so I purchased that for my daughter Alexis and told her that she was experiencing breast cancer for the second time and she gave me another pendant to give to Alexis. I got those off in the mail on Sept 17th!
The museum was full of different articles:
We left Crazy Horse and traveled to Wall, SD and after a visit to the Wall Drug Store we enjoyed lunch locally before facing the ‘Badlands’.
Another tease, this sign, as we never see the animals that are being shown! Perhaps a good thing!
We found Bighorn Mountain Sheep here in the Badlands.
On the way back to our Horse Thief Camping area we drove the ‘wildlife loop’ of Custer State Park and somehow missed the herd of Buffalo at the southern section of the loop. We did find small numbers of Buffalo, Antelope, Deer, Turkey, a playful Grey Wolf and the parks begging mules. Then the sun set in a display of wonderful colors that is not really captured here.
Begging Burros left over from the minors of yesteryear
Playful grey wolf
Denver and the Rocky Mountain National Park – oh and the Coors Brewery
The 12th of Sept is a travel day from Custer, SD to Ellis Park, CO. A battle buddy and friend from Afghanistan lives in Denver and her parents own a home in Ellis Park. They were phenomenal hosts. We learned a new dice game and a card game during the evenings while we explored the Rocky Mountain National Park during the day!
A flood a few years ago changed the landscape forever.
Karen, the Rocket Scientist I knew in Afghanistan on the flood plain.
And of course she is an adrenaline junky – I’ve blown up the photo to reveal her at the top of the falls in the photo below!
Karen has way too much energy – Thank goodness she is young as she runs up the mountain at 12,000 ft elevation.
Then looking down.
Just resting at this elevation
The Aspen trees are turning fall colors already
After enjoying the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park we headed toward Aurora down the back way avoiding I25. We attempted to see moose at the Brainard Lake but Oops! Moose hunting season was open so no Moose for us.
And finally after running the main street of Blackhawk with all its casinos we made it to Golden Colorado, home of MillerCoors company for the Coors factory tour!
This really is ALL about the educational aspects – nothing to do with the three free tasting glasses later – wink wink
Notice how Mary Eileen smiles as she stands in line for the first free sample of a fresh Coors product.
And then we are outside before driving to Karen’s house and tomorrow, the 15th is Mary’s flight back to Washington DC and her new assignment in Montreal.
I took advantage of this break to wash the RV and Jeep at her house.
I departed Denver on the 16th on my way to Albuquerque to visit my son Jeff. I did stop in Castle Rock for breakfast.
Driving across the plains was quite the challenge with the gusty winds blowing and blowing and did I mention the gusts of wind that would blow you off the road?!
I was born and grew up in southeastern New Mexico and thought I knew a little bit about its history. I was humbled and enlightened when my son Jeff and Berenika took the Jeep to view NM Highway #1 and a piece of old Route 66 near La Cienega, NM. Berenika is an environmental impact engineer and has surveyed much of New Mexico. She is so knowledgeable about unique historical places and prompted me to explore the NM Hwy1 and Route 66. The first photo below is where we stopped the Jeep to determine if the road was still passable.
This is the road that we determined was in fact passable with the Jeep.
The road actually is a series of switchbacks built about 1901 that followed a stage route across the mountain as the Santa Fe River blocked passage through the canyon for cars.
I must admit that it was an adrenaline rush to slowly maneuver the Jeep across this road as the first time I’ve ever really gone truly ‘off road’ (Sorry Jennifer, that little diversion we had in New Jersey doesn’t count now that I know what off road means.) Someone had gone this route before us since the last rain and I followed those tracks as much as I could to avoid rolling the Jeep over. The road is actually a historically significant engineering feat.
Mounds of rocks were considered to attract moisture during dry farming in ancient times. Below is a mound of basaltic rock. The photo following depicts a line of mounds. If this were New England you could almost say that the line of rocks represents boundaries or just rocks from clearing the fields.
No visit to the desert is complete without capturing a picture of a cactus. This one is in bloom.
As we were departing this area we passed a sign stating ‘Petroglyphs Site’ so we stopped, backed up the Jeep and headed to see the Petroglyphs. There were many stories expressed in Petroglyphs over a large spread out area of rock at the top edge of this mesa near La Cienega. Below are only a few that I captured.
I thought Berenika was going to hit me as I stopped in the middle of the road and took this photo of flowers beside the road. Colors in the desert are so vibrant!
So Berenika is acting as our guide and she asks if we would want to take a longer route back and have a drink at the Mine Shaft Tavern in an out of the way town called Madrid. I told them I was game as long as I could also have an appetizer to help offset the beer as I was driving. Berenika has a shortcut that cuts us off toward Waldo. Where’s Waldo became our chant as we left pavement at the Waldo Cement site. We never did find Waldo but we did find this quaint little artsy town consisting of maybe 20 buildings (I’m being generous).
As we entered Madrid, a town with a population of 150 we find lots of commercial tourist shopping! And of course the Mine Shaft Tavern.
Jeff and Berenika as we enter the Mine Shaft Tavern.
Once inside the shaft we discover that this establishment is also a museum.
I now know that I’m in the Olde West Madrid, New Mexico as I look across the street and see a horse tied up at the restaurant/saloon!
Then as I turn my head the other direction I see a couple of Cone Heads that express “Greetings Earthlings” to us! OK, wake me up, where am I? Really then in comes a couple of girls dressed up as the Blues Brothers and as the beer goes down there are other characters coming in. I’m drinking out of a plastic glass and see that everyone else but us seems to have real glasses so I ask our friendly waitress why that is. She tells us that the limited menu and plastic glasses are because of the variety show being held tonight. I ask about this and she tells me that it is Madrid’s annual fund raiser and this year is a knock off of Saturday Night Live. All tickets are sold out though.
We order fish and chips as it is about 1830. As we are eating the waitress approaches me with the opportunity to purchase tickets as 4 were just turned back in from people in Los Angeles that are unable to come. What the heck, life is a series of events and when presented with an opportunity one should not reject the prospect of an adventure to add to an already fantastic day – NM Hwy #1 and Route 66, Petroglyphs, great company and education about my home state.
I buy three of the tickets and wait for 2000 when the show starts. Meanwhile I get to experience a fabulous New Mexico sunset. The show was a combination of a drag show and Saturday Night Live. The event started 24 years ago to help fund care for those with AIDS. Now the funds go to locally supported medical causes but the original concept of a LGBT, gender bending event has been retained. We laughed and we cringed as the local actors entertained us for the next couple of hours. If it wasn’t so late I would have loved to remain for the after party.