The change in time zone marked the Oregon border. We stopped just over the state line at a rest sop to stretch our legs. For the countless time on the trip I came out of the rest room to Sherm chatting with a fellow motorist about the bus. A 35 year old orange bus does catch one's eye- the first other bus we saw since Massachusetts (there was one on the Cape we saw occasionally) was broken down on the highway in Idaho.
It was a young guy this time, a photographer turned trucker named Ryan. When he found out this was our first air cooled he said, "Welcome to the club!" He was sincere, so many people can be stuck up about stuff like that. Although, know that I think about we haven't met any stuck up VW owners on this trip. Every person who came up and said, "I used to have a bus!" was awesome to talk to. Maybe its because any traveler who is willing to talk to you is probably on vacation.
Before we parted ways Ryan gave us an awesome gift, his old C.B. radio! When we were going through long stretches of road between towns with no cell phone reception, I really wished we had one. He also warned us of "the cabbage patch" ahead, the last stretch of mountains until we reached the Columbia river.
Neil - the trusty little bus he is - chugged right along with Sherman at the helm. Despite the ups and downs, and twists and turns, the mountains were beautiful and lead us to the equally as beautiful Columbia River. We didn't talk much all along the Columbia. I don't know if it was from the amazing views along the river, or the fact that we were so close to west coast.
The past few weeks have been a blur. We saw so much, discovered so much - and there is so much left of our country to explore. Our road trip was coming to an end, but its just the start of life on the west coast. We came here with nothing but our bus filled with tools and art supplies, and the hope that the grass was greener on the other side, but we got here with the determination and enthusiasm to tend to our own fields.
With an apple I will astonish Paris.
We made it through tornado country without a hitch. Everyone told me to be on the lookout last week. They scared me so bad in the second grade I still know what to do. Before we got out of Wyoming we were hopping back into the bus after getting gas when we heard a siren. The guy pulling out of the gas station in front of us didn't seem to pay any mind. Still, I was flashing back to second grade, trying to figure out which building around us might have a basement. Sherm asked the girl at the gas station what that was. She replied, "The noon." Well, at least they test it!
I was a little bummed to miss going through the mountains, but going between them was as beautiful a view as I could have asked for. When we got to Utah, the mountains were right next to us as we passed between different ranges. Trees started to pop up more and there more more farms mixed in. After all the rain from the crazy weather systems the past few days, the crops were starting to sprout. It took me a moment to realize they were farms, not just grassland.
Then the mountains became more rocky. It was amazing to see the layers of rock going diagonal to the horizon. The bolder was not compressed where it lay today, but was made some where else and dropped off a glacier how ever many years ago. As we drove the mountains became more spread out. Some smaller and more isolated have turned into beautiful rock formations after all the centuries of mother nature's abuse.
Idaho proved to be just as much of a drastic change of scenery as Utah was. The farms got small again, just popping up along the river bed. Ranches got smaller and more suburbs started to pop up. Between the green river beds the landscape stretched out, dry, to the mountains.
We had been driving for a long time and had yet to reach a new time zone. Part of that is because we had to go south for a while to avoid the mountain; but also part of it is because if you look on a map the line between Pacific Time and Mountain Time does a crazy zig-zag through the mountains. At 9 PM the sun was still high in the sky. The sun didn't set (into the very far off distance) until 10:15.
Memorial Day we woke up at the Rodeway Inn, in Sundance, WY (which as the best place we had stayed at the whole time, I would recommend it to a friend). Not having a computer in bus we had to change the timing by hand because of the high altitude- too bad everything was closed for the holiday and we had no idea where Sherm's feeler gauge was. At least Sherm was able to clean Neil's spark plugs and replaced the points in the motel parking lot. We made it to biggest town before we got to the mountains, Buffalo, WY. We just got a hotel for the day since everything was closed. It wasn't too bad having a day off: I got to do laundry and swim in an indoor pool.
The next morning we worked on the timing. Neil has a type IV engine, but was converted to single carb from fuel injected - that makes it tricky to find any factory mandated timing. It took a lot of research and guess-and-checking to get him sounding right. After two hotel pit stops and two rest stop tune ups, we got him running slow and steady. He still doesn't like the high altitude (he's missing his cojones). We think he needs new sized jets to help make up for the altitude, but we're fine chugging along rather than mess up the carb tuning . Even more, he is still more fun than the jeep with a trailer would have been.
Buffalo was the end of the line before the landscape started getting really mountainous. We had to make the decision to bypass Yellowstone and take the southern route back to I80, the highway we were on in Iowa. I drove southern Idaho last summer and was really excited to see Montana this year. But our bus and our sanity are more important.
We drove straight to Casper, going between two mountain ranges. From there the interstate went out of our way around a set of mountains so we took a secondary highway along a river south back to I80. It was a beautiful drive with amazing scenery. There were farms and cows, like South Dakota, but they were more spaced out with mountains, rock formations and rolling plains of small shrubs between them. We pasted one ranch that went for thousands of acres - we went for miles without seeing the house on the ranch.
At our last pit stop, we saw the first other air-cooled vw on the road since we left! This guy's beetle was great. He drives it all winter. It had big tires on it - it looked so much fun. Between seeing that and all the awesome dirt roads along the highway (which have become more twisty since Wyoming) I can't wait to get Washington and rally!
Last night we made it to Rock Springs, WY. Salt Lake City if our next milestone, then Boise Idaho. It's hard to tell how far we'll get anymore now that we are above 4000 ft, but we keep chugging along.
We woke up this morning just outside of Sturgis, SD. We cruised west through downtown. Just as we came up to the highway we saw a sign for Deadwood. From what I could tell from the internet, my best guess was that Deadwood is something between Salem and Reno. It started as an outlaw town during the gold rush and was filled with gambling and prostitution. Today it is still filled with casinos and saloons, but all the brothels are now gift shops and boutiques.
All the buildings still retain their historical integrity, but are well maintained and updated to modern stores. There are a lot of historical sights there, but I couldn't find anything that told how the town was founded. Sherm later looked it up and we found out why the founding was not published all over town. From the very beginning it was an outlaw town. It was illegally founded on the American Indian land. When gold was found in the Black Hills the town blew up with outlaws and brothels.
Deadwood caters to tourists today. Although its filled with casinos its also family friendly. Being on main street was a lot like being home on Cape Cod, but instead of a fishing village we were in a wild west town - there were even gun fights in the street. We spent just about all day there being tourists.
We found a tobacconist in the basement of a building: Deadwood Tobacco Co. It smelled so great, it was the first time I ever wanted to get into cigars. We got a Sturgis Limited Edition: Sweet Jane. Its the owners own blend- she was out at a convention when we were there. The man working there was wicked friendly and helpful. We know nothing of cigars, but he was more than happy to help us. We got a Sweet Jane cigar to save for our journey's end celebration.
On the other side of downtown we found Deadwood Dick's Saloon. We walked in to a antique / thrift shop, bigger than any I've very seen. It was multiple store fonts, and there was bar in it. A lot of the big boutique and shops had bars in them. I'm pretty sure its so the husband can have a drink and watch the game while the wife shops. I hope that is why at least, because that cracks me up! It's such a good idea!
Today I really felt like I was on vacation (albeit a working vacation. We stopped at Mustang Sally's sport bar for a snack and a beer and got some office work done). More than the fact that we are not pressed for time, there is something about the bus that forces you to slow down and take your time. We left deadwood and followed the signs for Lead, a mountain town up the mountain a bit from Deadwood. From there we took the scenic route back to the highway though Black Hills National Forest.
We took 85 south of Lead across the Wyoming border. It was a breathtaking ride through the Black Hills, and a true testament to just how awesome our bus Neil is. Out of Black Hills nation Forest we took 585 back up to I90 in Sundance, WY. Route 585 was flat, with mountain in the distance on either side. Finally, after thousands of miles through cow farms, (how appropriate it wasn't until Wyoming) we saw cowboys hearding their cattle across the street! Well, it was a cowgirl and her cowchildren - a mom and her kids all on horses.
As soon as we got onto 585 we saw a giant cloud all along the horizon. It looked like a snow covered mountain. I thought the road was going to descend and the cloud would be above us by the time we got to Sundance. I was wrong. We got closer and there were clouds right above the buildings. A little further along it started to get foggy. Then we were IN the cloud. Thank goodness the road was through flat land! A few locals passed us going the other way - they didn't seem to mind driving through a cloud. We were going so slow we had our flashers. The cars that passed was a very good sign that a town was coming up, but still, I avoided saying "this is how horror movies start."
Neil is a champ and just as Sherm was starting to have trouble seeing we saw the glow of a hotel. Once we bunkered in we heard thunder, then some kind of tapping. "Is it raining?" I asked Sherm. "Maybe it's a truck," he said as we opened the door. We were both wrong: it was hail. Everything about this trip and the weather has been perfect timing for us (today in the plains - which we just got out of - there are up to 80 mph winds! 15mph was bad enough for us!) Karma is a wonderful thing. We always do our best to be positive and things always seem to work out for us.
"OH MY GOODNESS I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS VIEW!"
This morning we left Murdo for our next milestone, Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a giant tourist pit stop along I90. It started by the local pharmacist giving free ice water to travelers in the 1930's. Now its home to multiple stores, attractions, activities, and concessions over almost an entire side of downtown Wall. Read the history of Wall Drug here. It is a beautiful, well written story of the American Dream.
We pulled up and followed the parking signs which lead us to Main Street, Wall. We parked on the main drag, hopped out and surveyed the scene. Across from us,the entire side of the road was Wall Drug. It still had the silhouette of a typical prairie town, but there where giant signs all along the side- much like the signs we had been seeing on the road as early as Iowa (almost 400 miles away!).
The side we were on was local shops. As we stood next to the bus and put sun screen on (for the first time in a few days - it had been cloudy for the past few days) we heard a woman welcoming passers by to Wall from the doorway of a shop next to where we were parked. We were immediately attracted to that store and walked over. We were greeted by three smiling woman. there were kids running around the back of the store and a few folks sitting on the bench outside talking to the women working there. It was a boutique, the Mocha Moose, with a small corner sectioned off into an espresso station.
As soon as i saw the espresso, I B lined for it. Just this morning I was day dreaming about all the coffee in Seattle while sipping my motel coffee- which Sherm is convinced is made with water straight from the Missouri River. We waited for the coffees and chatted with the owners. Its a family store; in its third generation, soon to be four with the rug rat running around the back. The woman who runs it now makes jewelry as well as her husband, Three Trees. The son runs the coffee shop after living in Seattle for a while.
The hand made jewelry they had was incredible. The owner took us around and told us how each piece was made. Three Trees could even remember where each stone was from. They were true artists. More than a being skilled craftsmen, they put so much love and pride into their work. You could feel the artistic energy just walking in. We couldn't have asked for a better first impression of this area.
After a lovely conversation with the owners we walked across the street to Wall Drug. There was a boot shop, jeweler, a gallery, many many gift shops, a candy store, cafe, restaurant, bookstore.... just to name a few. Much like Pioneer Auto Show it seems like it expanded one building at a time. Unlike Pioneer, it was wicked packed with travelers.
Back across the street, there were more touristy shops, just like in any tourist town. We cruised through them all and grabbed some grub at the bar. Before we left we stopped back at The Mocha Moose before we left. We avoided all the made-in-china kitschy souvenirs. The locally crafted work at the Mocha Moose was so beautiful, we need a sovereign from them. I ended up with a beautiful turquoise pendent and Sherman got his first good ring. Before leaving Wall the owners gave us a local road to go through the Badlands toward Rapid City.
Before we left Sherm's friend gave us good advise, "Don't be a slave to the highway." If i could pass along anything to a fellow traveler that would be it. Not only was the back road we took from Wall not on the map, it wasn't even in the GPS. It was such a beautiful drive! Neither of us could believe the scenery as we drove toward the Badlands. mountains sicking straight up out of the plains. The road turned and suddenly it was dirt. As we got closer to the badlands the road stared to curve more. After a few miles of seeing the Badlands from a distance, we climbed a hill. At the crest we turned again. Next to us went straight down to rivers cutting through rocky terrain.
There was hardly anyone on the road, except a few locals and a vacationing family. It was great to go slow for a change and really enjoy the scenery. Protected by the rocky landscape the light wind we faced felt more like a light breeze compared to the highway. It was so peaceful and so calm we could hear the birds singing as they flew by.
Our short cut connected us back to the scenic route into Rapid City. From there we followed the signs to Mt. Rushmore. The Black Hills was a big stretch for the bus, but Neil did awesome. Slow and steady all the way. That is one of the great things about him: you are forced to slow down, take your time and plan ahead.
We found our way to the parking lot at Mt Rushmore, the monument at our backs. We got out, stretched and walked forward to see the view from the mountain. We turned back around and there it was. Sherm and I were immediately taken back. The sheer size alone is such awesome feat. Not to mention how perfect the dimensions are - or the fact its on top of a mountain!
There was a middle school choir performing at the amphitheater at the base of the monument. Behind the ampitheater was an exhibit of the hisotry of the biulding of Mt. Rushmore. There were tools they used, models and videos. We walked by one to hear:
"When we get through, there will be something for the American people that will last through not
This left us speechless. Its still hard to find the words to describe the patriotism, and pride one feels being there. There are families from all over the worlds. As you walk in t the park there is a grand entrance to the monument which proudly displays a flag from each state. In the exhibit there was a time line of American history. It is simple and to the point for foreigners, but highlights all the important points in history that make our country great. The people who founded this country, and the people who have - and do - protect it, did so so we could all have a chance of the American Dream. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It really is the land of opportunities. My great grandmother came through Ellis Island. My grandfather was the first person in his family to graduate high school and was able to start his own business and move his family out of the projects to a very nice town. The founder of Wall Drug moved there to make it his dreams come true, and that is exactly what he did.
Anything is possible here. Everyone has the chance to do something great - you just have to take it.